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Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 15
24th July 2014: catch them, Rimeq
What I’ve been up to

I read a choose-your-own-adventure science fiction book when I was little. It concerned the efforts of an alien named Rimeq to take over the world, and the hero's efforts to stop him. This was made more difficult because Rimeq possessed the ability to move objects around with his mind (telekinesis). The only part which has stayed in my head is towards the end, when the hero has reached Rimeq's room but Rimeq has paralysed him by telekinesis, the police have been stopped similarly, and so have the spaceships bringing help, and the stress is showing on Rimeq's face. Finally the hero manages to take some rings off his fingers and throw them at Rimeq, shouting, "Catch them, Rimeq, they're grenades!" This is the final straw; the stress on Rimeq's mind is too much, and he is taken away catatonic.

So as I mentioned earlier, we have been moving house, and several moments have made me think, "Catch them, Rimeq"-- in particular, I meant to put out an edition of Gentle Readers on Monday as usual, but exhaustion won. Sorry for the interruption in service; meanwhile, I've been very encouraged by the messages I've had telling me how much you enjoy reading Gentle Readers.

Many people are due public thanks for helping us get through the last week. In particular, I want to thank the people of St John's church, Egham; as the obstacles to getting moved grew more and more formidable, so more and more people from St John's turned up unasked to help. We couldn't have managed without you. Thanks also go to the Gentle Reader who offered a garage when the movers needed to deliver before the landlord could give us the key. And thanks to the people from the Runnymede Besom, who turned up to take away some furniture we'd donated, but then came back later to help clean up. That's what love in action looks like, and I'll do my best to pay it forward. Thank you all.

A poem of mine


Electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.
You fill my batteries with such
electric sparkles in your touch,
that Tesla would have charged too much
and Franklin dropped his lightning-rod:
electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.

A picture

I was going to draw you a cartoon as usual, but my tablet is still packed away. Instead, here are some photos I took when I was working in London earlier this year.
Trains in the sidings at Clapham Junction, the busiest railway station in Britain.
More than a hundred trains an hour come through.
The tombstone of Jason Binder:
"He respected all living things. His inspiration lives on."
And it lives on with me, too, even though his epitaph is all I know about him.


Something from someone else

Does this one really need an introduction? Well, if you've never seen it before, then you have the joy of seeing it for the first time; the Guardian has a decent analysis if you're interested in digging into it. "Baggonets" is an archaic form of the word "bayonets", and Kensal Green is a large London cemetery, one of the magnificent seven. There is a pub called "Paradise" near there now; it was named for the poem.

by G K Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.

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I am in the chemist's waiting for a prescription to be filled, and eavesdropping.

Customer, to assistant: How much is this?
Assistant: (scans it repeatedly) Dunno.
Pharmacist: What's up?
Assistant: Every time I scan this, it just says "enter price", "enter price".
Marn: (under breath) These are the voyages of the Starship Enter Price...
(Pharmacist laughs. Assistant looks confused.)
Pharmacist: Well, *I* thought it was funny.
marnanel: (Default)

As a littl'un, my daughter was interested not only in Ancient Egypt but also in the Soap Lady in the Mütter museum-- a corpse which has become entirely saponified, turned to the soapy substance called adipocere. One day, when my daughter was about five, I was sitting reading while she was playing in the park, and eavesdropping on her conversation with another girl:

Other Girl: "Do you know what happens to you when you die?"
Rio: "Yes. You turn into soap."
Other Girl: "No... you turn into stone. I know because my grandma died and I touched her and she was as cold as a stone."

marnanel: (Default)
I'm a centaur, I'm a centaur,
From Manchester way
I drink lots of beer and

I eat lots of hay
I may be a man at my neckline
But from the waist down I'm an equine.
marnanel: (Default)

The earliest OED citation for "duck tape" (in the modern sense) is from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 21 November 1902, and it says:

"Considering... that 100,000 yards of cotton duck tape must be wrapped around the cable [of the Williamsburg bridge] with neatness and exactitude, it may be imagined that this method of cable preservation is quite expensive."
"Duck" is a strong cotton fabric which duck tape is made from; it's also used to make sails and trousers. I don't know when it became a trademark in the US. "Duct tape" came later, around the 1970s; it is of course very often used to tape up cables in ducts.


Jul. 18th, 2014 11:47 am
marnanel: (Default)
"My heart leaps up when I behold
An airship in the sky:
So was it with R101,
So was it once at Cardington,
So be it, if I shall behold
Or if I fly."

(with apologies to Wordsworth)
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Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 14
17th July 2014: gold is for the mistress
What I’ve been up to


Forgive, if you will, the brevity of today's Gentle Readers. I am in the midst of tidying the place we're leaving, and putting things into bags and boxes ready for the move. And though it's a small two-bedroom flat, it contains upwards of four thousand books, so the operation is taking most of my attention and energy. (Also, it caused some talk when I went into Sainsbury's and bought forty bags-for-life.)

I also apologise for the state of the website. We finish moving in on Tuesday (at least, I sincerely hope we do), and then I will have time to fix it. Video versions of Gentle Readers will also resume thereafter.

I have been reading Jeremy Taylor's Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, a sort of self-help book from 1650. Taylor talks about many of the same sorts of things as modern self-help books, including how to organise your time and how not to get distracted. In the section on time management he mentions that it's important to do something fun every day, because it refreshes your mind; he goes on to say that a good example of this is that St John the Apostle spent time each day with a tame partridge. This surprised me.

Gentle reader Amy Robinson requested a picture of St John spending quality time with his partridge, and I am happy to oblige:

A poem of mine

One of the interesting things about being a writer is that you find people talking about and using your work in ways you'd never considered. A few years after I wrote the poem below, I happened upon the website for a translation competition at a Russian university; the students had been set some texts by German writers whose names I didn't recognise, and James Thurber, and my poem. I love getting surprises like that.


Ah, would I were a German!
I'd trouble my translator
With nouns the size of Hamburg
And leave the verb till later.

And if I were a Welshman
My work would thwart translation
With ninety novel plurals
In strict alliteration.

And would I were Chinese!
I'd throw them off their course
With twelve unusual symbols
All homophones of “horse”.

But as it is, I'm English:
And I'm the one in hell
By writing in a language
Impossible to spell.

A picture

Something from someone else

This is about as subtle as a brick, but Kipling knew his trade, and it still holds the beauty and jingle of a nursery rhyme. As with all the poems in Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, it's attached to a story about Dan and Una in the original book; this story for this one is also called "Cold Iron", but unlike the poem, it concerns the iron taboo.
by Rudyard Kipling

"Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid!
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all!"

So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
"But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!"

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid 'em all along!
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a lord!)
"What if I release thee now, and give thee back thy sword?"
"Nay!" said the Baron, "mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all."

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown —
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!"

Yet his King made answer (few such kings there be!)
"Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary's name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!"

He took the Wine and blessed It; He blessed and brake the Bread
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
"Look! These Hands they pierced with nails outside My city wall
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all!

"Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong,
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!"

"Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold."
"Nay!" said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
"But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of man all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!"


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.


Jul. 17th, 2014 07:34 pm
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Only yesterday I mentioned to Alice that I spent my first day in my school's Special Educational Needs Unit helping the teachers write limericks. In one of those weird synchronicity things, I found the limericks today in the back of a book of poetry, in Mrs Price's handwriting. Internal evidence dates it to 1987. I apologise to my siblings in general:

There was a young fellow called Thomas
Who always showed plenty of promise
At science he scored
At PE was bored
That flourishing artist called Thomas

There was a young fellow named Mark
Who went out for a bit of a lark
He jumped in the lake
While eating some cake
And got himself banned from the park

There was a young lady named Mandy (Amanda)
Whose favourite food was candy.
So into the shop
With a skip and a hop
She grabbed every sweet that was handy

There was a young fellow named Andrew
Who's now reached the great age of two.
He has two teddy bears.
They both live upstairs.
The real ones all live in the zoo.
marnanel: (Default)
Sometimes I hear people saying that they believe morality to be designed by God, and so they can't understand how atheists and agnostics can have an understanding of morality. This is not an argument I can easily get my head around. I mean, if we talk about languages for a moment, there's still no consensus on how humans as a whole started to speak. But it's still pretty obvious that individual humans learn language as they grow up from the people around them, that language exists by consensus, and that there are certain necessary features for language to be language. I don't see Esperantists going around telling everyone that they can't understand how we can speak English if we don't know who started Proto-Indo-European.

ETA:  Then again, if the Esperantists did do that, I probably wouldn't understand too well anyway.

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Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 13
14th July 2014: faster than fairies
What I’ve been up to

Still mostly tidying the house, preparing to move up to Salford. If all goes well, we'll be moving in a week today. Things haven't shown as much sign of going well as I'd like, though: a number of mishaps, ranging from the serious (someone driving into the back of our car) to the ridiculous (trying to pick up a beanbag when the fabric dissolved in my hands, and the floor filled with a million polystyrene beads) have made me wonder whether I'm actually a character in a sitcom.

I mentioned this to my brother Andrew, who said, "And have you noticed that when you sit down to dinner, people only sit on three sides of the table?" And he's right! I'm just hoping I won't close my eyes and see those ominous words...

"You have been watching..."

I was very glad to hear that the Church of England will now be consecrating women bishops, and not only because it caused me to imagine The Bishop of Dibley. (You see, I can't get away from sitcoms.) And I doodled a twelve-second film about a hungry skyscraper, though I'm not really sure why. I think I just needed the distraction.

Other than that, I've been setting up a Twitter account for Gentle Readers: @gentlereaders. Do follow it if you're on Twitter-- and, as ever, tell your friends.

A poem of mine


I watched from Farringdon as Satan fell;
I've battled for my soul at Leicester Square;
I've laid a ghost with Oystercard and bell;
I've tracked the wolf of Wembley to his lair;
I've drawn Heathrow's enchantment in rotation;
at Bank I played the devil for his fare;
I laugh at lesser modes of transportation.
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

The Waterloo and City cast its spell;
I watched it slip away, and could not care,
the Northern Line descending into hell
until King's Cross was more than I could bear;
he left me there in fear for my salvation,
a Mansion House in heaven to prepare:
so why return to any lesser station?
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

Three days beneath the earth in stench and smell
I lay, and let the enemy beware:
I learned the truth of tales the children tell:
an Angel plucked me homeward by the hair,
to glory from the depths of condemnation,
to where I started long ago from where
I missed my stop through long procrastination.
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

Prince of the buskers, sing your new creation:
the change you ask is more than I can spare;
a change of spirit, soul, imagination.
I change at Aldgate East because it's there.

A picture
"Mind. The gap."
Something wonderful

Harry Beck (1902-1974) worked for London Transport as an electrical engineer. His great idea was born, as all great ideas are, by looking at something familiar and seeing it anew in terms of something quite different.

One day in 1931, he sketched the tube map as if it were an electrical circuit diagram: the map he drew showed the order of stations, and the connections between them, but not their geographical positions, nor the length of the lines between them, nor the physical routes they took. Nowadays, we would call this a topological map, but although topology had been well-studied by mathematicians back then, this sort of practical use was new and nameless.

Unsurprisingly, Beck's bosses were sceptical. After all, it was an untested skunkworks project by someone without expertise in mapmaking. Nevertheless, he persuaded them to give the design a try. It proved so popular that it has been used in London ever since, as well as copied by countless other railway networks around the world.

In this way, Beck made daily life slightly easier for millions of commuters over nearly a century. Most of them have never heard his name.

Something from someone else
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!
This is an old favourite. Like the best poetry, it evokes memories in everyone, similar but each different; like the best poetry, the sound of it is half the joy. Don't just sit there: read it aloud!


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.

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You can send anything at all
With Alice's Protocol.
You can send anything at all
With Alice's Protocol.
Send your files from A to B
Just email her and ask for her public key
You can send anything at all
With Alice's Protocol.

Well, it all began when Alice tried to send a private message, a message that was private, to Bob. I don't know what Alice wanted to say to Bob, maybe she was just askin' him to take out the trash, but she knew it was private, so she encrypted the message with an encryption. Now Bob has this friend called Eve who's always hangin' around trying to eavesdrop on his conversations, I mean, she isn't droppin' from the eaves like a bat, she's listenin' at doors and windows and keyholes. So this time, instead of listenin' at doors and windows and keyholes, she intercepts the message, the message sent by Alice-- remember Alice?
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Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
10th July 2014: rules of co-operation
What I’ve been up to

I've been filling boxes with things— mostly books— ready to move up to Salford. We still don't know for sure that we have the house, but our time here in Surrey comes to an end in less than a fortnight. The Cat Yantantessera, who hates travelling, was happy to stay in the north with Kit's parents.

On Wednesday I paid my first visit to Nantwich, which is a pleasant town in Cheshire (rather than a tic affecting grandmothers). Most of the town burnt down in 1583, and Elizabeth I sent £1,000 to rebuild the town. The result is that most of the streets are filled with those black-and-white buildings for which the Tudors are renowned.
Nantwich. Photo by Jonathan White, public domain

I've also added another Saki story to my website: The Stalled Ox. As before, the story is both written down and read aloud. If you'd like a bedtime story, take a look! This time I've added some cartoons; I think I'll go back and do similarly for the other stories as well. What would you like next? I'm thinking of Sredni Vashtar.

And a friend of mine complains that in this weather the mosquitoes treat her as a hors d'oeuvres trolley. I can only suggest that she should shelter under a canapé.

A poem of mine


My puppy always starts to growl as soon as he's asleep:
"I've caught a hundred waterfowl and killed a thousand sheep;
I felled and ate a buffalo, then swam across the sea,
And when I found where squirrels go, I chased them up the tree!"
And though his dreams are not the truth, who'll wake him up? Not I!
I've firmly held it since my youth that sleeping dogs should lie.

A picture
Queen Victoria: "For your invention of the typewriter: arse, Sir Robert."
Sir Robert: "('Arise', your Majesty.)"
Queen Victoria: "Well, it looks like arse here."
Something wonderful

Sometimes you read an idea which changes the way you view the world. For me, one such experience was reading about the work of Paul Grice (1913-1988). Grice studied what people try to achieve when they're having a conversation, and he reduced it to a set of rules of co-operation: rules that the person who's speaking generally tries to follow, and the people listening expect to hear followed. The four rules have become known as the Gricean maxims, and they are:

Quality: Speak the truth, as far as you know it.

Quantity: Include as much detail as required, but not more. For example, Alice asks, "Do you have any children?", and Bob replies, "I have two sons." Alice assumes from this that Bob has two children, both boys, because if Bob had daughters he would have mentioned them.

Relation: Be relevant. For example, Alice says, "Business has been slow today", and Bob replies, "It's raining." Bob doesn't have to add "...and people often don't go out when it's raining, so they won't get to visit this shop", because Alice assumes that what Bob says is relevant to the conversation.

Manner: Speak in the way people expect. This covers quite a few things: for example, we assume that people aren't being deliberately ambiguous.

The maxims become particularly interesting when you consider how they can break down. For example, equivocation— that is, saying carefully-chosen truths in order to deceive people— involves breaking the maxim of relation. And sometimes people assume the maxims are not being followed— for example, people under hostile cross-examination often have no reason to wish to cooperate, and so answer the question asked rather than the question intended.

Something from someone else
by Alexander Brome

I have been in love, and in debt, and in drink,
This many and many a year;
And those three are plagues enough, one would think,
For one poor mortal to bear.
'Twas drink made me fall in love,
And love made me run into debt,
And though I have struggled and struggled and strove,
I cannot get out of them yet.
There's nothing but money can cure me,
And rid me of all my pain;
'Twill pay all my debts, and remove all my lets,
And my mistress, that cannot endure me,
Will love me and love me again—
Then I'll fall to loving and drinking amain.

Love, drink, and debt are such evergreen concerns that this poem could have been written in Victorian times, or in the twentieth century, or yesterday! Only the rhyme of "love" with "strove" gives us the hint that it was written in the seventeenth century.


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.

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Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
7th July 2014:
What I’ve been up to

We may have found a house. Or rather, we have found a house, but whether we get to live there is down to the whims of the credit check fairy. Nevertheless, we live in hope. I suspect the next fortnight at least will involve a lot of motorway travel and helping the movers, but at least it means I get to put the beautiful word "pantechnicon" to more use.

Gentle reader Timothy Hunt suggests that Yantantessera the cat gains her powers of disappearing by passing through the fourth dimension, in the manner of A Wrinkle in Time, and that her name is short for Yan Tan Tesseract. I have no reason to suspect this to be false. I also note that "tesseract" is an anagram of "reset cat", which surely can't be coincidence.

I have been making a page of stories on my website; each story is both read aloud and written down. At present there are two there, both by Saki; I'll add some of my own, and other people's, later. The next to be added will be Saki's The Stalled Ox, at the request of gentle reader Louise Etheridge; other suggestions of stories unencumbered by copyright are welcome.

If you didn't hear Kathryn Rose's choral setting of my poem I walked in darkness earlier, do listen to it now. It's very beautiful.

A poem of mine

Pittsburgh is a rather hilly town. I wrote this one while standing in a small park halfway up a steep hill overlooking the city centre, as night began to fall. You can hear me reading it if you like.

This moment, I am God upon this town.
I compass every window spread below:
each pinprick point in total looking down
a pattern only overseers know.
I feel the human flow and ebb each minute
perceiving both with every passing breath;
each lighted room has home and hoping in it,
each darkening a sleeping, or a death.
And nothing, nothing makes it wait to darken;
had I the power it should be shining still.
Some other one you have to hope will hearken,
some other on some yet more lofty hill—
whom priests and people plead to, not to be
as powerless to hold these lights as me.

A picture
Human: "What are you doing in my underwear drawer?"
Raptor: "Looking for thermals."
Something wonderful

The ambition of Edmund Clerihew Bentley was to get a first at Oxford. When he didn't manage to do so, he devoted his energies instead to an attempt to get his middle name into the dictionary. He invented a verse form named the "clerihew", and published a collection of them,Biography for Beginners, which was enough of a success that he achieved his lexicographical aim. That book helpfully begins
The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.
The clerihew has four lines, rhymed aabb; it generally begins with the name of its subject, and it is in roughly conversational metre. Another of Bentley's examples which shows their usual surreality:

I do not extenuate Bunyan's
Intemperate use of onions,
But if I knew a wicked ogress
I would lend her "The Pilgrim's Progress."

Since then, many others have been written: here are some to be going on with. Feel free to send in your own compositions. And let me know: if you decided to get your name into the dictionary, what would you invent?

Something from someone else
by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
— Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
— From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
— A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
— You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
— Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
— They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
— Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
— Yea, beds for all who come.
In Chesterton's phrase, the decent inn of death.


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.


Jul. 5th, 2014 07:52 pm
marnanel: (Default)
I've made a new design for my site, and I've also put up a couple of Saki stories. Take a look and tell me what you think?
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
4th July 2014: yan tan tethera
What I’ve been up to

We're still househunting. We thought we'd found one, but the estate agent said no; when we asked questions, they said that one of us needed to be in full-time employment. Of course as a contractor, I'm not in full-time employment, but Kit is-- even though she's been signed off work sick for nearly two years now. Apparently, if they meet an able-bodied man and a woman in a wheelchair, people assume the woman in a wheelchair can't be the breadwinner. I should probably have guessed. Anyway, we've sorted it now, so we're going to look at more houses this afternoon-- with a different estate agent.

Last night we drove all the way from Surrey to Manchester, where Yantantessera the cat was waiting for us: she's being looked after by Kit's folks. 'Tessera was very pleased to see us, even though it was well after midnight, but while I was unpacking the car she decided to take the opportunity to slip out of the front door and explore. I couldn't find her in the dark, and in the end I gave up and went to bed. At about half past two I was woken by 'Tessera standing outside and mewing that she was ready to come back in now. This may explain why today's Gentle Readers is late.

It was a joy yesterday to discover that Kathryn Rose, who set my poem I walked in darkness to four-part harmony earlier this year, has made it into a video so that you can enjoy it whether or not you read music. Do go and listen: it's very beautiful.

A poem of mine

I tried to say: "you make my life complete,
you put my puzzle pieces into place."
But then I tried to send it as a tweet.
It didn't fit. I thought I could delete
one part, about the joys of your embrace;
I tried to say: "you make my life complete,"
but still it was too long. I thought I'd cheat
But then I tried to send it as a tweet.
It failed again. I must admit defeat.
Like Fermat's margin, Twitter lacks the space
to let me say you make my life complete.
It makes the longer forms seem obsolete.
But even Petrarch's work would meet disgrace
if cut and scaled to send it as a tweet!
And somehow public posts seem indiscreet.
I think I'd rather whisper to your face
the message that you make my life complete,
and far too full to post it as a tweet.

A picture

A few months ago, because a film called Divergent had just come out, I kept seeing the word "divergent" written down. So I pretty much had to draw a diver gent.

Something wonderful

Before the English arrived in Great Britain, a Celtic language akin to modern Welsh and Cornish was spoken throughout the island south of the Forth. When the English arrived, the culture and language was pushed to the far edges (they "drove the Britons westward into Wales and compelled them to become Welsh", as Sellar and Yeatman so memorably put it), though recent genetic studies indicate that it was more that the culture moved than the people.

And Wales and Cornwall are still with us. But for a few centuries more there was a Celtic holdout north of the Humber, sandwiched between the Angles below and the Picts and Scots above. The old Welsh poems and songs call it the Hen Ogledd, the Old North. It faded away in the end, but one of its particularly interesting relics are the names of numbers used to count sheep:
Yan, tan, tethera, pethera, pimp,
sethera, lethera, hovera, covera, dik.
The names of the numbers are startlingly similar to modern Welsh.
I first encountered this counting system, long before I was aware of its interesting philology, in a book called The Tovers by Elisabeth Beresford. And this is, as you may have guessed, partly where the name of Yantantessera the cat comes from. After all, there's safety in numbers.
Something from someone else

I was delighted to receive an email from gentle reader Mongoose, following on from You are old, Father William last time, about a conversation she had had with her cat Heidi. I reproduce it below with permission.

"You are old, Fräulein Heidi," the Mongoose said,
"In human years, fivescore and ten;
Yet my shoulder you make your precarious bed -
Do you think you're a kitten again?"

"In my youth," said the cat, as she washed her small form,
"I was happy to sleep on the fence;
But it's not very soft and it's not very warm,
So I think I've developed some sense."

"You are old," said the Mongoose, "my sweet little petal,
And often throw up when you fret;
Then how have you stayed in such excellent fettle
That you're never in need of the vet?"

Miss Heidi considered, and said, "On the whole
I think it's a question of diet;
It's excellent food that you put in my bowl,
But I do like a mouse on the quiet."

"You are old," said the Mongoose, "and once on a time
From danger you'd swiftly take flight;
So why is it now, though you're well past your prime,
You're perfectly willing to fight?"

"In my youth," said the cat, "I will freely admit
That I was rather easy to scare;
But I've now turned the tables - the biter is bit.
Good grief, don't you think that that's fair?"

"You are old," mused the Mongoose, "and like any cat
I know that you're partial to heat;
But you sit on the heater, and why doesn't that
Burn your stomach, your tail or your feet?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,
And only because it was you.
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll pee in your shoe!"


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
I've put together a pilot of the video version of Gentle Readers. It only has the introduction in, but the real thing will have the poems and cartoons too. Let me know what you think!

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
30th June 2014: slightly curtailed
What I’ve been up to

I do apologise for the brevity of today's Gentle Readers. We were almost at the point of getting a house to rent in Salford, when the landlord said that he couldn't rent to people without a full-time job. Now, I'm a Python/Django contractor when I'm not being a poet-- actually, that's untrue: I'm always a poet, even when I'm being a programmer-- but apparently that isn't good enough, so the whole arrangement fell through and we're back to square one. So, as you may imagine, the time I had planned for writing this was swallowed up by the altogether less pleasant business of attempting to fix the problem. I hope to have everything back to normal, in both ways, by Thursday.

A poem of mine

I wrote this one on top of a bus when I was first living away from home in Becontree in the mid-nineties. I can't tell you what it means, for I don't really know; I wrote it for the sound. I may set it to music one day.

Hallelujah Simpkins, Syllogism Brown,
Wandered up to Barkingside to walk around the town.
Does it make you wonder, when they ring the bell,
How they press the organ keys and sing along as well?
Syllogism wondered so he climbed the tower to see;
Hallelujah, Simpkins said, I know that I am free.
Hallelujah Simpkins, Pendlebury Jane,
Hurried to the hospital and hurried home again.
Does it make you wonder, when they run so fast,
How they know they'll ever reach the hospital at last?
Pendlebury wondered even though she couldn't run,
Hallelujah, Simpkins said, today I have a son.
Hallelujah Simpkins, Academic Smith,
Never et an orange if they couldn't eat the pith.
Does it make you wonder, if oranges can float,
Why they catch the Underground and never catch a boat?
Academic wondered so he went and caught the train;
Hallelujah, Simpkins said, and said it once again.
Hallelujah Simpkins, Concertina Flight,
Hear the song the angels sing in Dagenham tonight!
Does it make you wonder, climbing Heaven's stair,
How you'd speak to Hallelujah Simpkins, if he's there?
Simpkins only wondered whom he followed as he soared;
Hallelujah, Simpkins said, and glory to the Lord!

A picture

Fig. 1: a crow's ear

Something from someone else

This is famous already, but justly so.

by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again!"

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And you have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason for that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment— one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
said his father. "Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs!"

This is one of the most deft of Carroll's parodies, so memorable that it stuck in my head without my taking the trouble to learn it, and as with many of them it has become better known than the original. The original isn't a particularly bad poem, but awfully preachy, and executed with rather less skill than Carroll's. Nevertheless, its author was no stranger to a good joke (see To a goose in GR 2014-06-09), and I think he would have enjoyed Carroll's take on his work.

by Robert Southey

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remembered that youth would fly fast,
And abused not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remembered that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hastening away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remembered my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age."

"You are cheerful and love to converse upon death." Bet he was a riot at parties.


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
Newsagent: That'll be £2.55, please.
Marn: Oh! Shame it's not £2.56.
Newsagent: Why?
Marn: Well, it's a square of squares. Four squared is sixteen, sixteen squared is 256. It's a very pleasing number.
Newsagent (obligingly): Well, you can pay £2.56 if you LIKE.
Marn: All right, then.
Newsagent: Well then, that'll be £2.56, please.
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
26th June 2014: give a Victorian a pipe
What I’ve been up to

I'm in the environs of Manchester, partly for Kit's mother's birthday-- which is why today's issue is slightly early-- but also because Kit and I are looking for a flat to rent in Salford. Manchester reminds me a bit of Pittsburgh: it's a lovely town with a lot going on, but everyone who doesn't live there seems to say it's a dark and smoky hole. Salford is a city just outside Manchester proper; it's the original Dirty Old Town from the song of that name, and many of L.S. Lowry's pictures show the city.

Our cat, Yantantessera, is here with us. She didn't enjoy the car journey at all: she complained most of the way that cars are dangerous to cats, cars kill cats, and here she was inside a car, driving on a road with many other cars, and did I have no sense at all? She's settled down now we've arrived, though, and not disappeared under a bed in protest. (I suppose she has every reason to disappear, since (while she's here) she's a Cheshire cat. Do you want to hear more about 'Tessera?

Gentle reader Mair reports another recipe for iced coffee: "At work (I work in a café) we keep all the leftover coffee, let it go cold, put two scoops of ice-cream into a glass and add the cold coffee, some milk optional, whipped cream and a macaroon on the top, and we call that iced coffee." I'm looking forward to trying this. Any more?

Gentle reader Carolyn Ramsay brings two cookbooks to my attention, one vegetarian and one for those on limited budgets, and both freely copyable under Creative Commons. I thought many of you would like to see them as well.

A poem of mine

A dozen years, the length of feline days:
compared to human lives it may appear
the cats lose out. To be a human pays.
I think on this, and on companions dear:
Successive cats whose whiskered lives touched mine
Have lain upon my lap... do you suppose
Their tiptoe through the years is but a sign?
I measure out my life with kitten toes.

As they and I pursue the hilly ways
that fill our lives, “Beware! The end is near!”
“Your death is nigh!” or some such friendly phrase
will tell me that it's all downhill from here.
And soon the slope more steeply will incline,
And drop away as quickly as it rose.
You trace the arc? My life is on the line:
I measure out my life with kitten toes.

Though now, my cat, we feel the sunshine's blaze...
your windowsill is warm, the skies are clear...
yet still I feel the sun's all-seeing gaze
remind me of the coming day, I fear...
the coming day I cannot feel it shine,
and on my face the smiling daisy grows.
I only have the one, where you have nine:
I measure out my life with kitten toes.

Prince, lord of cats, may endless meat be thine!
O grant that thine immortal princely doze
may evermore upon my lap recline!
I measure out my life with kitten toes.

A picture
"And it is often said that, wherever you may go,
you are never more than six feet away from a rat"

Something wonderful

The Victorian engineers who built our railways and canals left their mark all over the landscape. But the Victorian engineers who built our sewers left their handiwork mostly underground and unappreciated. The sewers of London, as with many other cities with nineteenth-century sewers, are triumphs of careful planning and hard work, saving us daily from diarrhoea and cholera epidemics. But of course they're like the drummer in a band: nobody notices them unless they go wrong.

One of the Victorian sewer engineers who should be more famous is the wonderfully-named Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891). As chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, he redesigned and rebuilt London's sewers, built embankments along the Thames, and thus helped the river begin to run clean again. One of his particularly interesting habits was designing sewage plants in architecturally-interesting ways, such as the Abbey Mills "A" building, which has often been described as "the cathedral of sewage". I mean, just look at it. Several more photos are here, including pictures of the inside.
Image by Velela, copyright 2005, cc-by-sa

Thanks to people like Bazalgette, we have pretty good toilet facilities in England, and mostly we don't need to think about how life would be if we didn't. But nearly half the people in the world aren't as lucky, and people die as a result: diarrhoea kills two million children under five every year.
So there is an organisation called Toilet Twinning. You donate some money for building toilets in developing countries, and they twin your toilet over here with one of their toilets over there. Then they send you a photo of the toilet they've built, and you're supposed to frame it and hang it up in your loo. And (more importantly) you get to know that some kids are more likely to make it to their fifth birthday.
Look at me, writing this entire article about toilets but not taking the excuse to make puns. I tell you, I'm flushed with success.

Something from someone else

by James Thomson

Give a man a horse he can ride,
Give a man a boat he can sail;
And his rank and wealth, his strength and health,
On sea nor shore shall fail.

Give a man a pipe he can smoke,
Give a man a book he can read:
And his home is bright with a calm delight,
Though the room be poor indeed.

Give a man a girl he can love,
As I, O my love, love thee;
And his heart is great with the pulse of Fate,
At home, on land, on sea.

James Thomson was another Victorian; I assume he didn't think these gifts were confined to male people. At least, I hope not.


Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don't if you can't. Love and peace to you all.
marnanel: (Default)
Someone mentioned the current panic about "how to cure the obesity epidemic" over dinner, and it led to talking about public health campaigns generally.

I have a simple suggestion, but I think it's worth saying because I haven't heard anyone mention it yet. A few years ago, people would buy unleaded petrol if they were particularly environmentally conscious, but because it cost more, most people didn't. Then the government altered the taxes so it cost less, and suddenly everyone was buying it.

So here. If you have not much money and not much time-- and these often go together, because people paid little work long hours-- the most easily-available and most filling food is not the stuff that's good for you. Why not? If we're really interested in making sure people eat food that's good for them, why aren't we subsidising takeaways and supermarkets to produce food that's cheap and needs minimal preparation?


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