Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Very early one morning in the late 1880s two young men were trying, with a little difficulty, to make their home. They found themselves walking along the misty banks of the Seine. They were carrying on an animated but rather fractured conversation that had started up earlier that evening. In the distance they saw another man making as to circuitously pass them by.
This was difficult, due the staggering motion of their own walk.

The younger of the two hailed the man, Monsieur! Monsieur! The man looked over, a little reluctantly, Yes? He replied, What is it?

But what on earth can bring a honourable man like yourself out into the early morning, like this?

As you see from my uniform, monsieur, I work for Customs and Excise. It is my job to be out this early.

No, no, sir, what I see when I look at you, sir, is an artist, an artist I say!

You mistake me, sir; I know nothing of painting.

No, unmistakably an artist, sir. I see it in you.

I have never painted in my life.

It is written all over you, sir. Believe me, I know of these things. You, sir, are unmistakably, and without doubt an artist. And I would wager, a very fine one too!

The man hesitated, a look of confusion passing over his face. Then out of it, as a sun rising through the mists on the Seine, he smiled, amazed: Do you know, sir, I do think you are right! Indeed I do think you may be so! Your name, sir?

Jarry. Alfred Jarry, the younger man replied. And you, my dear man?

Rousseau, sir. Henri Rousseau.

Well, la douanieur, I expect to see your name everywhere from this day forth. Au revoir!

Ah, the legends of old Paris!

Here’s another Jarry one.

Here he resolved not to buck the system, that would be counter-productive, but to adhere to the rules as closely as humanly possible. He still ended up on report constantly.

One time when instructed to sweep the barracks square as a consequence of some misdemeanor, he was found still standing to attention, broom over shoulder, some time later. When asked to account for himself and his dereliction of duty, his reply was, I was ordered to sweep the square, sir. I was not told in which direction.

Laval barracks.
Jarry had spent some years of his childhood in Laval. And oddly enough Henri Rousseau was born there also. Is it possible Jarry recognised the accent? Is that part of the back-story?

There are many more types of poetic expression than the personal lyric. The lyric has become predominant at the present time because of political and ideological factors: we look to the self as the source and sole repository of values; we value personal experience as the only trustable source of knowledge of the world.

The idea and ideal of community has been tugged from beneath us; likewise the ideal of a sense of futurity, of progress, to be replaced by an all-encompassing political climate where our lives seem wholly regulated by bodies of authority. Lecturer Peter Middleton quotes Julia Kristeva to effect here: “… capitalism has isolated us, in ‘islands of discourse’.” (i.e. from John Donne’s “No man (one) is an island” to the Thatcherite statement that there is no such thing as society. We may hate it as it is, but we do have to deal with it).
And who knows how to deal with the Big Society notion, at one point broken – a toy? a piece of machinery? – at another, the country as a private business in need of saving (- from everyone else?).

Christensen mostly used the playful, highly mathematical writing experiments of the French experimental OuLiPo group.
Although not a signed-up member, it can be seen that she uses many of their techniques. The most decisive are the use of strict mathematical superstructures, and insistence upon quality of sound. OuLiPo was a movement originally based around the writer Raymond Queneau, and incorporated George Perec (Life: A User’s Manual, and A Void, a novel that, when written in French only used words that do not contain the letter ‘e’). Queneau was a mathematician, and so the group tended to use highly complex mathematical structures for their writing.

One of the many listed OuLiPo experiments is that of using multiple perspectives to explore a given situation. One published example of this is B S Johnson’s novel, House Mother Normal (1971), which offers a perspective per chapter from each of the members of a nursing home, in explaining (or not) the event of the story. You cannot but wonder about Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1860), where the members of a court case each give their evidence, full of conflicting events, asides, and all the riches of the personalities involved. OuLiPo does acknowledge predecessors, designating them “anticipatory plagiarists” (: Mind Performance Hacks). One OuLiPo virtue is a mischievous sense of humour.

Christensen’s Watersteps (2001) takes us through five Roman piazzas, each with a fountain, and the same red car. There are eight similar ‘classes’ each with five ‘sections’, one for each piazza; and each ‘class’ has five components. This is a rigorous math.

Seamus Heaney’s Seeing Things sequence of four lots of twelve poems, each of twelve lines in length, also points to a possible OuLiPo construction. Why twelve? Is twelve an expression of completion? We have to ask these things, because they have an intended significance.
Most recently we now have poems created upon use of the mathematical concept of pi called Pilish – or “piems” – where the number of letters of successive words is determined by pi.

All these ‘experiments’ are only unofficially recognised aspects of rhetoric, an expanded, up-dated use of age-old techniques of persuasion (can we read that ‘persuasion’ as marketing, advertising?).

The Fibonacci mathematical system was ideal for OuLiPo purposes. The Fibonacci sequence runs: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…. where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. The implications of this system, first devised by a Cardinal soon to be Pope, are astounding, both for mathematics, and physics.

In Alphabet the repeated phrase of paragraph 1:
apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist
mirrors the first two numbers of Fibonacci – 1 and 1. The system begins with 1 repeated, and so here the phrase is similarly repeated. It is also a numerical device of implication; where 1 is a prime number; it is also the main focus of a network of negative and positive numerical sequences, of decimals and fractions: 1 is never 1, it is the consequence of its positioning, and it is that that is evoked here. The reiteration of the clause emphases 1’s position in the matrix of math. As in the Fibonacci sequence we do not begin with 1 but with 0, in effect on the blank page preceding.

We are also required to read here that apricot stones carry a poisonous pit. As we begin with the beginning: A, and a new myth of creation, we are also required to read here that within the first creation is the means of its end. Or maybe not so equivalent: maybe, just that a degree of toxicity is necessary for life. And also, that, like the mark of Cain, is a part of creation from the very beginning.

By combining number with alphabet, Christensen is taking us back to the earliest use of languages, Sumerian, Attic Greek, but with a more modern twist.

With paragraph 2 we have:
bracken exists; and blackberries,blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen.

Already on a linguistic level we have an incantatory pattern forming. On the chemical level we now have bromine and hydrogen. Bromine, like hydrogen, is potentially lethal. As, indeed, are the seeds of bracken. This new pastoral suggestion now allows us a reading that suggests an early, a volatile, Precambrian period in our scientific creation myth. We now have three levels of reading: of the text, of chemistry, and botany. If we accept the time scale, four levels: botany, chemistry, textual, and time.

As a reviewer notes: “The useless abundance of bracken, succulent berries — and corrosive bromide: the unbalanced mix all around us. Hydrogen seems, here, almost safe, but the “bomb” suffix is not long in coming.”
Alphabet was written during the 1970s, a period that lived under and reacted to, above all else, the possibility of immanent nuclear war, the atomic bomb.

With 3/C we get:
cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

The levels expand: arboriculture, botany, chemistry, entomology, physiology: from basic classifications, to subclassifications. We move from Platonic forms, through Aristotelian classification, to our modern forms of knowledge. And zeroing in from the macrocosm to the microcosm, from the external world to the brain’s inner world, as source and site of knowledge, intelligence: self consciousness as the self’s consciousness.

Following the Fibonacci/alphabetical systems through the book we arrive at N, with six hundred and ten lines. Mathematically ‘n’ can be any number.

So far in the poem sequence, we have moved from basic forms to gradually emerge into a world of killing, the hydrogen bomb, pain. It must be remembered that mathematics is the vehicle of proof for the sciences. And the sciences, as amply illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance work on armaments, capable of application to many and varied fields of human activity both peaceful and not.

With 5-E (eight lines) we also get, delightfully (in the Danish the predominant consonant is E, which also ushers in a dominant alliterating pattern):

early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms, junipers, soreness, loneliness
eider ducks; spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future.

With 13-M and 14-N we arrive at actual times, with dates:
morning June twentieth……..evening June
sixteenth….morning June twenty-sixth.

To get here we travel through excerpts from lives, suggestions of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, and:

in mid-November, a season
when all human dreams are the same,
a uniform, blotted out history
like that of a sun-dried stone

a couple of mute parents stand there,
a dog, and some children run around,
an arrival they try to imagine
as water that’s raised to my mouth

I lay sleeping inside my hotel room;
:from ‘12/L’

These are the stories we have inside ourselves we cannot always make sense of, but continue to pick over in our isolated moments.

‘13/M’ begins with:

metal, the ore in the mountains, exists
and then explores the hidden or covered things:
darkness in mine shafts, milk not let down
from mothers’ breasts, an ingrown dread where

whisperings exist, whisperings exist
the cells’ oldest, fondest collusion

consider this market, consider this import
and export of fathers, half bullies
half tortured soldiers, consider…..


layered light, as if behind
layers in a fresco the snow
on the mountains, its shapes……..

13 also replicates the Fibonacci numbering in stanza lengths. We have five, eight, then thirteen line stanzas, and then followed by new sets. The interweaving of themes and items from earlier sections tie-in here; we once again come across bromine, but applied differently, and apricot trees: their applications multiply and evoke moments from a life, from an ideal of living. The fabric grows wonderfully rich and rewarding, full of complex patternings.

Where the lyric concentrates images, their reverberations, networks of associations, within as small a compass as possible, Inger Christensen, especially in her earlier work It – of which Alphabet is in some ways an admitted response – schematises rather than concentrates. Structurally it is very strictly arranged into three sections whose line count is, in the original, very tightly controlled: each line of Prologos has sixty-six characters in the original; Prologos has eight sections.

The body of the book, Logos, consists of three sections: Stage, Action, Text each of which has eight sub-sections: symmetries/ transitivities/ continuities/ connectivities/ variabilities/ extensions/ integrities/ universalities.

These subsections “attempt to analyse and categorise the words that language’s use to show relationship… as applying to the network of relationships… writing builds up as it goes along “ ( Ann Carson, from Introduction). All this in no way lessens the effectiveness of expression, but allows the playout of implications to be fully explicit. The intent of It is to be a ‘philosophical and political exploration of the nature of language, perception, and reality.’

If there is a reference in this work to The Book of the It, a precursor to Freudian psychoanalytical explorations, by George Groddeck, I suspect it has been subsumed and overridden early on.

It must be noted that the Fibonacci system deals also with the proof of the Golden Mean.
Christensen exhibited a growing concern with ecological matters, as evident in her Butterfly Valley: Requiem. This sequence is a series of conventional sonnets, the last line acting as the opening line of the following sonnet in traditional style. The last sonnet of the sequence, sonnet fifteen, consists of all opening/closing lines. This sequence perhaps represents her approach to that Golden Mean.

Charles Lock and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, in their Guardian obituary notice, noted of Butterfly Valley: Requiem ‘the division of… 14 lines having been recognised in the Renaissance as akin to “the golden ratio“.

Can we read Christensen’s major works as working towards this great ideal, this universal; of the possibility of the concept of ultimate meaning in all the apparent randomness of the world?

Are the images Christensen uses purely random? And do we mean by that ‘mathematically random’? Is it random in the way that creation appears to be random? Is there such a thing as random? All these questions are implied by the system she uses. She requires a response from the reader: for her writing is part of a two-way process.

We may have lost all sense of security, safety; Inger Christensen here posits the possibility of a higher sense of stability, of a grand working towards/unravelling of, a nontheistic scheme of things of which we are all a part of; in effect, where we are perhaps the instruments of the process.

New Directions, the American publishers, are currently republishing her work. Her earlier three books were recently re-issued as one, and well-worth reading: Light, Grass, and Letter In April. See:

They are also to publish a collection of her essays, The Condition of Secrecy, in 2019.
New Direction also publish one of her novels, Azorno:

whilst The Painted Room, is published by the Harvill Press:

An earlier non-fiction book, The Meaning of Metafiction, is still available through Amazon:


When you review a film, this film, say, a whole load of considerations crop up.
Is this film as good/bad/indifferent as the last one in the series (I have come to hate that term ‘franchise’)?
Is this film as good/bad/indifferent as the last film I saw?
Is this film as good as what I think of as good?
Have I seen enough/sufficient films to make a judgement?

I enjoyed the film.

I did not enjoy the last one, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Why? Because of the fantastic beasts, those yucky cgi embarrassments.
In this film they were dangerous, threatening; an encounter with one of them would have been life-changing.

And I am having problems with Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander character. A lot of people are rooting for him, but I cringe at the mumbling, bashful, Hollywood-idea Englishman he portrays. He seems to be part-modelled on Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill.

American film and Tv uses very strange English stereotypes. There’s currently a TV series, Sleepy Hollow, whose previews have two main characters talking this odd English. They pronounce the first syllable of their words, then swallow the last bit, and it’s all spoken/gabbled so quickly. The result is a kind of upper-class patois. I’ve never heard it in real life.

 – The Simpsons have done some superb send-ups of English people: all yellowed snuggle-teeth, with long thin noses, and this kind of purring voice – almost Kenneth Williams. –

We all could do with a recap on who’s-who in the film, so:

There seems to be a big back-lash against Johnny Depp, at the moment. I cannot fault him as Grindlewald. There is comment that the character is still waiting to be fleshed out in the films.
But then, a lot of people rate Jude Law as the younger Dumbledore. It didn’t work for me.

And I would love to have seen/known more about Bunty, Newt Scamander’s London assistant.

So, what of Queenie? I read her as coming apart, mentally. She was vulnerable in then first film, here she rapidly losing control. Even so, the defection at the end? How was that built to?

To cut a long list of problems short – as you can see, there are holes in the film. Huge holes.
Blame the writer!
Not on your life – J K Rowling works very hard to keep the integrity of the script, and the screen portrayal. There are just those who can override her decisions. But she keeps on pushing where many would turn away in disgust.

If you want a good idea of how the ‘finished’ film has been mangled, then follow this link:

The site is a treasure-trove of information, speculation, deep research, invaluable insights. I heartily recommend it.

I’d certainly go see the film again, though.
Maybe in 3D this time,  what do you think!

Menno Wigman, the Dutch poet, is dead.

Ok, he died in February this year.
He was aged 51. He had been diagnosed with Loffler’s (I cannot get the  a to umlaut!) syndrome. Of only forty reported cases in the world, he was one.
‘How come I manage to go running around with it?’ he’d said.

He was born in 1966, in Santpoort, The Netherlands. He eventually relocated to Amsterdam in the eighties. Drummer for a punk band; self-published early poems. His drive and commitment to his work was consuming.
From 2012 to 2014 he became Amsterdam’s own Poet Laureate.

In 2016 the excellent Arc Publications ( brought out Menno’s selected poems, WINDOW-CLEANER SEES PAINTINGS. It is Number 40, of Arc’s Visible Poets series, and translated by David Colmer.

The first poem in the book, from his first book, All Cities Stink in the Summer, 1997, opens:
Ik zag de grootste geesten van mijn generatie…. translated as
I saw the best minds of my generation….

Yep, we start of with a bang, quoting Allen Ginsburg. The tone is low-key, enervated. In sonnet-form, it ends :
They came too late. Their promise unredeemed.
   The cities gleamed as black as caviar.

And whose last line gives the title of his next book.
More and more his models, his emotional brothers, became Charles Baudelaire, Jules Laforgue, poets of that period, the ‘dark Romantics.’. He described the appeal as that of recognising with them that one lived in the ‘end time.’ A fascination with a falling-off, then, that went hand-in-hand with the revelation of the riches in the here-and-now.

The poem that first caught my attention was Misunderstanding, from the next book. It starts:

This will not be an upbeat poem. And why
I’d even let the secret slip’s a mystery to me….

We’re straight into liminal regions, places where nothing is as it seems, not certain, but part of the flux of one’s being.

But no, I was wrong – the first poem of his that caught me was In Conclusion:
I know the melancholy of copy centres…

Technically he was very much a poet of steady, driving rhythms, strong metres. He used sonnet forms, pantoum (Hotel Night), half-rhyme, assonance.
‘You write poetry with a drum-kit in your head,’ another writer had commented.
It’s how to convey this layered interlacing was David Colman’s challenge. He gives in his introduction illustrations of the original sound and rhythm structure of lines, and his equivalences to these. This is priceless.


Menno Wigman also wrote as part of the Lonely Funerals scheme (see my last posting).
There are several pieces here from the scheme, and they reveal a lot about the way he worked, wrote, felt, hoped… was.

Beside Mrs P’s Council Coffin, begins:

Is she asleep? She is. After eighty-three years
of combing her hair three hundred and sixty-five
days a year, of walking to the shops and back….

He ushers us into an intimacy with her life, the personal and mundane; an identification with people as they show themselves to us. That is, the ordinary, that constitutes most of our lives, like it or not. It is our mastery or not, partial or fluctuating control, of the ordinary gives us our kudos, our tags, our recognisable social factors.
The last verse veers away from any demeaning sentimentality, any further diminishing of Mrs P as a person, the one lying dead there, in that plain council coffin:

…. Call it tragedy, rhythm, rhyme –
time, that dirty carnivore, ensures an end
   that stinks. But she’s asleep at last, asleep.
So cover her up, make sure her weary feet
          don’t need to tread the streets again.

What I especially appreciate about this verse is the range, how it veers from the reality of death, the dead body, to the humanity we shared and continue to share with her. That ability to shift register I applaud. And listen to its sound patterns: David Colmer gives good indications, even in this extract I quote, how the poems work to the ear.
In another Lonely Funerals poem, we see something altogether different:

Earth, Don’t Be Hard (this from his last collection, in 2016)

Earth, a virtuous body has now arrived.
A royal sun rose in it once,
its eyes shone brightly like a long July,
a breath of mellow twilight filled its lungs,
a spellbound moon traversed its breast.

He knew himself dying at this point. But if you need uplifting poetry, words to gladden and celebrate, here it is, this is it.

The palms of its hands felt water and stroked pets.
The soles of its feet kissed beaches and rocks. Insight.
A strange insight formed in its head, its tongue
grew sharp, its fingers found the fists they held,
it fought for bread and money, love and light.

Notice that ‘its‘ – there’s no ease of relationship; the sense of self has sharpened, become individualised, rather than considered a social statistic.

You can read an awful lot of books about it.
You can even written your own. Earth, don’t be hard
on this man who had at least a hundred keys,
but not a map or a compass for this blind path,
and now has come to spend his first night here.

His control of the change of register by this time was masterful: from the quiddity, the detail that could be mockery, of ‘the hundred keys,’ we go straight to the common fate, the all-end, to all our own blind endings on that same path to that first night in the grave.

– I don’t think Menno would mind me saying how that last line reminds me of that moment in the film, The Hunger, with Catherine Deneauve and David Bowie, when he was laid the first time among the ones who had gone before him, in that attic among the coffins: ‘Be gentle with him on his first night,’ she said tenderly to them. –

How well do you know the poetry of Jules Laforgue?
Let us consider this early poem, The  First Night.
It begins:

Here comes Evening, sweet to the old lecher…

It is the last verse, though, I call you to:

I imagine myself in the heart of the graveyard, and I put myself in their place, and I enter the coffins of those who are about to spend their first night here.
(plain prose translation by Graham Dunstan Martin, 1998, for Penguin Books).

This does not distract from Menno’s poem, but enhances. Jules Laforgue’s poem is almost flippant, it has the bravura of youth (he did not live long enough to outgrow it), but he given gravitas. It is interesting to see how that has been done.

Jules Laforgue was greatly enamoured of Schopenhauer, but his greatest love was Hartmann. With him he found a fellow-in-arms against the bourgeois world. Hartmann ( created a distance, rather than empathy – though acknowledging that the two positions are intertwined, co-dependent.
It is here that I think Menno’s ‘it‘ (above) was found, his love-hate relationship with life, the world.

So, how do Menno’s poems work? I mentioned above his extensive use of metre and regular forms. For him metre and rhythm are what pulls the reader through the poem. Not following the sense, the argument.
This is important.
For Menno Wigman this was his secret, and on this he worked all his short life. There was an lot of ‘attitude’ in those early poems – Jules Laforgue, at times, seems all ‘attitude’ – but he matured into a compassionate writer.


T S Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land,’ section IV ‘Death By Water’, consisting of just ten lines, seems to consist of three short sections.

 Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward.
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome as and tall as you.

Ten lines, in this case, can also give two sections of five lines. This arrangement is important.
It is possible to be read as to have been composed in corresponding parts. It begins and ends:
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,……………………..
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome as and tall as you.

So, we have opening, and ending, and then also a central section, or hinge:
……………………………………….. A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell/

He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.

So, we have what could almost be a chiasmus, each line and a half paralleling the other line and a half.

Surrounding this central section we have, firstly,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

and lastly:
                                                      Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

That gives opening and closing  correspondences, first section central-surround, central hinge, second section central-surround, and closing part.

The form gives suggestion of overall chiasmic structuring. Line length mirrors the arguments being presented.

If this is so, and it is strongly suggestive that this is the intended structure, then this  makes us read an unfortunate correspondence between ‘(…) the profit and loss.’(line 3) and ‘Gentile or Jew’(line 8).
The former is inclusive, the latter exclusive.
As a deliberate paralleling of lines 3 and 8 – indeed, the page layout emphasises the phrases – are we to read an anti-Semitic slur intended there?

In the former section of ‘Death by Water’, the first section of the poem (lines 1-3) is epitomized in this descriptive phrase; the latter third (lines 8-10) is an appeal to the reader, who may be Protestant Western Europe and New World, or Semitic and Old World – whoever it is that takes civilisation forward.
In this I would like to think are included Einstein, and Neils Bohr: the General Theory of Relativity, and the Quantum Theory.

Implicit here also in ‘once was’ is a progressive concept of civilisation and growth of  humankind away from middle-eastern religious roots, Judaism, and towards Western reason (- and non-autocratic Anglicanism?). The end-rhyme claims a relationship between Jew and you, that addressee being both contemporary reader, and Old World culture. The two terms are again in exclusive and inclusive arrangements emphasising the survival of one, but not both.
The earlier rhyme pair swell and fell state a sense of, if not cyclic (Vico-esque?), then organic growth and fall of civilizations that this last rhyme pair predicate.

The centre of the piece is the balancing of phrases ‘As he rose and fell/ He passed the stages of age and youth’ (lines 9 and 10) which gives a janus-like sense of descent of age to youth, and the life-review that is the accepted experience of death. The section ends as it begins with vocative appeal to the hearer/ reader as in the ‘Greek Anthology’.

We notice also the ‘current under the sea’ of half-line 4 is balanced with ‘(…) the whirlpool’ of half-line 7 each framing the central section of the piece. The ‘cry of gulls’ and ‘who look to windward’ are paralleled here, as are ‘the deep sea swell’ with ‘you who turn the wheel’. We sense a metaphysical mariner at work, a conflation of the wheel of fate, and a will that steers, that rises above and beyond the world.

If the form of this short example from ‘The Waste Land’ is certainly chiasmic, it not a ring – there is no tri-partite construction, the central section is a straight change from first half to second ABCCBA. Ring structure has ABCDCBA.

– The English sentence structure, of subject-predicate, has possibilities as another base-chiasmic scheme. It is not by any means a universal language structure, however. There are examples of chiasmic use in languages not structured in this way.


Excerpted arguments are from my study: Gifts of Rings and Gold, An Introduction to Chiasmic Text Structures.

The local Well Dressing displays opened on June 30th, this year. The displays were available to view until Sunday July 7th.
What would they commemorating, I wondered? What is so special about this date?

The opening ceremony – which I missed, and I have no excuses – unveiled the first display:

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Of course, 1918 to 2018, 100 years from the end of the Great War – the War To End All Wars, remember that?
And it so happens that this day, June 30th, 2018, is UK Armed Forces Day:

Anything else special about this time 100 years ago? I was so pleased when I saw this side panel (Mount Hall is a local Nursing Home):

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I had a closer look at how the glorious lower panel of the main display was made: all overlapping flower petals, flower heads, and leaves, on a bed of damp clay.


This next display down the road, besides a by now hidden stream, commemorates the Royal Air Force, from WW1 biplanes, to the Spitfires of WW2:


There is quite a walk to this next display. The village/town is a linear settlement. The displays are arranged so that there are two at the end nearest the main town of the area, two in the central part, and two in the older end of the town.

Every year one the local schools takes on the task of providing of the displays. This is by Bollington Cross Church of England Primary School – my son’s old school – well, well ( excuse the pun).
And once again I was so pleased to see the Suffragettes honoured.


The Memorial Gardens always have a display to fit in with the purpose of the place: to remember those who died in the fighting of both wars:


Among other aspects of this display I was particularly struck with how the 100 figure had been toned from blood/poppy red through to orange-yellow.

This out-of-the-way well always has a special display, a little out of the expected.
100 years since the death of Wilfred Owen in that last week of the whole horrible conflict. He was arranging a Sambre-Oise canal crossing for his men, when he fell.


I apologise for the lighting of this photograph. I cannot account for it.

The last display is a triptych of Women at War:

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That is tree bark in the background of the women in armaments panel. Many women suffered from exposure to substances they had to handle daily in the armaments factories. The woman’s hair is sheep wool, gathered off wire fences.

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Always a particularly fine display.


In a shop window a board commemorating those born in 1918. And they have provided a varied selection:

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Nelson Mandela
Billy Graham
Ingmar Bergman
Rita Hayworth
Alexander Solzenhitsyn
Betty Ford
Spiro Agnew
Spike Milligan
Leonard Bernstein

This displays went up on Saturday. I was informed that the actually making began on the previous Monday, and took all week.
All the displays, except for the School display, have been designed by a local artist and set designer. She has volunteered her services for the past 6 years, or so.
Nearly a ton of clay is used over all the boards.



The Tango

Posted: July 1, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , ,

The Tango is a passion, a way of life.

Tango was born on the Rio De La Plata delta, when Buenos Aires was a child: holes in pockets, scuffed shoes, a tattered bandanna called Monserrat.

The dance tells a story: In the long struggle between the power of the Rancheros and the centralised State, the wild Pampas fell beneath the hand of man.

The economy is a snake, it twists and turns, at times it devours its own children. In the 1850s it twisted again. Rural workers made their way to the city, they fetched up in Monserrat.

With them came the old dances, music; the milonga was danced on the street of Corrientes. The music of European immigrants trickled through alleyways; the German religious accordion, the Bandaneon, was prominent. Lutheran austerity met Catholic poverty. Pride was in the mastery of its 71 buttons, in elaboration upon a frugal base. The withheld gesture, syncopation: all the arts of drawing from a 4:4 structure the utmost gestures.

The Tango, the Condorelle, the Fandango grew up in the barrio, fostered by uncertainty, fed by hunger, and the bitter herbal tea, Mate, a substitute for coffee. For all the coffee was exported.

As the snake lay glutted in the country’s Golden Age, the Tango grew into its youth: everyone was young again, the future possible. Everyone danced to La Cumparista’s marching tune, tweaked and as polished as patent leather shoes.

Songs added an extra sound. So when a world at war no longer found safe footing, they listened to songs of loss: of pride and confidence, and loss.

The singers held them with a sob in the voice, as the world reeled.

Nothing was the same after that; the snake turned, and columns shook and crumbled. Argentina became a backward look, a lost glory, the plaster falling from the cornice of the fashionable street, never to be replaced.

The long, troubled look into the dark over La Plata at night; only warships churned, some never to return. Later, the Belgrano, sunk like the fortunes of Presidents, before and after.

To remember the songs. Tango is a passion. At times it shows a light across the delta, a boat perhaps, where fishermen can still make a living.

Tango lives on in the wilderness, far from home. It establishes cult centres: Paris, New Orleans, even Helsinki, Tokyo.

Lately the Paris-based performers, dancers, musicians, singers joined in a dance-beat and rhythm, to become ‘The Gotan Project.’

But it always returns home: Buenos Aires, its’ columns and chipped marble, the peeling paint. The passion as strong as ever. Whenever the blood is taxed in its artery, the economy lays its stifling torpid weight on all, bodies can still transport the soul, dance it out into the brag, and the ultimate sacrifice of self, that Tango enacts.

Out of the head of the snake a bird flies, from its body the blood beat and rhythm; its poised draw-back places precisely the footstep of new rhythms.

From SUR (South) 1948, lyrics Homero Manzi:

Ancient San Juan and Boeda street corner, the whole sky,

Pompeya and farther down, the floods


The blacksmith’s corner, mud and pampa,

Our house, our sidewalk, and the ditch

(…) a scent of weeds and alfalfa

That fills the heart all over again.

Or the accumulation of urban details: witnesses: A MEDIA LUZ (In Half Light), 1925. Lyrics by Carlos Cesar Lenzi:

Corrientes three-four-eight

Second floor, elevator.


Inside, cocktail and love.

Loft furnished by Maple:


A telephone that answers,

A phonograph that cries

Old tangos of my flower,

And a porcelain cat.

The mystery of: CHARLMOS (Let’s Chat) 1942. Lyrics: Luis Rubinstein

Belgrano 6-0-1-1?

I would like to speak to Renee (…)

She doesn’t live there?(…) No, don’t hang up (…)

Could I talk with you?

Don’t hang up(…) the afternoon is gloomy.


I know Renee does not exist…

Let’s chat (…)

(…) life is so short (…)


From the same period the highly impressionistic, almost surreal: TINTA ROJA (Red Ink) 1942.

Lyrics: Catulo Castillo

Thick wall,

Red ink (…)

And a blotch

Painted the corner,

And the cop

That in the wide of the night

Placed to the end of the beat

As a clasp (…)

And then suddenly, possibly a future: PRELUDIO PARA EL ANO 3001. (Prelude for the year 3001) Lyrics: Horacio Ferrer, and music by the modern master Astor Piazollo.

I’ll be reborn in Buenos Aires in another June afternoon

With a tremendous desire to love and to live.


And three shoe shiners, three clowns and three

Sorcerers will come, my immortal accomplices (….).

All excerpts of songs are from

The 2012 edition of Roadside Picnic, by Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky, carries an Afterword by Boris.

See my earlier review:

For the book:

In this Afterword he describes the chequered career of the book: it was by no means a straight-forward publication. Initially the story was published, unscathed, in the Leningrad Avrora literary journal, 1971, and was then put forward for inclusion in an anthology, Unintended Meanings, consisting of two of their earlier stories, and to be published in 1972. Here the problems began.
The anthology was to be published by a company called Young Guard. The YG belief was that science-fiction literature was intended only for children and teenagers. Adult themes, and especially language, what the editors listed as ‘Comments Concerning Immoral Behaviour of the Heroes’, ‘Comments Concerning Physical Violence’, etc,  had to be eradicated. And there were 18 pages of these.
There are times, places, to negotiate, and times to stick to one’s guns.

The brothers put together a dossier of all these problems and obstacles, thinking to put it out somehow – by samizdat, if nothing else. There were months between replies to their queries, years of wrangling. Then…
Arkadi died, the Wall fell, Communism… faded away.
And the dossier became redundant. The departments, the people causing the problems, also, faded away. Perspective came in. And they all seemed little more than a plague of gnats, biting flies, blown away by the first change in the weather.

Take note, ye bureaucrats: this you are also.

The book opens with a radio interview. The person being interviewed is a Dr Pillman. He introduced the Pillman Radiant. 13 years previously had been the Visitation: 6 spots in an arc across the surface of the earth had experienced the phenomena of the Visitation. One hit Dr Pillman’s home town. It left catastrophe in its wake.
Dr Pillman extrapolated back from impact points to an area in space in the Cygnus constellation: Deneb, the main star. Except, he is at pains to point out, he did not discover this, it was actually a schoolboy, and published by a college student.

What actually do you do? the interviewer later asked  His reply is interesting: for the last 2 years he has been a consultant in the UN  Commission on the Problems of the Visit.
Roughly speaking, we make sure that no one else outside the International Institute gets access to the alien marvels discovered inside the Zones.
Couldn’t you be rather more specific? the interviewer asks.
Wouldn’t you rather move on to the arts?
Dr Pillman hedges, and also distances himself from the Visitation. Even when it had hit his home town. This is interesting.

Why is this ‘interesting’? Because his comments  and evasions make him out to be something of a policing authority. I had taken him initially as a kind of KGB man, but he turns up later as a Nobel Laureate – not the exposure for a secret policeman.
For the Soviet publishers all books for young people had to be clearly moralistic and
didactic. The story admits the existence of such agents, and the part they play in society. Did the YG editors read this as giving him the thumbs up, by having him be at pains to point out the origin of the research that he had taken credit for? Dr Pillman as a Good Citizen?
Except you cannot find a shiftier character in the book, and that is saying a lot.

This, also, sets the scene for the roles of the ‘stalkers’, who enter the Zones to collect articles for sale on the Black Market. This is a highly dangerous activity. Guards are entitled to shoot to kill.
Not only that, but the dangers of the places are beyond imagining.
The Institute has highly detailed aerial photographs to guide patrols and official collection visits. They prove useless. as we see in the book: effects are not static, they wander. Some are invisible.

Which leads to:
I was also particularly interested in another aspect of the book, the attitude to language in dealing with the unknown. There is the language of the physicists, the ‘eggheads’, and of the stalkers.
– Incidentally, this was the first time the English word ‘stalker’ was introduced into Russian/Soviet language and literature  They pronounced it ‘stulker’.

On an official collection visit to the Zone, Red, the ex-stalker and now lab aide, and his laboratory boss Kirill Panov, come across a wandering phenomenon. It is invisible; but it affects gravity in its locality, creating an extra-strong temporary force.
‘Got it. You look for graviconcentrates?’
They are like that, the eggheads. The most important thing for them is to come up with a name.
The next move forward they make, and Red stops them, breaks into a sweat.
Instinct. Gut reaction.
Instinct versus knowledge. Knowledge is the aerial photographs; instinct tells them if they move forward from that spot they’re doomed.
Just before this:
Over the pile of ancient trash, over the colourful rags and broken glass, drifts a tremor……. Damn these eggheads, a great job they did; ran their road down there amid the junk!
What can be seen and measured, and what cannot be. The road was plotted by markers previous teams had positioned. It was a safe route.
For a stalker there were no safe routes: each venture was a life-and-death challenge, literally. They had no maps. They went always at night (they could be seen and shot during the day), and on hands and knees, mostly, feeling, sensing, their way onward.

This also introduces the theme of the limits of knowledge: here was an alien technology that made no sense to our sciences; it wiped our knowledge off the board. Which left you with… the instincts of the stalker. Science gets you killed.
You think, ah, that’s a graviconcentrate – and the book notes how blasé the scientists become once they name a phenomenon. But it remains deadly: that is its only definite, dependable, feature.
The stalkers call it a bug trap – to be caught in that invisible, wandering, anomaly is to be squashed flat by the gravitational field. How do they know? They have seen its effects on fellow stalkers.
The scientist’s phrase merely describes; the stalker’s phrase expresses its impact.

Arkadi’s background was that of editor and writer, and Boris that of scientist. Both, highly trained and experienced in their fields. And yet to them, language could not compete with reality.
Was it that the Soviet experience had devalued the meaningfulness of words to such an extent, that they could no longer be relied on to carry content? Be careful who one talks to: communication became a nuanced trade of possible meanings.

Politically, we can read here, that the Visitation introduces something way off the Marxist-Leninist map, far away from their neat dialectics of history. We read here of highly successful cultures, civilisations, that do not owe anything to Marxist-Leninism (or Capitalism). It is… the unthinkable – in both science, and (pseudo-)scientific political theories.

As unthinkable, it is also nameless.
And Arkadi and Boris bow neither to psychological, political, nor scientific certainties here. It not a Freudian Unthinkable, nor a scientific or sociological category-without-a-name.

The artefacts obviously have a purpose to their owners, but that is at present unknowable to us.
This is reality, and neither science nor theory can cope with it, because they exercise retrospective assessments.
This is reality-in-the-field, and the human person is naked before it. In the last resort, the approach to the golden ball, the stalker must shed everything. The result of the ‘wish’ is a judgement, of a kind, on his capability to embrace his humanity.

In time, we learn, even the scientist invent their own jargon for the artefacts they handle, try to investigate. Their jargon has a wry amusement, a bleak humour. It expresses, rather than describes. It expresses their frustration with the artefacts – they can use of them, oh yes, but have no idea what their proper and original uses were. The Visitors remain as unknown in purpose, intent and being as they always did.

But this is, after all, only a sci-fi novel.

Red looks lovingly into his daughter’s eyes, they are by then perfectly round, and the iris’ now completely dark; he lovingly strokes the long golden brown fur on her face.
The indications are that she is reverting to an earlier form of evolution, due to the effects of the Zone, and Red’s constant activities there.
The bodies that emerge from the cemetery, walled by the Zone, appear to be  formed from basic organic material. They have reverted to their earlier existence, as walking, breathing bodies.
This reversion theme also crops up in the ‘episode’ Red experiences crossing the road. He loses sight of the street, the ordinary world, instead he sees everything in terms of basic shapes: cones, cubes, spheres (Cezanne would have loved it).

The last part, 4, is Red’s quest – not quite for the Golden Fleece, but the fabled Golden Sphere, which grants human wishes – is mostly in the form of internal dialogue. And the Strugatskys convey with great expertise his troubled state of mind, his struggles with himself, and for some form of clarity.
His much-loved daughter, ‘the monkey’, now has been diagnosed as no longer human; his dead father ‘lives’ with them, responding occasionally to stimulus. Both daughter and father howl into the night at times. All the neighbours have gone – they are isolated, for all the money from black-market trading. We learn how Red tried all ways to keep them, get the children to play with ‘monkey’, how his friend even tried to bribe people to stay.

What would his wish be? What is certain, is that he had no intention of coming out alive.

Only a sci-fi novel.
I do feel, though, that the undifferentiating pessimism undermines the classic status of the book. The book references Kurt Vonngegut.
Was this the first time the classic certainties of the time had been openly questioned? Is that its originality?


Reposted from 2014 – because I think it’s a good ‘un.

ROADSIDE PICNIC, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Published by Gollancz Sciene Fiction, 1977

CAUTION Contains Spoilers!


For such a short book this is extraordinarily provocative.
Published in the Soviet Union by two technical and science professionals, the novel keeps close to the real world. And this allows any deviation to appear even more devastating.
The book gives us a number of accounts over a period of time, of an event that happened in the recent past.
Style-wise we hear ‘70’s gritty Americana, full of dime-store fiction traits, and reeling with unregenerated gender mine-fields. The setting of the book is in fact i’n undisclosed areas.

The basic premise is given early on, and we learn the details and consequences as the different narratives develop.
Twenty year’s previously the Earth was visited by an alien race. It seemed to happen on a sudden and be over before anyone realised.
The opening narrator is a Nobel Prize winning scientist, whose work revealed the origin of the Visitation to have been in the region of Cygnus. Coming in on the earth’s transit the Visitors landed in an arc of six separate places across the surface of the earth.
What was discovered in these places afterwards was so anomalous and dangerous that these landing places had to be fenced off, isolated: people had to be protected from them. The Zones were the site of strange artefacts, substances, occurrences.

Local people not caught in the original Visit became ensnared in a fascination for the Zone. Stalkers would enter in secret , learn safe pathways, where the danger areas were, and bring out objects. Red Schuhart was one of these. Stalking was punishable by imprisonment, but it was a compulsion. The objects retrieved developed their own black market system, because some, like the batteries that never ran out, showed great potential.  But there were also spillages: ditches full of ‘witches  jelly’ which we later learn was colloidal gas – no matter what the name, its effect on the human body was devastating.

Stalkers developed their own terminology for what they came across in the Zone: ‘witches jelly’, ‘so-so’s’, ‘mosquito mange’, ‘black sprays’.
Scientific Institutes provided a legitimate outlet for interest in the Zones. Red took a post at the Institute. His boss was a Russian, Kirill, the only one Red could respect and admire. Kirill’s motives were purely scientific, but he was careful, knew how to play the game with the authorities, and yet retain his integrity.
They were working with ‘empties’, until  Red mentioned he knew where there were some ‘full empties’. What were these? No one knew – the Zones contained areas of a completely unknown kind of physics. ‘Empties’ were like glass jars, with metal top and bottom – only the glass, or whatever was the container material was not visible or accessible to analysis: two metal discs held in an unbreakable relationship; but Red had seen them contain blue material in between.

In one of the witty concepts of the book they gained a license to enter the Zone, and used the ‘flying boot’, a kind of hover car. The ‘full empties’ were obtained, and Red was paid handsomely, but the consequences were severe: a moment’s lapse of concentration led to disaster. And guilt. Money, guilt and a mind increasingly disordered by Stalking in the Zone, left Red to count the continual cost.

What was the Visitation? At one point Red runs through the possibilities – was it a statement of intent by an alien race, of contact? Will they come again? It was certainly an indication that we are not alone in the universe, and that there were other intelligent beings out there. That they had an interest in us.
Later he wondered with a jolt – was it the beginning of an invasion? A slow seep of poisonous ideas and materials into our ordered world?
Or was it, as someone else said, just a roadside picnic site – that they never even knew or cared we were there? That all these objects, anomalies left behind, were just the garbage and refuse of lazy, loutish picnic-ers?

All this alien technology threw our own scientific knowledge and certainties into the waste bin. And along with them our ideas and hopes of progress. Our own civilisations can be seen to be no more that errors, blips, on the universe.

On a political level, the book, written in the coldest parts of the Cold War, gives us the greatest achievements of two civilisations: the American, and the Soviet. If these are only roadside picnic spots, then in the way the alien science throws all earth’s discoveries in physics, chemistry, all the hard sciences, out of the window, we glimpse a metaphor for the wanton waste and failure of those two huge political systems.
In the way these greatly more advanced species act, we see the concepts of morals and ethics, of diplomacy, of value, of all we hold most dear, thrown into question. Advancement in the sciences need not equate with advancement in behavioural attitudes. If that is so, then what is this term ‘advancement’?

And we begin to see the ecological impact implicit in this – a mirror of our own impact on the earth. The spill-off materials altered the soil, composition and environment, of the Zones in unpredictable and unimaginable ways.
It was found that the children of Stalkers were different; there was no detectable radiation in the Zones, but things were beginning to happen. Red’s own daughter changed – she was born with a hair covering, but a child despite that. In time she became less human, but not some other species. One night Red’s father appeared; he had died years before the Visit. ‘They aren’t people’, scientists declared. ‘We call them moulages’ they were the bones of the dead, and flesh material had gathered around them again. They walked, ate, breathed. What were they?
Like Red’s daughter they were not human, nor an alien species, but existed in some form, in some definition.

And the denouement was a final trek into the Zone for the fabled Golden Ball.
It granted wishes, the legends said. As Red made the perilous journey it was to be a journey into the self: they will not be any old wishes it grants, they will the deepest wishes, the deepest most unknowable of the heart’s desires. He was the last of the real Stalkers – only he now had the nous, the  knowledge, for a protracted, perilous journey through the Zone.

All along, with the terrible price he was willing to pay, he had to prove he was worth this, that he was fundamentally a ‘good’ man – even with his petty, lowdown history, with the last ultimate deed that he was prepared to allowed happen, he had to be fundamentally ‘good’, ‘honest’, one of the few, the book reveals, of the surrounding sharks, gangsters, and abusers of the community around the Zone.

The book leaves us with this.
We now realise he never intended to come back; his last act was to be one of sacrifice for the sacrifice he committed in order to gain access to the greater good.

Was that a wish to wipe away the Zones altogether, as if they had never happened? Was ignorance preferable? Or did he wish something else?

Theodore Sturgeon, in his Introduction, writes of the book’s ‘deft handling of loyalty and greed, of friendship and love, of despair and frustration and loneliness…’. Another angle of the book is that between the ideal, the desired, and reality. The book opens with Doctor Valentine Pilman trying to deflect the interviewer from pinning him down as the originator of the Visitor-origin area: it was not so straight-forward or simple, a boy came up with the idea, but he himself got the Prize.
Throughout we see the desired life, rewards, and then the reality at odds with these. At the end we see the Golden Ball –… only then Redrick looked up at the ball. Carefully. With caution. With a sudden fear that it would turn out wrong – that it would disappoint him… it was not golden, it was more a copper colour…’.

The influences of the book can be seen in Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’, based on the Red’s character.


The witch’s jelly/colloidal gas’s effects can be seen in the the ‘mineral acid’ blood of the aliens in the film Alien . The Zones uncannily reflects Chernobyl’s own devastated zone.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky:


The Demaundes Joyous
The lightness of these, when measured against the Old English Riddles, makes them seem mere bagatelles. Quite a lot of those Old English Riddles are light and jokey also; it is just the labour of translation makes them seem less. But for ease of reading, and sheer fun, we  have these.
Did I mention translation? Yes, well, these are also translations – but not from the heavy?, stodgy? Anglo-Saxon – no, they are from the Romance of northern French.

The Demaundes Joyous

1 Who was Adam’s moder?

2 What space is from the hyest space of the se to the depest?

3 How many calves tayles behoveth to reche from the erthe to the skye?

4 Which parte of a sergeaunte love ye best toward you?

5 Which is the moost profitable beest, and that men eteth leest of?

6 Which is the broadest water and leest jeopardye to passe over?

7 What beest is it that hath her tayle between her eyen?

8 Wherefore set they upon churche steples more a cocke than a henne?

9  Why doth an ox or a cowe lye?

10 Which was first, the henne or the egge?

11 Which tyme in the yere bereth a gose moost feders?


– It is always best to have a ‘flavour’ of the kind of answer expected. So, here is the answer to Question 3:
No more but one if it be long ynough.

If you want to try and answer these… then let’s say you must do so in the curious English of their period.

The source of these Demaundes Joyous is Wynkyn de Worde, 1511.
The collection contains about fifty such riddles – I have skipped the more church-orientated, and so maybe a little obscure now eg Why come dogges so often to the churche? etc.
My source says the collection here is based partly on an early sixteenth-century French collection, Demandes joyeuses en maniere de quolibets.

There are some old crocks here: Which came first, egg or hen? But there is no Why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe that is in the other forty, not included.
Some are a little… indelicate? Some just crazy. All have the flavour of their period.


Happy Festive Season!