marnanel: (Default)
Something I've wanted to do for a while: You know those sites where you can fill in which states/counties/whatever you've visited? I'd like to generalise that. You could zoom to a particular area and it would say "counties of Wales" or "police force areas of Wales" or "wards of Salford" or whatever. Then when you chose one you could colour the regions in as you wished, and make a key. And then you could save them as SVG or PNG, both with enough metadata that you could reload them back into the site and get your editable state back. Some sort of integration with Wikimedia Commons would be nice too. What do you think?
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 7
15th December 2014: the strangest whim
What I’ve been up to

I've been dividing my time between writing, contacting potential literary agents, and being asleep-- this last because they're trying me with a new antidepressant. So far it seems to be going well, but time will tell.

Two special offers for your attention, especially if you're looking for last-minute ideas for presents:

1) Because my partner Kit and I are still both too ill to work, I've reissued Time Blew Away Like Dandelion Seed, a collection of over a hundred of my poems. You can buy the paperback from Lulu. A signed and numbered hardback edition is also in the works: I'll let you know when it's ready. (The best regular way of supporting Gentle Readers, and me, financially is still through Patreon.)

2) My good friend Katie, who is a talented photographer as well as a nursing student, was due to study in the Netherlands next semester, but then she was unexpectedly sent to Finland instead. The Finnish cost of living is rather greater than the Dutch, so she is selling prints of her work to make up the budget shortfall. Please do go and check them out.

A poem of mine

FOR NIGHT CAN ONLY HIDE

When once I stop and take account of these
that God has granted me upon the earth,
the loves, the friends, the work, that charm and please
these things I count inestimable worth;
when once I stop, I learn that I am rich
beyond the dreams of emperors and kings
and light is real, and real these riches which
exceed the worth of all material things...
   when thus I stop, I cannot understand
   when few and feeble sunbeams cannot find
   their way into that drab and dreary land,
   the darkness of the middle of my mind.
yet darkness cannot take away my joy,
for night can only hide, and not destroy.

Something wonderful

The City of Westminster is one of the towns that make up Greater London. In 1672, its population was growing very fast, and builders were anxious to buy land for housing. George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, owned a mansion in Westminster called York House, and he agreed to sell it for demolition and redevelopment. The price he named was £30,000-- around £6 million in modern money-- plus one extra condition: all the streets built on the land had to be named after him.

The developers agreed, and set to work. Soon they had built George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, and Buckingham Street, at which point they were running out of naming possibilities, with one small alley yet to be named. Thus, in a moment of desperate lateral thinking, they gave it the ingenious name of Of Alley.

Something from someone else

Chesterton wrote quite a few poems about depression. I like this one particularly because it starts humorously-- literally using gallows humour-- but once it's drawn you in, it ends on a serious point about hope. Ballades are a difficult form, but Chesterton makes it look easy, though in fact he's made it even harder for himself by his choice of rhymes. It's conventional to address a prince at the end of a ballade, who is often assumed to be the Prince of Darkness (i.e. Satan): thus the end of the poem is about the downfall of evil, and perhaps the Second Coming.

BALLADE OF SUICIDE
by G K Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall.
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours— on the wall—
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me... After all
I think I will not hang myself today.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay—
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall—
I see a little cloud all pink and gray—
Perhaps the rector's mother will NOT call—
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way—
I never read the works of Juvenal—
I think I will not hang myself today.

The world will have another washing day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H. G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational—
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small—
I think I will not hang myself today.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even today your royal head may fall—
I think I will not hang myself today. 

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
I can remember going through that stage fairly clearly. I was about five, and I'd read a cracker joke at a party that said:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Major.
Major who?
Major road ahead.
This is because there used to be road signs that said "major road ahead", but I didn't know this-- they'd been obsolete before I was born. I assumed it meant that a major in the army rode ahead of the rest of the soldiers. That seemed a bit odd, but when I told my parents the joke, they laughed. Can anything compare to that moment when you make someone else laugh on purpose? So I told the joke again the next day, and it somehow wasn't funny any more. Clearly, then, I had to learn new jokes, but how? I determined to experiment by changing the joke slowly to see whether I could work out what made the original joke funny. My first attempt was:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Major.
Major who?
Major curtains.
Of course when I told my parents that joke they laughed as well because of the surrealism, which made constructing a hypothesis about the nature of humour rather difficult.

Wordsworth

Dec. 11th, 2014 10:04 pm
marnanel: (Default)
For an English Lit GCSE assignment I wrote the diary of a policeman who was following Wordsworth around the Lakes in the belief he was a Napoleonic spy. At one point our hero attempts to get the suspect to prove he's a poet by quoting the piece he's working on. It goes:

"Behold her, single in the field,
Reaping and singing by the hedge;
Reaping and singing by herself;
It really sets my teeth on edge.
Her notes are flat; it gives me pain
To hear her solitary strain."

"If she improves," he adds, "I may revise the stanza."
marnanel: (Default)
A few years ago, I collected 110 of my poems into a book; I'm bringing it back into print for a few months in order to pay bills since my partner and I are both too sick to work. You can buy it from Lulu in the UK, US, and many other countries-- usually it's US$20, about £12, but at present it's discounted to US$17, about £11.

There will also be a numbered and signed proper hardback edition of fifty; I'll be doing that through Kickstarter and announcing it later this week.

Let me know if you have questions. And tell your friends!



Reader comments:
“It's happy, sad, funny, thought-provoking and occasionally groan-worthy.”
“Overflowing with beauty, sadness and joy.”
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 6
27th November 2014: fold your hands
What I’ve been up to

As I mentioned last time, I've been down south for the funeral of my grandmother Joy.

My brother Andrew and sister-in-law Alice, who are wonderful, have made an Advent calendar about how churches can be welcoming to everyone, with each day written by a different person and discussing a different group: the Inclusive Advent Calendar.

A poem of mine

This is the poem I read at my grandmother's funeral.

 

ODE TO JOY

Our Joy has left us. Should we say goodbye?
Not while we smile recalling what she said;
not while the sharp remembrance of her eye
surprises us through all the days ahead;
not while the greenest branches of her tree
still show her love for living and for learning;
not while each grandchild welcomed on her knee
holds hope the world should never tire of turning;
not while our Joy lives on. The Prince of Peace
who holds her safe until we meet again
will call us too, where separations cease,
and builds a bridge between the now and then,
a bridge that even death could not destroy.
So lives our love, our hope, for peace for Joy.

A picture

 

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/sidney-formal-hall

I wanted to show you a happy photo, so here's one of my grandparents when they came up to Cambridge for formal hall at my college. I think it's from 1998.

Something from someone else

This is Kipling's biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.

"Gay go up, gay go down" in the third stanza is a rhyme that was used at the time by children on seesaws. Can anyone explain the odd stress pattern on "Trafalgar" in the fifth stanza?

A ST HELENA LULLABY
by Rudyard Kipling

"How far is St. Helena from a little child at play!"
What makes you want to wander there with all the world between?
Oh, Mother, call your son again, or else he'll run away.
(No one thinks of winter when the grass is green!)

"How far is St. Helena from a fight in Paris street?"
I haven't time to answer now– the men are falling fast.
The guns begin to thunder, and the drums begin to beat.
(If you take the first step, you will take the last!)

"How far is St. Helena from the field of Austerlitz?"
You couldn't hear me if I told– so loud the cannons roar.
But not so far for people who are living by their wits.
("Gay go up" means "Gay go down" the wide world o'er!)

"How far is St. Helena from the Emperor of France?"
I cannot see– I cannot tell– the crowns they dazzle so.
The Kings sit down to dinner, and the Queens stand up to dance.
(After open weather, you may look for snow!)

"How far is St. Helena from the Capes of Trafalgar?"
A longish way– a longish way– with ten year more to run.
It's South across the water underneath a setting star.
(What you cannot finish, you must leave undone!)

"How fair is St. Helena from the Beresina ice?"
An ill way– a chill way– the ice begins to crack.
But not so far for gentlemen who never took advice.
(When you can't go forward you must e'en come back!)

"How far is St. Helena from the field of Waterloo?"
A near way– a clear way– the ship will take you soon.
A pleasant place for gentlemen with little left to do.
(Morning never tries you till the afternoon!)

"How far from St. Helena to the Gate of Heaven's Grace?"
That no one knows– that no one knows– and no one ever will.
But fold your hands across your heart and cover up your face,
And after all your trapesings, child, lie still! 

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
When I was in Year 5 at primary school, though we called it third year juniors in those days, we were all given an assignment to write a picture book so that we could go into the infant school and read it to them. I have just found the picture book I wrote. It's called

BONKA,
THE ALPHABET,
AND THE DREADED BALLOON

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/bonka0

So of course I realised I had to blog it. I'll only do a few pages at a time, but feedback is very welcome.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/bonka1
Here is Bonka. He is a slug.


http://thomasthurman.org/pics/bonka2
Here are the alphabet. These are the small letters.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/bonka3
This is The Dreaded Balloon. He is BAD.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/bonka4
One day, Bonka tripped over something.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/bonka5
"Who are you?" asked Bonka. "I'm i," said i.

Let me know if you'd like to see the rest.

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 5
27th November 2014: the land of green ginger
What I’ve been up to

I've been preparing for the funeral tomorrow of my grandmother Joy, who died earlier this month. I've written her a poem which I'll be reading in the service; I'll post it in the next issue of GR. I shall miss her a lot.

I don't have much of a Something Wonderful to write this time, except that in York there is a street called Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, and in Hull there is a street called The Land of Green Ginger. Suggestions of other excellent street names are welcome to the usual address.

A poem of mine

SOLSTICE

Perhaps I might compare... oh damn it. No.
It's four, and it's already almost night.
The land lies suffocated under snow:
they say "the dead of winter", and they're right.
My life's on hold until the first of May:
until that morning comes I have to cope
with dragging on through every darkened day.
July will come: I have to live in hope.
No. You're the one I'm missing, not July.
Yours is the warmth, not April's, that I miss.
I miss your smiles far more than May, and I
lie longing, not for June, but for your kiss;
I'm cold and tired. I don't know what to do.
Shall I compare a summer's day to you?

A picture

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/emotional-rollercoaster
Emotional rollercoaster

 
Something from someone else

Because it's that time of year, and because I remember that Gentle Reader Toby likes it:

NO
by Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day —
No sky — no earthly view —
No distance looking blue —
No road — no street — no "t'other side the way" —
No end to any Row —
No indications where the Crescents go —
No top to any steeple —
No recognitions of familiar people —
No courtesies for showing 'em —
No knowing 'em!
No travelling at all — no locomotion —
No inkling of the way — no notion —
"No go" — by land or ocean —
No mail — no post —
No news from any foreign coast —
No park — no ring — no afternoon gentility —
No company — no nobility —
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.

Spell

Nov. 21st, 2014 10:06 pm
marnanel: (Default)
SPELL
by Charles Causley

When I was walking by Tamar stream
the day was as sweet as honey and cream.
The air was brisk as a marriage bell.
(Kiss if you must, but never tell.)

When I was walking by Tamar flood
I plucked a rose the colour of blood.
The red ran out and the thorn ran in.
(Finish all, if you begin.)

When I was walking by Tamar brook
I met a man with a reaping hook.
The beard he wore was white as may.
(The hours they run like water away.)

When I was walking by Tamar race
I met a maid with a smiling face.
Out of her eyes fell tears like rain.
(You will never see this road again.)

When I was walking by Tamar lock
I picked a bunch of sorrel and dock,
Creeping Jenny and hart's-tongue fern.
(Days they go, but cannot return.)

When I was walking by Tamar spring,
I found me a stone and a plain gold ring.
I stared at the sun, I stared at my shoes.
(Which do you choose? Which do you choose?)

[I don't know whether Causley thought of the Tamar as magical because it's liminal, but I do. TJAT]

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 4
17th November 2014: the phoenix rises
What I’ve been up to

I've been missing writing Gentle Readers. During the last month or so I've been dealing with particularly severe depression: getting out of bed has often been impossible, let alone writing newsletters. Many days have come and gone when I said I'd start writing again yet no words would come. But the phoenix has risen and here we are once more. Thank you all for your patience.

I've been reading Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, and I recommend it. Frankl was a professor of psychology who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp; the first part of the book is a fascinating and disturbing description of his time in the camp. What seems to have kept him going was finding a meaning in his suffering: the knowledge that he was uniquely well-placed to learn about the psychology of extreme deprivation, and that he had to write it up and tell the world. And he realised that this was an example of the general principle that people need to find meaning in their lives to want to carry on, by which he meant a person's knowledge there was work before them that nobody else could do, or that they were irreplaceable to someone else in the world.

Have you read it? What did you think?

A poem of mine

MARY

Her soul proclaimed the greatness of the Lord
who dwelt within her belly, and her mind.
The light shines on, the humble are restored,
and food and mercy given to mankind.
That day she saw the everlasting light
she memorised, and treasured up inside,
investing for the fading of her sight
the hope that living light had never died;
till hope itself within her arms lay dying,
a frozen journey, ready to embark,
and nothing more is left for her but trying
to comprehend the greatness of the dark;
yet somewhere shines the light, in spite of that,
and silently she sighed magnificat.

A picture

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/et-in-arcadia-egoNicolas Poussin's painting of shepherds reading "Et in Arcadia ego" inscribed on a tomb.
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/et-in-arcadia-lego
Et in Arcadia Lego.

 

Something wonderful

We begin with something not in the least wonderful. Mustard gas is a substance used in chemical warfare; its effects begin to show around six hours after contact, causing painfully blistering chemical burns, conjunctivitis, and potentially fatal damage to the lungs. It works by interfering with the DNA so that cells can no longer reproduce themselves. To put it mildly, mustard gas is seriously unpleasant stuff.

The Allies never used mustard gas in the Second World War, but both the UK and the US were secretly manufacturing it just in case. In 1944, the Americans sent sixty tons of the stuff to their troops in Italy aboard a Liberty (merchant navy) ship named the SS John Harvey, reaching the British-controlled Italian port of Bari in late November of that year. But there was rather a queue, and the John Harvey lay waiting in the harbour for a week: the captain was prevented from telling the harbourmaster that his cargo was dangerous and should have priority in unloading because of official secrecy.

On 2 December the Luftwaffe bombed Bari harbour, sinking seventeen ships including the John Harvey, releasing a cloud of mustard gas to drift across the town. Nobody knows for sure how many thousands of people were injured or killed, again because of official secrecy: the whole accident was hushed up and didn't become public knowledge until the late 1960s. Nor did the doctors treating the injured people know that mustard gas was involved. At this point, the Americans despatched a chemical weapons expert named Dr Stewart Alexander to work out what was going on. His quick thinking identified the mustard gas and saved many lives; nevertheless, he still had to go through many autopsies.

But it was at these autopsies that Dr Alexander noticed something odd: people who died from mustard gas exposure had very few white blood cells, because the effects of the gas had prevented the cells dividing. If it stopped white blood cells from multiplying, might it stop cancerous cells from multiplying as well? Dr Alexander's work led eventually to the discovery of mechlorethamine, a derivative of mustard gas that became the first chemotherapy drug, and thus saved the lives of millions.

Something from someone else

THE YAK
by Hilaire Belloc

As a friend to the children, commend me the Yak.
You will find it exactly the thing:
It will carry and fetch, you can ride on its back,
Or lead it about with a string.

The Tartar who dwells on the plains of Tibet
(A desolate region of snow)
Has for centuries made it a nursery pet.
And surely the Tartar should know!

Then tell your papa where the Yak can be got,
And if he is awfully rich
He will buy you the creature-- or else he will not.
(I cannot be positive which.)

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at https://gentlereaders.uk, 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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. ISSN 2057-052X. Love and peace to you all.

marnanel: (Default)
"Section 13 [of the Criminal Law Act 1967] abolished the common law offences of champerty and barratry, challenging to fight, eavesdropping or being "a common scold or a common night walker." It also repealed the offence of praemunire, which had survived on the statute books since 1392. It preserved the common law offence of embracery (which was later abolished by the Bribery Act 2010)." --
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_Law_Act_1967#Part_II_-_Obsolete_crimes

If you're interested, I think these are:
champerty = paying costs of a civil action you have nothing to do with as an investment in order to get some of the money if you win
barratry = stirring up quarrels in court
common scold = disturber of the peace (apparently only for women)
praemunire = sending tax money to the Pope, or submitting to his jurisdiction in civil matters (yes, this was made illegal in 1392)
embracery = bribing jurors.
marnanel: (Default)
[In a discussion on street harassment elsewhere, some dude said: "Hi [name of OP]. There, I did it. I harassed you. Oh the humanity. Do you NOT get how absurd this looks to us guys? The creeper 5 minute guy, yeah I get that. But just saying hi? Get over yourselves ladies. We have a right to say hi on public streets." This is my reply to him]

Here as everywhere else, context makes a big difference. Here's an example from my own life.

I'm male-bodied; people generally read me as a man. Earlier this year I went to a party in drag (and hey, I thought I looked rather fetching). I was walking down a busy street after dark, when someone in the shadows I couldn't quite see called out "Hello darling."

Ordinarily, I wouldn't hear that a threat. But I can tell you that in *that* context it was a moment of raw terror. All the recent newspaper stories of street assaults ran through my head. If he thinks I'm a woman, maybe he's going to assault me (hell, if he thinks I'm a man in drag, maybe he's going to assault me). By appearing female in public I had effectively painted a huge target on my back.

Now of course men get attacked in the street too. But you don't expect that sort of attack to begin with the attacker saying "hello". If someone had come up to me with a knife I'd have been terrified whether I was dressed as a woman or not. But "hello, darling" is often the start of a very different script, and I was someone who might plausibly be cast in that script in a very unpleasant role.

So I can attest to the terror it can cause when a stranger tries to greet you in the street.
marnanel: (Default)
Today I drew a tree of the relationships between the Dravidian languages (because someone asked about Tamil). Source.

marnanel: (Default)
We got some crickets in the post today, so I put them into a tank we use for feed insects, and there were some Zophobas morio worms in there still. Z. morio is a long wriggly worm when it's a larva, and this is the form in which it's used as spider food. I was surprised, because we haven't had new Z. morio in for months, and I'd assumed that if there were any leftovers they'd be dead by now. But then I noticed the large number of small brown-black beetles in the tank and realised that the worms were (at least) second generation. I don't think I'd ever realised what they looked like when they grew up before: they're small, about a centimetre across, around the size of a new halfpenny.
marnanel: (Default)
A few years back, sorting through some of my old papers, I found this poem. It's dated 11th December 1988, when I was nearly fourteen.

FRIENDS

They will stand beside you
When all things are good.
And in the times when things are bad
Beside you they have stood.
They always tell the truth to you
As every good friend must
And they are reliable:
Friends you always trust.
They never will say nasty things
About the clothes you wear
They'll stand up for you against others
When you're not there.
You can always trust your friends
To hold your place in queues.
They'll always tell you "You played well",
Even if you lose.
Always keeping by your side:
Friendship never ends.
Yet, after all, we're only human:
Who has friends?
marnanel: (Default)
Tell me some more about when you saw light on my window.
Earlier on you were lost like a slave I can't free.
I understand you.
Is it because I deceived you that you came to me?
My, my, my, Eliza!
Why, why, why, Eliza?
I can see you're just a conditional tree
But you remind me we came here to talk about me.
marnanel: (Default)
Here's a conversation on Twitter between me and a man I don’t know in China. (FWIW I have a rather androgynous-looking user picture.)

He said, “Is it true that less than half of UK MPs voted for the resolution to recognise Palestine?”
I said, “Yes. But that’s irrelevant to the validity of the vote.”
He said, “Oh, I think it’s the most relevant thing in the world, sweetheart.”
I said, “I can only tell you what the standing orders of the House say. And I don’t appreciate being called ‘sweetheart’.”
He said, “sorry but when I hear a little dumb-dumb girl talking silly things I think of my 8 year old girls.”

multipart

Oct. 4th, 2014 10:39 pm
marnanel: (Default)
Today I received an email from someone who said they'd attached a file I needed, but I couldn't see the attachment. After some digging, I found that the message was structured like this:

multipart/alternative: (i.e. "these are alternative versions of the same thing")
-- text/plain (a version of the message in plain text)
-- multipart/related: (i.e. "these parts belong together")
-- -- text/html (a version of the message in HTML)
-- -- the attachment

So if your email program shows HTML for preference, you would see the attachment, but if it shows plain text for preference (as mine does), you wouldn't. Of course it *should* have been structured like this:

multipart/related: (i.e. "these parts belong together")
-- multipart/alternative: (i.e. "these are alternative versions of the same thing")
-- -- text/plain (a version of the message in plain text)
-- -- text/html (a version of the message in HTML)
-- the attachment
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 3
22nd September 2014: inheritance powder

What I’ve been up to

Firstly, a very happy birthday to my (no longer little!) brother Andrew, who is rather younger than eleventy-one today.

As for me: I'm still ill, still working on getting better. Here's a story: a few months ago I was hit by a car when crossing the road. I escaped with only a sprained ankle and bruised ribs, but I was so anxious to get over it that I ignored much of the advice about keeping my ankle iced and raised. Instead, I took painkillers and went on with my everyday life. This certainly had its problems in the short term-- I attempted to carry a powered wheelchair through a doorway, put weight on my bad leg, and ended up dislocating my shoulder-- but I suspect it made the sprain slower to heal as well. And now I'm thinking about this as a metaphor for healing in general. What are the equivalents of ice and elevation, for example, in living with chronic depression?

A poem of mine

REQUIEM FOR AN OAK

I thought I saw an execution there.
The fascinated public gathered round.
The cheerful hangmen stripped the victim bare
And built their gibbet high above the ground.
The rope was taut, my wildness filled with fear.
I saw him fall. I heard his final cry.
Yet when the hangmen left I ventured near
To find my fault: I'd never seen him die.
In fact, I think he'd died some years ago.
There's blackness of decay in every breath.
The sound of flies was all that's left to grow,
Now free to come and feast upon his death;
Prince of the trees, I have a simple plea:
I will not die till death has come to me.

A picture


http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/sheep-worryingDog, to sheep: "I saw the farmer making mint sauce."
Caption: My dog has been sheep-worrying.

Something wonderful

In 1800, there lived in Berlin a young woman named Sophie Ursinus. She was married to a senior politician, who was much older, and (possibly at his suggestion) she had a boyfriend, who was an officer in the Dutch army. Between 1800 and 1801, both her husband and her boyfriend died suddenly; so did her elderly aunt, leaving her a good deal of money. No questions were asked. But in 1803, shortly after Mrs Ursinus argued with her servant, he became ill, and became suspicious; he took the plums she had given him to a friendly chemist, who confirmed that they appeared to have been laced with arsenic. The law was called in.

But there was then no reliable test for arsenic, and the pathologists could not confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that the exhumed body of her husband contained the poison, any more than it could have been detected at his post-mortem. Fortunately they were more sure when they examined the body of her aunt, and so Mrs Ursinus was sent to prison for thirty years.

Arsenic was nearly the perfect poison: readily obtainable if you claim you're trying to kill rats, easily administered by mixing into your victim's drink, causing symptoms plausibly similar to those of various then-common illnesses such as cholera, and-- should you be found out in the end-- almost undetectable in the body by any reliable test. So many people used it to remove rich and elderly relatives who had survived inconveniently long that it became euphemistically known as "inheritance powder".

In 1832 a man named John Bodle was accused of murdering his grandfather by putting arsenic in his coffee, and the prosecution called a chemist named James Marsh as an expert witness. Marsh discovered arsenic in the body, using the test developed by the homeopath (!) Samuel Hahnemann, which was the best available method at the time. But a positive result with Hahnemann's test deteriorates so fast that by the time of the trial the jury were not convinced, and Bodle was acquitted; he confessed his guilt as soon as he was protected by double jeopardy. Marsh was stung, and set out to discover a reliable test for arsenic.

He found one, and published it in 1838: it has become known as the Marsh test. It builds upon the previous work of Carl Scheele, who had shown in 1775 that arsine gas (AsH3) would result from treating arsenic with zinc and nitric acid. Marsh's breakthrough was to set fire to the arsine gas in the presence of charcoal, producing arsenic and water vapour, and staining the vessel with a silvery-black colour that came to be known as "arsenic mirror". (I apologise to my chemist readers if I have misunderstood any of this, and invite corrections.) Marsh's idea had its first successful outing in 1840, in the trial of a French poisoner named Marie Lafarge; so widely was this success reported in the news that poisoning one's relatives with arsenic became passé almost overnight.
 

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/marsh-test
Marsh and his test

One interesting footnote: modern detective fiction began in 1841, with Edgar Allen Poe's story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. I doubt there's any direct connection, but the timing amuses me: detective fiction would be far less interesting with the easy availability of undetectable poisons!

Something from someone else

LUCIFER IN STARLIGHT
by George Meredith (1828-1909)

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
above the rolling ball, in cloud part screened,
where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
now his huge bulk o'er Afric's sands careened,
now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
     Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
     with memory of the old revolt from awe,
     he reached a middle height, and at the stars,
     which are the brain of heaven, he look'd, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
the army of unalterable law.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://gentlereaders.uk/ , 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 thomas@thurman.org.uk 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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Probably the most risqué song I've ever sung on stage. Now with dynamic text: tell your friends!

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