Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The time of our lives – and the life of our times

Is anyone else so hacked off with Brexit that they wish the executioners would just get on with it, instead of forcing us to listen to endless pleas and preaching from No. 10’s pulpit? Today’s scheduled vote may offer something new, but I’m not willing to bet on it. (This is being written late evening, Monday 14/01/19). However, in my opinion, Brexit is too important to be left to politicians.
 The Christmas interval was a respite, of a kind, but returning to ‘normal’ daily life has merely emphasised how tedious and ennui-inducing the various parliamentary factions are. As someone remarked to me last month, ‘dear old Britannia’s rushing towards hell in a handcart,’ gathering speed. The ground is more uncertain, and the slope steeper, the closer we get to the edge. MPs, and the national media, should start telling it like it is. Trotting out trite phrases, such as ‘the  democratic will of the people,’ merely evades responsibility. And why can’t our esteemed national broadcaster come up with a political bias-free informed round table or  debate? NOT an audience-attended or Q&A forum. These  only evolve into shout-fests, generated by rightist bullies. Why must the media entertain apparatchiks who piously mouth the party line and voice repetitive ‘autocue’ mantras as responses to the very real questions surrounding the uncertainties? (Labour’s only aim is to tip us into a general election, hence their strategy of ignoring or dodging compromising questions: a fluid situation can change, and no career politician wants their views to be on the wrong side of events.) 

The Leavers, and UK’s indelible class-ridden divisions, are making so much noise they drown out any challenge to their version of the future. Three inch black cap screamer headlines don’t make the right-wing red-tops rightI know the BBC’s required to be impartial, but, fed by the press and media, the UK public at large can’t be relied upon to analyse complex arguments, nor indeed distinguish these from emotional reactions. 

One minor individual slant: a fortnight or so ago I received a couple of notifications from the Intellectual Property Office – updates re. the impending Brexit disaster. Blogs are subject to rights, along with other writings, but I have yet to find how / where IP will be implemented in future, beyond the original wish-lists published (2016) – a time when GB deemed it would gracefully exit “with certainty, continuity, and control.” (Pah.) However, as we hurtle towards that cliff edge, will the current rules and regs continue to apply, e.g., cross-border copyrights? What about exhaustion of IP rights if it’s a ‘no deal’? Must actions go through the EU’s Court of Justice? from which we are to withdraw ...
 The complex ramifications of the myopic referendum are emerging too late. In my (admittedly biased) Remainer opinion those who voted ‘Leave’ don’t actually have so much going for them in their lives that they’ll suffer the negative impact – not compared with their deluded fantasy of a UK paradise. In paradisum deducant angeli. But for those of us with academic, intellectual, travelling or international links it’s a different story.  ‘Collateral damage’  i.e., unforeseen consequences – is the least of it. 
  GovUK’s mouthpieces pronounce the UK’s partisan divisions will heal. In time. Don’t believe a word of it. ‘What did you do in the war, Daddy?’ fades beside ‘Did you vote to leave the EU, Daddy?’ (This is not to convey any superiority of gender!) If you did vote ‘Leave,’ don’t pretend to blank incomprehension when your resentful offspring accuse you of selfishness, and dump their ills at your door. Children do that, anyway – it’s an unchanging component of inter-generational conflict – but the self-destructive exit will not only damage all our sons and daughters, permanently, but also their children. You have no right to inflict it on them. Perhaps your own descendants don’t, or won’t, care, but mine do, and will.   
Maybe it’s as well we’ve had close on three years to reflect on alternative courses of action, before major decisions affecting the future have been taken. However, different reservations keep piling in, e.g., our projected move to NW England vis-à-vis the stabbing of a couple and a police officer at Manchester Victoria’s Metrolink station. This increasing feature of urban life has given rise to added anxieties.
  It wouldn’t be so concerning if we hadn’t experienced the dark side first-hand, the last time we were down there. We missed our flight home because of a transport hold-up, en route. A group of rowdy youths boarded the Metrolink and proceeded to cat-call and pester two girls, who shifted themselves to our section of the carriage. Then one of the youths decided to smoke something both noxious and illegal. He was asked to extinguish it, but refused. An ex-military type left his seat to remonstrate with the gang, and was punched for his trouble.
 #2 daughter was thoroughly scared. I was alarmed, but angered by the prospect of losing our flight. I marched up to the offensive smoker, and pointed out he was frightening vulnerable people: there was an elderly couple in the carriage, too. It never occurred to me to think the youth might have a knife. It could have been a different tale. Fortunately, Metro cabs have closed circuit security monitors, and, as we drew into the next station on the line, the transport police were waiting. The tram driver must have called ahead. Due to the protracted delay, by the time we reached the airport the last Edinburgh flight had gone.    
 Such is not confined to the north-west. The dangers of London and Glasgow are well known, but, while the implications are disturbing, for environmental reasons I aim to reduce car use, and utilise the public transport infrastructure to access the city’s major cultural centre. But not if attacks or clashes are common. It would mean avoiding travel at night, or when alone. How far from metropolitan centres do we need to reside, to be out of harm’s way? Or is this a grim facet of modern existence, and we’ve been too comfortably insulated by our boring but relatively safe rural location to have experienced it before now? (Although there have been fatal stabbings in our own local Scottish towns, and, over the New Year holiday, shotguns were popping in the woods and fields, slaughtering wildlife. As is their wont.)
We often make far too many important life decisions from a weak position – which is why, unless we’re people with resources, or remarkable strength of mind, life rarely sticks to A Plan. The current impasse is that I’m not only terminally defeated by the inconveniences of this house but also life’s feeling like a domino run: one piece drops, and so does everything else that hinges on it. However, locally and further afield, I do notice property prices are falling – although any estimates made right now might change, or become immaterial, on or before 29 March. Thus, in common with so many in Britain, perhaps it’s wise to say ‘pass,’ keep your hand of cards (or dominoes) close, and wait for what materialises. Although, whatever it’s to be, I can’t see it as being good. Simply some degree of ‘bad,’ as in the circles of hell.  
  There’s little point in worrying over the risks. Que sera, sera. While we might forecast future likelihoods from the evidence of the past, the fall-out from Brexit is impossible to predict. The American Frank Loesser’s 1942 lines leap to mind: “Praise the Lord and swing into position | ... we’re all between perdition | And the deep blue sea.”  
  It’s possible an increasing number across the Pond are muttering much the same.
  Favoured saying of the week? “The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”~ M. Aurelius (AD 121-180). As the radio is playing ‘Wachet, auf,’– ‘Wake up!’ – from J.S. Bach’s cantata, Zion hört die Wächter singen (‘Zion hears the watchmen singing’) sleepers awake, indeed.  

Picture credits: Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier and Theresa May, © https://www.express.co.uk/ September, 2018;

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Translating, and ‘Browning’ versions

Christmas duly arrived, and departed. We didn’t haul the tree down from the loft; I bought flowers instead, an antidote to glitter, tinsel and trash. 
 I don’t know why Christmas has become such a burden, but it hit hard this year. In 2019, if travel deities, and the airlines and airports, allow, maybe we should try to escape the joyless consumerist hell. The idea of being a ‘snowbird’ is tempting, migrating south to another sun. However, perhaps the gloom was not wholly down to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but the looming impact of parting from Europe. The day before Christmas Eve bright yellow sunlight and blue sky briefly lifted the mood a shade or two. But then our early northern darkness falls, and despondency, the winter guest, returns.

However, an enforced 12 days of leisure means I can catch up with a few BBC programmes on the iPlayer. One was Mary Beard’s TV interview with Clive James – who will be 80 in 2019. He is one of an Aussie group of four, including Germaine Greer, the so-called ‘Rebels of Oz,’ who emigrated to Britain in the sixties. The man’s still sharp as a flint, even if he believes he isn’t, but what emerged overall was the sense of a carefully edited ending. Being James, he self-deprecatingly remarked on how the New Yorker printed ‘Japanese Maple’ one day when its paywall was down. The poem, picked up by Mia Farrow and others, went viral.
  It’s strange, how poetry is neglected and yet endures. As a medium and an art form it goes back way before Homer; it’s weathered more than just time. And it’s still mined for funerals. A better choice than that awful banal dirge, ‘My Way,’ blasting out from a CD player at the back of a crematorium’s chapel – sorry, ‘memorial’ space. (I forget how many are non-religious these days.)
 Poetry’s thought to be ‘difficult.’ It isn’t. It does require an inner ear, a certain kind of sympathy, and a functioning imagination uncontaminated by generic screen images. But Clive made me smile, saying how obscurities and difficulties are down to T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. That no one was buying published poetry in their time, so the notoriously obscure pair decided opacity was okay. This is likely a fiction, but believable. I didn’t find E. & P. testing – but it helps if readers recognise the references, and the clever-clever use of throwaway lines and random quotations, e.g., il miglior fabbro,’ (Dante, Canto 26, Purgatorio). When Eliot and Pound were writing, the average school pupil still received a basic grounding, however rudimentary, in classics, history, literature, music and art. These lend human richness, depth and understanding,
Allegorical portrait of Dante Alighieri, 
by Bronzino – Uffizi, Florence.
and a life is incomplete without them. At least, the life of the mind is.
This likely marks one as an unreformed élitist with undesirable opinions to boot.   
 But why should the arts be dismissed, ignored or, worse, viewed through a modern anachronistic lens? It’s not simply a twenty-first century problem. What Todd Gitlin described, two decades ago, in The Liberal Arts in an Age of Info-Glut, is as valid now as it was then. Our disposable social media culture of consumerism, instantly-gratifying superficial self-reflecting obsessions, will provide few material records from which historians might provide translations of the past – more accurately, versions of the past – in the future. 
Translating is an art, and IT and software won’t cut it. If writing a thesis on the figure of Orpheus has taught me anything, it’s that one should never rely on translations. ‘Learning Greek only teaches Greek, and nothing else: certainly not common sense, if that have failed to precede the teaching’ – Robert Browning, in the Introduction to his (in)famous 1877 word-for-word transcription of the Agamemnon of Aeschylus. (I preserve the poet’s quaint Victorian English.) I cite this because my research has stumbled over a quantity of undiluted rubbish on the Internet concerning Orpheus, and it confirms that serial murder’s been committed over centuries. For example, an online ‘update’ of the Hymns of Orpheus is more than merely suspect; its author asserts that Pergamon is in Bodrum. I have travelled between these two separate locations; I can only surmise the rest of the woman’s ‘facts’ are all equally fictitious. 
 Poor Orpheus. You must be revolving in your grave – or one of them. (The Thracian’s remains were claimed by various ancient places, including Dion and Lebeithra in the area of Mt. Olympos.)

Nota bene: I idly investigated living abroad après le déluge, the threatening evils of Brexit. It appears it can be done, within certain means and parameters. And why not? As somebody commented in the Financial Times, elderly greys who voted to leave the EU because of immigration may well hypocritically emigrate to European sunshine before the cut-off date. They should remain in the UK. They wanted to sever us from the Union. Let ‘em dwell in their envisaged ‘paradise,’ with its crippled NHS, food shortages, lack of workers and civil unrest?

Bonne année, et bonne chance. L’avenir est presque là.

Picture credits : baubles ©™ http://www.thenorthernwhig.com/christmas-2018; Dante Alighieri, © https://www.repubblica.it; February, 2016.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Going by the book

It was bound to happen: filing separate copies of thesis chapters in four different places – and failing to delete previous versions – has produced what the Scots term a ‘fankle.’ And I was trying so hard not to make a guddle of it! (Another good Scots word.)
 Goodness knows how many versions now lurk on this machine. I guess the solution is to be ruthless, and delete every previous copy so that I don’t hit ‘save,’ only to realise later that it was, in fact, a draft I made in earlier years, and the one I thought I was editing, as of ten minutes ago, has disappeared. 
  Cue panic mode.
  This didn’t arise before computers. The dog-eared typescript was usually your only one, unless you employed carbon paper (remember that messy stuff?) Necessary  amendments invariably meant retyping at length, and re-pagination. Many works were therefore composed in pencil: it’s simple to erase. I recall one writer who utilised generously-sized tabloid or accountancy sheets, and another who worked on art pads. Largely, I suppose, because you can review a whole block of linear narrative at a time, as it may end up on the page, and also pick out repeated openings, or words duplicated in succeeding paragraphs, while leaving ample space for comments. Photocopiers and highlighters were bonuses for authors!
  Others had their foibles, and often used to rely on editing far more than they should have done. Correcting proofs was onerous, but at least the digital age has rendered paper galleys obsolete. On the other hand, one finds many more errata in published volumes these days – ‘of’ instead of ‘or,’ and faulty spelling, e.g., ‘hoards’ rather than ‘hordes.’ It’s annoying, but relatively innocuous. Unless it’s an absolute howler, or a government or legal document.
 Although spelling has suffered since the advent of word-processing, trite substitutions derived from Word’s unimaginative and limited thesaurus have increased. (I still keep Rodale and Roget by my desk.) OK, I’m partial to obscure words – although I don’t employ these unless the meanings are not only 100% correct but are also pretty clear from the context.

Obscure terms, even archaisms, do not, of themselves, make for dense writing. A lot depends on style, but recondite obscurantism is entirely down to the writer herself. Or himself – let’s not be genderist about this! Nonsense is more prevalent in the dustier corners of academia, although whether it’s active attempts by soi-disant experts, to reserve their niche research fields, or a deliberate endeavour to limit the spread of knowledge, is undetermined. The first, though self-interested, is possibly understandable. The second is not.
Back to the pressures of thesis execution. Perhaps I don’t need to worry (too much). The thing is being cut and simplified, as recommended – an attempt to make it more comprehensible to a less academic audience? The process is not only tedious but also takes concentration – never my forte. Not even at the best of times.

The radio is playing Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture.
  Best get on with the mega biblion. ...

PS: I was reading MacNeice’s Autumn Journal today, a poem that links classical Athens to the Europe of the late 1930s. As the British chaos continues, a lengthy and miserable epitaph for my country, our leaders, and our way of life, we have to fix the blame squarely on those in the UK ‘who told their lies ... Caught in the eternal factions and reactions | Of the city-state.’

Picture credits: book unit, www.enago.com; Callimachus, www.99stuffs.com;

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Modus operandi

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas’ – but this year I could really do without it. Too many demands clamour for attention, too many distractions. Every time the phone shrills I regard it nervously, hoping it’s not another exigency. I guess this is the downside of being a recluse. I tend to forget there’s a world out there, and sometimes it invades one’s hermit cave.

Weather conditions have been atrocious today. The Met Office issued a ‘severe’ warning for Storm Deirdre: transport disruption, blizzarding snow and high winds. The lights are flickering. The cat, who ventured outside in the dark very early this morning, returned with her coat and whiskers beaded with frozen rain. No chance we’d risk the roads, Christmas shopping or not. Assuming we reached town safely, returning home might be a hazard too far. I’ve experienced freezing rain before. Never again. The deadly stuff makes for a combination of dodgem cars and Russian roulette. Even if you manage to steer treacherous wheels in the correct direction, without sliding and spinning out of control, someone else might not. It’s an accident waiting to happen.  

  The poor postie girl has just called by, and icy needles of rain were driving in horizontally, through the front door. 

Writing festive cards has been considerably reduced. Not by choice – cleaning up after the hacking event a few months ago decimated my ‘failsafe’ computer’s record of contacts. These days, this is equivalent to falling off the planet. However, I have a few people’s details (in an actual address book!) The annual dispatch of round-robin newsletters ceased lang syne.
 Do adults really want to relive childhood Christmasses? I’m not convinced the wide-eyed excitement and anticipation lasts much beyond age five or 6, so I guess nostalgie de la vie is thrown into high relief. (The English term ‘nostalgia’ is a post-classical Latin compound noun, from the Greek nostos, homecoming or return.) But it’s also a search to find safety in an insecure world. In a wider sense, the original Greek nostos includes rescue, salvation, a return to life – but it’s a futile quest. The home, growing up, the past and the person who believes they can accurately remember it, can’t be retrieved. In common with the whole universe, no one and nothing stays the same – giving rise to earnest philosophical debates, from the ancient Greeks down to Sartre.    
 On the other hand – thesis: The research has had an impact on my perspective regarding religion, its diktats and practices. It’s not only now seeing the New Testament in the light of Greek, but also realising that so much was lifted and welded in from elsewhere – and, in certain instances, knowing exactly from where. If a little learning is a dangerous thing, perhaps even a modest amount is lethal.
 Wiki’s list of the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1559–1966, now defunct) contains names I read in the past. It would be absurd, if it wasn’t so alarming, to imagine blocks imposed on the dissemination of man’s knowledge. The Italian cosmologist Bruno, René Descartes, Pascal, Richardson, Sartre, Voltaire – even Simone de Beauvoir’s there. Monty Python’s ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’ springs to mind.
  (One MP TV sketch, ‘Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre,’ is favourite, even with its debate about the unfortunate cat – closely followed by The Lumberjack Song. Sorry, tree fellers, and the RCMP. But you’re probably all built like sequoias, and can take it.)

After exhaustive line by line checking of sources will come dispatch of a tranche of work to campus: front matter, Intro, and first three chapters. If I feel confident – which I don’t. I didn’t plan to do this ahead of the Gt. Christmas lay-off, but I’m very aware that if I hang onto material for too long I will fiddle with it, and generally mess it up. The result will be that supervisor and I will not be discussing identical texts. Thus, draw a line, .pdf it, press ‘send’ – and then leave it well alone!
  The work’s in danger of morphing into a rambling discursive novella – it’s a continual battle, hauling it back from the edge of fiction to wrest it into something resembling an academic exercise. Given half a chance, adjectival clauses proliferate, ‘description’ abounds, and I find myself constructing a ‘page turning’ narrative. Not what’s required! ‘Creative’ is default mode – either that, or journo feature writing. While these have their own conventions, neither needs a scholarly skill set.
  The challenge is to condense the research into a linear account. What you’re dealing with is often vague, nebulous and hard to confine.  

There’s a lot of graft ahead: e.g., footnotes are awry. Transposing material, say backwards from Chapter Six to Chapter Two, to couple like with like for logical progression, conveys notes and references along with it. Therefore, as well as observing the necessary conventions, these need to be triple checked for accuracy and relevance. (Oh, for an editor!)
  The bibliography is too long, and can probably be shortened. Does anyone comb through a bibliographical list? It’s akin to a telephone directory. Don’t they simply do a name-check, a run-through of accepted sources, ancient and modern, primary and secondary? Another item to be confirmed.

A further peril of research is it’s almost impossible to dismiss a personal a priori vision of the work. Therefore, there’s a tendency to choose evidence that best suits the aims of your overall conception. It’s never difficult to discover justifications for any views, however erroneous and fallacious they may be. As with quoting from the Bible, or Shakespeare, you can always unearth something to underpin your opinion – or find a refutation of someone else’s views!

Picture credits: header,  Edinburgh Christmas market, © https://independenttravelcats.com/christmas-in-edinburgh-scotland-guide-december-travel/; ‘research,’ Google Images;

Monday, 10 December 2018


Thesis source checking, line by line, is an exercise suited to these short dark winter days. One minor literary resource was the Bibliotheke of the first century BC epitomist, Diodoros of Sicily (Dio. Sic.). He wasn’t vital to the research on Orpheus, but warrants a passing mention. However, for virtually every single book that remains to us of Dio. Sic.’s literary labours, he appears to have copied other writers prefaces, word for word, and then transferred and appended the information he’d mined to other ‘quoted’ works – as in cut and pasted. This has resulted in inconsistencies between original ideas, promulgated in said prefaces, and the separate texts they were cobbled onto. A modern ancient historian Dio. Sic. was not! Although these practices still continue, especially in reproducing references without re-checking. 
 I mildly sympathise with Dio. Sic.. After half a decade of labour-intensive study, it’s tempting to chunk blocks of third party material verbatim. Except extensive extracts are frowned on by examiners, especially when welded into a thesis for the sake of a page or word count. Besides, it can also constitute plagiarism. One’s not supposed to reproduce works but analyse them! Not that the ancients cared overmuch about lifting other people’s efforts – which, in turn, has left this researcher sighing over ambiguous or missing authorial attributions.
 In addition, language, literary conventions, and historical perspectives, dished up with deluded English accretions, are bent out of true for the sake of fashionable, vapid PC readings – a fog of cliché, bad translations and unfounded assumptions that, by dint of being repeated often enough, attain the status of factoids.
  It’s all grist to a doctoral candidate’s grindstone. Unfortunately.
 (Next up: obtaining permissions to quote from so-called orphan works, for which rights holders cannot be traced. Subscribing to the Intellectual Property Office has its uses!)

I guess the benefit of the grindstone is that it sharpens critical faculties. I no longer accept what I hear / read / view at face value, without careful appraisal – what it says, how it says it, why might it be saying it?  Is there bias aforethought? All of use in decoding the never-ending cant of the Great Deception, the ongoing Brexit farrago – let alone the suspect messages of many another prejudiced or lying messenger: “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: ... or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead,” (Jonathan Swift,1710). 
 All too often conviction, however intellectual it pretends to be, is nothing more than emotional prejudice rationalised into false logic. Actually, bearing in mind various investigations – e.g., economics, politics, religions and wars – I have found it’s impossible now to return to a state of unknowing, of blind faith and casual acceptance of unreliable and unverifiable ‘facts,’ or to mistake chauvinism and narrow-minded parochial opinions for global truths. 
 Unsurprisingly, journalists  citizen, independent or professional – are anathematised by autocrats and vested interests. The pen is mightier than the sword, especially when phone messages can circle the globe in an instant, but anyone who names names too loudly is silenced: Veronica Guerin in Ireland, Marie Colvin in Syria, blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta ...
  Whilst not all were intentionally murdered – many were ‘collateral damage’ – during the years between 2003 and 2017 some 1035 journos died. (The figure’s from RSF, Reporters sans Frontières.) Now we have rafts of conflicting lies, half-truths and evasions regarding Khashoggi, and who knows how many before? Or in future? There are men who refuse to recognise what does not suit them, e.g., the US, Russia and the Saudis colluding vs the climate change debate. 
 Arrogance, greed, hegemony, impunity, oppression, power, privilege, self-enrichment and slavery are ancient history – literally. Greece never eliminated these human abuses – nor, for that matter, did Rome.
  Thucydides had the right of it. In Book 5 of his History of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians tell the Melians that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.’
  Sadly true.
  But it’s always men doing it, isn’t it?    

Picture credits: header, Quellenforschung, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUfRwhcp5g0;
ancient Greek vase: Attic black-figure column krater, attributed to the Euphiletos Painter, ca. 530–520 BC. 12½ in (31.7 cm) high. Sold for $137,500 on 18 April 2018 at Christie’s in New York: Christie’s art auctions, https://www.christies.com/features/Greek-vases-a-collecting-guide-8213-3.aspx;

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Re-writing Orpheus

An article surfaced the other day, in an online Bulgarian journal of cultural studies, Сeᴍᴎʜap, BG. (I have not a single word of Eastern European Cyrillic; the piece is written in English.) It was picked up because the Google crawler obviously decided that its title, “We are the New Thracians: Modern Bulgarians and the Making of Ancient Living Again,’ conveyed something to do with immortality (‘living again’?). The paper is addressing contemporary activities, dealing with Bulgaria’s ancient Thracian heritage, and participatory culture, e.g., historical re-enactments, and neo-pagan Thracians, viz., “Alternative re-writings of the past, cult movements and historical re-enactments have been analysed in view of the creation of a popular narrative, which is being endlessly shared, experienced, re-appropriated and re-formulated online. Based on the concept of community of practice, as it has been recently introduced in Heritage Studies ... the focus of the paper is on possible entanglements between various academic and dilettante, professional and amateur, religious and political actors, all of which contribute to the establishment of an “edited” past.”
  Methinks erstwhile repressive regimes ‘edited’ the Bulgarian past to the point of total obliteration. Oh, dear. Shades of UK and King Arthur, Robert the Bruce, et al? The establishment of a nationalist agenda? Orpheus has been co-opted into this effort, too – there’s an Orpheus Wine Route, I believe. Why am I not surprised?

Although distrait (various reasons, way out of my control) I’ve spent a happy couple of days pottering through the thesis. All front matter, the Preface / Intro., and Chapters One through Three are in the can. I hope. And a minor question of translation was resolved (hail, the strong aorist!) Translations from the Greek are frequently more than poorly rendered. It was purely a point of interpretation, but (in common with footnote references, blithely cut ‘n’ pasted without checking their sources), the same translations are replicated, over and again, especially online, which is not helpful. (Neither are the varieties in spelling – compounded by frustrating variations in anglophonic renditions, which are driving me insane. Why can’t we have standard forms, instead of the guess or whim of individual authors? And, while they’re at it, a standardised font type, please?) I guess the reason Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library has so many Gk. / Eng. dual text versions dating back to the last century, or even the one before, is that the translators had the advantage of a traditional Classics education, or Oxford Greats. Even so, Loebs are not 100% error-free, but
this is possibly more to do with the printers.
  I’ve ‘filed’ completed material on a new dedicated 32 Gb flash drive that’s only for thesis storage and nothing else. Also, in case there’s room for an appendix or two, some four hundred and sixty words have been composed: an ‘Author’s Afterword,’ (I love doing these exercises!) and another 400 on the Dherveni finds and the gold lamellae. Both docs are probably destined for the trash bin, but I had fun writing them. It’s something to do when temperatures outside hover on freezing and snow’s forecast for the hills. (It is -3C today.) Plus, it keeps the approach fresh, as opposed to endless rehashing of research material.
  I don’t know yet whether the end’s in sight, but ...
 At least my weird out-of-kilter hours have reduced of late. Even with the tech assistance we now possess, the question of intercontinental timing remains. Contacting separate states is a juggling exercise – who’s available, and when. Communications can be vaguely odd, when your interlocutor’s clock is anything from five to eight or more hours behind your own, or even more in front.

This current tranche of thesis revision has to be the final one. Time’s at a premium, and Life is getting in the way. Today, we were supposed to know if we’ve snagged a Cheshire property. If someone else beats you to it, then no more is heard. It’s a difficult position to be in, and affects concentration. Until I know when we will move, I can’t make plans.
  Thus, fiddling with the thesis is all I can do. It enables me to sit here and dip in and out on email-watch, and keep the mobile phone on standby.


Otherwise, this is just another compilation, logging differing strands of an extremely tangled existence. However, although the bulk of it was originally posted on 15 November, I took it down. It was too venomous, even after initial cutting, pruning and toning down. Being angry’s no excuse for hypocrisy – there are enough hypocrites on the planet already. Starting with the soi-disant leader – présumé  of the Free World. ...
 The Brexit War grows ever more bizarre. The Conservative party has hi-jacked the issue as a catastrophic means for one internecine faction to destroy and bury the other, and Rees-Mogg and his followers look more like undertakers every day. I suspect they don’t care what happens to the rest of us, only that they may have a chance at the premiership and the devil take the nation?

Why did we have to emulate the Greeks, and dub the  process ‘Brexit,’ copying ‘Grexit’? Name a thing and it immediately takes on a life of its own. And the media should cease referring to ‘a second referendum.’ It wouldn’t be – it would be No. 3. The question was posed about our EEC membership back in 1975, so technically the current call is for a third go round – the best of three?
 Yesterday morning the lawyers declared that it would not be unconstitutional to withdraw Article 50. A small victory, but significant.

George Osborne, the former Chancellor, has opined that mistakes were made over the 2016 referendum. Too late to say that now. And as for foreign travel and our EU Open Skies arrangements, apparently US Airlines have already cancelled direct services from Edinburgh; I guess others will follow suit. However, come March 2019, American travellers will be able to skip Heathrow’s lengthy queues. Along with Aussies, Canadians, Kiwis and even the Japanese. They’ll be using the ‘old’ EU gates.
  Some £8m of pro-Brexit funding donated to the ‘Leave.EU’ camp is under investigation by the UK National Crime Agency. Rabid Brexiteers protested this campaign was only a sideshow, not important to the main thrust of their anti-EU movement. Really? After the 2016 US election, the donor was photographed with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. By their friends shall ye know them.
 Little Britain, anathema to the Continent, untethered, and left to float north of the English Channel with only DJT on t’other side of the Pond for a friend? With friends like that, who’d need enemies! Besides, we’re no use in the trumpeted mission to ‘Make America Great Again.’ He’ll jettison us – probably via one of his risible Tweets. 

If only this dismal Brexit business wasn’t overshadowing our existence. I have given in to a strong desire to shut the door on the world, keep my head down, read, write, and reduce life to simple basics. Winter fogs make the village feel like Brigadoon, anyway – now you see it, now you don’t. Being dispirited about our future, I was idly surfing for next year’s sunshine prospects, but with no particularly firm ideas about where we might land. One can search, but, while 29 March 2019 threatens, ’tis probably a pointless exercise.

I was debating a further ‘Orpheus’ trip, to the Peloponnese, Tainaron and the Mani. I’ve been there before, years ago, prior to becoming immersed in the Thracian figure’s peregrinations. Off Cape Matapan there is a sunken cave, purportedly Orpheus’s entrance to Hades. Although the Spartan Peloponnese can be incredibly hot and dry, even in September, I’d like to make the pilgrimage to Kardamyli, for auld lang syne – the late Patrick Leigh Fermor’s home for 50 years. Visits can be arranged through the Benaki Museum in Athens, email address plfproject@benaki.gr

Orpheus’s natural world appears to be a forerunner of the imaginary Arcadian topos, an idyllic landscape that first emerged with Theocritus in the third century BC – a bit of a contrast to the real Arcadia in the Peloponnese! 

Travel well ~ kai kalo taxidi!

Picture credits: Muse reading a scroll (Attic red-figure lekythosBoeotia, ca. 430 BC), Wikipedia;  Loeb logo, Harvard™; woman reading, Wikimedia Commons; cats of Kardamyli, JAS;

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Failing at the point of delivery

Posted in advance, because Im working all hours at the moment. However, two things: at No. 1, our much-vaunted but rocky National Health Service, and at No. 2, tertiary education in the UK. 

It’s been a bad six months. Back in May, I was bitten by a tick. I thought nothing of it, until an allergic reaction set in, culminating in infection. But, long cut short, we are no nearer treatment. Not one medic has agreed with another, although the most recent consultant enquired why wasn’t one prescribed antibiotics immediately? Goodness me! From our local practice? Perish the thought! Absolutely verboten. Gosh, it might even cost money.
  Thus, here we are: November, and a whole series of scans down the line. But the county health authority has no clinical radiologists to interpret results, and is ‘borrowing’ specialists from Tayside once a week. As at date hereof, I might expect an appointment in nine or ten months time. If I’m lucky.
  The worst of it is, I know perfectly well how many European doctors, nurses and other highly-trained medical staff went home after the Brexit vote.
   It’s similar all across Scotland, e.g, at Raigmore in Inverness. England isn’t much better off, neither is Wales. Personally, while I can understand the doctors’ dilemma, the newly-qualified emerge with an enormous weight of student debt on their shoulders. Why elect for a further two years of training in deciphering medical images and CT scans, thus adding to their liabilities?
  Many of this year’s graduates opted for locum employment. They can work three and a half days for the same money as a salaried GP earns in a week. Good luck to them – but, alas, it doesn’t solve my predicament. If one ‘goes private,’ often seeing the same consultant who holds the NHS clinic at your local hospital, you cannot then switch into NHS treatment if anything goes wrong.
  Ten months! One could be RIP by then! ... 

Tertiary education: My university account brought intimations of change, and the immediate concern was about effects on the faculty. While further info was forthcoming, it’s not reassuring. I guess it has all to do with money. Doesn’t it always?

Of late, there have been debates in the media about grade inflation, and too many Firsts being granted, (three out of 10 in the Russell Group) – the subtext being this is devaluation, and standards are slipping. Nevertheless, we hear a lot about our universities needing money, and how foreign students are targeted because they bring in higher fees. However, my gripe is the remuneration of vice-chancellors vs. the quality and standards of staff and teaching. For example, the University of Bath granted a former VC complimentary accommodation and expenses, over and above her enormous salary. (Apparently, VCs sit on the very committee that decides on pay.) Then, when she resigned, she was allegedly awarded a massive settlement on top. Bath’s new appointee’s annual salary is reputedly £266,000 (in contrast to his predecessor’s £468,000 p.a.): I am sure anyone can manage to live on such a reduced amount!  
  It’s not just Britain. Australia’s vice-chancellors earn far more – the Aussie PM receives less than all but one of them. In 2016, twelve VCs received more than a million dollars. CEO-style performance-related bonuses are paid on top.
  As well as creating an environment for the ‘business corporatisation’ of universities, and the increasing competition between them for students and staff, government policies in UK and Down Under have played a substantial part in driving the inequalities.
  The UK media did, eventually, trail the story again recently – but it’s been on the radar for months, if not years. We moan about bankers, or the millions given to reward industry fatcats, but aren’t these inflated academic emoluments just as bad? Surely they come out of a university’s revenue stream, and thus can be traced, in part, to the millstone loans that struggling students have to repay over years of their lives. Is this fair?

It does appear too many UK universities are attempting to attract a dwindling number of students, and cancelling courses that don’t meet minimum numbers.
 Bath began life as a CAT (College of Advanced Technology) as did many of the come-lately institutions, after the Higher Education Act of 1992. Twenty years later, the Guardian reported in 2012 that “Most people assumed the old distinction between universities and polytechnics was fading” but “There appears to be widespread, and growing, regret in political and academic establishments that the divisive binary system was ever abolished.”  
 Blair’s Labour party ideal, 50% of school leavers going on to university education, was also part of the problem. It was supposed to aid social mobility – which looks great on paper but in reality entails a great deal more. In 2017/18, the ideal descended into institutions accepting lower grades – anything to get fee-paying students through the doors. It’s the wrong approach. What happened to the fostering of intellect or thinking ability, as opposed to what are, essentially, technical studies? And, above all, the enormous costs that climbed higher as the numbers applying for university fell? 
  It’s not that our UK universities didn’t see this perfect storm developing: they did. Years ago I flew down to London for a day, for an HEA-convened meeting at Senate House. Even then, questions were being tabled about poor levels of literacy, of school leavers who lacked thinking and writing skills, and universities being required to offer basic English courses to bring freshers up to par. My guess is, this being class-ridden Britain, embedded  complications dont help. GovUK likes to be seen addressing issues, but it’s mere virtue signalling. Chuck a few straws in the wind, and carry on as usual?  You can’t alter age-old prejudices and inequalities with legislation.

On the home front, Scotland’s cold and damp November is to be further complicated by double glazing being replaced, end of this month / into December. That was bad planning! Let’s hope we don’t have snow. But it will be a hassle. Moving furniture is the least of it – where do I put all the books, papers and assorted paraphernalia? As for book reviews – forget it. No time for extra reading, or writing. There’s a new edition of An Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation, (Palaima, Trzaskoma, et al), which might be a good read. (For me, anyway!) Pat Barkers The Silence of the Girls is sitting on a shelf, half-consumed; I feel no urge to finish it. So far, its a curious narrative: flat, monotone, with none of the thunder of the Iliad. It may improve, but at present I have neither time nor energy to find out. Guess this is one for fans of Millers Song of Achilles – not in the same league as Atwoods Penelopiad, or Greens The Laughter of Aphrodite. As with Emily HauserGolden Apple trilogy, itmerely another contribution to a modern rash of genderifications of ancient classics and history. Of interest to some, perhaps, but not my personal kantharos of wine.
 Some time ago, one title, Orpheus’ Concise Interpretation of Greek Mythology, was on offer. The imprimatur of the Spiritualist Society of Athens was a tiny bit of a giveaway. Although, spiritualist translator, note that ‘Orpheus’ should have an apostrophe ‘s,’ whether you’re ‘channelling’ him or not. ... 
  But it might have been fun to review, and I could have obtained a scoop on the Eurydike business. Now, that would have been a first. An ‘original primary source’ for the research?

Picture credits: NHS logo, © Google Images; university of Bath building, Wikipedia; Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation, © https://www.amazon.co.uk;