Saturday, December 04, 2004

"They danced their dances with obscene acts..."

A description of the Khazars (in this context possibly meaning the Huns?) from "The History of the Caucasian Albanians" by Movses Dasxuranci(a.k.a. Moses Kałankatuaçi; tr. C.J.F. Dowsett,Oxford, 1961), written around 1000AD.

(stolen mercilessly from the excellent idiocentrism and found via languagehat).

"thumb-cutters" and the Turkish Khazars. The Khazars: "bestial, gold-loving tribes of hairy men.... an ugly, insolent, broadfaced, eyelashless mob in the shape of women with flowing hair....demented in their satanically deluded tree-worshipping errors in accordance with their northern dull-witted stupidity, addicted to their fictitious and deceptive religion....There we observed them on their couches like rows of heavily laden camels. Each had a bowl full of the flesh of unclean animals, and dishes containing salt water into which they dipped their food, and brimming silver cups and beakers chased with gold which had been taken from the plunder from Tiflis. They also had drinking horns and gourd-shaped utensils from which they lapped their broth and similar greasy, congealed, unwashed abominations. Two or three of them to one cup, they greedily and bestially poured neat wine into their insatiable bellies which had the appearance of bloated goatskins..... Possessing completely anarchical minds, they stumble into every sort of error, beating drums and whistling over corpses, inflicting bloody sabre and dagger cuts on their cheeks and limbs, and engaging naked in sword fights – oh hellish sight! – at the graves, man against man and troop against troop, all stripped for battle..... They danced their dances with obscene acts, sunk in benighted filth and deprived of the sight of the light of the creator.... They were also incontinent sexually, and in accordance with their heathen, barbarous customs they married their father's wife, shared one wife between two brothers, and married several women."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

1.1988 - Ely to St Monace

North of Edinburgh, across the Firth of Forth lies the Kingdom of Fife. The word "kingdom" is only applied ironically these days, Fife not having been independent for 800 years or so. Still, there is something that sets this bulbous peninsula apart, the south-east corner (the “east neuk” of Fife) most of all.
Low, sandy hills sweep gently down to the slowly curving shore. The only straight lines to be seen are man made and there are few enough of those. True, the streets that run straight up from the sea in the little villages sprinkled along the coast could have been laid along tightened fishing lines, but the houses along side them have the sillouhetes of half risen loaves of bread. Precarious lumps of glittering granite, they look as though they could collapse at any minute although none has stood for less than 200 years.
The beaches are quietly pleasant during good weather and attritionally awful in bad. The sand is just a shade too pale to be called golden, the grains a little too large and sharp to make lying on it comfortable for any length of time.
This sand was once famous for “Ely Rubies”, chunks of garnet the colour of clotted blood and the size of a thumbnail, that could be plucked out after every storm, their perfect dodecahedral geometry making them look like machined parts lost from some ancient alien shipwreck.
Also in the sand, and immensely more common, are tiny flecks of mica that give it a cheap glitter effect when you hold a pile of it in your hand. And yet, when you pour out that pile of sand, having sifted through it for small garnets no doubt, something unexpected, magical sometimes happens.
Mica sticks to your hand and as you lazily raise it, to shield your eyes or point at a boat, the sun catches the flecks at a low angle. All of a sudden, for a few seconds only, your hand seems to have become translucent, misty - and through that flesh coloured mist the flash of the mica looks like stars, hugely distant, enveloped in clouds. For a moment you see through the world of appearances, through skin, flesh and bone into the place where you really live and you see that that is where stars are born.
The light shifts, the illusion is broken – but something of it, the sense of vastness within, stays with you. Not because it comes as a revelation but because it is something you have always known.

Thursday, November 25, 2004



Dig my grave and raise my barrow
By the Dnieper-side
In Ukraina, my own land,
A fair land and wide.
I will lie and watch the cornfields,
Listen through the years
To the river voices roaring,
Roaring in my ears.

When I hear the call
Of the racing flood,
Loud with hated blood,
I will leave them all,
Fields and hills; and force my way
Right up to the Throne
Where God sits alone;
Clasp His feet and pray...
But till that day
What is God to me?

Bury me, be done with me,
Rise and break your chain,
Water your new liberty
With blood for rain.
Then, in the mighty family
Of all men that are free,
Maybe sometimes, very softly,
You will speak of me?

Taras Shevchenko
Translated by E. L. Voynich
London, 1911

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"May the Lord turn all things to the best"

"In 1525, during the night between Wednesday and Thursday after Whitsuntide, I had this vision in my sleep, and saw how many great waters fell from heaven. The first struck the ground about four miles away from me with such a terrible force, enormous noise and splashing that it drowned the entire countryside. I was so greatly shocked at this that I awoke before the cloudburst. And the ensuing downpour was huge. Some of the waters fell some distance away and some close by. And they came from such a height that they seemed to fall at an equally slow pace. But the very first water that hit the ground so suddenly had fallen at such velocity, and was accompanied by wind and roaring so frightening, that when I awoke my whole body trembled and I could not recover for a long time. When I arose in the morning, I painted the above as I had seen it. May the Lord turn all things to the best."
Albrecht Dürer, 1525

no title

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea, --
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

Emily Dickinson

Saturday, November 13, 2004

I’d Love to be a Fairy’s Child

CHILDREN born of fairy stock
Never need for shirt or frock,
Never want for food or fire,
Always get their heart’s desire:
Jingle pockets full of gold,
Marry when they’re seven years old.
Every fairy child may keep
Two strong ponies and ten sheep;
All have houses, each his own,
Built of brick or granite stone;
They live on cherries, they run wild—
I’d love to be a Fairy’s child.

Robert Graves (1895–1985). Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

[found via the totally rocking Robert Graves Trust website. Graves is pretty unknown as a poet these days, sadly. I read one of his poems at my fathers funeral so you will probably understand that we were both fans.
Graves reputation nowadays rests almost entirely on the Claudius books (which he regarded as potboilers) and The White Goddess - a very odd attempt to come up with a kind of grand synthesis of myth, poetry and the psychological impulses behind all forms of creativity. He described it himself as being "a historical grammar of the language of poetic myth." It's a terrific, but difficult, read and for a long time after publication was regarded as the product of a brilliant but shattered mind. With the rise in interest in Goddess religions over the past few decades, however, it has slowly become more well known. A odd fate for a book that was at least partly inspired by what looks very much like a psychologically D/s relationship between Graves and his long-time muse Laura Riding ...
Incidentally, I make no apologies for most of the above links being to wikipedia - Graves is an excellent example of a writer with a small but devoted and knowledgeable readership and has been well-served by the people who wrote those pages. I wouldn't dream, however, of linking to the equivalent pages of a more controversial poet (Ted Hughes, say) where the wikipedia can easily turn into a palimpsest of flames and conflicting interpretations. Which is, I suppose, a round-about way of saying that a open wiki can never really be authoritative - you will always have to know something of the subject you look up, if it is at all controversial, in order to separate signal from noise.]

A Metric for the Bad English Accent - an Interim Report

The derived SI unit for bad English accents is the Van Dyke and was introduced in 1981 when it became clear it was required in the film casting industry. Its definition in terms of base units is complex, but it was constructed such that 1 vD should be equivalent to an objective measurement of the accent of Dick Van Dyke in the movie Mary Poppins ("Gor bloimey Mairry Poppins!").
For all practical purposes 1 vD is vastly too large for general usage. More usually, English Accent Awfulness (EAA) is measured in milli Van Dykes ("Paltrow got her EAA down to 6 mvD in that take") or micro van Dykes ("Zellweger is easily in the micro vD range").
Unconfirmed reports do suggest of localised readings of up to 5 GvD at the Texas RenFaire.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

"Men of Greece, this is the place for you to settle, for here there is a hole in the sky."

Herodotus 4.150-8

I have no idea what this means. google has been useless. Anyone want to help?

The above posted to askmetafilter on November 7.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


So, I am totally desperately unhappy.
In case anyone is interested, I am hurt.

I am not the best person available.

[added 10-13-04. Damm, people are actually reading this stuff. Must be more careful about letting the despair show...]

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bagpipe Music

Bagpipe Music
by Louis Macneice

It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."

It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Merciles beaute


YOUR yen two wol slee me sodenly,
I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hetres wounde, whyl that hit is grene,
Your yen two wol slee me sodenly,
I may the beaute of hem not sustene.

Upon my trouthe I seyy yow feithfully,
That ye ben of my lyf deeth the quene;
Foe with my deeth the trouthe shal be sene.
Your yen two wol slee me sodenly,
I may the beaute of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit through-out my herte kene.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Fall of Rome

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

"The Fall of Rome by W. H. Auden

Not to be left behind

"...Not to lose time, not to get caught,
Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble
The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water
Or stone whose conduct can be predicted..."

From "In Praise of Limestone", W.H.Auden (1948)

Friday, June 25, 2004




ydoan o
yunnuhstand dem
yguduh ged

yunnuhstan dem doidee
yguduh ged riduh
ydoan o nudn



lidl yelluh bas
tuds weer goin


e.e. cummings (1944)

(courtesy of helmintholog).

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Damm, von Neumann was smart...

In 1950, John von Neumann said that "science and technology will shift from a past emphasis on motion, force, and energy to communication, organization, programming, and control."

Stanislaw Ulam Memorial Lectures

Sunday, June 20, 2004

I read the hexameters and dreamed of the life abroad

"In my hands, I had a copy of the Iliad in the Russian hexameter of Gnyeditch; in my pocket, a passport made out in the name of Trotsky, which I wrote in it at random, without even imagining that it would become my name for the rest of my life ... Throughout the journey, the entire car full of passengers drank tea and ate cheap Siberian buns. I read the hexameters and dreamed of the life abroad. The escape proved to be quite without romantic glamour; it dissolved into nothing but an endless drinking of tea."

Leon Trotsky, from "My First Escape".

See also this review by the dreaded Christopher Hitchens, who appears to be unable to throw off those last feverish thoughts that infection with Trotskyist memes at an early age cause.

From the same review (I can't find a source for this online); to the pre-war government of Norway when they announce his deportation:

"This is your first act of surrender to Nazism in your own country. You will pay for this. You think yourselves secure and free to deal with a political exile as you please. But the day is near—remember this!—the day is near when the Nazis will drive you from your country, all of you."

Hitchens compares Trotsky to Cassandra and certainly there is something genuinely reminiscent of a Greek trgedy in the mans life. How come no-one ever based on opera on him?

Friday, May 21, 2004

The Great God Pan

"Clarke heard the words quite distinctly, and knew that
Raymond was speaking to him, but for the life of him he could
not rouse himself from his lethargy. He could only think of the
lonely walk he had taken fifteen years ago; it was his last look
at the fields and woods he had known since he was a child, and
now it all stood out in brilliant light, as a picture, before
him. Above all there came to his nostrils the scent of summer,
the smell of flowers mingled, and the odour of the woods, of
cool shaded places, deep in the green depths, drawn forth by the
sun's heat; and the scent of the good earth, lying as it were
with arms stretched forth, and smiling lips, overpowered all.
His fancies made him wander, as he had wandered long ago, from
the fields into the wood, tracking a little path between the
shining undergrowth of beech-trees; and the trickle of water
dropping from the limestone rock sounded as a clear melody in
the dream. Thoughts began to go astray and to mingle with other
thoughts; the beech alley was transformed to a path between
ilex-trees, and here and there a vine climbed from bough to
bough, and sent up waving tendrils and drooped with purple
grapes, and the sparse grey-green leaves of a wild olive-tree
stood out against the dark shadows of the ilex. Clarke, in the
deep folds of dream, was conscious that the path from his
father's house had led him into an undiscovered country, and he
was wondering at the strangeness of it all, when suddenly, in
place of the hum and murmur of the summer, an infinite silence
seemed to fall on all things, and the wood was hushed, and for a
moment in time he stood face to face there with a presence, that
was neither man nor beast, neither the living nor the dead, but
all things mingled, the form of all things but devoid of all
form. And in that moment, the sacrament of body and soul was
dissolved, and a voice seemed to cry "Let us go hence," and
then the darkness of darkness beyond the stars, the darkness of

"The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The White People

"So I went on and on till I came to the secret wood which must not be described, and I crept into it by the way I had found. And when I had gone about halfway I stopped, and turned round, and got ready, and I bound the handkerchief tightly round my eyes, and made quite sure that I could not see at all, not a twig, nor the end of a leaf, nor the light of the sky, as it was an old red silk handkerchief with large yellow spots, that went round twice and covered my eyes, so that I could see nothing. Then I began to go on, step by step, very slowly. My heart beat faster and faster, and something rose in my throat that choked me and made me want to cry out, but I shut my lips, and went on. Boughs caught in my hair as I went, and great thorns tore me; but I went on to the end of the path. Then I stopped, and held out my arms and bowed, and I went round the first time, feeling with my hands, and there was nothing. I went round the second time, feeling with my hands, and there was nothing. Then I went round the third time, feeling with my hands, and the story was all true, and I wished that the years were gone by, and that I had not so long a time to wait before I was happy for ever and ever."

The White People by Arthur Machen (1906)

Monday, May 17, 2004

Lionel Fanthorpe, Literary Giant

"Then there was Paul Whiteland, as different from Jansen as chalk from cheese. Which of them you preferred depended on which type of character you preferred—chalk or cheese. They are both useful in their own way. You can't write on a blackboard with a lump of Cheddar. You can't satisfy your appetite with three sticks of coloured Writing apparatus."

Juggernaut, Lionel Fanthorpe writing as Bron Fane

The Lionel Fanthorpe text library is here.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Gay Marriage: Tainting the octopus

The medium lobster on why gay marriage will cause
"a lethal wave of Gay to spread through the Celestial Empyrean itself."

Just to put this somewhere safe ...

Three of Wands

A calm, stately personage, with his back turned, looking from a cliffs edge at ships passing over the sea. Three staves are planted in the ground, and he leans slightly on one of them

He dreams of ships
Moving, silently and with
The grace of clouds
Through water the colour of
Tarnished metal
Waves damped down to sullen swells
By the weight of his expectation

Let them slide through, like icebergs. Unstoppable, shocking all who see them with the density of their presence. Let them be more real than the ports they visit, their sharp profiles stabbing the eyes of those who inhabit those low, windswept towns. Though they are made only of wood and tar, canvas and steel, let all those elements be energised and brought together by the urgency of my desire. If I cannot go with the agents of my thoughts, across those glittering, slippery waters, let them take the part of me that yearns with them. Let them stand for me in the parts of this world I shall never own with my senses. And then let them return.

He dreams of ships
Spinning across a black velvet sky
Like dice made of bone
Singing their songs
Braiding the emptiness
Into a skein of thought held up
By the lightness of his desires

by thatwhichfalls

Still Testing

Publishing of new posts is still very slow - probably something to do with the upgrades yesterday.
New templates are nice though.

More later, possibly.