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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


"There are two ways. One is to be a surfer. The other is to become a professor of the fact that someone else has surfed." (Not Kierkegaard)

Thanks, Sean.

Bjorn from Iceland

Björn [Something in Icelandic.]
You (Say 'yes', you think that fish is good.)
Björn [Something in Icelandic.]
You (Say 'no', you don't think that fishcakes are good.)
Björn [Something in Icelandic.]
You (Say 'yes', you think bread with butter and cheese is good.)
Björn [Something in Icelandic.]
You (Say 'yes', you think sweets are very good.)
Björn [Something in Icelandic.]
You (Say 'no', you don't think that vegetables are good.)

(from Teach Yourself Icelandic)

Björn from Iceland, what is your problem? I'm just trying to have some lunch here. Do I look like a fucking six-year-old you can buy sweets for and then try to sexually abuse? 'Sweets are very good' – get outta here! You and your bloody fishcakes. Go do some scientific whaling, you dirty perv.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


'I live on what makes other people die.' (Michelangelo)

Fear and Loathing

Where I live both sides of the road are always clogged up with cars. Because of how long and straight the road is, meeting another car often results in one of those narky face-offs where one car has to reverse to let the other past. I sit there and fume about this, but do I get out and walk instead? No. And why not? Because not only do I contribute to the problem, in my car, I am the problem, me and my car, and even enjoy it. Fear, loathing and paranoia are my life. They are I and I am they.

The great thing about paranoia is how you are the one person you can always rely on to let you(rself) down. Or as Woody Allen said when he was still funny, the only thing between my goal and me is me.


“How I’d like to be a plant, even if I had to keep vigil over a piece of shit.” (Emil Cioran, again)


“There are two ways. One is to suffer. The other is to become a professor of the fact that somebody else has suffered.” (Kierkegaard)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Poetry Is

“Poetry is a help.” (George Seferis)

“All poetry is experimental poetry.” (Wallace Stevens)

“One reads poetry with one’s nerves.” (Wallace Stevens)

“Poetry is either easy or impossible.” (A.E. Housman)

“A morbid secretion, like the pearl in an oyster.” (A.E. Housman)

La vie future à l’intérieur de l’homme requalifié.” (René Char)

Aujourd’hui la poésie ne s’impose pas, elle s’expose.” (Paul Celan)

Laughter Lines

“Nothing in life is that funny” (Jack Sheldon to Chet Baker’s description of the “laughter lines” on his face.)


“Everyone has wind. If you don’t, you’re not alive.” (Flatulence advice column, Tirconaill Tribune)


I went through a phase a while ago of collecting poetry-themed quotations. Here's a selection. Some are stupid, some are intelligent comments about someone's else stupidity. The picture of Flaubert is a nod to the genre of the sottisier, as beloved of his Bouvard and Pécuchet.

On translation: “My view is that you translate the poetry not the language” (John F. Deane, Books Ireland, March 1998)

“Contemporary poetry is often obscure or self-referential, neither scans nor rhymes nor tells a story, is impossible to memorise, is often about the act of writing poetry itself, is humourless, and can be more like a puzzle than a poem (…) Can you remember even one poem by a living poet?” (The Economist, December 20 1997)

Julia Copus: What effect have the prizes had on your writing?
Helen Dunmore: I don’t think they have an effect on one’s writing—because, after all, when you win the prize you’ve already written the book. (Interview with Helen Dunmore, Bloodaxe Catalogue)

“I have avoided (Muldoon’s) poetry up to now. People told me it was difficult, and I don’t like poetry which is difficult.” (John Whitworth, Poetry Review, Autumn 1997)

Paul Muldoon: One has to remember that mediocrity is the norm.
Stephen Magee: In all times and in all places?
Paul Muldoon: I think so. (Interview with Paul Muldoon, Honest Ulsterman, Autumn 1996)

“Esprit de corps and camaraderie undoubtedly have their place in poetry—and that place is the pub.” (Dennis O’Driscoll, Thumbscrew, Spring 1997)

“O’Hagan in her Dantesque mid-life journey takes considerable chances by paradoxically not taking too many.” (Peter Van de Kamp, Irish University Review Spring/Summer 1996)

“There is more poetry here than meets the eye.” (Fred Johnston, Books Ireland, April 1996)

“That’s the kind of poet Jane Holland is, a superb thinker-ahead, a person who always knows where the poem is going to go, even before the poem has been written: and that’s not in any reductive way, that’s in a way that makes you raise your fist and go yessssssss!” (Ian McMillan, Poetry Review, Autumn 1997)

“Poets travel for the same reason a bagpiper walks back and forth when he plays, because a moving target is harder to hit.” (Gary Geddes, Arc, Spring 1997)

Influential contemporaries: “Which of the bright leaves / the naked tree once fluttered / seems to it most lost?” (Eleanor Brown, reply to questionnaire, Poetry Review, Winter 1996/1997)

“Poetry and story are an integrated part of the lives of the Irish (…) There are poets everywhere, storytellers, and you hear verse quoted by cab drivers and doctors, administrators and barmen.” (Thomas E. Kennedy, The Literary Review, Summer 1997)

“A young woman of my acquaintance was reading Keats in the ambulance as she went to have her stomach pumped out.” (Fleur Adcock, Thumbscrew, Winter 1997/8)

“Is there any way a contemporary New Zealand poet could put the term ‘Business Roundtable’ in a poem without sounding lame?” (John Dolan, Landfall, Spring 1997)

“I have thought about your request for a poem for the last few years and really wanted to respond except I don’t know any poems.” (Stephen Pearce, Lifelines 3, 1997)

“Since I never read Lit. Crit. unless paid to do so, I haven’t read a word about most of my favourite poets.” (Sheenagh Pugh, Thumbscrew, Summer 1997)

“The abysmal state of poetry reviewing is not, paradoxically, hurting the state of poetry (…) Rather, there seems to be a mechanism at play that is making ‘literary journalism’ irrelevant so far as contemporary literary production is concerned.” (Marjorie Perloff, P.N. Review, May-June 1997)

“Self-respect, if not some vestige of national pride, would surely make any Irish poet flinch from the caresses of John Carey and his like, the whole Sunday newspaper crowd whose praise—as Heaney must surely know—isn’t worth having.” (Interview with Peter McDonald, Brangle, 1997)

“Carol Rumens despairs that we may end up with an anthology of 2000 women poets for the millennium. That is precisely what we should have!” (Tamar Yoseloff, Poetry London Newsletter, Autumn 1997)

“‘If this Davie really is as significant a poet as you claim, surely it’s rather strange that one never hears of him on the wireless.’” (Participant on WEA course to Neil Powell, P.N. Review, March-April 1997)

“In the end it is the author, and not the individual poems that make the impression.” (Ted McNulty, review of Ron Houchin, Poetry Ireland Review, Winter 1997)

“I’m certain the worst publicity a British poet could have is to be made Poet Laureate or Professor of Poetry at Oxford, in this ‘culture’ that we have.” (Roy Fisher, Prop, Winter 1996)

“The Henry Street referred to in the title of the book is in Galway. There is no note on that item of geography. Anyone buying this book, therefore, because they remember Henry Street in Dublin or anywhere else will be disappointed.” (Fred Johnston, W. P. Monthly, March-April 1997)

Colm Tóibín

Speaking of sentences that don't quite add up, as I was doing in relation to Francis Stuart, here are two from Stuart's great admirer Colm Tóibín, whether or not in conscious homage to Stuart's non sequitur style I don't know. Both are from The Blackwater Lightship:

“Here, the county council had put huge boulders to protect the cliff, but they had no impact.”

“It’s very difficult to get rid of diarrhoea once it starts.”

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, master aphorist, and my nomination for the sanest of all authors.

Was a hunchback.

Wrote a satirical attack on Voss’s theories on the pronunciation of ancient Greek, and on Lavater’s pseudo-science of physiognomy.

Proposed the standardized paper system that gave us the A4.

Has a crater on the moon named after him.

Discovered ‘Lichtenberg figures’, the patterns formed when a powder is dusted on a plate on nonconducting matrial that bears an unevenly distributed electrical charge. And very pretty patterns they are too.

Almost launched the first ever hydrogen balloon, but procrastinator that he was, never got round to it.

‘He marvelled at the fact that cats had two holes cut in their fur at precisely the spot where their eyes were.’

The Villainous Christ

When Christ harrowed hell, the Just under the old law – Abel, Enoch, Noah – mistrusted his teaching and made no answer to his call. They took him for an emissary of the Tempter whose schemes they feared. Only Cain and those of his race adhered to such doctrine, or professed to, and followed him out of hell. Such was the doctrine of Marcion. 'The wicked prosper,' that old objection to the notion of a merciful or at least honourable Creator – who consolidated it better than this heresiarch? Who else so acutely perceived its invincibility?

(Emil Cioran, Anathemas and Admirations)

Vivant Denon

Vivant Denon: crazy name, crazy guy. I recommend his No Tomorrow:

I doted on the Countess; I was twenty, and I was naïve; she deceived me, I was incensed; she deserted me. I was naïve; I missed her; I was twenty, she forgave me; and because I was twenty, was naïve, and, though still deceived, no longer deserted, I believed that lover was never more loved than I and I was therefore the happiest man alive.

Francis Stuart

Two favourite bad sentences from Francis Stuart's Black List Section H, a gripping semi-fictionalised account of the author's crimes against the English language. First, the literary chambermaid:

At home again, H started filling blue copybooks, while sitting on the side of the bed, so that the maid had to wait till midday before making it, rapidly in pencil.

And second, gettin' it awn:

She leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his, thus providing the impetus for him to loosen his trousers with his free hand which, in turn, as, he imagined a series of impulses are set up along a line of wagons by an impact at one end, impelled her to pull up her dress.

[Quotations end]

That's one accident I'd like to see someone try out on Claims Direct. 'Rear-ended by a line of wagons, my client was impelled to pull up her dress...'

How Not To Be A Relativist

Meeting a friend one day who was carrying some vinyl records under his arm, Wittgenstein asked him if they were any good. Friend: 'That depends on what you mean by good.' Wittgenstein: 'I mean exactly what you mean.'

Friday, May 26, 2006

Put a Nappy on Eamonn Holmes

Put a nappy on daytime TV sofa-indenter Eamonn Holmes. It's a new game suggested by Paul Merton on last night's episode of Room 101 with Dara O Briain. 'You've got a nappy, he's got a knife.' Now get that nappy on him. You have a week to complete your challenge.

The Book of Disquiet

From Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet:

My entire life is an unsigned receipt.

Blessed are those who entrust their lives to no one.

The Grímsey Sea-Cliff Endgame

The island of Grímsey in the North of Iceland is famous for its chess-players. A nineteenth-century philanthropist, Willard Fiske, presented the islanders with chess sets in honour of their prowess. Islanders have even been known, according to my guidebook, to throw themselves off cliffs in disgust at poor performances.

The Line of Beauty

The BBC is showing a dramatisation of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, otherwise known as 'Galsworthy with cocks'.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Work of God

Liverpool 3-West Ham 3 (Liverpool win 6-4 a.e.t. and penalties).

Work of God essentially done, universe will now shut down (please back up your files as any unsaved information may be lost).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Up for the Cup

FA Cup Final 2006, 13 May, 3pm

Liverpool v West Ham

Lego Stevie is well up for it. Though whoever that is beside him looks to have suffered one of those nasty torso-separates-from-legs injuries. Ouch!

Ruth Kelly

Ruth Kelly. What a nauseating bitch.

Lots of liberal outrage when Tony Blair made her Minister for Women and Equality about the fact that a right-wing Catholic in charge of protecting minority rights might think homosexuality is a sin. Big deal, you might think. After all, as she said to Nicky Campbell: 'I'm sort of getting used to these questions as I go from one department to another. Is it possible to be a practising Catholic and hold a portfolio in government? The answer is 'yes'. Why? Because I'm collectively responsible for cabinet decisions and I firmly believe in equality and I believe everyone should be protected from discrimination.'

Except no you don't, you have failed to support a single motion on homosexual rights since 1997 and voted against gay adoption. Which, again, would be fine if you could just bring yourself to say it: 'Gays. Don't like them. No rights for them.' Just tell us all what a freaky little Opus Dei bigot you are and get it over with.

Notice too the trick, as patented by Donald Rumsfeld, of asking and answering her own questions. No Ruth, you don't ask the questions, the interviewer does. Answer his question, you sanctimonious cow. Or alternatively you could just fuck off and die.

PS I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain, don't like Judy Garland, am given to nervous referencing of the Seinfeld line 'Not that there's anything wrong with that', and still managed to be this annoyed.


Another new BBC programme which should be a spoof but isn't (all right then, Down the Line is, I hereby confess) is Never Mind the Full Stops, a belated Lynne Truss bandwagon-jumper in which contestants attempt and fail to display functional literacy.

In the episode reviewed by Sam Wollaston in today's Guardian, former Independent on Sunday editor Janet Street Porter decided that in the following sentence:

Im confident that with all it's dart's and dominoe's player's Britain would emerge triumphant.

– the 'it's' is wrong. It's wrong because it's a plural, and should therefore read 'its''. Sorry, these quotation marks are confusing: she moved the apostrophe from before the s to after it.

Wollaston also reports that David Aaronovitch wondered aloud at one point about the 'psychological process of the person who set this for Janet and I.'

In his excellent The King's English, Kingsley Amis divides abusers of English into berks and wankers. Anyone, anyone who makes the 'for Janet and I' mistake is not just a berk and a wanker, but a coprophile and a kiddy-fiddler too. No wonder he supported the war in Iraq.

Con Houlihan used to say that a man who could misplace an apostrophe was capable of anything, and how right he was.

Good Point – Or Is It Racist?

Proud bushman or traffic warden in waiting? You decide

The normally sedate schedules of Radio 4 have diversified into the world of the radio phone-in with a new show called Down the Line. Here's a transcript:

Host Gary Bellamy: Our next caller is Stuart Hill from Gloucester. What's your point, Stuart?

Caller: Well, my point is this. It's ironic, isn't it, that the once-proud African man, standing on one leg, looking out across the Kalahari desert, once master of all he surveyed, is now exacting a terrible revenge, after centuries of repression, removed from his homeland and subjugated... is now bringing the white man to his knees by issuing parking tickets willy-nilly. And I feel that it actually demeans both the African man and the European man, that we are now waging a war with parking tickets, pieces of paper and bureaucracy, over this silly notiono that no, you can't park your car there, or you can park your car, for example, there.

Bellamy: It certainly is ironic. It's a good point – or is it racist? I'll tell you what - it would be great to hear from someone from the black community to get their views on that, or, in fact, to get their views on anything. So come on: ring in if you're black.

Ravenser Odd

Monkwike Lost 1841
Sand Le Mere Lost by 1086
Waxholme Lost by 1892...

Thus begins a leaflet on 'The Lost Villages Trail' I picked up at Spurn Point in East Yorkshire recently.

At the very end of the point were the villages of Ravenser and Ravenser Odd. As they say on the news, Pete Crowther has more:

The earliest reference to the headland is in the 7th century A.D. when according to Alcuin's Life of St. Willibrord, Wilgils, the father of the apostle to the Frisians, Willibrord, is said to have settled there as a hermit. Known as Ravenser, from 'Hrafn's Eyr' or 'Hrafn's Sandbank', there are several references to Spurn in the Icelandic sagas, especially in connection with its use as an embarkation point for the defeated Norwegian army after the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. The name Ravenser was also applied to a small settlement, probably of Danish origin, which seems to have been located somewhere near the base of the headland a mile or two south-east of old Kilnsea. Never itself a town of major importance and predominantly rural in character, Ravenser was to be completely overshadowed by what may be described as a mediaeval 'new town', its near neighbour, Ravenser Odd.

For those familiar with present-day Spurn with its handful of lifeboatmens' houses and pilots' look-out tower, it is difficult to imagine the existence of a thriving, bustling sea port with streets and buildings at the end of the peninsula. And yet at the height of its fortunes in the early years of the 14th century, Ravenser Odd was a town of national importance, regularly supplying the king with two fully equipped ships and armed men for his wars with the Scots. At the same time it had achieved borough status and was receiving harbour and other dues from more than 100 merchant ships a year. Benefiting from a Royal charter, it had its own market and annual fair, a town mayor, customs officers and other officials, and was furnished with cargo ships, fishing boats, wharves, warehouses, customs sheds, a tanhouse and windmills as well as boasting a court, prison, and chapel. The port flourished from about 1235, when it was founded, until its final destruction by the sea about 1360.

By about 1340 it must have been more than apparent that the town could no longer continue to prosper, and that even its physical survival was being threatened by the inroads of the sea. In his account of the abbacy of Hugh of Leven in the years from 1339 to 1349, the chronicler of Meaux Abbey writes: "At that time the chapel of Ravenser ... and the majority of the buildings of the whole town of Ravenser, by the inundations of the sea and the Humber increasing more than usual, were almost completely destroyed."

In 1346 an inquisition appointed by the king found that two thirds of the town and its buildings had been lost to the sea by erosion and that there remained only a third of the population able "to pay or support the tithes, tolls and other burdens hitherto assessed upon the said town ..." In the years that followed, from about 1349 to 1360, the sea completed its destruction of Ravenser Odd. The monkish chronicler of Meaux describes how the erosion exposed the bodies buried in the chapel's graveyard, much as it was to do some 450 years later at nearby Kilnsea: "The inundations of the sea and the Humber had destroyed to its foundations the chapel of Ravenser Odd, built in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the bodies and bones of the dead were horribly apparent ... "

[Quotation ends]

If the Oddmen are gone, the birds remain. Here is a Spurn Point hoopoe, spotted last month. Visit the Spurn website and follow the links for more sightings.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Magnetic North

John Brown has edited a new anthology called Magnetic North, featuring 'twenty-nine emerging poets from the North of Ireland'.

Would anyone publish or take seriously an anthology of Irish writing featuring only writers from the Republic? I hope not. It would be an entirely pointless exercise.

Yet writers from Northern Ireland, who get to appear in Irish and British anthologies, need their own anthology too.

I don't see the point. It's provincialism, which is not, I would have thought, something Northern Ireland needs more of. Though I suppose the raid on Co. Louth for Conor O'Callaghan might count as a cross-border initiative of sorts.

It's like some dodgy 3 for 2 offer at Tesco's. Irish Northern Irish poet? British Northern Irish poet? At no extra cost we'll throw in a Northern Irish Northern Irish poet too.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Runaway Bus

Runaway Dublin bus kills one, injures 13, commuters' group condemns ageing, accident-prone runaway buses, demands budget pledge to modernize and improve safety on city's runaway bus fleet {snip}


Smuffle (n.). The entirely warranted belief that by making eye-contact once from behind my newspaper with the stewardess during the safety demonstration I will survive the mid-air collision that will occur in roughly one hour. You, however, will die.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


American Dad's Stan Smith can't crack the code in which a cyber terrorist is taunting the CIA, until geeky son Steve identifies it as Elvish.

'I knew it, the Yiddish Elvis!'

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Lay Person Writes

A sadly typical eucharistic scene, featuring neither Eastern European rides nor random fist fights

It's always a pleasure, when I visit the land of my birth, to find the letters page of The Irish Times publishing earnest letters from clergymen and interested 'lay' people about the kind of thing that would earn you the intellectual response of a glass in the face down the local where I live, and rightly so. Things like this row about an 'inter-faith' communion in Drogheda, or some other activity bored Christians devise to stop themselves turning to incest on a Sunday morning, with some Church of Ireland bishop wading in with the usual drivel about the need for reflection, dialogue and sensitivity, as his way of saying 'The fact that I'm a southern Prod doesn't mean I can't still be an awkward bastard'.

The only solution to this stupid row is the replacement of all 'ministers of the eucharist' (do they get chauffeur-driven cars, I wonder? Is there a ceann comhairle of the eucharist?) with some of those foreign girls serving coffee behind the counter at Nude on Suffolk Street when I dropped in yesterday. Then the Irish Times letters page could look something like this:


Canon Wrixby of Rathmines can cite canon law all he likes, Natasja is the biggest ride of a minister of the eucharist ever, and anyone who says otherwise will be getting my knee in the bollocks fairly pronto.

Yours etc
Recent Convert'