Wednesday, 12 December 2012

more objects of desire

i loved this thing the instant i saw it(much more than peter carey's book, the chemistry of tears, which covers this very subject. much, much more!). imagine my surprise then that's its maker, the house of automata, is based here in scotland. so definitely a visit the next time we're in that neck of the woods. the only slight problem is that t has a freakish fear of just these very automata. so much she can only look at them from across the room!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

one for the brazilians...

came across this in via the guardian today. obviously it appeals to that same strand as the rouleur reader in me. and equally i understand barely a word - i did immediately send it to my only brazilian protuguese speaking frind demanding she be my film watching proxy. can't wait to see a subtitled version

Thursday, 6 December 2012

long cold winter nights?

feel like you have too much time on your hands?

fell like making taking that picture just a little more complicated?

then check this out.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

kanitta meechubot

one of the strands i look for in visual art these days is something that captures a sense of what it is i see and do at work. so i was browsing an old copy of granta this morning and came across kanitta meechubot. you can see more in this series here, catch up on her blog here and if you're in that london you can see her exhibition at the book club until january (should you want to send me the accompanying catalogue i would accept it with some gratitude!)

in contrast, and seeing as how i'm never going to get round to it, i've had a blog post kicking about in my head that's kind of jeanette winterson, kind of virginia woolf and a bit of a lament about the state of writing at the moment. maybe this is because i'm just after reading woolf's the waves, which if it was written today i'd hazard wouldn't have chance one of getting published, and a fair bit of la winterson, who i'm always surprised gets published at all.

there seems, to me (!), to be so much really excellent, thought provoking and generally wow-ish visual art knocking about these days (all hail the internet) in contrast to the written word. is it just because reading takes longer? are there repositories of genuinely dazzling writing that it just takes too long to get to? who knows? me, rather than reading i'm going off out on my bike with a head full of kanitta meechubot. that'll do me!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

needless objects of desire

xmas is rearing its ugly head once again and the shops are full of tat. naturally (despite the fact that my head is still set around the traditional time of xmas being around the third week of december) i'm being questioned about what things i don't need or want that i 'hope' to get and what'll i'll be getting t.

to the latter any shrug of the shoulders is met with the inevitable 'get her jewelry/perfume' response quickly followed by frank bewilderment that t wouldn't want or need either of those things. 'she says no but she means yes' my female colleagues tell me with no hint of irony before, i am sure, discussing t's failings as a woman.

hardly more acceptable in their eyes is my contention that i don't really want or need anything beyond, if i'm lucky, some decent time off (t loves xmas with all the trimmings) around the festives so that we can kick back, make some decent food and maybe go for some walks. this year, assuming t can stay out of hospital,  most likely we'll do some work in the shop, which will be great but a fact i probably won't share as my work colleagues will think it's even odder.

all of which was fine until i happened upon the derringer site. oh my goodness. how much do i want one of them? no matter how i might rail against useless consumerism, that they aren't practical and very likely not even legal here i would love one of these just to look at. maybe if i'm back in the states i can get a shot...

in the meantime check out the bit about board track racing. who knew?

Monday, 19 November 2012

the fire lookout

A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout. from Gary Yost on Vimeo.

every so often t will go off on one about us needing to be out and about more, usually after a long day at the felt mine or somesuch. i point out that there's only so many hours in the day and we can't, in that stretched time that's required for making anything that requires imagination, be out lolling about in various guises when we could be doing the stuff we prefer (and, for me, actual work, being on the bike and the like). imagine, i suggest, if we could only be shut away with no distractions, how much we could get done. t, always the more sociable, will point out the many ways in which human contact might be beneficial. as opposed to isolation she will point out and then, looking at me, say, but that all sounds great to you doesn't it?

since i was wee i've always fancied those isolated lives - lighthouse keeping and the like - and i remember being very taken with the idea of being a fire lookout. true, i think  maybe back in my teens there was a big element of just being away but these days i could quite fancy the routine and rhythm of it all but most of all the quiet. last year, after days on the bike and no more noise than the wind, the sea and the tent we came back home to be deafened by all the racket, dazzled by the intrusion of the tv.

i remember too, the disappointment the first time i read about jack kerouac and desolation peak. me and jack, who were never really close, parted ways i think at that point. possibly i have more insight now but i still have the same sense of amazement that i had then, that he just couldn't hack it. disappointingly tho, i never did suss out how to do a stint myself to see if i would fare any better. seeing the above tho, i think i might...

Friday, 16 November 2012

the swedish

the learning of the swedish drags on. i'm willing to accept that maybe sometimes it takes a while for a language to reveal itself but so far, swedish is taking the biscuit. i have, for example, yet to find a word that just sounds better in swedish* than anything else and that's before the bewildering number of words that have just been adopted straight from english, or german or even a bit of french. but that's the swedes for you - get a word, put att in front of it and an a on the end and hey presto a whole new verb! and that's before the you see them using their famous economy. why have two words when you can have one - just add a diacritic. then, just when you think you're getting it, welcome to the world of dialect. ost you say? no, oost. oost, no, ost? no, oost, you're in gotland now son.

or just speak english. mostly i thought all the english speaking was due to the export of all that uk daytime tv, a daily diet of midsummer murders and general swedish politeness. but perhaps not.

*i should point out that while i may not have discovered a swedish word that encompasses a thing better than any other but i do love the vowel sounds. the best bit of flying is being in the queue at the airport, hearing the sounds, right before realising i can't understand then! (hint - internet radio is your friend!)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

the armstrong thing

if i have a guilty magazine pleasure then it's rouleur. from the moment it hits the mat i'm looking forward to settling down and opening it. the coffee will go on, i'll wait for a quiet moment and then out it will come. it's not so much what's in it but the instant hit of the smell of fresh print. then there's the mix of top quality images, articles so niche they're niche in themselves and a refreshing lack of ads. of course there are things i don't like. there can be no illusion that this is anything but a boy's club even if, and they've been better at this recently, the odd woman does crop up now and again. not so very long ago they had a brilliant article on women's racing, an article that reflected the very set of values that you'd expect rouleur readers to be into. indeed were it not for t's change of circumstance swiss lounge would've have been punting some sponsor money to a woman's team this year.

but cycling for rouleur will be a man's sport. you can hear this in their podcasts. this being rouleur, obviously they don't just talk about cycling. here, they hold forth about cartier-bresson, the social nature of velodrome racing and photography in general. not the stuff you get in your regular bike magazine! but, it being rouleur, the lance armstorng issue creeps in. and it's here that johhny green (whose column in rouleur is probably my least favourite - something that may well change with this podcast) steps up. going on from cartier-bresson the discussion comes around to the nature of memory. johnny green was, he says, at luz ardiden and no amount of revisionism can make him remember it differently. but armstrong they say. i don't care. says green. you can here the intake of breath.

armstrong is the bogey man of cycling at the moment, a cypher for all that 'went wrong'. except that in order for it to have 'gone wrong' one would have to ignore pretty much the whole history of professional cycling where 'preparation' has been in use since the first decade of the 20th century, manufacturer and sponsor manipulation (it's the kindest word) have been, if not the causative factor, then intrinsic to the races we so favour today. i got asked last night what i thought of it all. i love watching the bike racing i said, but i take it no more seriously than american wrestling. for me, as barthes far more eloquently put, it's a metaphor, not a race.

but what then of the doping? and what then of armstrong? armstrong i don't much care. i saw armstrong the other year (apparently, in some circles, this makes me an 'enabler'!) and i realised that i could never know what it was like to be him, to make the choices he's made. it was like being in a pressure cooker and i didn't like it. but the doping is a whole other thing. aside from the great mystery that it's cycling that is the 'dirty sport' (did no-one watch the olympics this year!) there are only two questions i would ask as a result of the whole shameful debacle.

firstly, where's all the money coming from? top cyclists earn but not that much, and their domestiques are just getting by. in which case all that needs be done is look for the money. but of course to do that would expose sponsors, for example, and they'd be off out of professional cycling like snow off a dyke. and then no more sport. a governing body of such a thing - where would that leave them?

and then there's the drugs. if, i used to ask, there are so many drugs in sport, where are they coming from? and, as if the cycling thing wasn't depressing enough the true horror that is big pharma seems apparent here. so they might be facing 780 million dollars in settlements. against what profits? and then you might think about these expensive drugs that have marginal effects that somehow keep cropping up in the media. do you honestly think that's a coincidence?

it may be yet that armstrong and possibly even others, have to pay back their prize money. but what about the people who made the drugs and by their practices allowed them to be used for these purposes. what about corrupt salesmen and medical professionals? will they ever be held to account? of course not. not in a society greased with money where all that's needed to market the latest snake oil is to hold up a picture of someone with cancer and put a headline of 'scandal' rather than look at the evidence.

maybe it's just easier to point the finger at armstrong. that we way we can 'believe' in the sport again rather than look at what lies behind it and the realisation that what we think doesn't actually matter at all.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

strava - getting quicker

twelve o'clock you say. surely time you were off out on your bike rather than typing up some blog post about cycling? maybe so but i'm burst after yesterday and there's always that thing that, particularly the more 'mature' rider, you need to kick back and listen to what your body's telling you.

not that it hasn't been a good set of days off (aside form almost continuous punctures but that's a whole other story). yesterday was my road/mtb combo day so i went out in the morning to get some miles in and generally have a slow rollout. as soon as i was out tho i noticed the favourable wind - when i say favourable i mean that the segments that have been resistant to time improvement due to a general battering from the wind, might just be a bit more do-able.

first off, some personal strava rules. wind assisted times are not kosher. drafting behind a car is equally not kosher (tractors are more acceptable as they're too slow and here your payment for this favour tends to be a faceful of some form of agricultural effluent). riding in a group while i suppose is okayish really isn't the same. and sniping? you're only cheating yourself. sneaking off on a wind assisted day to that one segment and only that segment? never whine about lance again!

anyway, i'm burling around and i come to a wee hill that i've found problematic in the past so i decide to give it a bit of pace (a slight aside here - andy murray's recent pronouncements on cycling lacking skill? if it wasn't already obvious and, as he come to realise - he's talking bollocks). the conclusion i'm drawing with the hills is that my approach to them is fundamentally wrong. I come in too fast, stay in too high a gear for too long, have bad cadence, go too much into the red zone and arrive at the top too burst to put in any decent speed.

i listen to these inner voices. i take three seconds off my pb.

further up the road, coming onto my favourite straight i see a cyclist. and not just any cyclist. he looks the part. good form on his bike, better bike, non-compact gears. i see what he sees when he sees me. dodgy winter bike, back pack, mountain bike helmet, overweight and kind of old. ha! i say. i don;t want to draught him but i sit, mudguards rattling, about 2 metres off his wheel. he knows i'm there, yes he does. he drops a gear, gets himself down on the drops. me, i'm up on the bars, biding my time. he looks back. yes, i'm still here. you'll need to try harder to shift this old geezer!

there's a wee combo of uphills in the centre and it's here he eases away. i see him do it and it's great to watch - this is exactly how i lose time. what is it that does this? is he just lighter? do i not just have the power to shift this much lard? or is it the hill itself, is the incline the thing that beats me before i've even started?

what i do know is that when we're back on the flat there is no doubt in my mind i will be faster. even now i still believe that, that i am the strongest and no-one, but no-one is faster than me in a straight line. i still believe this even when it's not true. i still believe this when i've run out of gears in a pursuit. looking back on strava i can see this in the segment profiles when i look at comparisons. on the flat speed isn;t an issue. as soon as the road goes up i fall back and worse, when i hot the top of the hill i don't push as hard.

i don't catch the guy. another mile and maybe. as it is he has about ten seconds on me btu i've taken back enough road to maintain dignity. more telling i've up'd my pb by fifty seven seconds. i'm happy about this but also profoundly depressed. what's going on in my head that i can't push this hard on my own? am i lazy or just scared? but then i smile. i've max'd out at 37.6mph on this stretch, picking up speed rather than losing it. yes, my technique's crap. but i'm not slowing too much just yet!

it's this type of question that's starting to come out in the strava wash. the whole segment racing thing, while okay for some, seems to me ultimately pointless. times are great it's true bt what i'm really liking is the intervalness of it all, the continuous pushing (some might say marginal gains but i so wouldn't!) towards some sort of state of cycling grace, when everything works, the tyres and the chain are singing, my legs will go where ever i want them to and my style is just that.

because whatever else, being out on the bike right here, right now is something glorious. true the roads ar a bit muddy, leafy and just a bit slidey but the autumn is just sublime. i took t out on the route i did the day before yesterday. light, lochs, hills but above all trees. what i couldn't tell her was the feel of the air as you go thru it all, the way the air feels in your lungs. this route i wasn't caring about the strava other than logging the miles. all i was doing was what i started doing away back when, when i was wee, just getting out on my bike, going down the roads i hadn't been, seeing the things i hadn't seen. since i've got the strava i've been doing much more of this. was that the sort of performance improvement they meant? i'll take that!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

getting orphan grumpy

you'd be hard pushed to get thru an average month of my viewing without finding something from the other side of the globe. it started back in the nineties with hong kong cinema and, over the years, spread across the region. true, it's hard for me to look away from korea these days but where would i be without the joy that is the pure loopiness of the likes of tears of the black tiger. coincidentally only yesterday i was looking at the trailer for a chinese version of dangerous liaisons - the setting looks good even if the execution looks dire but can it really be any worse than some of the adaptations of non-english films (particularly into mass market american movies - yes the departed, martin scorsese i'm looking at you)?

and yet, much as the likes of the departed might have raised my ire there is an interest in these films in which there's an element of that old burns line about seeing ourselves as others see us. tho in these cases it's about taking someone else's story and making it fit the norms of 'our' narrative. even in a howler like the departed that has to always be interesting. why do english language audiences seem to be so contented with car chases, explosions and endless, endless exposition. do the makers of these films really think we're so stupid? a rest then to watch something else in some foreign lingo where there's more talking than doing, cuts can last longer than three seconds and the people telling the story realise that there is in fact quite a lot of drama that can come out of dialogue.

sweeping generalisations i know and it's painfully obvious from previous film posts i like a big dumbass movie full of shit that blows up as much as the next man (sic!).

all of which brings me to london theatreland and the orphan of zhao. now it's not that i live in a theatre wilderness even if it sometimes seems so but there is a certain level of envy wandering the streets of that there londontown that there's a big bunch of theatre going on that i'm never going to see. and when i get to hear of the likes of the rsc doing some bigass version of a chinese classic that's always going to sound good. i know these chinese classics - chinese movies remake them all the time. somebody kills somebodies father/family, they grow up realising their benefactor is the killer/fall in love with the rival's family's daughter. tragedy ensues. everybody dies. and there's usually kick ass battle scenes.

but they're not translatable. you can get wuxia choreographers in but there's no way a western actor can be getting up to that sort of caper! not that directors can't make a movie that'll work for (and with) the locals - see the raid. but the raid worked because it fitted, not the other way round.

so, if you're going to remake one of these classics you're going to have to do it in a way that reflects where it's set. i know this because the edinburgh festival does this every year. shakespeare usually, but not always, transposed to any locale you'd care to imagine. macbeth in zulu? been there.

so how then would you make the orphan of zhao? set it in a london housing estate, all gritty and gangland? maybe move it up here to scotland, make it medieval and braveheart for the tartan fans (let's face it, it couldn't be worse than braveheart!). er no, what it appears they're going to do is make it like the chinese story, but in english with few in the way of chinese actors. and get your influences for the text (cos you don't speak mandarin mind) from some book of translations written in english.

it seems the actor thing has stirred a lot of emotion among the british asian actor types. and rightly so. except maybe for the fact that if you're wanting asian actors in a chinese play then maybe those asian actors should actually be chinese. and if you're that stirred up about it (cue arguments about colonialism from thos ex english graduates who can still lay their hands on their textbooks) if it's not okay to make a chinese classic without chinese actors how come it's okay for everyone else to be making those shakespeare things i've been enjoying over the years. and should i be getting a bit more hot under the collar about non mandarin speaking actors in classic chinese roles? in fact why is the play not in mandarin, with chinese actors and superscripts?

i think not. but i can totally agree with the perspective that there just aren't enough asian actors or actors of asian descent getting roles these days. and if they do many of them are too reminiscent of the butler/housemaid roles black actors had to content themselves with back in the day. watching the bbc, if you must do such a thing, you could be forgiven for imagining that all these asian looking folks you see wandering about the streets of that london must just be visiting. but to pigeonhole them in 'asian' roles? that's just a bit patronising.

it puts me in mind of those folk who were bitching when idris elba played heimdall in thor. people won't like that i thought and the kind of people who would complain about that i think i wouldn't like so i didn't much care. yet while it was truly a dire outing that thor film the one thing that wasn't dire was idris elba. as a wee boy soaked in all that norse god malarkey heimdall was far and away my favourite god and idris elba nailed it. not for anything he did but for a certian un-nameable something he brought to the screen. that indefinable quality - that's person, not geography dependent.

none of which i haven't said before. so why bother with the long rambling post? because what really boils my urine about the whole orphan of zhao shenanigans (and like a remake says more about me!) is the attribution. the orphan of zhao may have, as the rsc would have it been 'adapted' by james fenton but it was written by someone else, commonly thought of as some bloke called ji junxiang. so change the poster and give him the credit.

as for the rest, i'm sure the rsc could've handled this better but i hope the actors they got do a good job and get the credit for it rather than be overshadowed by a 'controversy' not of their own making. and it'd be great in the uk to see some more asian actors knocking about, if only to take the weight off david yip for a bit. but equally it'd be great to see some more writing from the immigrant community in general, and something with a bit more substance, that can get itself away from that first generation east is east nonsense.

my wee pal m has all manner of heritage - indian, english, german, scottish. me, i can almost point to where the last three hundred years of my lot lived and died. we watch japanese cartoons dubbed into german. i explain the story and she teaches me the words her granny taught her. one of these days(once i've finished with littlenose) i'll tell her the stories i read when i was her age, about yggdrasil and the nine worlds, about thor and jormungandr. maybe we'll chase each other about a bit afterwards. stories are for everyone and acting is about pretending. how you tell a story is about who you are not what you look like.

Monday, 15 October 2012

how many pencils?

one of the comments i got when i was doing the exhibition last week was when i was sitting doing some drawing. i was getting some good banter with this guy when he said that it was a good idea to be making prints because 'there wasn't the same value in paper and ink'. i found it a bit of a curious comment, not really true but i could understand, more or less where it was coming from. we had the laptop with us so i could show him older, finished work - these are all on canvas i said. and oddly that seemed to make more sense to him.

i hear too the comment that 'art schools don't teach anyone to draw'. now, in some cases there may be some validity to this but more often than not i'm hearing it from someone who can't (and won't!) support their argument.

anyway being a sucker for large, work intensive and just a little bit ocd works i couldn't look past this. how many pencils!

Chris LaPorte: City Band from Mary Matthews on Vimeo.

not only that chris laporte got a rather large prize for all that drawing.

and while i'm at it, seeing as i'm just off many days of sewing i couldn't not be taken by this. they did use different 'performers' tho.lightweights!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

the correctness of claire

there are times when a heavy sequence of night shift is like being punched in the face. and moreso if you've actually been punched in the face. however...

there are things that brighten your day. i was heartened to come across this post at one night stanzas just before today's plunge into richard yates. lucky, lucky, lucky i say about the first half of the post, beautiful things fall into your hands? always a chance to use the word serendipity!

and then the icing on the cake. when we were in sweden last month we had a wee tour round t's brother's new abode. we're kind of used to the whole stockholm thing so this place was not only large but oozing character. from the carved wood of the doors to the stained glass and the big tiled fireplace all i could think that i was going to have to be installing myself on the balcony next summer and reading me some tolstoy.

on our return we had to be doing a second hand book buy which was a grand excuse for an edinburgh visit and a trawl round the fine second hand book stores in the grassmarket and the surrounds, and thence to the folio society.

there's a bit of a feel of dirty business about this book porn malarkey but if that's your thing then the folio society supplies it in spades. while tolstoy was furthest from my mind as we had our time grubbing about in the books as soon as i came across the folio version of anna karenina i knew that the only sound i will hear as i indulge in the hard backed goodness that is going to me sitting in a swedish summer drinking tea while reading anna karenina is the useless draining of my kindle's battery.

now it may be that the master and margarita doesn't tweak my literary twinky but who could resist the folio society version? it looks great! so i am totally in accord with claire in her advance christmas advice. and not just for that slack jawed book junkie in your life. take a bit of time. switch off that computer, hide the kindle/ipad or whatever device of satan circumstance has forced you into reading. go the full monkey and settle yourself down in a chair with one of these bad boys and give yourself up to that particular experience that used to be called reading. all else pales....

Friday, 28 September 2012

strava update

so, 21 days later and assuming today goes well some 300 miles and about 19000 feet of climbing. given work and the cold i'm not too disheartened by that.

is it better than a computer? by miles! i am loving the wee map things that come up when i get back - t maybe not so much when the first thing i do when i get back is plonk myself down at the computer to look at the stats. plus there's a wee orange blob you can use to check where you are on the route and what you were doing.

downsides? koms. sure you can get on a league table for segments of the road but it's easy to see just how quickly you can get subsumed into these until the only thing that matters is times and positions. much worse than a cycle computer! but, on the other hand, there's no hiding and those 'training rides' you/i maybe used to do when you could kind of take it easy? they're proper gone and in their place is the opportunity to give yourself a proper beasting!

the first week my legs felt so stiff i thought there was something wrong with me and that was only on a twenty mile circuit. not quite as sick making as a tabata workout but far more enjoyable and just as good. a route that contains an array of segments is like enforced interval training with an actual goal at the end of it as well as just hurting yourself!

still the head weasels were in full effect by the second week. i wasn't looking forward to the hill outside the house despite banging in top tens each time i was on it. maybe i could just ease up it...? but no, as soon as i hit the incline off i was going. so i just abandoned it (at least until today when i took another six seconds off it but it's not like i'm counting or anything!).

surprisingly what that's lad to is a greater range of routes and not just that, the notion of just going for a tool about on my bike which, really, is what it's all about. it started at the end of week two when i went out for a burl in really quite atrocious weather - gales + astonishing rain = scotland. what a great time i had and, because i was focussed on the having a great time (and the weather) weirdly, i ended up with great times.

somehow the stravaing has got me pushing that wee bit harder as well as thinking about what effort i'm putting in and where. after all the shenanigans of this year i think i've been back on the bike for about two months and i'm reckoning that i'm about 70% of the fitness i'd want to be at maybe at the beginning of summer.

plus, unlike last month, i'm really enjoying it. no tv, no chocolate, lots of bike. what could be better?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

paul celan

what a grand thing it is when a new poetry book thumps thru the door. even better when two of them do this in close succession. course, then there's the problem of which one to read first. if i was to have done this chronologically then it'd be james dickey's selected poems - i can't get the heaven of animals out of my head and have been meaning to read more. flicking thru it tho i feel i'm going to save it for some sort of road trip. it has that feel about it.

given the choice the heart was always going to gravitate to john felstiner's translations of the selected poems and prose of paul celan. i've only ever had michael hamburger's versions and, while up to now they've always been sufficient, the notion of seeing something different was very appealing. and so it's proved. i'm sitting here with both of them in front, flicking back and forth. both mention the problems of translating clean but it's ferstiner's intro that's engaging me. not just because it's newer to me but because it contains things i hadn't seen before.

along with the discussion re translating celan there's a bit about celan's own translation practice. as ferstiner says, it'd be good to have a bunch of celan's translations but until the day i learn german there's no real way i could appreciate it. he has a lovely bit where he looks at emily dickinson

I reason, we could die -
The best Vitality
Cannot excel decay
But, what of that?

which celan translates as -

Ich denk: Sieh zu, man stirbt,
der Saft, der in dir wirkt,
auch ihm gilt dies: Verdirb -
ja und?

which felstiner (kindly, for the german deficient) translates back as -

I think: Look here, we die,
the sap that works in thee,
it too knows this: Decay -
so what?

all of which contains everything i like about translation! there's a wealth of detail in the introduction (meaning, doubtless, that i'll be getting felstiner's biography of celan at some point along the way) and there are some nice images of the pomes along with celan's own handwriting. (i don't know what it is but i really like to see a writer's handwriting!)

my favourite quote so far is this one -

A poem...can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the - not always greatly hopeful - belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps

that'll do for me!

Friday, 21 September 2012

moby dick

it should be that there are more posts relating to moby dick swimming about on this blog. come to that there are many things that should be floating about on this blog but i can't seem to figure out how to get those extra hours in the day. but dodging a bit of work to post about the whale seems like time to be well spent.

the whale is in my head at the moment anyway - it always is when i see the margaret atwood scores jump up on the stats and i look again at progressive insanities of a pioneer which, it seems to me, just about the perfect moby dick poem (avoiding of course the obvious irony that there could ever be such a thing as the perfect moby dick poem). i like the ahhabian

The house pitched
the plot staked
in the middle of nowhere

with all its resonances right down to that final image

the green
vision, the unnamed
whale invaded

that says to me that once you're opened up to all the possibilities of this strange, troublesome book then things really are never quite the same again.

get yourself along then to the moby dick big read. it seems unlikely that i'll be able to make it down to englandshire to see the events so if you feel the need to make me profoundly jealous please indulge yourself fully! as ever it seems that moby dick, that fast and loose fish of a book, continues to manifest itself in ever different ways

Monday, 17 September 2012


there are two things that characterise sweden most for me - lakes and trees. it's pretty difficult to go anywhere from stockholm outward without dome view of the water, or boats, or boats out on the water doing boaty things. but while i like the water it's the trees that are the most pervasive. for me, there's an odd feeling of being on the edge of something, even in stockholm. it may be there's lots of nice new buildings but you never seem to be far away from forest, first a wee crop of trees and then walk fifteen, twenty minutes and you getting into some proper woodland. take a bit of time and you can get into some really primal woodland (where many bitey things can get primal on you but that's another story).

when we were out in gotland the other week we passed by a bunch of people milling about at the edge of the forest. what's going on there we asked. oh, we were told, they're protesting that some finns are going to cut down the forest for a mine and poison the groundwater. this was ojnare and here it is in today's guardian.

now it's true i don't know the ins and outs of this particular dispute other than its depressing familiarity. at a gut level i don't much like the idea of digging a big hole in the middle of swedish forest (even if i do like the end result of all that limestone) and corporate assurances always give me the shivers. all these wee bits of europe being chiseled away until we're left with what - a vista of ikea and tesco?

sweden is the forest and the forest is sweden. i'm against it!

*there's petition site url's down in the comments bit of that guardian article if you're so minded....

Friday, 14 September 2012


it's that time of year when i'm thinking about writing proposals for various things arty-like. now despite the fact that it is widely considered that there is no bullshit i cannot talk i never much like doing this despite the fact i've done some tongue-combingly cloying examples for other people. in those circumstances it's just a bit of fun and i can always deconstruct (you see what i did there) the bullshitese in advance of the fact.

when it's me tho i always feel that awkward nag that is the truth gnawing at me, like a tooth that's just been pulled. but no longer as now there's someone to do it for me. yes indeed - i give you arty bollocks. only a couple of tweaks away from a level of perfection that will gull the vast majority of your arty fart pants.

one should never take these people seriously, even when they're me. as i had it put to me by my new friend k, who was relating how he had caused some disquiet among the employees in the ingmar bergman centre - they were really angry. but i didn't mind. i can never be offended by a man wearing pink converse with a handlebar moustache. such is the nature of deep truth.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

dark skies

we like our dark skies but one thing you can pretty much guarantee in the uk is that if there is something interesting happening in the sky, assuming you can dodge the light pollution, it's most likely obscured by clouds.

that wasn't what we were about tonight tho (see clouds above). no, tonight seeing as there's a bit of a hoolie blowing we were off out to record some tree noise. initially i thought it'd be the wind that was the problem but i'd picked a wee valley round the back where we had plenty of cover and not much air movement at ground level. so far so good. what wasn't so good was that where ever we went we could still hear the traffic from the dual carriageway which is a good mile away up the hill.

i guess that level of noise pollution is just one of those things that's so omnipresent we just screen it out. last year when we came back form the western isles (where there's almost no traffic) we were struck by how noisy everything seemed. it only lasted a few days. i'm convinced it can't be good for you!

i did get sonmething that might work in the end but tomorrow i'm off into some proper forest so i can get conifer noise and some trees creaking. what might one call this? it's not silent and it's far from quiet. an away from human racket zone? how pleasant....

Thursday, 6 September 2012

objectify this

it should come as no surprise that i quite like a bit of a rant. there is it seems, at least so i am told, no end to the number of soap box issuesabout which i can go off on one given the right stimulus. and the guardian supplied ample fuel to that fire the other day with another one of naomi wolf's lifestyle disguised as polemic missives. in this one not only does she get to talk even more about herself but specifically her vagina and its many doings (or not doings). off she spouts with some pseudo-neuroscience (or as we would have it in the vernacular here - pish) and then ices the shouty cake with the revelation that despite her many insights into (her) vagina she was 'traumatized' for six months by some vagina themed pasta. in which case should you be reading ms wolf you would be well advised never, ever to visit the east coast of scotland.

all of which may bring to mind henry more's words on the workings of the brain prior to the discoveries of thomas willis - this lax pith or marrow in man's head shows no more capacity for thought than a cake of suet or a bowl of curds

fortunately for every naomi wolf there's a whole bunch of actually interesting women who perhaps don't get quite get the attention they deserve. object is just such a squad of these types (they even have some chaps for balance) and is the organisation i refer my younger female colleagues to when they have the need to react against the phallocracy. imagine then the non shouty joy with which i came across objectify this which not only delves into the murky world of female anatomical representation (inc the legendary becker, wilson and gehweiler!) but just goes on about anatomical representation generally, which is just a joy. if you click on the link on the right hand side of the exhibition page on the image of thanos and eros it'll even take you to the flickr group for anatomical street art. surely just the type of thing the internet was designed for.

i do worry about naomi wolf tho. calling her book vagina. all those young minds being corrupted by the v word. in a world where todd akin breathes actual oxygen (even if, as seems likely, he doesn't believe in it) perhaps she'll be burnt as a witch.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


after a broken knee, whooping cough, pneumonia you'd think that'd be me for ill health for the year (this doesn't include any of t's in and out of hospital shenanigans!). and so did i. but no. too much fishing in sweden lead to much rubbing of the waders and a wee cellulitis that's just not pretty. so not pretty there will be no pictures of a 'that's got to hurt' variety bit suffice to say i top the lightweights on that wiki page. naturally, being a man, i have eschewed doctors, antobiotics or any of that malarkey and soldiered on. that is. at least my version. t's may be different...

btu now my legs settling it's hey ho and back on the bike. i finally succumbed to one of those posh phones recently and while i don't like them any the more they are a useful tool. too useful for me to resist the lure of the strava. i've never been much into the concept but the details you get from the app can't be beaten by a cycle computer so i wasn instantly hooked. and of course despite the fact i would never, ever succumb to any of that competitive nonsense the achievement of a segment top ten on my first ride out has made me smile. and next time i'll be giving it a real go!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

little sparta

what a surprise today to see a video piece on little sparta in the guardian. the video itself is reasonably terrible but at leads you do get to see a bit of the garden. follow the link on the page to the little sparta trust site for more.

i've been going to little sparta on and off since i was in my twenties having first heard about it away back when, when ian hamilton finlay was having his problems with the council and, if memory serves, the locals. since then, of all the people i've taken there i'm not sure any has been back, at leads not without me. maybe it's because it's so out of the way (and they didn't have me to drive) and maybe, latterly, it's because it takes a bit of organisation via the trust even to get there.

which is kind of okay with me. while i'd like hamilton finlay to be much more recognised there's no change little sparta itself could stand much on the way of people going to it. that said, if you're ever going to visit only one garden in scotland it's this one. around the time hamilton finlay died i wrote to alex salmond espousing the view that, as a nationalist he must make sure little sparta was preserved for the nation. thus far it hasn't and fat eck never replied (no golf or hollywood interest here presumably). the trust tho, seem t be doing the business and hamilton fin lay remains both a part and apart. i think he would;t have minded that.

i never met him but i did see him while visiting once, sitting in how own wee world on his veranda. he was obviously not well (at least to my eyes) but at the same time he seemed quite at peace there in his green. it's the way i'll always remember him. not easy to get into, not so easy to dismiss, ian hamilton finlay, for me (and far more than most of that younger glasgow lot that came after him, i say) is possibly the most significant scottish artist in the latter part of the last century. little sparta is a both a living work and a wonderful epitaph.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

nick cave

in transit to the land of bergman i can't help but notice all these posters for lawless stuck about. at first i think it's some sort of new series for sky atlantic but then the realisation dawns that it's a new movie. a nick cave movie.

not to everyone's taste but for me the proposition was the standout film of its year, luminescent in almost every way (ray winstone will certainly never be better) and it's the same mob that're making this one. true, i have some reservations - there are lots more people in this one. and shia leboeuf.

but on the upside tom hardy, guy pearce and jessica chastain. there were many things to like about tree if life (neatly balanced by things not to like) but my favourite was jessica chastain. it'll be interesting to see what she does in cave's man-centric screenplay. and then there's the music. on the trailer at least it sounds a wee bit mroe mainstream than what cave did for the proposition but even so, one can hope..

but it'll all have to wait until i get back. there's no cinemas (or shops or much of anything) where i'm going, jsut a big sky and a load of silence. great nick cave landscape!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

viva la vuelta and that lance thing...

after the olympics frenzy it's nice to be back to the afternoon routine of proper bike racing (even if it means i'm going to have to find some place for a signal/sports bar on a tiny wee island in the baltic....). i don;t think it's unfair to say that there's been more incident in the first feel of the vuelta than there was in the entire tour de france this year. which is no surprise these days as both the vuelta and the giro are just better.

not just because of the comparison between the drab processions of the stages in this year's tour as opposed to ten (count 'em!) ten mountain finishes in the vuelta but just because it appears that the riders actually want to race. it's great! plus there's that subtext as the old school (valverde and contador) moves out of the way of the new (froome). in an action packed stage the other day valverde crashes and no body waits. valverde fumes (but neglects to mention he did exactly the same in the dauphine) and makes a frankly eyebrow raising chase back to the peleton.

back in the day i was a big fan of the then prospect alejandro but post doping he's only shown flickers of that previous promise so that a performance like that seems just a tad unlikely. then the mountains and what a joy to see contador jigging about just like of old. except at the sprint finish it's froome and purito rodriguez who're away and contador is left 'dehydrated'. perhaps his 'preparation' is not what it was.

such questions as these cannot, in any discussion of cycling now, have some nod backwards to lance armstrong. usada it appears have stripped him of all his titles even though it also appears they have no power to do so. this for me is the salient feature in all these shenanigans. even for that dwindling band of lance fans (go whom i was once one but those last comeback performances were filled with such arrogance it did it for me) there can't but be even the faintest glimmer of doubt that in an era blighted by epo etc it seems unlikely that lance was untouched. but equally it does seem somewhat odd, given usada's accusations of trafficking, that this will all not be let lie.

however, for me, this was never about lance but about usada and their efforts to position themselves. why armstrong still when that era and most of what went with it has been consigned to the dustbin. why are they not quite so full on when it comes to other sports, this last olympics being a prime example. who will get lances titles? what clean athletes were there back then? ullrich!! zulle!! virenque!! plus, if you coerce someone into testifying against lance is it really okay for them to get a gentle ease into retirement and a slap on the wrist and no title removement for them? the whole thing stinks of politics. that era was blighted and so was everyone associated with it.

much has been said about it all but, as ever, for me it's the badger who was most succinct.

Je m’en fous éperdument. C’est son problème pas le mien. C’est un problème qui aurait dû être réglé depuis 10 ou 15 ans et qui ne l’a pas été…

when i get old i want to be as grumpy as him!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

that nationality....

so, irvine welsh was speaking at the book festival the other day, 'tearing into' the booker prize apparently (the whole speech is in there on the guardian somewhere but i can't find it right now. that he should do so was signposted by alan bissett a couple of weeks before which might lead one to think that the cheeky wee scallywags had it planned.

my first thoughts were that her we were, recreating that conference yet again, as if it was the one thing that had happened in scottish literature ever. and at that, what with welsh's girning, i was like, didn't john berger do that years ago? whihc welsh should know, and probably does, but it seems a bit disingenuous but to acknowledge if he did, esp with his references to gramcsi which he seems to like and i've heard him do before as if he's doing some sort of undergraduate essay and he wants us to know just where his reference points are.

being edinburgh folk seem to have picked up on the scottish whininess, that 'we' have only won once and somehow there's an anti-scottish cabal at work, fuelled by their upper middle classness. the irony of this accusation, coming as it does (at a book festival ffs!) and, in bissett's case, in the pages of the guardian is the kind of blinkered comedy you just couldn't write. worse, in the lists of writers 'overlooked', certainly in comparison to the people who've actually won the booker prize, it seems there's an oddly familiar theme - they're all, almost without exception, white guys.

oh dear, perhaps the boys aren't quite as cutting edge as they thought they were. or maybe it's just the ladies, in their heads, perhaps aren't producing the goods for them. and is scotland so monocultural that list of our writers have to be so overpopulated by whiteys? and, wait a minute further, aren't all those books written in english? which isn't to suggest that either bissett or welsh are sexist or racist just maybe a wee bit more brain engagement before speaking might be in order. or being, cynical, maybe welsh has a new book out.

of the many comments, the most apt for me, in terms of both bissett and welsh, was ben okri's

The writer writes. As well as they can, as truthfully as they can from the depth of their spirits … If you say this space is Scottishness, you have limited the possibilities of Scottishness for all time … if you overdefine what is a national literature you will constantly reproduce a cycle of cliches.

i'm kind of bored of this whiny reiteration of old grudges and arguments whether it's the scottish thing, rhyme in poetry or the death of the novel. it seems a strange divisiveness that if say, you get a bunch of musicians together, they make music, but a bunch of writers and they start moaning and fighting (or, if you're ian mcewan, cosying up to politicians). as in 1962, so much stays the same.

it's a pity tho that what seems to have been overlooked in the online and print discussions around this were welsh's point about the londoncentric nature of publishing. not something the guardian so likely to complain about! yet welsh's point, regardless of whether you like it or not, that it seems unlikely that trainspotting would be published today as a result, seems a fair one. for me tho, again, this seems like the concern of just the sort of person welsh is pretending he isn't. as okri puts it - the writer writes. all the rest is gravy.

i'm a fan of the day job. in the parlance of pretend urban types like welsh and bissett it 'keeps it real'. competitions biased? you don't say! unreflective? surely not! so don't get involved with them. the writer writes and free from all that commercialism can write whatever they want. which, i think is kind of what china mieville was getting at. rather than trotting out the same tired old tropes mieville's vision (even if parts of it did tread on some of my own sacred cows !) seemed far more exciting. more people writing? now that's a world i want to see.

in ian mcewan's piece there's a bit about 'britishness' and the olympics. to be honest, scraping beyond that meniscus of flag waving and before soaking in that unreconstructed mire of online and print nationalism there was a something that was about people. people in all their wonderful diversity without their politicinans (however hard they tried), the isms they locate themselves by, all that jargon. just people. wandering about the streets of london those days was both a privilege and some kind of wonderful.

not so long before i'd been working on a wee collection of poems that were later described as 'unpublishable'. which was true enough whether it was in the world of that london publishing or the nationalist engaged sphere of the likes of welsh and bissett. and it was equally true for the people who weren't publishing my collection. me, tho, i wasn't so disappointed because i was happy and at the end of the day that's all that matters. the poems will come out in some other form - let's face it, there's never been a better time to read more by more people in a bewildering variety of formats.

it's not about winning the competition or whether you are being represented. better surely to present yourself. be in the present rather than the past. live the life rather than talk about it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

peter schaeffer

Juggler, Magician, Fool - A Pantoum

You mysterious jongleur, abstracted, absorbed, you slowly pace the street.
You stare, detached, through a curtain: silver balls in the air.

You slowly pace the street, tossing coins, cups, scarves,
silver balls in the air, making a skydance ---

tossing coins, cups, scarves, each in their separate paths,
making a skydance, chaotic, hypnotic;

each in their separate paths, dancing
(chaotic, hypnotic) the random paths of stars;

dancing through and around;
the random paths of stars, moons, comets, and the sudden flare-fade streak

through and around everything, the mystical hands tossing destinies;
moons, comets, and the sudden flare-fade streak of your hands ordering

everything. The mystical hands tossing destinies --- the feel
of your hands ordering the planets to dance.

The feel of chaos put in order. Tell
the planets to dance on your palm.

Of chaos put in order, tell the stars in their places in the lines
on your palm. Whirl

the stars in their places in the lines. You stare, detached, through a curtain.
Whirl, you mysterious jongleur, abstracted, absorbed.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

pica pica

my association with illustrators has, without exception, been fruitless and lamentable with every single project i've ever been associated with or wanted to complete with one of them in any shape size or form (regardless of whether i'm actually paying them money!) ending in complete failure. i've worked with every brand of anything you could conceivably brand 'creative' but for sheer feckless unreliability illustrators are absolutely top of the tree.

which is a shame as illustration is one of those things, especially if it's accompanied by a bit of text, i love above all else. which is why, aside from loving a magpie in our house, my eye was caught by daren newman at me and my pen. rotring loving he says and my how it shows.

once upon a time i'd have been straight on that email. these days it's just nice to look....

*just in case it's not clear - i have not ever worked or attempted to work with daren newman. i assume from the work on his website that the work he produces is on budget and to deadline. in which case he is a prince amongst his fellows.

Friday, 17 August 2012

john donne

The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left'st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, "All here in one bed lay."

She's all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

yayoi kusama

you have to love the dots....

Monday, 6 August 2012

robert hughes

i was saddened to hear about the passing of robert hughes. he'd never looked the healthiest since his car crash but 74, while a good shout, seems just too early.

i have a fair few of hughes' books knocking about the house. the last, rome, took for the start at least a bit of a critical pounding from mary beard but the rest was vintage hughes and i was looking forward to what he'd be coming out with next as his opinions were certainly not mellowing with age!

my own favourites were barcelona, again not without its mistakes, but the best book i've read for capturing the spirit of the city. and then of course shock of the new and american visions, when i was in the states it was great tracking down these pictures i'd only heard hughes' rattling on about on tv or read about in his books.

here he is on damien hirst who, among others, he didn't like

and on anselm keifer, who he did

he didn't, in later life, seem to maintain the fervour he had for modern art at the time of the shock of the new and spent more time looking back, particularly at goya. maybe he did feel more and more distanced from the art around him. seeming sometimes like someone left over, a remnant. i hope, at the end of his life, he found some ease.

me, i'm glad i'm came across him. at a time when there seems to be so much bad art criticism about (and i use the term loosely) it' s a relief to get back to him, to hear that acid but endearing voice. as it continues to do nothing but rain i plan to sit down tomorrow and do some serious youtube, have a listen, discuss, argue, just the sort of things i imagined i'd do if i ever got to meet him.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

olympic book labyrinth

which i missed while i was in london. based on borges fingerprint apparently....

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

down at that olympics

tired of the sight of rain i decide to take t away down to her mum's for some south of england sun. at least that's the theory. t's mum says it was 32 degrees thursday past. as it turns out we brings the overcastness with us but it's still plenty warm for me.

we settle in for the opening ceremony. after deep ambiguity about the whole affair we were well impressed. i wasn't so happy about the whole nhs medley what with all the horrible cliches about nurses but sticking a bit celebrating the nhs in the opening ceremony given what the tories are about at the moment was a grand thing to see. i was a bit disconcerted by black people playing cricket and having a pastoral time in the fields as opposed to any accurate portrayal of britain's colonial past but the windrush finally appeared and the fact that doreen lawrence was helping carry the flag provided a nice counterbalance.

i'd seen the tiger feet clip prior to the event and it hadn't filled me with promise but in the end i was quite up for the musical section right up to the inclusion of dizzee rascal. plus the section for those absent with emili sande was both poignant and apt. by the end we were all (with me as the token non-londoner) happy with the opening as a representation of london. right, that is, up to the appearance of paul macartney. and off with the tv!

surprise of the night was the thomas heatherwick cauldron in part because of my heatherwick fanboyness but also because we'd been to the heatherwick thing at the v&a in the afternoon. not that surprising stylistically but beautifully executed. everybody we spoke to loved it.

back into town the following day for the men's road cycling. given it was the olympic road race i was surprised at dave brailsford's confidence prior to the race. and from lap 3, for me, the british team were in trouble. you just can't let people of that quality away in the break without either shutting it down or getting your man in there. we stopped briefly at the rapha cafe (stowed to the doors) but decided to get down to the mall just in case. being the olympics there's no public screens unless you pay for them so the assembled crowd were listening in on their phones. and, strangely, to me. i nailed the unlikelihood of a catch as well as the fact there was no way the australians or the germans were going to aid cav to a victory. then disaster as cancellara crashes (esp as far as we could make out he had the whole swiss team there - a lesson for team gb?). and then it was vino. you could almost sense the grimaces of the collected uci types. but, doping or no doping, vino attacks. and a great result for rigoberto uran. cancellara inconsolable at the end. but a great atmosphere and everyone loving it.

sunday we were back out but t's mum's dodgy hip stopped play for her. this time the rain was battering down so we decided to get the coverage back in the rapha cafe which was about a third as full as the previous day. cue a grumpy me re the support for women's cycling and women's sport in general. naturally it was a much better race than the day before with the team gb getting lizzie armitstead into the break and emma pooley taking her turn to control the chasing peloton. in the end there was no way armitstead was going to have more than marianne vos but a great finish (a sound recording of which will follow soon). i was heartened to see that armitstead followed my lead to have a mini-rant about sexism in sport off the back of her result (which the bbc obviously decided to more or less avoid).

more of the same when we got home and caught up with the team gb football. great games and great crowds but the attitudes that have so marked women's football still well in evidence in the arrangement of games and the coverage (this last of course not just restricted to football). and hope powell - black national coach? there's a lesson in there for the men's game!

it wouldn't be the olympics without some sort of controversy and t's mum alerted us to the comments over chinese swimmer ye shiwen. shiwen's just a wee lass and only sixteen so it seems unlikely she's been 'prepared' but such is the level of disillusionment about athletes and doping coupled with a reluctance by certain nations to accept they've been beat by scene else. no surprise then that ruta meilutyte is soon accused of the same. cos they're mad for doping down in that plymouth.

all of this coupled with the stuff about transport, the drip feed about how much this all cost (the taxpayer not the sponsors obviously), the nature of the sponsorship deals, the ugly nationalisms that seep round the edges of the athlets' 'journeys' seeps round the edges of the events.

travelwise the 'chaos' wasn't much worse than it's ever been while we've been in london, in fact in many ways it was better. the empty seat thing, initially blamed on those nasty corporations, now appears to be down to the olympic committees and the media, after which revelation the media fell rather silent. and not a cheep about just how many tickets wills and harry and their hangers-on plus shiny dave must've bought these last few days.

i think in the next few days roman abramovich and the apple boy have got themselves dispensations to park their super yachts (ships to you and i) on the thames so as they don't have to walk to far. you'd think in a city where you can still see the effects of the riots this might at least raise an eyebrow but no, everyone sits and sucks it up. there's even people on the streets telling you what pavement to walk on. this last bugged me the most, not because it affected me but because it might have. maybe it's some sort of 'i can walk where i want scottish thrawn-ness' but i was astonished anyone would put up with that.

all i could think walking about was bread and circuses, bread and circuses.....

all that said tho it was brilliant. london was, as i've always found to to be, at its friendly and open best. they love a flag and the houses were hung with them, faces painted and that oddly english desire to be festooned with union jackery was proper manifest. the town felt truly global, esp after the weekend, and we had to wonder, esp in asia but also france, if there was anyone left back there. the volunteers deserve special mention as they were everywhere, amazingly non-stressed from what we saw and ever helpful. our few days were easily too short and if we'd had our way we wouldn't have come back for the duration.

i put my niggles aside, still those voices as i watch wiggins doing the time trial, look at the size of the crowds on the roadside, listen to the noise. i'll never see that again...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Nils Økland

thinking about arvo part gets me to think about nils okland. so here's some of that....


as if it wasn't enough the end of the chapter is signalled with anne sexton and one of my favourites at that.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in the stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone

then, just in case we're not getting it in comes james dickey and the life guard

I wash the black mud from my hands.
On a light given off by the grave
I kneel in the quick of the moon
At the heart of a distant forest
And hold in my arms a child
Of water, water, water.

but while i'm looking at dickey and in my head i'm comparing both of these to elizabeth bishop and adrienne rich i'm not actually reading anything american. no, i'm at tim winton's dirt music and the part in which the protagonist luther fox finds himself driving north with an old couple, music fans, the wife a retired english teacher, dying of bowel cancer. they drive and drive, bess quoting sexton and dickey and the car filled with music...

Luther fox flinches at this. He has to get out. Bess stabs the tape into the machine and slowly, tidally, the vehicle fills with the tolling of a bell and a descending string lick starts up. Something rolling down inevitably, compulsively, almost obsessive. Down. Diving. Skin-crackling. so beautiful it hurts.

That bell drones on and on, trapping him beneath a sky and moon of his very own, on his knees, like the last man alive hearing the sound of the others lifting off into oblivion....

which has me saying to myself immediately - arvo part, i'm going to be listening to some of that right now.

both myself and t agree you don't hear organs enough in music. but the organ in what we're listening to seems to have more to do with electronica than what might be considered in keeping with 'classical' music. these drones cut across the voices like a searchlight. much of part's music is apparently devotional. listing to it you'd need to be dropped from space not to suspect this but, as it seems to be about his orthodox beliefs who knows what he's on about? and to be honest i don't much care.

i like to use -ental words about it. elemental, fundamental, anything else like that that occupies the same space in the thesaurus. listening to the likes of fratres i say to t that if i was going to film it i'd take the camera up to the fields around the brooch of gurness and film the wind on the barley. there's a something about the quality of the music that gets me back into these primal landscapes, places i made with my childhood tongue, the shape of old words, sandstone under the fingertips.

part's music does for me all the stuff that the poetry i really like does but beyond the words. enough of that tho, here's fur alina and then him in action

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Saturday, 21 July 2012

what i'm reading


In den Bäumen kann ich keine Bäume mehr sehen.
Die Äste haben nicht die Blätter, die sie in den Wind halten.
Die Früchte sind süß, aber ohne Liebe.
Sie sättigen nicht einmal.
Was soll nur warden?
Vor meinen augen flieht der Wald,
vor meinem Ohr Schließen die Vögel den Mund,
für mich wird keine Wiese zum Bett.
Ich bin satt der Zeit
und hunger nach ihr.
Was soll nur warden?

Auf den Bergen warden nachts die Feuer brennen.
Soll ich mich aufmachen, mich allem wieder nähern?

Ich kann in keinem Weg mehr Weg sehen.

so, as i said, just because i'm not going to be posting that much poetry doesn't mean i'm not reading it or that i won't be posting any! i was flicking thru my wish list the other week when i noticed that amazon had this warehouse clearance thing going on. apparently these are books damaged in storage. and what should i find there but darkness spoken, the collected poems of ingeborg bachmann. For £4! And the damage amounting to barely a crease on the cover. Bargain of the year!

The above poem was the one i opened the book at and instantly knew i was exactly where i wanted to be when i ordered it. I didn't know she had anything to do with paul celan but after reading the foreword and intro it was no surprise that she did, if only briefly.

what's to like? i mention celan because reading this i can feel the same neurons being fired (these in my vestigial german brain!) albeit that she's not so linguistically impervious(?) as celan can be but, at the same time, i still have the sense of reading one thing but it all being about something else entirely. i didn't know much about her. i didn't know she stopped writing poetry so that most of what's in this book was never published in her lifetime. i didn't know how she died.

so what you appear to get is some sort of working back into writing poetry, some sort of poetic exploration of ideas. i really don't have anything else like it. plus there's that other thing that suits scottish speakers (and esp now that any romance languages have withered away to nothing on my tongue) that german seems made for us to read out loud. and these are great to read. filkins translations are approachable but by spealing out loud the prblematic nature of the translation becomes apparent.


Within the trees I no longer can see any trees.
The branches are bare of leaves, carried off by the wind.
The fruits are sweet, but empty of love.
They do not even satisfy.
What shall happen?
Before my eyes the forest fless,
the birds no longer sing to my ears,
and for me no pasture will become a bed.
I am full with time
yet hunger for it.
What shall happen?

Nightly upon the mountains the fires will burn.
Shall I head out, draw near to them once again?

I can no longer see on any path a path.

trans by peter filkins

elswhere in poetryland i've been watching rather than taking part in one of those pointless and circular 'debates' about poetry and rhyming (with a healthy side argument of meter). you can find this all over the place so the side-taking needs no re-iteration. this particular discussion had some interesting points but, as is usual, there was a degree of hand wringing from the poetry=rhyme squad (who, equally, are not quite so handy in the meter discussion) that rhyming poetry isn't being published. aside from that argument being patent tosh you have to wonder if these folk actually read the poetry they're admiring/complaining about!

which lands me at ros barber's the marlowe papers, a novel in verse. i came across this in waterstones of all places when i was on one of my don't need it already own it but it looks pretty book buying browses. opening the cover i knew that i'd be having this immediately. my previous experience with this size of long form poetry, at least from modern times, is most likely limited to fred d'aguiar's bloodlines about which i can remember nothing at this time of the morning but which i liked so much it's made me keen for anyhting remotely similar.

and this is remotely similar. there are a couple of things to get over, it is writeen in verse, yes, but that doesn't mean it has to rhyme even if it often does (see above discussion!). also, and perhaps more pertinently, you have to accept the book's premise which is that christopher marlowe doesn't die but goes into hiding and from there writes the works of shakespeare. this entails a degree of elasticity and, so far, although, i know rnough about this period to be able to point the finger, there's nothing i'm not prepared to set aside to get into the narrative.

and what a ride! i'm eking it out so i don't have to finish it but the act of reading is like being blanketed in language. it takes a bit of reading - this isn't a novel so you can't skim it nor have i wanted to. so far i've resisted any recourse to any history books to chack any background solely because i don't want to spoil my expertience. like the bachmann this is a great book to read out loud because there is no escaping the rhythm that drives the language forward.

my only slight niggle is the construction. it looks lovely but the covers are like a board book and the instant you start reading it wear and tear becomes apparent. maybe that's the intent but i like my books looking pristine so every read is like a tiny bit of destruction! it is brilliant tho so if the phrase novel in verse bakes your poetic biscuit i'd be running out and buying this now.

To the Wise or Unwise Reader

What can a dead man say that you will hear?
Suppose you swear him underneath the earth,
stabbed to the brain with some almighty curse,
would you recognise his voice if it appeared?

The tapping on the coffin lid is heard
as death watch beetle. He becomes a name;
a cipher whose identity is plain
to anyone who understands a word.

So what divine device should he employ
to settle with the world beyond his grave,
unmask the life that learnt its human folly
from death’s warm distance, how else can he save
himself from oblivion, but with poetry?
Stop. Pay attention. Hear a dead man speak.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

calocoris stysi

if you let your garden get overgrown it's time to see some unusual things start to arrive...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

what we watched

so we're off on the pharmacy run and, maybe it's a habit thing, but i find myself in waterstones which, while nominally a bookshop, isn't really. needs must tho and the notion of browsing bookshelves dies hard. anyway while i'm mulling away i overhear two young guys discussing prometheus. bookshop guy likes it so i eavesdrop a while until it's all too much. sorry, i say, i don't mean to butt in but you liked the concept? really?

i tell t this and she sighs and says, you know that you're really starting to turn into that old guy as if it's some sort of surprise. and to be honest, i really don't mind as, most likely, that's always been the plan.

but we did go to see prometheus, the best thing i can find to say about it was that the opening landscape scenes in iceland were about the only thing we actually enjoyed. true, it did continue to be lovely to look at but the rest of it was so vacuous it was overwhelming. in space no-one can hear your boredom. the underlying premise, that maybe we were created by aliens, seems so trite that i'm sure if i went back to my school days i would find something about it scribbled in a notebook, right alongside the copied artwork of various heavy metal album covers heavily influenced by large breasted barbarian women. in fact, if memory serves i believe i wrote just such a story in my second year english class to be told by my teacher it was all a bit pish and had been done to death. no need to stop ridley scott tho.

that aside there were many howlers. what fan of sci fi, or anyone who's watched galaxy quest, could honestly watch the bit where they take off their helmets on the alien planet without suppressing a snort. and the mapping guy,the one with the rinky dinky devices that can chart the labyrinth, he's the guy who's going to get lost. and that's before charlize theron's character who, not unlike the hapless derek zoolander, cannot turn left or right when she runs. oh but it was dire and the moreso because the alien movies occupy such a warm fuzzy place for those who like that sort of thing. we were so disappointed and progressively more angry on the way back we had to watch original star trek episodes to get over it. and all this before we hear ridley scott is going to make blade runner 2!!

which brings us neatly to john carter. outside of jules verne i think john carter may have been the first science fiction i ever read, long before i knew there was such a thing as science fiction (not that i'm convinced that john carter really counts as science fiction but that's a by the by). it may even be that i owned some of the comics when i was wee. come film time all i can remember is the name barsoom and something about tall aliens and distant worlds.which when i was a wee boy was all i needed.

off to the moviehouse and the first scene monologues into a predator city and ships that sail on light. we were hooked and that was it. true, you're not going to be going to see john carter for great cinema any more that you're going to watch johnny weissmuller in tarzan for the same reason but after years of watching and hearing speilberg and lucas drone on about the films of their childhood at last here was something that put me right back to when flash gordon (the series not the movie) on the tv seemed liked something truly amazing.

in due course the dvd comes out and, along with the rest of the woeful marketing of the film, sports a truly dire cover. again i say to f at my work she should get and watch it and finally she does. omg, she txts me later, this is everything star wars never was. it's totally my new favourite film. later we'll discuss it and, while it may be that the plot isn't super far removed from a good episode of scooby-doo, among other things we'll express surprise that 100 years ago you could have a female heroine who is easily the equal of her male counterpart for intelligence, fighting and whatnot and yet today you can count her genre equivalents on one hand.

aside from all of that there's loads of lovely design, from t waxing lyrical about the textiles on the thirns to a myriad of red tattoos which we all agree we would have had if there'd be a tattooist available immediately after watching. and that's not to forget that nice plot device that this is a story being told by a fictional character to another fictional character called edgar rice burroughs who is being written by an actual person called edgar rice burroughs but who is disguising himself under the name norman bean. ah, if only such complexity had been manifested in avatar to which many poorly made comparisons have been drawn, esp the amusingly ironic one that somehow johm carter 'wasn't original'. then again maybe we shouldn't be looking for too much depth in big dumbass blockbusters. or maybe perhaps we should.

some sort of cinematic redemption came in the form of the descendants which had those twin neat tricks that so many larger budget movies manage to overlook i.e. a plot and characters. no cars are chased, no stuff blows up, there is no neat denouement - the dying woman around whom the plot revolves even looks like she's actually dying. true, i had expectations - this is the alexander payne of both sideways and election and the former especially can be seen in the george clooney character (payne apparently bumped clooney for sideways as he was 'too famous'). not that payne can take all the credit for this. it is totally worth reading the book after watching the film if only to see just how well it's been adapted. but the book does give some insights that the film only hints at.

aside form the script there was so much to like. the performances are uniformly excellent but it's the younger characters who really steal the show and clooney does well to stand back and act as bewildered as he feels alongside them.

in short, if you're loaded on painkiller, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, the rain is pouring outside and walking from one end of the house is a major endeavour then john carter will press all the switch your brain off and enjoy the ride buttons. but, once you're thru being violated at the hospital and wellness is more than a concept then the descendants is a fine choice. and prometheus? maybe if you were trapped on a desert island you could use the dvd to signal for help....

that's going to smart....

ouch! johan van summeren must've bathed in ointment. but still going.....

Monday, 9 July 2012

wiggins amok

is surely the best headline associated with bradley wiggins post race outburst yesterday - danish it's true, but pleasing to my eyes.

the last two weeks have been sick time in the swiss household but the happy outcome is that the afternoons have seen me and t crawl out from bed to couch and languish in front of eurosport for the tour. and what a race so far. crashes aside one of the things that has leapt into view is the shattering of the field when the going gets uphill. except that is for sky. now, aside from the fact they've made very plain they've spent who knows how long in tenerife riding up the hill and down the hill in the heat for weeks, it's a performance that's bound to race a few eyebrows particularly in view of say, the whole history of professional cycling!

that said, there's always peter sagan, who's been a revelation (but no surprise) and the inevitable hardness of cadel evans who. it seems, can more or less shed his team in the face of the sky might and still attack. maybe not chris froome tho but, despite wiggins statements to the contrary, had that last wee stretch been longer yesterday it would've been an angliru situation all over again with, possibly, evans the only winner.

than again, maybe that's just me. i've liked cuddles since the tour lion incident but especially since the world championship and he showed that he just won't lie down. wiggins i've just never drawn to, maybe a bit too high maintenance and maybe just too much paul weller identification. plus post vuelta last year there's the notion that froome is, and let's face it a british win is sky's declared aim, maybe a bit too african for them in terms of their tour aspirations (but if the latest gossip is to be believed he'll get a lead role at the vuelta this year)

but i did have some sympathy for wiggins when in the press conference yesterday he gets asked about the sky/us postal 'similarity'. given the dubious quality of previous questioning i think i too would have been less than charitable in my response. but, and most likely moreso than wiggins, working in a profession where it seems it's okay for anyone to make any form of statement, shout any form of abuse, i still don't think i would have called them a shower of fucking wankers no matter how much i would've wanted to.

naturally there's been much blubbing into the journalistic porridge at this 'foul mouthed outburst' as if the use of the demotic amongst uk english speakers is somehow a surprise. and obviously for certain sections of the english speaking community amongst our transatlantic cousins the dropping of the c-bomb at a press conference equates with the end times and the coming of the rapture. me personally, i'm with charlie brooker on the responses of sporting types or for that matter all the indignation generally. it's a bike race, a professional bike race. for money. get over it. oh aye and see that tv. it's got an off button. you could be on your bike....

and, a slight aside on the cycling rant, t did note the number of nurses who, while she was in hospital last week, were prone to the use of familiar language, such as 'dear' or 'love'. i pointed out that this was exactly the sort of thing that the hei was against and obviously, despite the many pressures on the nhs these days, this was one area where we'd be pursuing a robust disciplinary response. t, who found the familiarity deeply comforting, responded in a very anglo-saxon manner. as well she should...!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

and so - no more poetry

being that there's now some 500 posts on here with that description attached. and while i'm all for dispersing the words of poets i think that's ample for a starter!

it's most likely not the last time a poem will be seen here but certainly they won't be appearing withanything like the same frequency - other blogs, other pressures and not enough time! if i was to do it again i would post more of the translations accompanied by the original languageversions (where possible). other than that i wouldn't change a whole lot. there's wee geographical areas i've missed but not many and a bit of googling should take anyone browsing to those places i haven't been.

i wanted to finish off with more stats but unfortunately i've just never got around to it. at the last count the most popular poets on here were (in order)

martgaret atwood (by a country mile!)
bertolt brecht
elma mitchell
claribel alegria
carol ann duffy
flavien ranaivo

so hope you enjoyed all that. 501!

tadeusz różewicz

Who Is a Poet

a poet is one who writes verses
and one who does not write verses

a poet is one who throws off fetters
and one who puts fetters on himself

a poet is one who believes
and one who cannot bring himself to believe

a poet is one who has told lies
and one who has been told lies

and who has been inclined to fall
and one who raises himself

a poet is one who tries to leave
and one who cannot leave

trans by magnus jan krynski and robert a maguire

Saturday, 16 June 2012

the forbidden word!!

vaginas. i'm rather partial to them. my mother had one and i'm very happy about that fact. most of my work colleagues are in possession of a vagina, quite some percentage of our work centres around the wonky doings of the vagina and its associated workings - these would be things like uteruses and ovaries and the like. we don't tend to have much discussion of the vagina beyond that except perhaps for the effects on it (and everything else) of pregnancy and childbirth. in these cases, mostly, i am glad i don't have a vagina. that said, not being in possession of a vagina, it's my place to listen in a vagina based discussion. women, being the possessors of the vagina, should have the last say on its doings. i'm reasonably certain most men would feel the same way if the positions were reversed.

or would they? it appears, according to the guardian, that for some people, and specifically a charming sounding fellow called Mike Callton who says It was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women, it is so much of a taboo that other stuff, like free speech and whatnot, should be abandoned in the face of its power.

at first i was willing, and wanting, to believe that maybe it was just the guardian gilding the lily but now lisa brown, the dirty birdy who was driven to utter the word vagina in a public place, has confirmed the story. further she alleges that this same mike callton has a degree in biology. how did that work? maybe it's different where he comes from but when i did mine quite a lot of attention was paid to reproduction. did they just avoid the word vagina? and if so what replaced it? and then what did they do with the likes of cloaca?

it's a funny world we live in these days and i shouldn't really be surprised by any fresh new madness but this took me aback. it's the sort of thing that makes me want to fly to michigan and run up and down the streets shouting vagina, vagina, vagina! even in the guardian there appear to be those who are trying to put forward the position that using the word vagina is obscuring the debate on abortion. i would suggest that in a debate on women's reproductive rights if you can't use the word vagina in public you haven't got the right to be there in the first place.

and while i remember. just for balance - penis

charles simic

Eyes Fastened With Pins

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death's supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can't figure it out
Among all the locked doors...
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.