Saturday, 31 January 2015

A randy young lady called Dinah …

O.K. you can stop guessing the rest of that one. Time for another limerick from my pure-as-the-driven-snow animal series. We have reached the letter ‘T’.

I’ve already dealt with the Toad
(See under ‘N’) — what a load
Of cheap rhymes, what a caper!
— There’s always the Tapir
That’s quite enough, any road.

They are not the cutest of animals but here is the by now mandatory picture:

Friday, 30 January 2015

Oops! Sorry!

I think I had already shown you issue 5 of 'The Aloni', so here (duh) is issue 6:

Waiting to see. And waiting, and waiting...

While we're waiting to see what will happen in and to Greece, here is issue 5 of 'The Aloni':

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Road Runner

Yesterday was dull, cold, and wet, and neither I nor the dog went out all day. Dull for the dog, who cannot read and only has a limited appreciation of music, but good for me: I kept the ‘practical work’ — the lunatic inventions, the endless repair jobs — to a minimum and spent much of the day alternating between computer and piano. At the computer — though I always do first drafts longhand, in a notebook in front of the screen, so it’s hard to choose a pair of glasses that allows me to focus on both, not to mention the pile of dictionaries, some coming unbound, that teeters nearby, threatening to collapse onto keyboard and notebook — I was translating a Greek text into English. At the piano I was trying to learn another of the Bach two-part inventions. I learn painfully slowly now; perhaps I always did. I’m proceeding at about a bar a day, and I notice the piece is 23 bars long. Actually, come to think of it, that’s not so bad: it means I could just about have the thing under my belt, or rather in that mysterious network of nerves and synapses between fingers and brain, in about six months.

You finally learn to play the piano, and then you die.

So quite a productive day, so when I finally went to bed I could allow myself some frivolity, and to that end I had earlier downloaded some Road Runner cartoons. You know the Road Runner cartoons? Minimalism avant la lettre. The road runner is a ridiculous chicken-like creature — I don’t know if he really exists — who tears along an otherwise empty road in a barren rocky landscape; precipices, canyons, the occasional organ-pipe cactus. He irritates hell out of the only other character, a coyote who comes up with absurdly ingenious devices to capture him, all of which backfire. The standard scene-ending  is coyote falling down a canyon so deep he dwindles to invisibility, reaching the bottom with a distant crash; all we see is a little puff of dust. As is the way of cartoons, he then peels himself up and tries a new ruse. There are no voices, never any human presence at all: just the mocking ‘Bee-beep’ of Road Runner as he hurtles past. It is very relaxing.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Midwinter Miscellany

Oscar Wilde Sucks

Or was it that he liked to be sucked? When Ellman was writing his biography, he announced excitedly to a friend that he had at last discovered what Wilde’s ‘perversion’ was — ‘Fellatio!’ ‘Indeed,’ said his friend; ‘But as the sucker or the sucked?’ Ellman’s face fell and he dashed off to do more research.


Poetry is Useless

or at least it ought to be: if you try to write a ‘useful’ poem, it will certainly be a bad poem. Of course, it may be that reading poetry has a positive moral effect, because it is a species of the contemplation of the beautiful. But that is quite another matter.


Poets are Useful

At the end of the Spanish Civil War the remaining Republican forces, harried by Franco’s fascists, Italy’s fascists, and Germany’s nazis, tried to get away over the border into France. The French closed the border and the trapped Republicans were slaughtered, except for those who got over the Pyrenees. These lived in constant fear of arrest as ‘illegal immigrants’, and even when allowed to stay would have been the first to be rounded up by the invading Germans now that WW II had started.

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who had by now made a bob or two, (in those days people valued poetry), chartered or bought an old cargo ship, the ‘Winnipeg’, and himself went over to France and sought out 2,000 endangered Spanish Republican refugees. The ‘Winnipeg’ took them safely to a warm welcome in Chile, where the Spanish Republican Government in Exile gave them generous six month grants to set themselves up in their new home.


Grave Concerns

Now seems as good a time as any to repeat something I’ve mentioned before: special protective and hygienic measures have had to be taken at the graves of Oscar Wilde and Francisco Franco. In the first place because so many people kiss it, in the second because so many people spit on it.

Here is Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery, sculpted by Jacob Epstein:

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Greek Election

Here in this little Aegean island I am in most senses except the geographical further away from current major Greek political goings-on than I would be in England, but I’d better just say what I know or think I know.

The likely final figures will be such that Syriza (the left-wing party that is promising Greeks the earth, and most of all escape from the fierce austerity measures that are causing so much misery) has the most votes. Next will come Nea Demokratia. (The current ruling party, roughly Thatcherite.) Then the appalling ‘Golden Dawn’; out and out Nazis. Then a number of small parties such as the ‘Greek Independents’, led by the aptly named ‘Kamenos’. (It translates as ‘burnt’ and the word is a common metaphor for ‘cheated’). They are something like the English UKIP, but they too are against the austerity measures.

Syriza will not have an overall majority, so that to form a government it will have to form a coalition. Their likely (!) partners will be the party of Kamenos, as of course Golden Dawn is beyond the pale of decency. Unfortunately Golden Dawn, as the second runner-up, will get a disturbing number of seats in parliament.

That’s how I understand things to be, as far as we can see, at the moment. Now we shall just have to wait and see what happens. There is a strong possibility Greece will, to some extent, disengage itself, or be disengaged, from the European Community.

But as I say, let us WAIT AND SEE!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Hope you like the occasional 'Aloni'

The last one I put in the blog was issue number 4, so here is (duh) number 5:

If it's too small to read, click on it and then you can fiddle about to make it bigger.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Kobo

The what? It’s an anagram of ‘Book’ and it’s what’s called an e-reader; slightly smaller than a thin paperback, electronic, with a surprisingly ink-on-paper like screen, and a capacity of, they say, 1,000 books. I imagine they’re counting on people’s books not being Proust, the King Kames Bible, Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’, etc., but anyway it can hold a lot. ‘Oh, you mean a Kindle!’ Well, very like that, but mercifully Amazon-free. Of course, its manufacturers have a site full of e-books for sale and they’re hoping you will buy them to put in your Kobo, but they don’t hassle you to do so and I have learnt how to put in books that are available free, legitimately, on the internet, in e-reader friendly format. The best source of these is the splendid ‘Project Gutenberg’ which I very much recommend. Its thousands of out-of-copyright titles are also available in ‘text only’ and HTML formats, so that you can also download, convert to ‘Word’ for a decent typeface, and print, or, if you can tolerate it, even just read on the screen of your computer.

Anyway, my newly-acquired Kobo (they cost about £60) is the next ‘book’ on my bedside shelf. It’s early days yet and I’m still getting used to it, so in Kobo terms I haven’t put much in it: current contents are:

Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Hunting of the Snark’.
The Kobo Touch User Guide.
Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Mirror of the Sea’.
Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer’.
Gaston Leroux’s ‘Mystery of the Yellow Room’ in English translation.
Sacher-Masoch’s ‘Venus in Furs’ in English translation.
Thomas Martin’s ‘The Inventions etc. of Nikola Tesla’.
A selection of articles from the London Review of Books.
Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’ in English translation.
Coleridge’s ‘Biographia Literaria’.
Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’.
‘Flood Songs’ (Details later when I get round to looking at it.)
Thoreau’s ‘Walden’.
Meredith’s ‘The Tragic Comedians’.

And all, as I say, in something smaller and thinner than any paperback.

Here’s a photograph of the thing, propped up on the ashtray next to my laptop:

(That glare on the screen is caused by my camera's flash; the thing itself is much clearer than that.)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Secrets of Alchemy

That title was surely chosen by a publisher more interested in money than learning, in fact soon dictionaries will be saying ‘Publisher (n, from vb Publish): 1) One whose only interest in books is financial. 2) Term of abuse used by writers and other intellectuals, e.g. ‘You…you…Publisher you!’ ‘The Secrets of Alchemy’ will disappoint those looking for the sensational, while its title will put off the serious. But of course those with a serious interest are a minority, so let’s cheat the sensation seekers and forget the serious; there’s more money in it that way.

Anyway it’s the next book in the bedside slot, and it’s there because I read a serious article about it in the ‘Literary Review’, or perhaps a really serious one in the ‘London Review of Books’.

The author, Lawrence Principe, is, (and it’s worth giving his title in full) ‘Drew Professor of the Humanities in the Department of the History of Science and Technology and the Department of Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University’, and that title is not as misleading as his book’s. This is a serious work, whose aim is to show (I oversimplify here) that ‘Alchemy’ is just the old word for ‘Chemistry’, but around the time of the ‘Scientific Revolution’, when scientists, hitherto known as Natural Philosophers, wanted to be seen to be cleaning up their act, found it convenient to distinguish them, like the beasts in Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’: ‘Chemistry Good, Alchemy Bad’, Alchemy became, as it were, Chemistry’s scapegoat.

Even ascetic people like me (stop sniggering that girl at the back there) eagerly look for pictures when we open a new book, and some of these here are indeed sensational: Professor Principe is a proper ‘Hands on’ chemist, alchemist, chymyst: here are clear colour photographs of the results of ‘alchemical’ experiments done in his own laboratory. He hasn’t quite succeeded in turning base metal into gold, but he’s come pretty close; close enough to give alchemy back the bad name he’s trying to clear it of, were he not scrupulously honest and, in the best sense of the word, ‘scientific’. I’m only halfway through the book, and it must certainly stay in the bedside shelf until I’ve finished it.
Here are some pictures from ‘The Secrets of Alchemy’:
I'm afraid the pictures haven't come out too well here. You could try clicking on them and then fiddling about, but they look much better in the book.


Pablo Neruda

I have just heard that Pablo Neruda's remains are to be disturbed for the second time, following a new story that he was poisoned. We all -- those of us who care, that is -- know that in fact Neruda, already old and ill, died of a broken heart ten days after the Americans came in (on September the 11th 1973) and overthrew the democratically elected government which had been led by Neruda's friend Salvador Allende, (Allende had already 'committed suicide') and put their puppet the torturer Pinochet in charge.
If you want to know more about Neruda, look at my blog post, called 'Nine - Eleven', of last September the 11th. Here's Pablo Neruda:

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Auden’s Longer Poems

The next book on the bedside shelf is W.H. Auden’s Collected Longer Poems.

Most anglophones will know at least part of at least one of Auden’s shorter poems. Even people who claim to hate poetry are likely to be familiar with the poem read at the graveside in the popular film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. (Incidentally I knew briefly the woman for whom the poem was written.) Poetry, for most of us including myself, means lyric poetry: individual pieces about the length of a sonnet, at any rate no longer than a page: something like a Sestina is pushing the limits of the lyric; the limits of ‘real’ poetry: poetry is the quintessence of language, and you just can’t keep it up, either reading it or writing it[i], for very long: one can drink a whole bottle of wine, but a whole bottle of whisky would make even me ill.

So ‘Long Poem’ is a contradiction: ‘Long verse’, it should be called. Byron’s ‘Don Juan’ and Vikram Seth’s ‘The Golden Gate’ are verse, not poetry. They are none the worse for that; one doesn’t criticize a Clydesdale for not being a racehorse. Even as fine a work as Tennyson’s ‘Maud’ is verse rather than poetry, and contains lines worthy of Alfred Austin, such as

            Her brother is coming home tonight,
            Breaking up my dream of delight.

(I may not have quoted exactly, but it’s something just as awful.) But ‘Maud’ also contains ‘Purple Passages’ that can be lifted out to stand alone as very beautiful lyrics, and ‘Maud’ has other, ‘non-poetic’ virtues: virtues more usually associated with the novel.

Auden’s longer poems are not so much like novels as like essays. ‘The Sea and the Mirror’, for which I specially wanted this book, is a deep examination of just what Shakespeare was up to in ‘The Tempest’. The long section ‘Caliban to the Audience’ — which is surely not even verse but prose— says more than most people want to know about a play that is often regarded as mere pantomime.

But having read or rather re-read ‘The Sea and the Mirror’ I then embarked on ‘The Age of Anxiety’, so this book must stay in the bedside slot at least until I’ve finished that.

I think, were I obliged to ‘weed’ a garden, I should probably decide nothing was a weed.

In later years Auden’s face looked, as he said himself, ‘Like a wedding-cake left out in the rain’:


[i] An exception is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, which is not for the faint-hearted.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Oxopetra Elegies


That’s the next book in the bedside slot mentioned yesterday. Probably my favourites among the poems of Oddyseas Elytis, and this is a parallel text edition; Greek original verso and David Connolly’s excellent English translation recto. I bought a copy of this edition when it was first published in 1996, the year of Elytis’s death, but it has disappeared; another case of my trusting someone who claimed to be my friend but lied to me and stole from me. When I couldn’t find it a year or so ago David kindly sent me a new copy, and I’ve been studying his translations, and what Elytis has said about translating his poetry, because just recently someone who can’t have had the slightest idea what she was asking nevertheless asked me to translate into English Elytis’s strange and difficult poem ‘Marina of the Rocks’. To my dismay I found that one is supposed to translate Elytis’s poetry almost word-for-word: a process that usually produces nonsense (just for fun, try ‘Google Translate’ on any poem) and certainly does in the case of ‘Marina of the Rocks.’

‘Supposed to…’? Well yes, really: David was privileged to discuss this personally with Elytis, and that’s what he was told, so that’s from the horse’s mouth. And it’s what David did, brilliantly, with the Oxopetra Elegies. I just can’t do that with ‘Marina of the Rocks’, though I’ve struggled for a month. Finally I had to submit what I’ve called, remembering Robert Lowell, an ‘Imitation’.

It’s done and sent off, so I can now, with relief, put the Oxopetra Elegies back in the poetry shelves. But only for a rest: like all good poetry, these are something one can come back to again and again. They bear comparison with Rilke’s Duino Elegies.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Book (or Six) at Bedtime

Being an Asperger’s type I make little rules for myself. Perhaps it’s a desperate attempt to impose a structure on a frightening internal and external chaos. Perhaps it’s just fun.

There are two rules about the row of books beside the bed: one is that the total mustn’t exceed six inches of shelf space, and to that end I have made a special slot, six inches wide, in the woodwork beside the bed. The other is more complicated: there must be in the collection a poetry book, a novel, a book in Greek, and something in that catch-all class known as ‘Non-fiction’. So if one of the books were, say, Vikram Seth’s ‘The Golden Gate’ and the other Makriyannis’s Journals in the original, I’ve complied with the rule using just two books.

Very often, in spite of the rules, things get out of hand: an urgent piece of reading, or a book on loan that must be returned soon, or just a sudden urge to read such-and-such even though I haven’t finished so-and-so, and the sides of the book slot try to bulge. So it is now, and I must see which of six can be weeded out:

1)      E.M. Forster, ‘The Longest Journey’. I talked about this one the other day, and am still only two-thirds of the way through it. So it must stay.

2)      Richard Burton, ‘A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting’. Over 500 pages about a poet with whose work I was shamefully unfamiliar. Bunting is in danger of being categorized as a ‘Poet’s Poet’, which means, roughly, ‘Very good, but unread.’ Burton’s huge, scholarly, entertaining, and very well researched book quotes generously from the poet himself, and here and there relates the poetry to the often wildly adventurous life. Not in the facile populist ‘Must have’ manner, ("in writing ‘Don Juan’ Byron ‘Must have’ had his travels in the Levant in mind"), nor the extraordinary obsessiveness of G. Livingston Lowes’s ‘The Road to Xanadu’, but just to the extent that his life can shed light on poetry whose every word is carefully chosen, but can still seem difficult. As Burton says, if the book prompts people to read the poetry, then it’s done its job. As soon as I can find an Amazon-free way of getting Bunting’s complete poetry I shall read it, but meanwhile I’m only two-thirds through this book too, so it has to stay in the slot.

3)      Oh, look here, there are still another four books by the bed and I doubt I shall do any weeding. I’m squeezing these two back in the slot now, and I’ll reconsider the other four tomorrow. Maybe.


Here’s are two pictures of Basil Bunting:



Saturday, 17 January 2015

The War on Error

The nominally Muslim terrorists who are attacking the sort-of-democracies in the North West quadrant of the world want to establish regimes in which telephone calls and e-mails are monitored, people are killed not for what they have done but for what it looks as if they might be thinking of doing, and in general with overriding central authorities keeping an eye on what people are doing.

In order to combat this, the ‘Western Powers’ are (just for the moment, of course) monitoring telephone calls and e-mails, shooting people for what it looks as if they might be thinking of doing, and in general keeping a close eye on what people are doing.
Bin Laden

Friday, 16 January 2015

Intellectual Curiosity

This blog’s daily reader numbers vary quite widely, but when I check I usually find something between ten and twenty. A few days ago it suddenly shot up to fifty-six, so I wondered why and checked the numbers for recent individual posts. Much the same as usual: two or three people for each of the last three days’ posts, and the odd one or two for much older posts; someone perhaps intrigued by a title that was a quotation in German of something Wittgenstein said, and someone looking for stuff about Nikos Kavvadias. Perhaps a new country had been suddenly added to the rather unexpected places from which the blog is, as they say, ‘accessed’? No: as usual, Greece, the UK, the USA, Taiwan and Ukrania. Oh, and someone in Holland; I think I know who. So why the sudden increase in readership?

Then I suddenly remembered: a couple of days ago I changed what they are pleased to call my ‘signature’: the bit of boilerplate at the bottom of all my e-mails that draws attention (I hope) to my blog. I wrote that the blog was only for the intellectually curious and that other people should not look at it.

Conclusion? There are about fifty-six people out there who felt got at by the remark: the insulting suggestion that they lacked intellectual curiosity; so they reacted at once by having a look. It remains to be seen whether they will come back for more, but just in case I shall continue to try to pique intellectual curiosity. But I still wish people would simply write in — — to tell me what they liked or didn’t like, and what they would like me to write about.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Longest Journey

E. M. Forster said quite famously that he was sure he was not a great novelist.

No-one has ever agreed with him and I don’t know why he said it. It’s unlikely to have been false modesty and even more unlikely that he’d read Northrop Frye — still less I. A. Richards or the Leavises — and so known all about literary criticism and what novels ‘ought’ to be ‘like’.

I saw him once, sitting quietly alone in an alcove of the Senior Common Room Bar at King’s Cambridge. (Him, not me: I was sitting noisily with friends in another alcove.) I’ve regretted ever since not having had the nerve or the gaucherie (of which I usually have too much) to go up and talk to him. I was much younger then and apparently quite attractive; had I but known it he might have been quite pleased to let me sit with him and buy him another drink — I seem to remember he drank bottled light ale. So I lost my chance to ask him why he didn’t think he was a great novelist, and my chance (in the unlikely event of their having the slightest idea who he was) to say airily to my awed nephews ‘Oh, we talked about Rupert Brooke’ or pre-First World War motorbikes or whatever.

Anyway, I thought I’d read all Forster’s novels, but tidying my fiction shelves the other day I found ‘The Longest Journey’ and realized I’d never read it. Apparently it was Forster’s own favourite. It’s a very strange book, and must have seemed even stranger in 1907 when it was published. The fact that the plot concerns class distinction and rigid rules of social and especially sexual conduct only add extra strangeness for modern readers who can’t or won’t make an imaginative leap into the mores of its time. I won’t or perhaps can’t try a proper ‘review’, which would anyway frighten off even more of my readers, but there’s one little or perhaps not so little thing that struck me, and that it has in common with all his novels:

It’s the presence of a special significant place. Significant, but nothing so crass as ‘Symbolic’. As I say, it happens in all his novels. The best known, probably mainly because of the film, is the Malabar Caves in ‘A Passage to India’. People like to talk with an air of profundity and erudition of ‘What really happened in the Malabar Caves?’, meaning they have no idea but want to sound clever. Sometimes these special places seem, in the narrator’s mind and so I suppose in Forster’s, to be imbued with an almost supernatural significance. In two of his stories — ‘A Room with a View’ and one of the short stories — it’s more than ‘almost’. People, usually a man and a woman but sometimes two men, are overcome by something like panic, or rather Panic: possession by the Great God Pan.

There are two such places in ‘The Longest Journey’. (There might be more; I’m only halfway through the book.) One is, rather prosaically, a little grove or bower off the Madingley Road in Cambridge, and it’s here that Rickie and Agnes at last acknowledge that they are in love with each other. The other is an ancient hill fort somewhere near Salisbury, and it’s there that Stephen Wonham and Rickie realize, or half-realize, that they are brothers, or half-brothers.

That’s it, I’m afraid: I have no point to make; it’s just something that struck me. But if you haven’t read E. M. Forster, do so.

Oh yes; your picture. I’ll find one of Edwin Morgan Forster.
This is about how he looked when I saw him.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Atoms of Democritus

And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are Sands upon the Dead Sea Shore
Where Israel’s Tents do Shine so Bright.

I’m not quite sure what Bill Blake meant by that. I think he meant that Democritus, in faffing about wondering whether there was an absolute limit to how small you can cut things up, and Newton, in wondering if light might be a stream of tiny particles, were somehow not noticing how wonderful and astonishing is the world and everything in it. It’s a criticism that is still often made of science, and it’s a mistaken criticism: all science proceeds from wonder, and tends ad majorem Dei gloriam, or, if you object to ‘Dei’ — if you think the word ‘God’ lacks a referent — then substitute ‘Nature’ or whatever.

We would now — speaking too loosely — say that Democritus was ‘right’. That it is ‘in fact’ impossible to cut something — say, a piece of iron — into pieces below a certain size. (I’m not talking of course about the difficulty of making a knife hard and sharp enough, or of our clumsiness in using it — I’m assuming limitless sharpness and dexterity; talking ‘theory’ not ‘practice’.) Hence Democritus’s word ‘Atom’, from Greek ‘A-tomo’; ‘uncuttable’.

The mediæval alchemists took this idea a step further, getting even closer to the ‘truth’: they said that perhaps after all you could cut even a single atom of iron into smaller pieces, but whereas a single atom of iron is still iron, still has the usual iron-ish properties, were you to cut it up further you would get things that weren’t iron-ish any more; the things we call electrons and protons. Which we now ‘know’ is ‘in fact’ the case. (An analogy, though I fear not a very good one, might be cutting up a cake, and finding that eventually one finishes up with tiny bits of butter, sugar, flour etc.; the stuff of which cakes are made, but not yet cake.) (Incidentally it’s interesting that in present day Greek the word ‘Atomo’ means a person; if you cut a person into little bits he isn’t a person any more.)

Why the plethora of inverted commas? Because it’s going too far ever to say that that’s what things are ‘really’ like. Modern theory of atoms, protons, electrons etc. and how and why they behave as they ‘do’ is still only theory; just as much theory as Democritus’s brilliant idea. True, it’s a jolly good theory as theories go; that’s to say, it’s been around a while, it has a lot of explanatory value, and to date nothing too serious has turned up, in spite of diligent searching, to prove it nonsense.

But it is nonsense, or very nearly so: scientific theories are never more than plausible pictures or analogies; they never ‘become fact’.

It may come as a shock to non-scientists, but all decent scientists would agree:


Monday, 12 January 2015

Sheep and Goats

One hears the expression ‘Divide the sheep from the goats’; I think the origin is biblical, but I can’t remember, or perhaps it doesn’t say, which of the two kinds of animal is preferable or why. Here in Greece most shepherds / goatherds have mixed flocks, and all those I’ve spoken to about it agree that goats are far and away more intelligent than sheep. A friend in Germany who likes sheep has been telling me that they are not stupid, but I am unconvinced.

Anyway, I only mention this because my attempt to intrigue readers with that quaint device the Rolls Razor went down like a lead balloon, so I decided today to give you another limerick. The last one was R for Rat, so today we have S for Sheep:

Sheep live on cold hills. Though endowed
with thick wool, it gets shorn: they say “How’d
you feel with no cardy?
Hill-top life’s hardy,
far from the madding crowd.”

Oh yes: you like pictures, don’t you? All right then:


Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Rolls Razor

Few people out there will remember this device, which was briefly fashionable in the 1950s and is now I suspect what is called a ‘Collector’s Item’, especially if, like mine, it still has its blue Rexine case, instruction leaflet, and, rarest of all, a still-intact whetstone.

Here is the first quarter or so of the instruction leaflet: (the main reason I’m showing you this is because readership dropped like a lead balloon two days ago, and I’ve noticed before that this happens whenever I neglect to put in a picture; it seems any picture will do. I will try to indulge this infantile taste.)

If this oddity seems to excite any interest, I will put in the rest of the instruction leaflet in due course. By the way, I have occasionally shaved with this thing, but it’s a lot more hassle than those plastic disposable razors.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

So said that populist rabble-rouser Winston Churchill. Certainly ‘Official figures’ can be misleading; are indeed often presented in deliberately misleading ways. Even so, some official figures can be illuminating, especially the less publicised ones. For instance, UK government figures show that 80% of motorcycle accidents are caused by people other than the motorcyclist him or herself, but the government chooses to keep very quiet about that. Every motorcyclist has had the experience of picking himself up out of the wreckage of his machine to be confronted by the car driver who has knocked him down saying ‘Sorry mate; didn’t see you.’ There seem not to be any official figures for the number of car drivers who have had their licenses revoked because they cannot see objects as large as a motorcycle; I suspect the figure is zero.

But it was some other official UK government figures I wanted to talk about, or rather just present; make of them what you will:

UK minimum wage: £6.50 an hour.

Number of people currently being illegally paid less than this: 287,000.

Number of employers during David Cameron’s government who have been fined for underpaying: 2.

Total fine paid by the two employers: £4,696.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Latin Binomials

These are not calculations using the binomial theory and Latin numerals — I have often wondered how the Romans managed to do any maths at all with their cumbersome system of numerals — but the double-barrelled names used for living things by biologists. They are supposed to be set out according to a strict formula, which I get wrong whenever (which is rarely) I try to use it. Thus the break in the Limerick series: the next one uses such a name and I know I have got it wrong. In fact I think I’ve even got the wrong species. However, pace Jane, here is the next Limerick:

If you see a Rat (Rattus Norvegicus)
try to catch it: don’t let it evade you, ’cos
they always have fleases
with nasty diseases,
many of which are contagicous.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Another Issue of ‘The Aloni’

I am putting these in in the order of original publication, hoping they will interest some readers. There is some vague evidence that they do: readership, or at least click-on-er-ship, has increased each time I have put one in. Of course this may mean that people are saying ‘He keeps putting these tedious old Alonia on the blog, but let’s just have a quick click in case there’s something more interesting.’ Anyway, here’s Issue 4:



Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Shrink to Fit

Yes, I know: I’ve used that title before.

Someone with an interest in psychoanalysis has asked me to explain the difference between Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Well as far as what they had to say is concerned there isn’t one really: Freud was a fine prose stylist, and (most of the time) he’s clear, straightforward, and easy to understand. Lacan said almost exactly the same things as Freud, but a) he said them a hundred years too late, and b) he said them with a bullshitting obscurity all too typical of twentieth-century French intellectuals.

If you want to understand psychoanalysis, read Freud. If you want to impress people, try to read Lacan. Here are pictures of the pair of them; take your pick:

By the way, I'm pretty sure Freud never really said that.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Poets Laureate

The Laureateship is often the kiss of death to a poet. So cautious and so philistine are the people who award it (it is in the gift of the King or Queen, though they usually take ‘advice’ from someone almost as ignorant, such as the Prime Minister) that it only ever goes to ‘respectable’ poets who have ‘stood the test of time.’ We have had some real humdingers since the death of Tennyson; Alfred Austin was particularly memorable in his awfulness. He penned the immortal lines

Along the wires the electric message came:
‘He is no better, he is much the same’

(Some ‘important’ member of the Royal Family was slowly dying at the time.) Here is what the Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry in English has to say about him: ‘Remarkably, Austin has the reputation of having been the worst, most unread English poet; more remarkably, examination of his work bears out this verdict.’ However, that was published before the present incumbent was appointed.

America, where there has always been a snobbish fashion for adopting ‘English’ things, and where they unerringly choose the wrong things to adopt, also has a Poet Laureate, and I must say they make better choices over the pond. The current one is Charles Wright, whom I have just heard interviewed on VOA. He said, among other things,

‘It’s OK if you don’t like poetry: you can still get to heaven if you don’t like poetry —— but you’ll get there quicker if you do.’

Here’s a picture of Tennyson, one of the better of England’s Poets Laureate:

Monday, 5 January 2015

News from Tartary

That is the title of a travel book by someone so famous that I’ve forgotten his name, and the book is so good that my copy has been stolen. (You know, one of those people who say ‘Oh please! You know me; of course I’ll bring it back the moment I have finished it!’ and are in fact liars and thieves.) But I mention it mainly because I was interested to note that a sudden increase in readership seems to be down to people looking at the blog from Taiwan. (Some personal mental link, not in assonance but the other thing, the consonantal one, between the two names.) Could it be that readers there like ‘The Aloni’? OK then here’s number three:


Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Aloni

Some readers may remember what 'The Aloni' is and that I have from time to time put various issues, selected at random, here. They are scanned from original paper copies as the originals were written on an ancient AppleMac, so the original word documents either won't open or come out garbled. From now on, if and when I put a copy in the blog, I shall try to do so in chronological order. Pretty sure I've put the very first issue here before, so here's issue 2:

If the print is too small to read, I think if you mouse-click on the page you can make it bigger.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Typefaces and Fonts

Somewhere in his vast book, Proust says that the French call everything English by the one name that the English don’t use. That semi-literate bunch of money-grubbing nerds Microsoft does something similar: they take a word, often a technical term, misunderstand it, and insist on using it in the misunderstood sense. Nobody takes them to task, because Microsoft rules the world and to disagree with them is to risk their getting into your computer and deleting all the pirated software and naughty pictures, so pretty soon everyone (except me) is using the word in the misunderstood sense.

The default ‘Font’ in Microsoft Word is Times New Roman. But this is not in fact a font, it is a typeface. What is the difference? Well, I can’t easily show you, because I usually write my blog posts in Microsoft Word, then copy them into the blog, whereupon, whatever font/typeface I’ve written them in, they revert to some Google default. I can however tell you: a typeface is a particular design of letters and other characters, and can be thought of as a family of fonts. Palatino, for instance, is a typeface, and ‘Palatino 12 point normal’, say, or ‘Palatino 16 point bold’ or ‘Palatino 10 point Italic’ are fonts within that typeface family. So when Microsoft (and so just about everybody else) talks of ‘The Palatino font’ or ‘The Times New Roman font’ they are talking through their reversed baseball caps. Don’t do the same, O.K.?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Equality Right or Wrong

Jerry Cohen was my University tutor for a year. The next year I had Ted Honderich, and it would be hard to say which of the two was more fun. Jerry would take me to ‘Anwar’s Indian Delicacies’ for sticky sweets and embarrass the other customers by singing ‘I’d rather be lonely without you / Than happy with somebody else’ to illustrate the paradox involved in being in love. Ted would lie on the sofa with his eyes shut and wave his unnaturally long legs in the air, then look in affected surprise at their disposition, to refute my contention that we have ‘Proprioceptors’ that tell us these things.

I was reminded of those (sometimes happy, sometimes lonely) years by reading W.G. Runciman’s review in a recent London Review of Books of David Miller’s ‘Justice for Earthlings’. The reviewer several times mentions Jerry’s changing views on egalitarianism, and it reminded me how enthusiastic Jerry had been about a paper of mine, written for a weekend seminar-cum-jolly-outing, on Equality.

I wrote the paper after reading a story by Kurt Vonnegut. In this, equality had finally been achieved by means of what is now, oddly, called ‘Positive Discrimination’. (Oddly, because it usually means denying jobs or whatever to those manifestly well-qualified so as to give them to those less competent.) In Vonnegut’s imagined society, ballet-dancers are enchained to prevent their dancing better than the next person, and beautiful people are obliged to wear masks. (Jerry suggested that the well-hung should have weights attached to their scrota, but we decide to leave that out.) The story comes to a catastrophic end when dancers get out of their chains and the beautiful rip off their masks.

My point though was, suppose that, by whatever (perhaps less drastic) means, and however we define ‘Equality’, it were at last achieved? Would that be a ‘Just’ situation? More basically, complete and unalterable equality of each with all and all with each being guaranteed and everywhere taken for granted, would it still make any sense to ask whether this state of affairs was, in the moral senses, ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’?

Yes of course it would. ‘Equality’ is not a moral concept: it has nothing to do with Right and Wrong.
These two clapped-out old farts in what looks like Death's waiting-room are in fact Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs.