Category Archives: Housekeeping

Hibernation announcement

Back soon. Sooner than you or I imagine — with any luck.



Filed under Housekeeping

A mirage of minds in verse

There are penetrating, erudite discussions of poetry in other places on this net – but there will only ever be scruffy, dog-eared and raffish disquisitions on the subject here. That’s a guarantee.

Especially for anyone groping for aspirin in the early hours of 1 January 2009 with screaming eyeballs and a thunderous head, this site offers, with a heartfelt . . .

====== H A P P Y – N E W – Y E A R ======

. . . a most unusual artefact. It’s a collaborative poem – complete with incisive critical feedback – that some of us wrote last year, as January blurred into February. However bad you feel when you start reading it, let me assure you that you will feel far worse when you get to the end.

This post is also a tribute to the capering, Carrollian, quicksilver wit and spirit of cynicalsteve, one of the collaborators, whom many of us dearly loved – and lost last August. More than anything, he wanted to bring us surprises, delight and mirth. He was revolted by any hint of the maudlin. So that’s all I’m going to say about him, as I leave you to –-

The Mirage of Minds

Let us to the mirage of two minds admit no clarifier;
To the massage of two miners, admit no peppermint.
It’s no skin off my nose if you admit mirrors to Claridges,
Or stuff yourself silly with part-chouli-scented porridges.

For many’s the tome writ, mind moving on drunk paralitic,
By folks pulling off an ‘artist of the floating world’ shtick . . .

[a.k.a. @3p4 in late December, 2008]
04 Feb 08, 7:17am

Guardian Feb 3rd,the drunken thread,,you people* gonna have a bad hungover,,

No, dropin, I was only caffeinated, really. . . . You can see how that miracle in verse was put together here. Future scholars of the blogosphere, please note: one or two bloggers tried to write long conclusions by themselves – but something not quite definable was lost in the transition from collective to individual genius. . . . All new attempts at completion are welcome.

* [ ‘you people’: line 1 – @MeltonMowbray + @wordnerd7; 2 – @misharialadwani; 3 – @cynicalsteve; 4 – @wordnerd7; 5 – @PracticingArtist (DesmondSwords); 6 – @wordnerd7 ]


Filed under Housekeeping, Poetry, The Guardian

Yuletide mystery: avatars that can’t keep their clothes on

an old legend that attributed the discovery of roast turkey to the monks in the 13th century

William Heath Robinson: The first roast turkey: an old legend that attributed the discovery of roast turkey to the monks in the 13th century

Consider, if you will, a nudist avatar. Don’t worry, for the moment, about what it has to do with Christmas – even if I was introduced to this mind-bending oxymoron in a casual discussion between two thirtysomething lawyers talking across me at a Christmas lunch. It has something to do with the idea being not merely a conception but a contraption.

One of my neighbours was describing a divorce case. It was initiated by a wife incensed by her husband’s idealised self stripping down to his imaginary perfection with other believers in the same –ism – nudism – on Second Life, the all-digital Never-Never Land. Nudism, we know, is supposed to be about divesting yourself of all the artifice and status encoding that create needless barriers between human beings; about accepting the brute facts of your physical endowment with pride and joy. A vision of swaying, jiggling and drooping en masse inflicted on me on a Greek island at the long-ago age of twenty-one is engraved on the part of my brain that stores minor traumas.

But if nudism is about accepting and celebrating reality, what does it mean to take it all off not you, but the being you’ve invented to give reality the slip?

This manoeuvre struck me as almost as convoluted and unfathomable as some of the contraptions of W. Heath Robinson – the cartooning inventor-fabulist whose flighty meditation on the origin of the classic seasonal food I have borrowed to say – H A P P Y – C H R I S T M A S – a bit early, to everyone checking in here.

I had for some days before the lunch been wandering into an online gallery of his work, trying to decide whether, for example, I liked Compressed Billiards for Maisonettes more than A Cloud Dispeller Designed by the First Lord Discovering a Heinkel Bomber Hiding in a Cloud. That was because some of us on this site had been comparing his work to the creations of Jean Tinguely, the Swiss artist who specialised in designing satirical mechanical sculptures — with, Hazlitt told us, practically no justification at all.

From the lawyerly tête-à-tête, I gathered that the couple in the nudist avatar divorce were, like my fellow guests, in their early thirties – the average age of Second Lifers. When we got to the pudding course, they were complaining that the long sentences and descriptions of Charles Dickens were complicated and annoying, which made me rather sad. I find it disheartening that a generation after my own seems to have no patience whatsoever with his style of mental knotting — but unlimited tolerance for mental acrobatics involving figures in the pedestrian artists’ illustrations that pass for avatars.

How could anyone prefer those pictures to – for instance — the scene in A Christmas Carol when Dickens begins to turn up the suspense for Scrooge’s first haunting with an unexpected reminder of his partner, Marley, who has been dead for six years. On his way home from work, the peerless grump enters ‘a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard,’ and, Dickens continues,

. . . let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened
that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door,
saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate
process of change–not a knocker, but Marley’s face.

Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow
as the other objects in the yard were, but had a
dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark
cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked
at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly
spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The
hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air;
and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly
motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it
horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the
face and beyond its control, rather than a part of
its own expression.

Only being tickled made me giggle as much as listening to this passage, at some age before independent reading – and it has much the same effect on me now.

Do younger people – no matter how bright they are – find sentences of many clauses indigestible because no one read them to them properly, when they were children? I mean, pronounce them rivetingly, varying tone and pace so that understanding the way they worked became instinctive?

Or does the gap between their ability to enjoy Dickensian and digital fantasy have something to do with an inescapable requirement that a solipsism quotient be met? As readers, we let authors annexe our imaginations. It’s different in our compulsive contemporary electronic playgrounds, which cater to self-love by letting us insert pseudo-selves – artefacts of our own imaginations – into stories we help to shape. The imagery is shallow and two-dimensional by comparison with what minds following the multi-faceted directions of, say, a Dickens, can conjure and generate. But in imaginative entertainment, we’ve apparently entered the age of No Complexity Without Vanity.

A shrug seems the only possible response: autres temps, autres moeurs.

Another year is ending, and there’s no holding back progress.


Filed under Housekeeping, The blogosphere

A fanfare for the makers in this spot

One of the first and most generous bloggers to help start this still teetering and uneven site-in-progress – one month old today — is an artist who, I think, works in stained glass. He’s shy about mentioning his work, so I haven’t tried pinning him down on the question.

But he’s not the only ‘visual artist’ in our small group of pioneers. Because of this, and because we’re all in some way engaged in making something that didn’t exist before we picked up a paintbrush, pen, chisel, art glass segment, . . . or started tapping at computer keys, I feel as if I couldn’t have done better if I’d invited every blogger commenting here – instead of simply waiting to see who came along.

Considering this last week, a poem came to mind – and this week, to my astonishment, I saw its author, Louis MacNeice, mentioned on The Guardian’s books blog for the first time for the two years I’ve been reading there. There was a brief and well-informed discussion about him among people schooled in the formal analysis of literature. It was about a suggestion that one slot in which he belongs is with poets who have written about trains.

I would call MacNeice sui generis, and would rather bite down on a ten-inch nail than stuff him into any box. That, as you’ll see if you read Fanfare, is almost certainly how he felt himself. Though some lines wobble on the brink of cloying, the poem is a subtle, deeply considered and waltzing-on-air celebration of every form of creativity. He goes to special pains to erase hierarchy and snobbish distinctions – as alarming (posting as ETAYLOR) did a few days ago in a chat with deadgod on the same newspaper’s site:

[T]here is art which is better or more interestingly made than other art, art which deals with more profound matters than other art, there’s art which chimes with your personal tastes and so on.

My partner’s dad was an instrument engineer. He made machines which made practical machines and tools. There’s no art in terms of aesthetics or insight into human life but there’s incredible art in his engineering and concision of thought in making these things. It seems a bit mean not to call what he does art even if he’d be the first to admit that there’s nothing that relates it to the aims of painting, writing or composing ( to name but three ).

Contact with people doing the kind of work that alarming and other envisioners do has been close to the greatest satisfaction from venturing into the blogosphere, for me. I’m thinking, now, of a blog post describing the making of an unquestionably pink, porcine equivalent of the Great Wall of China, and of a stained glass panel by Mrs cynicalsteve, a gifted jeweller and stained glass artist also known as Michele Bailey. That has something to do with painting being the road I didn’t take, at about sixteen – an excruciating decision.

I suspect that a still controversial theory of some neuroscientists explains my reaction. It has to do with cells called ‘mirror neurons’ – whose behaviour suggests that vicarious pleasure and pain are feelings with an actual physical counterpart in our brains:

. . . “Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.”

The discovery is [. . .] shifting the understanding of culture, empathy. . .

[. . .] Mirror neurons reveal how children learn, why people respond to certain types of sports, dance, music and art, [. . .]

To the small fire that never leaves the sky./ To the great fire that boils the daily pot . . . I leave you to MacNeice’s words, and am putting him in a new section I’m calling Geniuses – in the sense of ‘tutelary spirits’.


Filed under Housekeeping, Poetry, The blogosphere, The Guardian, Visual art & artists

Comment-gobbler at WordPress

ISA and Hazlitt, sorry that you found ‘Comment awaiting moderation’ messages after your last two posts. They had nothing to do with me. I got the same treatment myself yesterday, trying to leave a thought-let or two at obooki’s place, and was flummoxed. Since that had never happened over there (after my first contribution), I wondered if mein host might be annoyed with me. . . Now I suspect that a powerful gremlin is at large in WP’s innards and can only hope that it’s caught soon.

3p4, I found you — I mean, your Waterstone’s protest post — in solitary confinement in my spam queue. After I’d released it, I saw that you’d made the identical comment at obooki’s, so could understand a (yes, extremely) dim spambot mistaking you for a perp. . . For years, I’ve had a habit of blind-copying myself on all the email messages I write. When the spam-filtering has been overly zealous at various net portals, I’ve found even those sentenced to the junk mail queue.

That’s all for the moment. It’s tempting to put off what I’m supposed to be doing to reply to recent comments now, but if I do, I fear I could be carted off to the nearest net addiction treatment centre . . . I’ll be back as soon as I can.

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