Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Kinky trampler

Over at The Dabbler I write about a peculiar statue.

Saint's day

Whilst we were on holiday in Provence the village next door to the one we stay in had its fête votive (saint's day celebration, of St Barthélemy). It covers a long weekend and involves the whole village in activities, sacred and profane (mostly the latter), traditional and modern.

There was a lot to enjoy. Abundant frites and saucissettes, traditional 'pub' games to play in the square (many of which were new to me), a ceremonial feast focused on soupe au pistou, a band every night, a small funfair, and a number of goats being used to dispense frothing glasses of milk to willing children, to mention only a few.

I particularly enjoyed the local gooseherd manoeuvring his charges through the crowd outside the village's main café and around the stage where that evening's rock concert was to be held (he was on his way to a temporary petting farm). One of his charges strayed into the cables and stacks of the sound system and had to be fished out. It was a grand sight to see him - in floppy, pointed, brown felt hat and brown waterproof cape - reaching down into the electronic spaghetti to disentangle a fluffy white goose. He wasn't annoyed at all, token of which was the loving kiss he gave it once it was safe in his arms.

Here he is sharing a joke with a couple of friends:

On the saint's day itself the boys were terrified by all the gunfire, which accompanied the saint's statue on its annual procession from the church around the village. The neckerchiefed local hunters were firing into the sky like Mexican bandits.

But the weekend culminated in a thrilling race. The braver, more athletic men of the village - some of whom by this stage were looking a little haggard having begun celebrating their saint three days earlier - donned helmets, elbow pads and shin pads. The race was down a steep chicane-like strip of winding road that starts just below the church and ends by the bakery on the way out of the village. It was clear that some aggressive, competitive juices were flowing - as so often a bit of fun would be a chance to blow off some steam and even settle a few scores.

And the mounts? You'll never see a more impressive array of toy tractors.

Friday, 13 August 2010


I'm on holiday for a while and don't expect to be doing much blogging at all until the beginning of September. However, I've stockpiled a few at The Dabbler, the blog that's a holiday in itself. I suggest you pop over there, pour yourself a long drink and relax into a lounger.

I'll be back for a couple of days the beginning of the week after next and will post out Illuminating a Small Field (see sidebar) blogpaper orders received after today then.

As I intend to sit by a pool in the South of France for a lot of the time I shall leave you with Grace Jones' Private Life, which reached the charts around about 30 years ago this month. Great poolside music and with one of the best uses of French in a pop song: 'J'en ai marre with your theatrics'. That must hurt.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

More tales from Russia

More bizarre stories of a dysfunctional Russia here. They involve a Russian spy wanting to retain his assumed Peruvian identity; the revocation of something called perpetual (irrevocable) tenurepriceless being defined as valueless; and existence being defined as registration.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Tony Judt

Here's a very good, appreciative obituary of Tony Judt:
In two books, Judd used lines from Camus as epigraphs: "If there were a party of those who aren't sure they're right, I'd belong to it," and "Every wrong idea ends in bloodshed, but it's always the blood of others." They could stand as the mottoes of his own sadly abbreviated but splendid life's work.

I posted on his attractively written New York Review Blog pieces herehere, here and here. His relatively early death has deprived us of a lot of good writing and thinking, even if I didn't agree with a fair bit of it. It's depressing when we lose someone like him.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Wartime in Ghent

My latest post for El Dabblo is on a compelling, blogged account of the last war.

The tale of Gennady Osipovich

Russian writers like Dostoevsky and Gogol already had a lot to work with, and nothing much has changed since. This is from the Moscow Times:
A man was jailed by a Kemerovo region court on Thursday for assaulting a Gypsy fortune teller who predicted that he would be jailed, the Investigative Committee said.
Gennady Osipovich tried to kill the unidentified female fortune teller, who told him she saw a “state-owned house” — a Russian euphemism for jail — in his future, the committee said in a statement on its web site.
The woman managed to escape, but Osipovich stabbed to death two unidentified witnesses of the assault, which took place in October. He was sentenced to 22 years in a maximum-security prison.

H/t MR.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


A couple of short DVD reviews. Or rather observations about two DVDs, for what they're worth.

An Education is as good as Lynn Barber's book. It's based on the first part of the memoir, which had originally been a freestanding anecdote recounted in Granta. Interesting how Barber has spun so much from one short piece of writing. Good on her: a real professional.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is nearly wholly ruined by the worst voiceover I've ever encountered: in many parts it's little better than crass, irritating and redundant narration. At one point we thought we had the audio-description activated.

How ever did Woody think it was a good idea? Was he looking for a way to participate more noticeably in the film (he didn't appear in it, nor did a Woody cipher)? Something blinded him to its awfulness and vanity always seems to perform that trick mercilessly. Or was it driven by a commercial concern for accessibility and imposed by a cloth-eared producer?

Whatever, it's a shame: there's a very good film in there struggling to escape being button-holed by a man with a mike. And, in any event, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are, of course, fantastically watchable. Their very evident chemistry made this recent event predictable.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Thursday, 5 August 2010

What the Reformation did for us...

Over at The D I post on one of the more unlikely products of the Reformation.

Sean bait

Here. Serve with silver cruets full of Henderson's Relish.

'A diamond pin in his tie'

Nice little anecdote illustrating how the craft of the historian is similar to that of a detective. Here's Richard Cobb playing Sherlock Holmes (more credibly than Benedict Cumberbatch was able to given the plot in the last episode: like antiques from china, it was very far-fetched):
At 4'o'clock one morning in a tabac in the rue du Four, I met a very drunken couple. One was a civilian pilot, who was to fly the next morning, and who had already been threatened with removal of his licence after a drunken landing. The other was a very well-dressed, rubicund man, with neatly brushed black hair, a hat with a dark band, well-kept hands, and a diamond pin in his tie. He looked professional and was at first reticent. But by 5 o'clock he was anxious to speak of himself, and gave me a number of hints. 'I am a Belgian; I come to Paris for the summer; I only work here in July, August, and early September; I only work in the XVIe and the XVIIe. My work in involves me with Post Offices, female servants, and chauffeurs.' It did not seem very difficult; I told him he was a professional housebreaker. He was delighted, opened a handsome pigskin bag, displaying some hundred instruments on runners. He was a man who enjoyed his work, but he also like talking about it, and needed an audience.

They seem to have had a better class of burglar in the old days (this was probably in the '50s) - just look at the Pink Panther films for corroboration. And housebreaking has so much more class than burglary, don't you think?

What took the practice so downmarket? Drugs?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

'Ottawa is the capital of Canada'

I enjoy a bit of grammatical pedantry probably more than the next person - though I make no claims to be a paragon. Someone who does is Simon Heffer, who presumably in his role as Associate Editor of the Telegraph took it upon himself to correct his colleagues en masse via email (and not just about grammar as the title of this post indicates).

And there's nothing wrong with that - someone has to maintain standards or they'd just go and slip, wouldn't they? But the dangers of such a detailed, not to say exhaustive, approach is you can all too often be hoist with your own petard.

A few quibbles:
Homogenous and homogeneous are not interchangeable and their respective meanings should be studied in the dictionary.

My dictionary tells me they're the same word, spelt differently.
Under age, like under way, should be written as two words.

Except when it's used adjectivally when it should be hyphenated, surely?
This will never be by splitting the infinitive...

Isn't the standard guidance (from K Amis and others) that one can split the infinitive if to do otherwise would sound unnatural or barbarous?

Anyway, I invite your opinions (and pot-shots).


Here he is on his cancer. I won't quote anything as it's all quotable. Stupendously good writing - and I say that as the sort of squeamish person who tends to avoid reading about illness.

Return of the big night out?

I post on the prospects for the revival of music hall over at The D (includes nice clip of Max Wall).

They have a word for that

Sometimes litigation is useful as it provides clarity in previously grey areas. In this instance, a court case has shed light on something that has to date - at least for me - remained nameless and indistinct despite my being in daily contact with it. One of life's 'unknown, unknowns' has been filled in.

I now know what a nurdle is. I shall try to work the term casually into the conversation at bedtime this evening.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Urban fox hunting arrives

A group called Urban Fox Hunters has posted a video on the internet that appears to show a fox being clubbed to death in an east London park.
The video, which the group claims was shot in Victoria Park, appears to show the fox being drugged and chased before it is beaten with a cricket bat.
A spokesman for animal welfare group League Against Cruel Sports said: "If the video's true then we're horrified people are behaving in this way."

Whether this is an example of sporting cruelty conducted by sick vigilantes or humane pest extermination conducted by responsible citizens appears to be the question at issue. The court of public opinion - as well as an actual court - may well determine the answer.

And I suspect the participants have let themselves down by using a cricket bat. The use of something more joylessly functional would have been appropriate.

An anti-iPad device

Hey, what's this? Tyler Brûlé, editor-in-chief of impossibly fashionable Monocle magazine, has launched a summer newspaper. The Evening Standard reports:
The electronic tablet is dead. Long live the newspaper.
Tyler Brûlé, editor of Monocle and self-appointed arbiter of cool, has launched a new summer offshoot of his monthly style magazine. He has produced what he is calling a summer newspaper, a 64-page broadsheet-sized read called Monocle Mediterraneo.
Clearly Brûlé, founder of Wallpaper* magazine, would like his well-heeled readers to pick the paper up as they swan around the Côte d'Azur and Sardinia.
Says Brûlé: “There's a huge amount of talk about the death of print, thanks to various types of 'pad' devices. But if you think of summer — with sand, swimming, sun cream and socialising — a carefully crafted newspaper is more useful and reader-friendly than a backlit screen that hates the sun and salt.”
But the Monocle man is surely mistaken. A newspaper is not just for summer, it's the perfect handheld wireless device for all year round…

That was the Evening Standard so they have a yacht in this race.

He describes the newspaper as an 'anti-iPad device'. It seems to be working: he reckons the venture has already made money before a copy has been sold. Luxury advertisers have been keen to buy space. It's priced at £7 online and €5 from newstands.

I wonder how you get to be 'a self-appointed arbiter of cool'? Sounds useful when you have a newspaper to plug (see right). But if you have to ask...

Monday, 2 August 2010

The would-be Caesars' wives

...is up at The Dabbler.

Illuminating a Small Field now on sale

Today I'm starting to take orders for my blogpaper, Illuminating a Small Field (see here for some background and here to learn more about Newspaper Club, who helped me make it). If you would kindly cast your eyes rightwards you'll see a PayPal button. You can pay by credit or debit card or via your PayPal account and I shall do the rest (you'll be asked for delivery details). Any problems please email me at gawragbag(at)gmail(dot)com.

I'm sending them out by second-class post, so you should get them within a week of ordering. Overseas deliveries may take a bit longer. You can expect a 12-page colour tabloid, printed cheaply and cheerfully in the same way that very small circulation foreign newspapers sometimes are for the big hotel chains (i.e. legible but no work of art - though only to look at, naturally...).

May I remind you it's a mere £2 for UK delivery and just £3.50 for overseas? And you don't just get a newspaper for that - no, you're participating in a great cultural experiment. This is one of the very first blogpapers to have been published and distributed via the web. You have the chance to put a small piece of history in your hands.

I shall blog my experiences with this project further and will produce some sort of 'how-to' post in the event that other bloggers (or any other species of writer) would like to have a go. Not that it's at all difficult. In fact, it's all been great fun - putting it together was a particular pleasure: easy to do and very satisfying.

The 1p Book Review

Just so you know...

The 1p Book Review picked out of the bargain bin for the first time today by Nige - will be a recurring Dabbler feature. If you would like to recommend a book (fiction or non-) that can be bought on Amazon for a penny (or a cent?), drop a line, with your choice and justification, to editorial@thedabbler.co.uk.