marnanel: (Default)
“Do you mean to say that you’re going to sit quietly down and paint that ox while it’s destroying my morning-room?” Let’s start the new series of Gentle Readers with a story in which absurdity is tamed by embracing it.

Full text: https://gentlereaders.uk/the-stalled-ox

marnanel: (Default)
Well, we're in another cashflow crisis, and I think more people would like this than have seen it, so here it is again:

My Gentle Readers anthology for 2015 has 163 pages of cartoons, poetry, and wonderful things. It's a collection of all the good stuff posted in the blog in the last year and a half. If you're looking for a light read, buy the book. If you think your friends are looking for a light read, buy them the book. Oh, and share this post with them!

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 4, number 2
6th July 2015: boil it to a brilliant blue
What I’ve been up to

Surprisingly little, actually, though I did go to a rather interesting conference, about the meaning of love, at a housing co-op in Manchester.

A picture

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/thou-art-a-scholar

Mar. Thou'rt a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
Hor. Well, who knew... I mean, what are the chances you'd ask me that just after my college's "Speaking To Ghosts 101" course was oversubscribed? I mean I tried to get a place on it, but it's, like, the most popular course in the whole university, isn't it? Duh.
 

A poem of mine
 
SHATTERED
 
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said...
I couldn't comprehend his speech;
he spoke a tongue I didn't understand.
It might have meant “a statue's on a beach”...
at least, he let me see vacation snaps
and there was quite a lot of sand about
and one old statue, African perhaps,
or Indian, I'm in a bit of doubt.)
   So anyway, I saw the statue's face:
   its nose was crinkled, like a lord who sniffs.
   And then there was some writing on the base;
   I couldn't read it. It was hieroglyphs.
It all seems kind of strange, and far away,
but must have had some meaning in its day.
 
Something wonderful
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/salford-rainbow

The end of the rainbow-- it was in Salford all along

I'm pretty sure you were taught the order of the colours of the rainbow-- maybe with "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain", or perhaps with someone named "Roy G. Biv". Either way, the standard colour sequence is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The obvious question is: what on earth is indigo?

The sequence we all learned is taken from a book called Opticks, written by Isaac Newton in 1704. In this book he sets out his discoveries about the way light breaks up as it passes through a prism. Newton was a rather superstitious person, and he believed that the number seven is really important, so it seemed good to have seven colours. Here's the diagram he drew.
 
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/newton-opticks

The colour Newton calls "blue" comes immediately after green. So it's a greenish blue-- what we might now call cyan, or turquoise. Indigo, then, must be blue-- and in fact it's the name of a dye with a deep and brilliant blue colour.

Blue has always been a difficult colour to produce. The Ancient Egyptians knew the art of making things blue, but with the fall of the Roman Empire their technology was lost. In the Middle Ages blue was so rare that it was worn only by the very rich. One of a very few places you could get blue dye was from the indigo plant, Indigofera tinctoria, a kind of bean. You take the plant's leaves, soak them in water, and wait for them to ferment. Then you drain off the water and mix the residue with a strong alkali, such as lye. Heaven knows how they discovered this.
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/indigo-plant

The indigo plant comes from India, as you may have guessed from the name. By the eighteenth century it was also grown in other hot parts of the world, such as Mexico and the southern United States. Predictably those who farmed the plants and extracted the dye were soon slaves; there was a major non-violent revolt in Bengal in March 1859, which was severely suppressed.

Must indigo be grown? Can it be produced in a lab instead? Yes, it can: Adolf von Baeyer discovered how, which won him the 1905 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These days almost all indigo dye produced is artificial, and most of it goes on dyeing denim jeans.

The indigo plant can only grow in hot climates. But there's another plant with similar properties, which grows even in Britain: a kind of cabbage called woad (Isatis tinctoria). There is a story that the Picts used to dye their bodies with woad, and strip naked to scare invaders. It's probably untrue, and based on a misreading of Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Which is a shame, because there aren't many things more likely to make you run away than naked blue people smelling of rotten leaves.

Something from someone else

WOAD SONG (to the tune of "Men of Harlech")
by William Hope-Jones

What's the good of wearing braces,
Vests, and pants, and boots with laces?
Spats, or hats you buy in places
Down the Brompton Road?
What's the use of shirts of cotton,
Studs that always get forgotten?
Such affairs are simply rotten:
Better far is woad.

Woad's the stuff to show men.
Woad to scare your foemen:
Boil it to a brilliant hue
And rub it on your back and your ab-do-men.
Ancient Briton never hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck, or knees, or where you sit on!
Tailors, you be blowed.

Romans came across the Channel
All wrapped up in tin and flannel:
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Dress us more than these.
Saxons, you can waste your stitches
Building beds for bugs in breeches:
We have woad to clothe us, which is
Not a nest for fleas.

Romans, keep your armours!
Saxons, your pyjamas!
Hairy coats were meant for goats,
Gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs, and llamas.
Tramp up Snowdon with your woad on,
Never mind if you get rained or snowed on.
Never want a button sewed on.
Go, the Ancient B's.

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)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 4, number 1
2nd July 2015: proof by elephant
What I’ve been up to

I'm back! I've been ill for quite a while, and I've missed writing Gentle Readers enormously. But today I'm back.

A picture

Metro gnome

Metro gnome

Something wonderful

The voyage of Columbus didn't convince anyone that the world is round. Nobody needed convincing, because nobody believed that the world was flat. Nearly two thousand years earlier, a Greek scholar named Eratosthenes had demonstrated it-- not only the shape of the earth, but even how far it was around. (He went to two different cities, and measured the angle of the sun when it was at its highest point on Midsummer Day. Then, since he knew how far apart the cities were, he could work out the circumference of the earth.)

But a century before Erastothenes, Aristotle's book On the heavens (Περὶ οὐρανοῦ) gave five reasons to believe the earth is round. And one of them is a proof by elephants.
How to find the shape of the earth using elephants
What do you find if you go as far west from Greece as you can, to Africa? Elephants!
What do you find if you go as far east as you can, to India? Elephants!
So obviously if the east and the west both have elephants, it stands to reason that they're next to one another.

"Hence one should not be too sure of the incredibility of the view of those who conceive that there is continuity between the parts about the pillars of Hercules and the parts about India, and that in this way the ocean is one. As further evidence in favour of this they quote the case of elephants, a species occurring in each of these extreme regions, suggesting that the common characteristic of these extremes is explained by their continuity."

Thomas Aquinas helpfully pointed out the flaw in this reasoning:

...they make a conjecture as to the similarity of both places from the elephants which arise in both places but are not found in the regions between them. This of course is a sign of the agreement of these places but not necessarily of their nearness to one another.

Something from someone else

This is a famous retelling of a very old story.
 
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT
by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

At this point I should include my parody; I wondered what might happen if blind elephants had tried to find out about humans.
 
It was six jolly Elephants
(And all of them were blind),
That all agreed to search a town
To study humankind,
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The first one felt a person's head;
In puzzled tones he spake:
"This wonder of a Human Man
Is flat as griddle-cake!"
The others solemnly agreed,
"'Tis true, and no mistake."

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)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 3, number 1
5th January 2015: happy new year
What I’ve been up to

Working on getting better. They've put me on a new medication, lamotrigine, and they're ramping me up slowly at 25mg a fortnight. It's not at the full dose yet, but I think it's helping already.

The other day I went to visit some friends, and they had a harp! So of course I asked to play it. Even though I'd never played before, after about two hours it was sounding rather tuneful. I think I'll save up for one and learn to play it properly.
https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/harp
Photo thanks to Kit.

A poem of mine

Here's a poem about ringing in the new year. It's the earliest sonnet of mine I think is any good: I wrote it when I was about 18.

SONG OF NEW YEAR'S EVE (T3)

Look to your Lord who gives you life.
This year must end as all the years.
You live here in the vale of tears.
This year brought toil, the next year strife.
For too, too soon we break our stay.
The end of things may be a birth.
The clouds will fade and take the earth.
Make fast your joy on New Year's Day.
When dies a friend we weep and mourn.
When babes are born we drink with cheer.
But no man mourns when dies the year.
When dies the age, may you be born.
Your death, your birth, are close at hand.
In him we trust. In him we stand.

A picture



https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/wise-cow

Caption: two wise men and a cow visit Mary.
First wise man: I bring gold!
Second wise man: I bring frankincense!
Cow: MYRRRH


Something wonderful

A group called Africa2Moon announced today that it's organising an Africa-wide effort to go to the moon. Many people have objected that Africa has many problems which need work and money, and that a moon shot will only distract from more urgent priorities. The organisation's answer was rather interesting: in a way, the moon landing itself is a sort of McGuffin. The real story is about getting there: as a side effect of training up the scientists and the engineers, and building the systems needed, it should reduce the brain drain to the west, and improve life across the continent as a side-effect-- not unlike the effects of the US space programme a generation earlier.

And this set me thinking about parallels: we all live in communities that need investments of time and effort and money, from food banks to counsellors. When and how is it possible to create something within these communities, something that everyone can collaborate on and be inspired by?

Something from someone else

THE CLOTHS OF HEAVEN
by W B Yeats

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 8
22nd December 2014: the sun come up from the south
What I’ve been up to

Mostly preparing for Christmas— thank you to all of you who sent cards!— and rewriting the Gentle Readers website, though it's not yet ready to go live. And Kit has put together an entry in the Inclusive Advent calendar about welcoming people who are chronically ill.

Also, because it's the time of year to reread The Dark is Rising, and I've been thinking about the new volume of Gentle Readers beginning in January— I'm planning to put a review in each issue of a book I've loved, past or present, mostly but not exclusively children's and YA books. If you have suggestions for books you'd like reviewed, do let me know.

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

I thought you might like to see what my notes for an issue of Gentle Readers look like, so here's today's:

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/gr-mindmap

Something wonderful

In Asia Minor, sometime around the year 55 of our era, a baby was born; he was soon afterwards sold into slavery, taken to Rome, and given the name Epictetus (Ἐπίκτητος). He couldn't walk, so his master sent him to learn to read and write instead; he thrived in academia and ended up as one of the foremost philosophers of his age. Eventually his master freed him, and Epictetus set up his own philosophy school.

https://gentlereaders.uk/pics/epictetus

Epictetus was a Stoic: that is, he believed the important thing in life is to learn to act and react appropriately. You can't expect to be fully in control of your possessions or your body, and you certainly can't expect to control other people, but you can learn to be more in control of your own mind and your own reactions. For example, suppose you're a tennis player; however hard you train, you might never win at Wimbledon, because of things you can't control: luck, the weather, the performances of other players. But being the best tennis player you can be is within your control, so it's a more appropriate goal to aim for. If you do manage to learn to react to everything that happens in the most appropriate manner for that thing, Epictetus says you will have achieved happiness (εὐδαιμονία, eudaemonia, "good-spiritedness").

We don't have any of Epictetus's own writings. But Arrian, one of his pupils, wrote up his lecture notes in eight books called the "Discourses", four of which have come down to us; he also produced a short summary often called the "Enchiridion", which simply means "handbook". That's a good place to start reading. There are several good translations; the one at the link was written by the rather wonderful Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806).

Many people have learned from Epictetus's ideas in the last two thousand years, but perhaps one of the most surprising is the second-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, himself no mean philosopher; though they never met, the emperor cited Epictetus's influence repeatedly in his writings. In around a hundred years, Epictetus had gone from slavery to being the teacher of the emperor of Rome.

Something from someone else

This is a good song for the winter solstice. "Ellum" is an obsolete dialectal form of "elm"; its habit of dropping branches on people is noted also in White's The Sword in the Stone, where the tree adds, "The cream of the joke is that they make the coffins out of me afterwards." Unfortunately for the landscape, but perhaps fortunately for our skulls, the elm has become nearly extinct in England since Kipling's time.

A TREE SONG
by Rudyard Kipling

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
(All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day
Or ever Aeneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home
When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And Beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
'Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But— we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn):
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

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)
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)
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)
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.

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)
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.
 
 

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 2
11th September 2014: phrase and foible
What I’ve been up to

I've been ill. It was rather worse than it should have been, because I hadn't registered with a new doctor up here yet, and then quite a lot of paper had to fly around giving various people permission to do various things. So I haven't been in a fit state to write this for a week or so, which is frustrating because I had a lot of interesting articles planned. I may start adding in some extra days in order to make up the time.

A poem of mine

FUNERAL
 
I don't intend to die, for I have much to finish first.
But if you plan my funeral, if worst should come to worst,
I want some decent hymns, some "Love Divine"s, and "Guide me, O"s.
Say masses for my soul (for I shall need them, heaven knows),
And ring a muffled quarter-peal, and preach a sermon next
(“Behold, that dreamer cometh” should be given as the text),
Then draw a splendid hatchment up, proclaiming my decease.
And cast me where the lamp-post towers over Parker's Piece
That I may lie for evermore and watch the Cambridge skies...
I'll see you in the Eagle then, and stand you beer and pies.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/in-bed-with-gregor
"...and not only did he run off in the middle of the night,
he even left a creepy-crawly in the bed for me to find in the morning.
I tell you, that's the last time I go home with Gregor Samsa."

Something wonderful

Sometimes, when I read about people from the past, I wonder what it was like to have a conversation with them. Can you imagine going out to get fish and chips with Carl Linnaeus, for example? You'd be chatting about something, and all of a sudden you'd hear him gasp "Oh, Veronica," so you'd look round and he'd be on his hands and knees saying, "My goodness, a hitherto undiscovered variety of speedwell!" And of course it's rather easier to imagine what Johnson was like to meet socially, since that's how so many of his biographers observed him.

Another such person is a Baptist minister named Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-1897), the owner of an inquisitive mind, a formidable beard, and one of the strongest things in the world: a good habit. As he read, and he read a great deal, he would write down every question that crossed his mind. When he found the answer, he would write it on the same piece of paper, then file it. You may imagine that paper files formed a large part of his life, and also a large part of his house.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/e-cobham-brewer


In his mid-twenties, he collected many of these questions together into a popular science manual entitled A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar. This sold so well that it enabled him to leave Norwich and travel around Europe, investigating and learning. Because the book also brought him into the public eye, he began to receive a great deal of correspondence about questions the book had raised, which nourished his files still further.

He returned to England at the age of forty-six, to begin his greatest work: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Many of the questions he had considered were about mysterious allusions in his reading; what did this phrase mean? or what story was referred to there? He determined to answer as many as possible, in alphabetical order. The job took fourteen years. Even though he was sixty by the time the book was published, he went on to produce a revised edition in 1891 at the age of seventy-four.

It's still in print, and I urge you to find a copy if you can-- it's easily found second-hand. Discovering Brewer enriched my childhood; I would wander through his pages and learn things fascinating enough that it didn't matter how useless the knowledge might be. It often came in useful, though, years later. And Brewer's own touch is on every line: you really can imagine that it would have been much the same to have a chat with him, darting from subject to subject with the dazzling randomness of a dragonfly.

Something from someone else

"Monsieur" here is Francis, duke of Anjou (1555-1584), who had been courting Elizabeth I. They were both interested, but politics is rarely an easy game, and in the end he gave up and went back to France.

ON MONSIEUR'S DEPARTURE
by Elizabeth Tudor

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly to prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned.
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be suppressed.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die, and so forget what love ere meant.

As someone who knew her once said, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
 
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.
 
 

marnanel: (Default)

As promised, here's Gentle Readers in video form. Please let me know what you think-- and share widely, because I'd like lots of feedback!

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 2, number 1
1st September 2014: like an apple tree
What I’ve been up to

I've been up to surprisingly little in the last few days. I'm trying to be peaceful and spend time reading and taking things in, instead of always being on the go and trying to make things, otherwise I'll wear myself out. That may be crashingly obvious, but I've managed to avoid noticing it for years.

A poem of mine

TRANSPLANTED (T120)

Let an apple tree be planted
close beside a ditch of mud,
let its roots be parched and aching,
ever waiting for the flood;
so its small and bitter apples
overhang the streambed dry,
cursed to live and never flourish,
painful grow, and painful die.

Yet, this tree shall be transplanted
to a meadow by a stream;
clouds shall shower down their mercies,
sunlight throw its kindest beam;
roots recall the feel of fullness,
by the river, in the rain,
branches shall be pruned and ready,
hope and apples grow again.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/happy-birthday-eve
Adam: "Happy birthday, Eve!"
Eve: "It's today, not tomorrow."

Something wonderful

Mitochondria are tiny living things, rather like bacteria. They live inside the cells of almost all animals, plants, and fungi, where their job is to process glucose in order to provide a source of power for the rest of the cell. Without their help, we wouldn't be here.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/mitochondria
Two cheerful little mitochondria from a lung cell. Each is about 0.00025 millimetres across.
Photo by Louisa Howard, public domain.

What fascinates me particularly about mitochondria is that they have their own DNA, which is not at all like human DNA and much more like the DNA of bacteria. They're essentially a different creature. And because you inherit all your mitochondria only from your mother, mitochondrial DNA is very useful in tracing your ancestry.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/mito-inherit
So how did we come to have these creatures living inside our cells? The most commonly-accepted explanation is that two billion years ago, when complex cells were just starting out, the mitochondria discovered that the cells were a good place to live inside, with lots of glucose to feed on. It was just as useful for the cell, which needed the glucose processed. Symbiosis! The mitochondria hitched a lift, and they've been with us ever since. So even when you think you're alone, remember you're also a sort of walking mitochondrial city.

Something from someone else

A BIRTHDAY
by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

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.
 
 
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 20
25th August 2014: harmless phantoms
What I’ve been up to

It's been three months! This is the last issue of volume 1, and next week volume 2 begins: it'll be more of the same, except that I'm adding reviews of some of the children's books I've loved in my life. I'll be collecting the twenty issues of volume 1 together in a printed book, which I'll be emailing you about when it's ready.

This week has been busy but uneventful, which I wish was a less common mixture, but it was good to drop into Manchester during the Pride festival. I apologise for this issue being late: I had it all prepared, and then there was a server problem, and then I found I'd lost one of the sections completely, so it had to be rewritten. Never mind: you have it now!

A poem of mine

ON FIRST LOOKING INTO AN A TO Z (T13)

My talent (or my curse) is getting lost:
my routes are recondite and esoteric.
Perverted turns on every road I crossed
have dogged my feet from Dover up to Berwick.
My move to London only served to show
what fearful feast of foolishness was mine:
I lost my way from Tower Hill to Bow,
and rode the wrong way round the Circle Line.
In nameless London lanes I wandered then
whose tales belied my tattered A to Z,
and even now, in memory again
I plod despairing, Barking in my head,
still losing track of who and where I am,
silent, upon a street in Dagenham.

(Notes: the title is a reference to Keats's sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. "A to Z" is a standard book of London streetmaps.)

 

A picture

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/on-sweet-bathroom
On-sweet bathroom

Something wonderful

In the poem above, I mentioned Berwick-upon-Tweed, or Berwick for short, which rhymes with Derek. Berwick is the most northerly town in England, two miles from the Scottish border. It stands at the mouth of the river Tweed, which divides Scotland from England in those parts, but Berwick is on the Scottish bank: for quite a bit of its history it was a very southerly town in Scotland instead. The town's football team still plays in the Scottish leagues instead of the English. Berwick has been in English hands since 1482, though given next month's referendum I'm not going to guess how long that will last.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/berwick-map

As befits such a frontier town, it's impressively fortified, and the castle and ramparts are well worth seeing. But today I particularly wanted to tell you about the story of its war with Russia.
 

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/berwick-miller


Fans of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and anyone who had to learn The Charge of the Light Brigade at school, will remember the Crimean War, a conflict which remained an infamous example of pointless waste of life until at least 1914. Now, because Berwick had changed hands between England and Scotland several times, it was once the rule that legal documents would mention both countries as "England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed" to be on the safe side. And the story goes that when Britain declared war on Russia in 1853, it was in the name of England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, but the peace treaty in 1856 forgot to include Berwick, so this small town remained technically at war with Russia for over a century.

In fact, the tale is untrue: Berwick wasn't mentioned in the declaration of war, as far as I know, though I admit I haven't been able to trace a copy-- can any of you do any better? But such is the power of story that in 1966, with the Cold War becoming ever more tense, the town council decided that something had to be done about the problem. So the London correspondent of Pravda, one Oleg Orestov, travelled the 350 miles up to Berwick for peace talks, so that everyone could be sure that Berwick was not at war with the USSR. The mayor told Mr Orestov, "Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds."

Something from someone else

from HAUNTED HOUSES
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

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.
marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 19
21st August 2014: to cut a cabbage leaf
What I’ve been up to

I've been looking into PhD possibilities. But more of that later.

And we visited the John Rylands Library for the first time, a beautiful place in Victorian Gothic made as a memorial to a local industrialist. (The law students among you may know him as a party to Rylands v Fletcher.) It has an impressive collection of books and manuscripts, including the oldest known fragment of the New Testament, part of John's gospel copied only a few decades after the book was written.

As if that weren't enough, the building is quite breathtakingly beautiful. Here's part of the reading room:

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/rylands-1

The library also contains a dragon named Grumbold. Regular readers who remember Not Ordinarily Borrowable, a story of mine largely about dragons and libraries, may judge of my surprise to discover it coming true.

A poem of mine

STORYTELLING, PART II (T80)

When Merlin looked upon this land,
he knew by magic arts
the anger in the acts of men,
the hatred in their hearts:
he saw despair and deadly things,
and knew our hope must be
the magic when the kettle sings
to make a pot of tea.

When Galahad applied to sit
in splendour at the Table,
he swore an oath to fight for good
as far as he was able.
But Arthur put the kettle on,
and bade him sit and see
the goodness that is brought anon
by making pots of tea.

When Arthur someday shall return
in glory, with his knights,
he'll rout our foes and bless the poor
and put the land to rights.
And shall we drink his health in ale?
Not so! It seems to me
he'll meet us in the final tale
and share a pot of tea.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/caught-the-sun

I was out fishing all day,
and I seem to have caught the sun

Something wonderful

Suppose I asked you to name the world's great heroes? (For example, as you may recall, some talk of Alexander.) Well, in the Middle Ages, a fair amount of thought went into the list. Who was an example of virtue and valour; whose chivalry was worth emulating?

One such list is known in English as the Nine Worthies. It was drawn up in the early 1300s, and remained a popular theme in art for centuries after. Here they are in 1460, looking for all the world like a medieval pack of Top Trumps:

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/nine-worthies

Even though some of these men had lived (or were supposed to have lived) millennia earlier, they are all drawn wearing armour of the time, and bearing their own coat of arms, as if they lived in that very moment. This is because they are deliberately idealised-- after all, as a careful perusal of the Old Testament will show, not all of them were in fact models of chivalry.

They are divided into three groups of three: three Jewish heroes, three Christian heroes, and three pagan heroes-- that is, pagan in the old sense of not following an Abrahamic religion.

The Jewish heroes are: Joshua the son of Nun, who led the invasion of Canaan; David the son of Jesse, who became king and wrote psalms; and Judas Maccabeus, who led the revolt against the Syrians now commemorated by Hanukkah. (Don't confuse Judas Maccabeus with Judas Iscariot.)

The pagan heroes are: Hector of Troy, a great warrior of the Trojan War; Julius Caesar, the first emperor of Rome; and Alexander the Great.

The Christian heroes are: Arthur, the hero of the Matter of Britain; Charles the Great, also called Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire; and Godfrey of Bouillon, who became the first crusader king of Jerusalem but disclaimed the title.

I am particularly interested by the heraldry. How did they make up new and unique coats of arms for people who had been dead for three thousand years? David has a harp because he composed psalms (and not because he was king of Ireland). Julius has an eagle rather like the one on the Roman standard; Charles has the same, appropriately for someone who was also trying to become Emperor of Rome, but combined with the lily pattern known as "France Ancient". Others of them are baffling to me: what is Joshua bearing, for example? I did find a reference to the arms they made up for Alexander in a book, but frustratingly I ran out of time to research this.

I am glad to report that there were also nine female Worthies to balance out the nine men. Unfortunately none of the writers seem to agree about which nine women they were.

Something from someone else

When a certain Charles Macklin claimed he could repeat any sentence he heard, no matter how complex, Samuel Foote allegedly composed this sentence impromptu:

THE GREAT PANJANDRUM
by Samuel Foote

So she went into the garden
to cut a cabbage-leaf
to make an apple-pie;
and at the same time
a great she-bear, coming down the street,
pops its head into the shop.
What! no soap?
So he died,
and she very imprudently married the Barber:
and there were present
the Picninnies,
and the Joblillies,
and the Garyulies,
and the great Panjandrum himself,
with the little round button at top;
and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can,
till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots

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.

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 17
7th August 2014: we fought and feared and felt
What I’ve been up to

We are, more or less, properly moved to Salford now. There's a vanful of our stuff still in Oldham, and another vanful in Staines, due to assorted mishaps along the way, but at least Kit and I and Yantantessera are safely moved in. Sooner or later we'll go and pick the other stuff up, when times are more vannish-- and after all, what else does time do?

I apologise for another GR hiatus earlier this week: I was hit by a car while crossing the road, which caused a break in service, but fortunately no break in bones. My leg is quite impressively bruised, though.

A poem of mine

RETWEETED (T103)

Jill retweeted what I wrote,
forwarding to all her friends.
Time, you thief, who loves to gloat
over hopes and bitter ends,
say my loves and lines are bad,
say that life itself defeated me,
say I'm growing old, but add:
Jill retweeted me.

(After "Jenny kissed me" by James Leigh Hunt.)

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/fb-teletext-100

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/fb-teletext-220
 

 

 
Those who weren't around in the 1980s in the UK may need to know that this is a parodic representation of Facebook as if it had been around at the time of the BBC'S much-loved CEEFAX service. Gentle reader Dan Sheppard sent me a link to a recording of CEEFAX On View for those who never saw it and those who'd like to refresh their memories. 

Something from someone else

Some people will tell you that Rudyard Kipling was a cultural imperalist and a racist; these people have often not looked very hard into his work. The last line of this poem, a plea for cultural diversity, is quoted fairly often; I think the rest of the poem is worth reading too, and I'm afraid I habitually quote the last two stanzas at people far too often.

"Certified by Traill" is a sarcastic reference: when Tennyson died in 1892, there was some discussion as to who should be the new poet laureate, and a man named H. D. Traill wrote an article listing fifty possible contenders. He added Kipling's name as the fifty-first, as an afterthought.

IN THE NEOLITHIC AGE
by Rudyard Kipling

In the Neolithic Age, savage warfare did I wage
For food and fame and woolly horses' pelt.
I was singer to my clan in that dim red Dawn of Man,
And I sang of all we fought and feared and felt.

Yea, I sang as now I sing, when the Prehistoric spring
Made the piled Biscayan ice-pack split and shove;
And the troll and gnome and dwerg, and the Gods of Cliff and Berg
Were about me and beneath me and above.

But a rival, of Solutré, told the tribe my style was outré—
'Neath a tomahawk, of diorite, he fell.
And I left my views on Art, barbed and tanged, below the heart
Of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.

Then I stripped them, scalp from skull, and my hunting-dogs fed full,
And their teeth I threaded neatly on a thong;
And I wiped my mouth and said, "It is well that they are dead,
For I know my work is right and theirs was wrong."

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: —
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!"

* * * *

Then the silence closed upon me till They put new clothing on me
Of whiter, weaker flesh and bone more frail;
And I stepped beneath Time's finger, once again a tribal singer,
And a minor poet certified by Traill!

Still they skirmish to and fro, men my messmates on the snow
When we headed off the aurochs turn for turn;
When the rich Allobrogenses never kept amanuenses,
And our only plots were piled in lakes at Berne.

Still a cultured Christian age sees us scuffle, squeak, and rage,
Still we pinch and slap and jabber, scratch and dirk;
Still we let our business slide— as we dropped the half-dressed hide—
To show a fellow-savage how to work.

Still the world is wondrous large— seven seas from marge to marge—
And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.

Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:—
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And— every— single— one— of— them— is— right!"

Postscript from me: Though you know there came a day when they found another way, but rejected it— for "seventy" won't scan.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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.

marnanel: (Default)
Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 16
31st July 2014: blissful quires
What I’ve been up to

Still moving house to Salford (see GR passim), but thank heavens we're mostly moved in now! Gentle Reader Katie and her father lent us their time and their van to move some of our belongings from the Oldham garage where they arrived, and Kit's brother Adam went back down to Surrey with us yesterday to move some of the books and furniture we left in Staines.

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/too-many-books

I am coming to realise that if everything is a crisis, anything seems reasonable. In the last few weeks, for example, I've been eating large amounts of chocolate and getting small amounts of sleep, and justifying both to myself by saying that I need the sustenance and time because of an ongoing crisis. Then, because everything that comes along looks like a crisis, I end up over-sugared and under-slept for months. This isn't just about chocolate or sleep, either: it seems to be a pattern throughout my life as a whole.

A poem of mine

I ALWAYS TRIED TO WRITE ABOUT THE LIGHT (T32)

I always tried to write about the light
that inks these eyes in instant tint and hue,
that chances glances, sparkles through the night,
fresh as the morning, bloody as the dew;
the light that leaves your image in my mind,
that shining silver, shared for everyone,
that banishes the darkness from the blind,
the circle of the surface of the sun.
And when your light is shining far from mine,
when scores of stars are standing at their stations,
we'll weave our fingers round them as they shine,
and write each others' name on constellations;
and so we'll stand, and still, however far,
lock eyes and wish upon a single star.

A picture

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/looked-up-chimney
"He then stooped down and looked up the chimney"

 

Something wonderful

William Gladstone (1809-1898) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom four times. He grew up in Liverpool; no doubt his youth surrounded by poverty spurred him to fight for voting not to be restricted by income, and no doubt his youth surrounded by the Irish diaspora remained on his mind as he worked towards Irish independence. He lived a careful life, closely examining and recording all his actions, and since he recorded in his diary every book he read, we know that he read on average a book a day for most of his life.

When he was an old man, he decided to found a library: the stock was already to hand, since he had kept thousands of the books he had read. The library was duly set up in a temporary building at Hawarden in Flintshire, and (it is said) the 85-year-old Gladstone delivered most of the books personally, trundling them from his house in a wheelbarrow.
 

http://gentlereaders.uk/pics/gladstones-library


After Gladstone's death, the library was rebuilt in beautiful sham Gothic stone. It's still there, now with a quarter of a million volumes, and I encourage you to visit it if you can: it's one of the few libraries where you can board for days or weeks as well as study. There are regular events and workshops, but it's also especially popular with authors trying to finish manuscripts: the chance to work uninterrupted in a peaceful atmosphere of study can work wonders.

Something from someone else

Robert Southwell, SJ (1561-1595), who was one of the great poets of his generation, met an early and unpleasant death at the hands of Elizabeth I’s inquisitors. (Don't confuse him with Robert Southey, who lived 300 years later.)

Before we begin, note that "quires" here doesn't mean groups of singers, but books, especially books made by folding large sheets of paper. And "imparadised", put into paradise, is a tremendous word which should be more often used. (Milton also uses it, to describe sex in the Garden of Eden.)

from "ST PETER’S COMPLAINT"
by Robert Southwell

Sweet volumes, stored with learning fit for saints,
Where blissful quires imparadise their minds;
Wherein eternal study never faints,
Still finding all, yet seeking all it finds:
How endless is your labyrinth of bliss,
Where to be lost the sweetest finding is!

This stanza is part of a long poem about St Peter looking back over his life. It’s about the moment Peter, having just denied he ever knew Jesus, looks across the courtyard to where Jesus is handcuffed, and catches his eye. Southwell describes Jesus’s eyes in that moment as though they were libraries: a metaphor to take your breath away, even as you remember similar experiences yourself. It's a comparison that shows not only Southwell's devotion to God, and his skill as a poet, but also how great his love of libraries was, that he would compare spending time in them to catching the eye of Jesus.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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.

marnanel: (Default)
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

THE ECHOES OF AN AMBER GOD
(T54)

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.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/clapham-junction
Trains in the sidings at Clapham Junction, the busiest railway station in Britain.
More than a hundred trains an hour come through.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/binder
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.

THE ROLLING ENGLISH ROAD
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.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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.

marnanel: (Default)
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:

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/st-john-with-partridge

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.

TRANSLATION (T83)

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

 
http://thomasthurman.org/pics/heaven-lies

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.
 
COLD IRON
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!"

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , 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.

Profile

marnanel: (Default)
Monument

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  1234 5
67 8 9101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Aug. 19th, 2017 06:40 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios