Pause for brains

I think for the next few days my blog contributions are going to be limited to my squeaking faintly ‘I aten’t dead!’

I have a Condition, you see, that is Very Painful, and when it flares up, I am to all intents and purposes, a zombie. Seriously. I communicate in grunts and howls, I adopt a slow, pitiful, lurching gait, I try to rip off the face of anyone who disturbs my grave, and I spend most of the time lying down in it, green in the face and not noticeably breathing. Coherent thought is not an option.


See you all on Wednesday.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | Leave a comment


Oof. What to say today? It being NaBloPoMo, I have to say something even if it’s utterly pointless and dull. [Lucky readers - Ed].


Nope. Coming up with nada. Heigh ho.

The NaBloPoMo website has a daily prompt, for those of us wedged in the Writer’s Block. The two most recent, for the 11th and the 10th, are far too deep and complicated for late on a Saturday evening [light-weight], so I have skipped down and grabbed one from a few days ago. I’m really not sure why. Who on earth wants to know this sort of thing about me? More to the point, who wants to know it for reasons other than laugh-and-point?

What was your favorite song this year? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Twenty?

This year? Probably Unravel, originally by Björk, but I saw the Swingle Singers live in concert, singing this, and admittedly I was feeling very vulnerable and tragic and my heart-strings were more than usually accessible, but it promptly went on a mental loop for months and months. [It starts with two minutes of BeatBox, which utterly has nothing to do with the song in question, and we all bickered for ages as to whether this version was so much better than any other on YouTube, that the BeatBox would be worth putting up with. Reed won, on the monstrously sophistical ground that it's her blog].

Five years ago? Mr Bobby, by Manu Chao. Actually, it’s still a favourite song. [As ever, Reed is not in the least 'with it']. This is the live concert version. The version on the album Próxima Estación: Esperanza is more heartachy and, I think, better, but this one’s still mighty fine.

Ten years ago? Mambo by Lucio Dalla. God, I love this song. Lucio Dalla is a genius. You people who didn’t grow up in Italy, and who don’t understand the words, are missing out. It’s a song about a bad break-up. It doesn’t translate well. But it’s both bitter and very funny. ‘She left slamming the door/ I still had my hand in the way…’

Twenty years ago? Oh, Lord, I was still in my teens. I wore DMs with scarlet laces and sewed beads into my hair. I had a black satin waist-coat. I lived on black coffee and fingernails. I also lived on Bob Dylan (we share a birthday. My parents were very proud). Not that Jimi Hendrix isn’t wonderful, but here is the real version of All Along the Watchtower, and good golly but it took a while to track down a version that wasn’t some tomfool cover.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 1 Comment

A little silence

Yesterday was Armistice Day.

At the eleventh hour, I snuck off into the stacks at work, so I could stand for two minutes in silence without being interrupted. My first year working at the Current Place of Employment (affectionately nicknamed the Library of Glum several years ago), I automatically stood at my desk at 11:00 am on the 11th of November, and bowed my head, and after a few seconds I realised I was the only person in the office doing this, and a few seconds after that, someone came up to ask me a question, and I just stood there, crimson with embarrassment, staring at my keyboard and staying upright and silent now out of sheer bloody-minded pride. My mind was certainly not full of thoughts of sorrow and longings for peace.

After that, I tended to slope off to find a private corner to stand about in. I am not Spartacus.

Anyway, as it’s Friday, and I haven’t written a poem this week (I’ve written half of one poem, and half of another poem, and they are quite clearly not part of the same poem and it is absolutely maddening), and it was Armistice Day and on Sunday it will be Remembrance Sunday, I thought I’d give you my favourite Wilfred Owen poem. It’s not as well known as Anthem for Doomed Youth, or Dulce et Decorum Est, but I find it far more moving than either.


Move him into the sun–
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds–
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,–still warm,–too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
–O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Wilfred Owen, 1918.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, Poetry | 1 Comment

The big pile by the armchair

Ooh, ooh, I have something to post about. Yes! This is, or, at least, had ambitions to be, a literary blog. That’s books, right? [Have you been drinking? - Ed]. So, I shall tell you what books I am reading at the moment (and no, of course I haven’t been drinking. It’s Thursday).

  1. Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th edition. 1998 pages, indeed. Several months in, we’ve got to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He isn’t nearly as funny as Byron.
  2. The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt. I’m only about a third of the way through this, but so far it’s all rather lovely and jewel-like. The description of the V&A and the garden party are splendid bits of descriptive work.
  3. The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning. This is progressing slowly, because there’s only so much blank verse I can take in one week, and for that matter, only so much Robert Browning being arch. Good Lord, but he is arch, isn’t he? But he does have a good sense of humour, so we shall cheerfully soldier on.
  4. The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler. This one’s a classic of the history of science, and it’s very much about jolly time I read it. Philosophy, religious theory, Galileo, and the rewriting of the centre of the Universe. And some higher geometry, in case your brain was feeling under-revved.
  5. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland by Samuel Johnson and Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell. These come bound together in the one volume. I am still reading Johnson’s measured, elegant, phlegmatic discussion of his trip, and haven’t yet reached Boswell’s recounting of it, but I am very much looking forward to Boswell. Johnson being a tad too measured and elegant, despite his dry humour. I could do with some gossip.
  6. Dr Whortle’s School by Anthony Trollope. Not one of his better known novels, this, but as the entire town is about to find out that the school matron is actually an inadvertant bigamist, it is definitely becoming riveting. Trollope is rather more of a liberal than one would expect from his highly Victorian beard. I’m rather fond of Trollope, as the bishop said to the actress.

On the side, as light relief, I am also working my way through the complete novels of Ngaio Marsh, and Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. Unseen Academicals is proving rather dark and wistful in places, but Pratchett is Like That, and I admire him hugely for it. Otherwise it’d all be Wodehouse with wizards, and we only need one Wodehouse.

Posted in Book reviews, NaBloPoMo 2010 | 1 Comment

It’s an ill wind

The British climate has suddenly remembered that it is November and that our end of the planet is veering ever away from all things warm and well-lit. From my office window, I watched some brave few of our students pick up their placards and join the March protesting the new student fee increases. I hear that by the time they got down to Whitehall it had all gone A Tad Mayhem. Which deliciously increases the irony that my main thought, on seeing them all lined up and ready to go, was ‘bless the poor kittens, hardly any of them are wearing hats. They’ll all have earache by lunch-time.’

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, Politics | Leave a comment

Library Etiquette

You’ll be pleased to read that I spent my lunch-break writing away at the Possible Fiction. Why yes, of course you’ve got to wait. Fiction is bloody difficult. It has to make sense, it has to amuse, the reader has to give a flying-fercrying about something (character, plot, ironic foreshadowing, ridiculousness of set-up, something). Whereas opinion pieces, well, I just point myself at a blank page and when the red mist clears, get the Editor to remove anything misspelt or Daily Mailish [And at least half the swearwords. Reed has a mouth like a sewer - Ed.].

While we’re waiting, I shall therefore do the easy thing and make some points that have been boiling within my breast for, ooh, most of my career in librarianship, really.

So, Dear Assorted Persons Who Ought To Know Better:

  1. Alphabetical order is not an amusing foible only some of your colleagues indulge in. If things are not filed in the correct order, we cannot find them, and those of us that give a monkeys about customer service find it mildly distressing to have to tell a reader we can’t find their request/library card/application form/complete works of Charlotte M. Yonge.
  2. Dear reader, seriously? Your email account is eating your library reminders, yes, very frustrating I’m sure, but seriously? You expect us to waive your weeks and weeks-worth of fines because you didn’t know when the books were due back without the email from the library? Despite the due-date stamped firmly on the label in neat black ink? Oh, you do expect us to waive them. Well, I shan’t, and what’s more, I think you’re a twerp, and further to that, the fact your email account went kablooey neatly proves exactly why the email reminders are a courtesy only and the lack of them is in no way proof that your books don’t need renewing.
  3. Commuters of London! I will buy a pair of pinking shears and cut through each and every one of your goddamn headphone wires if you don’t turn your MP3 players down right now. [Nothing to do with libraries, but still. Worth saying].
  4. I wish I didn’t have to shush your children, shush you, grab your toddler before he falls down the stairs (where the hell were you?), rescue your hat from the top of the stacks (he was hot. So he threw his hat in the air. I know), stop you climbing up the book-shelves (are you trying to kill yourself? There’s a kick-stool right there), dissuade you from looking at porn on the internet, dissuade you from playing WarShovel (or whateverthehell you call it) on the internet with the sound on, ask you to hold your domestic arguments elsewhere, or pick up dozens and dozens of books you have pulled off the shelves and dropped onto the floor when they turned out to be of no interest to you. This is a University, damn it, not a crèche.
  5. I will put away my data entry and pay full attention to you when you put away your iPhone and pay full attention to me. Deal?
  6. If you dump a pile of books in front of me with no comment, I will ask you whether you want them returned, renewed, or lent. I’m not sure why you find this offensive. I find your slamming things down in front of me and staring haughtily at the wall behind me offensive, for that matter. Do I mutter ‘oh for fuck’s sake’ under my breath? No, I do not. I merely think it.
  7. The next person to remark, however jovially, that it must be lovely, working in a library, sitting about reading books all day, will be summarily disembowelled and hung on the ramparts as a warning to others.

And that’s only the minor snits and irritations, folks! Aren’t you glad I didn’t get started on funding cuts, those lying twat-weasel Lib Dems and their ‘no tuition fees!’ u-turn, and the fact even some of the lecturers are bloody illiterate woo-merchants these days [This last remark does not in any way apply to any of the teaching staff at Reed's place of employment, who are all very literate and clever indeed (Reed, you arse, do you want to get fired?)].

Posted in Bibliothecaria, NaBloPoMo 2010, Politics | 3 Comments


Ooh, look, one week of NaBloPoMo down, successfully. Excellent.

I rock.

Anyway. Housekeeping:

My blogroll has died and turned to compost and I shall have to create a whole new one from scratch and the very thought makes me want to slam the lap-top shut and hide in the bedroom with all seven Harry Potters a large mug of rum-adulterated cocoa. For a week.

When I asked what I should burble about next, Sol lavishly buttered me from head to foot, but firstly, and firmly, she said: ‘I’d like to read some fiction.’ [Good Lord. Fiction is hard, Barbie - Ed.]. And when I’d finished screaming in terror and running around in small circles [pathetic] I realised I do have an idea that might work bloggily. Might. I’m not sanguine. But I have a story brewing that is loosely episodic, and utterly lacking in story-arc, and I wanted to write brief episodes as they occured to me and see if any kind of proper plot actually developed or if the whole thing turned into a soap-opera, flailing relentlessly along with no resolution ever at all [or, indeed, as is considerably more probable, vanished into the Great Black Hole of Writer's Block]. Well. It’ll keep me busy, anyway. [Or not].

(It’s at times like this that the full-time job (with sodding commute of over-an-hour-each-way soddingness) loses its sparkling appeal. Funnily enough, the employers are not keen on the minions taking four-hour lunch-breaks dedicated to the finer points of internet literature and ranting).

Speaking of ranting, only SG V commented on the last post (Hi, SG! Hug!). Is that because no one read it or because those that did read it then backed away muttering ‘oo-er…’?

Oh, and spam! I am being spammed most egregiously. I am both amused and irritated by all this clever spam that reads very nearly like a slightly illiterate human being, and then you spot the web address is ‘live-sex-chat’ or ‘designer-handbags’. And one – the cheek of it! – actually said: ‘Good post, but you need to work on your spelling and punctuation, it lets you down’. To me! Of all people! Me! The Über-Speller! Punctuator of Accuracy! How’s that for failing its Turing test?

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 6 Comments

The faithless faithful

Just this week, a young (oh, so young) woman was convicted of stabbing a Member of Parliament. She was deeply religious. Her motivation was, apparently, that the MP had voted for the war in Iraq, and the particular branch of her faith that she had embraced encouraged vengeance. Violent, bloody, vengeance. But they call it ‘martyrdom’. I’m not entirely sure how the old religious concept of being prepared to die for your beliefs became the new euphemism for being prepared to slaughter for them. We used to call that psychosis.

In America, well, chiefly America abortion clinics have been bombed, and last summer one of the few doctors prepared to save a woman’s life by doing a late-term abortion, rather than, say, let her die and her child die with her anyway, was shot dead at church. Killing is wrong, you see, but apparently some few deeply religious people think two wrongs make a right, so if they kill a ‘killer’, that’s OK (for the record, I am pro-choice. No one should be forced to have a child, at the cost of their health, their life, their sanity). Even though their own scriptures tell them the exact opposite. Thou shalt not kill. Turn the other cheek.

Now, I am not religious. I’m not even one of the doubting Thomasinas. More of a, ‘there is no God, and Richard Dawkins is not his messenger’, sort of person. But there are times when I think I have more faith in deities, Providence, The Universe etc. than a great many people who are extremely religious. Extremely. These are people who put their entire life, every hour, every spare penny, every thought, at the service of their God. And their family’s lives. And the lives of anyone else they can convince to join. To those of proselytising faiths, this kind of devotion is an ideal to be looked up to. I personally find it boorish and tiresome, and if not directly hypocritical in itself, then a lead cause of hypocrisy in others (which makes persisting in proselytising… hypocritical). People join extreme faiths when they are broken, anxious, rootless, fragile. Needy. People pretend to believe in extreme faiths under pressure from their family and community, out of fear. Fear of losing those they love. Fear of rejection. Fear, sometimes, of death. How is it not hypocritical to demand that someone believes with threats and menaces? How is not hypocritical to take advantage of someone’s loneliness and fragility to make a convert? How could any faith be honest and true under these circumstances?

But I digress. The main point I wanted to make was, why do some Extremely Religious people start using violence? I don’t mean violence to defend their very lives in a war zone. I mean those that bomb/stab/shoot people they’ve never met before, who were no threat to them or their faith (though I think claiming someone is a threat to your faith is like claiming someone is a threat to your thinking about pink elephants. It’s the inside of your head. Do with it as you please, surely (preventing someone practicing their religion by keeping them away from their sacred places etc. is, on the other hand, a shitty thing to do. It’s not a threat to faith, though. Not being able to physically get to a chapel doesn’t instantly stop you being a Methodist)). Where was I?

For example, I disagreed with the Iraq War. I was horrified when it started, and horrified that it was entered into on a fiction, and so angry I couldn’t think straight at the reports of abuse of prisoners, dead children, the selling off of the rebuilding contracts to wealthy pals of the American government before the war even began, the ugly, ugly cynicism of it all. I protested. I signed petitions, I marched in the streets of London, I argued with and (with wine on board) harangued people who were pro-war. I did not vote Labour in 2005. Many of the things I said about Tony Blair and George W. Bush and their cronies are, even by my lax and sweary standards, unprintable. And that was pretty much as cutting as I got. Why did I not try to rush into an MP’s surgery and stab him, now, in 2010, when all the worst of the war is over and done and unchangeable, given that I disapproved so much? Because I had no faith that adding to the violence would change a jot or tittle of it, or improve a second of it. Because I do have faith that humans can learn, try to redeem themselves, make some sort of amends, maybe. If they live long enough.

But these Extremely Religious people, they have no faith at all, not even in their God Himself. Where their scriptures say, ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord’, they decide they can’t wait for God to take this vengeance in His own way, in His own time. They must tell Him His business. Who to take vengeance on. How. When. They have no faith that their God knows what He is doing.

And they have no faith that God will chose the right level of vengeance. To God, their scriptures tell them, a human life is the merest blink of an eye against all of eternity, and God will decide what happens to a person for all of that eternity. But this will not do. Suffering needs to be immediate and earthly. They kill, not only those they perceive as responsible, but any amount of bystanders, who could well have shared their beliefs. Hypocritally, that’s alright, because ‘God will know His own’. Oh yes, God doesn’t know who He’s supposed to be blowing to shreds in an urgent manner, but God will know which of the shreds are destined for Heaven and which for Hell. God won’t rip off the legs of an infedel sinner here on Earth and has to have it done for him by People of Faith who know, oh, how certainly they know, whose legs to rip off seeing as God won’t, but they trust him to give a consolation prize to any who have been maimed by mistake because they happened to be sitting on the bus. As if God where merely the orderly following on behind them with a broom and a sieve.

Worse, these Extremely Religious think that human flesh is expendable. The flesh that according to them God created with such love and tenderness, they will tear apart again just to make an incoherent scream of rage, like a toddler smashing his toys in a tantrum. The great gift of life, that their scriptures so treasure that they all prohibit killing, they will batter to pieces and then throw the pieces in their God’s face. ‘I did it for God’ they say, ‘In His Name’. If a grown man smashed the, the, oh, I don’t know, something expensive, let’s say television, you’d just given him, and then claimed to have done it for you because a newsreader said something sarcastic about you, you’d think he’d gone barking mad. Check that, you’d know he’d gone barking mad. And what’s more, you’d know he didn’t really care about you, in fact, possibly shared the newsreader’ low opinion, given that he valued your gift so little.

And another thing, why the hell does it bug the Extremely Religious so much if someone makes a joke or a sneer or a nasty little swearyness about their God? OK, so it’s not nice or polite, but why the killy-stabby-burn-in-effigy frenzy? Is their God really so pathetically little, and their faith in him so pathetically fragile, that one good joke would shatter it? Isn’t their God big enough, powerful enough, and self-evidently good and glorious enough for all the blasphemy and sarcasm in the world to roll right off Him leaving him spotless and perfect as only an omnipotent and omniscient Creator could be? If God is so great, why does he need some paranoid, hysterical and deeply, deeply needy delusional teenager to do his dirty work for him?

So. Fundamentalists of the Bomb and Shoot and Stab and Bloody Mayhem and Vengeance variety, that’s your dirty little secret, isn’t it? You have no faith in your own God. At all. You can’t even read your own holy texts, you ignorant little shits.

I leave you with this clip of Robert Llewellyn, who put it rather well.

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, Politics | 4 Comments


This is another stupid cheaty ‘I aten’t dead’ squeaking-in-under-the-wire post. (So many? So soon? [So predictably? - Ed]).

So, marmosets. What can I say about marmosets? Off the top of my head, they amazingly cute creatures of the monkey family, from, I think, South America, and unlike other primates, they have no wisdom teeth. But some do have the most fantastic whiskers. [I think you'll find the ones with the whiskers are tamarins. Marmosets have ridiculous ear-muffs instead. Carry on]. The females almost always give birth to twins. They live up trees [yes. Monkeys tend to] and they’re not at all keen on monogamy [Is any primate?]. They eat insects and chew through bark to drink the tree-sap. Um. [Flagging, aren't we?]. They are none of them very large. [That was more than usually bottom-of-barrel].

Anything else I’d have to look up.

There. Marmosets. Just for the Singing Librarian.

[We really must get around to reinstating the blog-roll. By 'we' I mean 'Reed'.]

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, The Capacious Hold-All | 3 Comments

Friday is still for poetry

Funeral Cortege

Grey water stilled by the turning tide,
All things bated between the inbreath and the out
But us, and a dozen paper boats

Strung along the water where the river
Lifts itself over the grey sand, wet stones.
Against this colourless, this shining, lay

The bright flat sails. One pin-sharp hour
They flowered on the Thames; then slid under
The grey drift and the relentless years.

You on the shore, what were you thinking?
A grown man and a groaning woman
Handing these colours to the darkening river,

Each neat shard of sunset, sunrise,
Midsummer sky, spring leaf, sweet orange,
A piece, and another, and another, of our lives

Taken back, little boats, as we turned homewards,
The which of us unmoored,
The which of us dissolving?

Posted in NaBloPoMo 2010, Poetry | 2 Comments