Monday, 4 July 2016

A land of lost content

**Somewhere between the end of May and 26 June, a post went missing.  Dunno how – or indeed where!  I was certain it had posted itself as scheduled ... 
  Gremlins?  Hostile forces in the aether?
  What is there to recollect?

Summers solstice was 20 June, at 22.34 precisely (allegedly). Not that  I see much of the outside world.  In the words of an ancient song of the sixties, ‘It might as well rain until September.’

Thesis housekeeping proceeds apace.  There are twenty-eight files on my desktop, the magnum opus entire.  The summer months are simply going to be bread and butter work – minus remuneration. The Abstract is finished, Acknowledgements done, plus a lengthy, if still somewhat scrambled bibliography with numerous lacunae: twelve and a bit pages at present, typed single spacing, 11 pt font, and close on 6000 words. It’s currently divided into one and a half pages of ‘Ancients,’ seven pages of ‘Scholarship,’ another 4 pages of ‘Internet, Journals and Online Sources,’ two items of ‘Multi-media,’ and, finally, ‘Fictions.’  It will be expanded or contracted to a prescribed form anon, but ‘Figures, maps and Illustrations / Plates’ are yet to be finalised and listed.
  I’m thinking about whether one needs to list the titles which were background material but not actually cited or quoted from. ...
  Citations are still a bore.  No one replied to my pleas for an absolute ruling, so I’ll go with the Chicago system – it’s my default choice, and straightforward. Harvard in-lines are irritating to reader, and writer.
  Next is a double-check of pagination, to marry up the discrete sections into one whole ‘book,’ the rough completed copy of which is due at the uni by end August.  Pagination will mean fiddling with those sections that require Roman numerals, ahead of the thesis’s actual first No. 1 page.  So, it will be longer than its current two hundred and fifty seven pages.
  However, I foresee a potential fankle.  I have two ‘fair’ copies of chapters to date – and a plethora of bits and pieces to incorporate or move / remove.  Should be fun. Not.

The saga of internal / external examiners hasn’t, as yet, reached a conclusion, and I’m experiencing qualms about ‘who is my reader’?  The audience is important to me.  It’s my imagination, but it sort of sets the tone. Even for the driest of academic prose the rules of writing obtain, and after years of picturing silent readers out there sitting in judgement it’s impossible to shift him, her or them.  

Books – when this four year learnéd exercise is over, I shall have a sale on Abe and Amazon: the many volumes I shall no longer need or want.  Living space in this cottage is under siege, and one must make room on the shelves, let alone clear the floor.

I’ve pruned the Kindle ‘library,’ too.  It’s not that the K won’t hold enough books to fill a stack at another British Library, it’s simply that many downloads are discarded, unfinished.  I tend to comb through free or cheap books on offer, and occasionally alight on gems.  Others are mere dross, not worth the reading. The most recent of such was a real humdinger. I sha’n’t say what it was – I might lay myself open to a libel suit! But the ebook publishing phenomenon has been a gift to every Tom, Dick or Harriet who ever dreamed of writing a novel.  Now they have.  All of ‘em.
  You’ll have better luck if the book’s been conventionally published as well.  Titles tend to be properly edited, for starters.  Self-publishers stick out a mile, and can make readers grind their teeth.  As I’m a pedant and a stickler, a couple of infelicities make for the swift but effective Dorothy Parker reaction. ...

While June began with the BBC’s coverage of the death of Muhammad Ali (it went on, and on, for over 48 hours), we then had HM the Queen’s more important celebrations (which didn’t).  After weeks of hot May sunshine, normal service (grey rain) resumed, but sadly not normal service on the BBC. Weeks and weeks of sport scheduled, with programming all over the place (except for the soaps, those grim opiates for the masses).  I’ve laid in DVDs, but not enough to cover the wretched football in France, the tennis at Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics.  By 21 August I shall have become a gibbering mindless wreck.
  Perhaps I should write another novel!  Except I’ve had enough of this computer to last a lifetime. 

First weekend of June, I was over in Glasgow, and someone went into the rear of my little car.
  The damage wasn’t major, but O! the hassle that has ensued.  The car is still not repaired. In the old days, you obtained three estimates, bunged these to your insurers and your car was fixed as soon as humanly possible.  Not so now.
  To start with, my insurers recommended handing over the no-fault claim to an auto-assistance company.  By doing so, I could avoid paying my hefty excess.  OK – fine. 
  I regretted it almost immediately, but digital contracts had been ‘signed,’ the ‘paperwork’ returned, and rescinding would mean more hassle. 
  It was the gentleman who was dispatched hither to estimate and photograph the damage who really put the lid on the whole thing.  First, he was supposed to be here sometime between six and eight in the evening. 
  He wasn’t.  He was late.  
  Secondly, he roared up to my door in a bright red Ferrari, of all things.  A long low fume-spewing dragon of a car that will have surprised the village residents, let alone such a vehicle landing outside my humble door!
  Don’t ask me which model it was – I haven’t a clue.
  Estimator-man leapt out, Apple phone in hand, and snapped away.  By this time I was experiencing serious reservations.  What is so lucrative about the auto-assistance world that its inspection guys can speed around the countryside in snarling Ferraris?  He and his female passenger then shot off again in a cloud of exhaust that probably broke all emission records, and disappeared around the corner at FTL warp speed. I could hear them for a long, long time after, as they burned up Main Street.
  You know when you see the prancing pony on the front bonnet (hood) that it probably spells trouble with a capital ‘F.’

Apart from the insane murder of one of our parliamentary MPs on 16 June, for which there are no words, there was that damn’ referendum, the ‘in / out’ vote on Europe.  The ‘pro-remain’ intellectuals’ arguments worried me – not because they weren’t cogent: they were – but because no one was listening.  It was all overwrought short-sighted emotionalism, internecine political rivalries, lies, more lies, and therefore (for me, anyway) the result is totally invalid.  It’s not that we have lost, and by such a narrow margin, but what the delusional Brexiteers are not only intent upon taking from us but also forcing upon us.  Its reported that a caucus of lawyers at Mishcon de Reya think the same, and intend to take pre-emptive action against the UK government on behalf of a number of clients. Good.  ‘Bout time.
  Writing this on America’s Independence Day, there’s an inelegant scramble going on for the UK’s top job.  Please let them find someone possessed of a modicum of decency, with a cool head and above all intelligence and experience.
  As for the odious Gove, what can be said?  “As cheap bronze tortured / at the touchstone relapses / to blackness and grime, so this man / tested shows vain ...” Aeschylus, Agamemnon (trans. Richmond Lattimore, Chicago).

Who are the ‘British,’ anyway, when citizenship can be bought? I did not stay up to watch the breathless coverage, the guessing games and talking heads.  What was the point?  We all knew we’d have the result by the time of the breakfast news bulletins.  You cannot change anything, so why bother losing sleep?  However, sleep has been lost since, trying to figure my way around the implications of what appears to be an impossible impasse.

I despair of this dim-witted little country, with its narrow obsessions, its idées fixes and its less-than-educated populace at the mercy of the Daily Mail or its ilk.  #1daughter blogged about her country, and what’s really important in life, but how many voters were like the 90 year old lady who thought full employment will return to the East End if she put her cross in the ‘out’ box? We can’t all go back overnight to some Shangri-la of the seventies, or even the fifties, that lost land of content where we can ‘never come again.’

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
       A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, 1896

Picture credits:  Orpheus coin: Staatliche Muzeen du Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Thrace 3.0: exhibition, Coinage in the land of Orpheus, 16.10.2015 to 15.10.2016, Bode-Museum, (Thracian coins in the holdings of the Berlin Münzkabinett);  Ferrari badge, Google Images;  Mary Beard,;; Home of the Greek word,

Sunday, 26 June 2016

End of an era

Well, it wasn’t quite what the UK complacently expected, was it?  Done, dusted and damned. The ‘captains and the kings depart,’ and the 51.9% braying, capering infantile ‘winners,’ faux ‘patriots’ who have betrayed their country, will find out the victory will exact a price they cannot pay. 
   I can tell the difference between judgement and idealogical bias. The campaigns were a colossal waste of money.  They might as well have flipped a coin, for all it’s done for us, the sane and sensible 48.1% of these islands.
  One person even confessed on TV that she put her cross on ‘out’ as a protest vote, because she didn’t believe the ‘leavers’ would win. In ancient Greece, shed be one of the hypocritai a term that now means dissemblance’ to us. These dumb clucks are dubbed the ‘Bregretters’ – the public who backed ‘Leave’ who now want to stay in the EU.  Another one admitted: ‘I didn’t think my vote would count.’ Really, dear? Our great-grandmothers chained themselves to railings to obtain the vote for us, and yet you throw it away on a token protest, something you later regret?
  How many did the same?  I note Google searches (after the card had already been marked) show untold numbers who didn’t actually have a clue what they were voting for or against.
  The youth vote – it’s their future – feel they were defeated by an elderly brigade, who, let’s face it, don’t have as long to live.  Yet they have penalised the very generation that will probably have to care for them in their old age. 
  The country divided, as it always does, along right and left, socio-economic and class-related grounds.  The upper middle and professional classes, the left-leaning intellectuals and those of us who’ve been to university, voted ‘remain,’ in the main.  The other side was variously composed of white- and blue-collar working classes, the lower socio-economic groups and the frightened ‘grey vote,’ and those who reside in areas where they perceive they are under siege from immigrants.  Oh, and the Welsh voted Wales out. As Thucydides said, you can’t trust the demoi (the rabble, the common people of an ancient Greek state).  They tend to be ‘me first’ types, rather than able to see themselves as contributers to a whole.  And referenda and plebiscites are not such a great idea – cf. (Reuters) Cox: ‘How about a referendum on ending referendums?

Xenophobia has always been alive and well in Britannia, ever since the day the last Roman left and the first immigrant Saxons spotted the first immigrant Viking longship heading for the coast.  But now it’s all over – bar the shouting, and that will go on for a long time. I grieve over the sheer stupidity of this divided and ill-educated nation.  Politics increasingly seems to be the province of demagogues and rabble-rousers, a bumbling tow-headed clown and some hangers-on who aren’t remotely qualified for the higher echelons they’re aiming at.  For instance, Michael Gove, born in Edinburgh, adopted and brought up in Aberdeen: a former Secretary of State for Education who was never a educationalist, but who approved three ‘creationist’ schools in 2012. Then, neither a lawyer nor on the Bench, he was made Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – but is on chatty terms with Rupert Murdoch? When Gove originally applied for a job at the Conservative Research Dept., he was told he was ‘insufficiently political’ and ‘insufficiently Conservative,’ so he went into journalism. (Gives journos a bad name.)  And married one – Sarah Vine of the Daily Mail. ‘Say no more,’ as the Monty Python sketch had it.

It seems Jean-Claude Juncker is out for revenge, but hey! – Greece, cradle of democracy, applauds our self-inflicted suicidal action.  (Much as I love the Greeks, the encomia are being bestowed for the wrong things.)  On the eve of polling day, Prof. Mary Beard wrote in her TLS blog that “there is a sense that the decision is reversible next time, and that – important as some ideological and policy differences are between right and left – an awful lot will go on exactly as before. You can go to bed ... and think of living to fight another day.”
  We can’t.  Because there won’t be another day.
  Juncker’s determined to make Britain invoke Article 50 as soon as possible – probably because he wants to prevent this infectious disease spreading. There are a number of dissatisfied countries in Europe who want to change their goal posts.

But who on earth believes that little Britain can be permitted to discuss the result, and then have another referendum?  For starters, Juncker et al will never allow that, and besides the ‘out’ side are not rational enough for any adult, intellectual or even practical discussions.  They’ll merely hang onto their flags and slogans and put their trust in Boris.  That’s a bit like asking a wolf to guard sheep.
  Meanwhile, Moody’s credit ratings agency has downgraded GovUK’s bond rating, from
‘stable’ down to ‘negative,’ ditto Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch.  Though I couldn’t check for sure, as S&P’s website’s undergoing ‘maintenance,’ Friday 8pm through Sunday at 5pm, New York time.  However, losing our triple A rating will make a difference to what GovUK pays for what we borrow – and we have borrowed a helluva lot. 

So, head down and forge onwards, I guess, despite our peace being disturbed yet again.  Yellow JCB diggers moved into the overgrown wild garden over the road.  They demolished the wall, made all the birds in the hedges and shrubberies desert their nests and offspring, and carved out tons of good fertile black earth, a gift from decades of leaf mould. The plot was flattened, turf laid and a large fence put up.  Why we do not know – but do suspect.  On the other hand, at least it’s not a house – yet.  To lose our clear view of the hill of a morning would be a great loss.
  Yup, it is time to go. This neighbourhood’s becoming untenable.  It’ll cost, but you can’t put a price on quality of life – and for me this means good quality, not a locale that’s overrun with undesirable but profitable in-filling of gardens, etc.
  Yet, though saddened by staring into an abyss of old age, I continue to labour on the thesis, even if the mind’s dulled, and the heart has less and less joy in it.  (‘You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it’ – Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). I can’t think of decamping until the PhD’s finished, because moving requires (a) choosing an area, (b) finding the right property, and (c) at the right price.  These three things must all happen together, and at the right time. Accomplishing this from hundreds of miles away is also very taxing.  I know, I’ve done it before.  Accounts must be done.  However, the down side: today we no longer wish to be o’er the Border and awa’, like Jock o’Hazeldean.  The cash flow projections tell me ‘nay.’  The cost of living will rise, and, like many, I’ve been doing my sums and seeking maximum liquidity.  Safer offshore?  Maybe.  Why not?  What the hell do nearly 50% of us owe this country now? 

June, July, August – the summer months. Mostly, I’m simply reading.  Anything and everything. However, the Kindle free lists really are tiresome.  Alright, Trollope’s there, and various other out-of-copyright classics – these are not the problem.  It’s the endless puerile rubbish that taxes one.  First volumes of trilogies or series (to suck you in, assuming you like the author), an untold quantity of ebooks with ‘billionaire’ in their titles, and rafts of what you might delicately term ‘adult fiction’. There are copycat Regency romances attempting to imitate the peerless Jane Austen or even Georgette Heyer (who was very good at what she did – and, sorry, imitators are very bad), whole galaxies of science fiction and untold twilight universes of vampires and werewolves – sometimes even encompassing two or three genres in one, e.g., SF + vampires.  Crime fiction I can understand – lots of people consume it, although anyone who can read an Agatha Christie more than once is a mystery beyond solving – but I draw the line at the paranormal fantasies.  
Over two millennia ago, an ancient Roman advised writers to stow their “parchments in the cupboard, and let them be quiet until the ninth year.  What you have not published you will be able to destroy.  The word once uncaged never comes home again.” 

  A wise man, Q. Horatius Flaccus.

Picture credits: poster, © JAS; sign posts,; Q. Hor. Flaccus (Horace);