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january 30, 2004

The Quivering Nostril

The quivering nostril heralds the baked arrival of that which the stomach lacks. With forks and knives clamped in impatient fists and upturned towards the heavens, we greedily fix the steaming, heaped-up platter with carnivorous eye: "A pie! A pie! A pie! A pie! A pie! A pie!", we squeal.
In other words, I sat down to write something else but I have just been told that dinner is ready.
Enjoy ....
stephenb 17:36 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Modern Saint

Considering the immense amount of revenue raised from the tax levied on cigarettes and subsequently spent on government initiatives and maintaining public welfare programs, the smokers who daily pay this massive tax must surely stand shoulder to shoulder among the greatest benefactors of mankind, knowingly sacrificing their lives so that others may reap the monetary harvest of their noble and unselfish actions. And yet, amazingly, there exists increasing numbers of priggish and sanctimonious fascist busybodies who brand our thoughtful and caring cigarette smokers as untouchable outcasts and lepers. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished.
And what will the authorities do for money when all the cigarette smokers have been forced to quit? No doubt they will legalize marijuana and begin taxing that.

stephenb 13:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Button-Down Collared Gentleman and His Dicontents

Most neckties, of course, look like syphilitic ostrich DNA viewed through a microscope, or Jackson Pollock designed road maps of some obscure Balkan principality; even the more sober patterns seem merely to be hung over.
There are some decent ties hanging around, naturally, yet they seem to cost $350 and are apparently made from cherub skin.

stephenb 09:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 29, 2004
The Trousered Gentleman and his Discontents
An expedition to purchase a pair of jeans; a simpler task, you might think, than retrieving the Golden Fleece from its hazardous hiding place; alas, not so.
You see, the stores carry my correct waist and inside leg size but do not, frustratingly, offer my volume anymore. For the jeans I observed on display were so voluminous that the material could easily encase the trunk of a mighty oak without risk of causing abrasion, if, as I am told the trees in Lord of the Rings do, the oak were to uproot itself and stride across the land.
Perhaps I have spindly legs? But I do not think so.

stephenb 12:00 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 28, 2004
The Customer Is Always Grim

In the grocery store, that island of processed plenty where civilization has beached itself and gloom descends like dust upon unwanted tins of segmented fruit, a pessimistic line of basket clutching automatons shuffles forward towards their check out apotheosis. Silence reigns except for the dull scrape and mournful beep of items scanned by the mutely despairing cashier under the suspicious, watchful eye of her tight-lipped customer. No cheerful greeting is issued here, no neighborly conversation is entertained, only the mumbling of dollar numbers and a curt farewell: thunya-havanasdi, the cashier makes an effort; but the miserable bastard, pink faced cockroach who grabs his change and snatches his shopping bag cannot even respond to that.
stephenb 13:01 - [Link] - Comments ()
Never take politics seriously. Remember what happened in Germany and Russia

Are you enjoying that new reality TV show, Democratic Nomination 2004, as much as I am; amazingly, the contestants are even more banal and preposterous than those competing in its sister shows, Survivor and Bachelorette. According to TV Guide, the winner of the Democratic Nomination 2004 will eventually challenge reigning champion, George Bush for the title of Supreme Nominee of all Nominations, and then be given the chance to choose a team to give the White House a home makeover, inviting celebrity chefs to cook his inauguration dinner to be attended by many famous guests from the movie and music worlds. Exciting, is it not.

stephenb 10:50 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 27, 2004
Proustian Affairs

Most Proustian purists (is there any other kind) will no doubt look upon me with great horror, but I must confess to thinking that The Sweet Cheat Gone is a much more suitable title for that particular volume than the, I suppose, more accurately rendered The Fugitive; we are dealing, after all, with one of the splendid pillars that supports that superb temple of memory, The Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time as some people slavishly insist on calling it.
The Sweet Cheat Gone, I think, evokes something of the saccharine, sentimental, wistful nature of memory that The Fugitive lacks.
Alas, I can never read Proust's masterwork in the original French since I have no knowledge of the language. School authorities expelled me from French class in the cemetery of learning where they tried to embalm my brain, for I refused to be named "Etienne" in classroom exercises, staring blankly and silently at the teacher when she called upon me using that unwanted nom de plume. Most disconcerting for her, apparently. So they made me sit in the library and read instead. Oh worshipful day.

stephenb 13:53 - [Link] - Comments ()

What a truly lovely hymn, "Our God Our Hope In Ages Past" is.
stephenb 13:22 - [Link] - Comments ()
Circus Maximus

There is a man at work whose mouth, like the doors to the Temple of Janus, is always open in time of war; and the temperature of air blowing through this orifice is hotter than that of a thousand combined Roman summers. Needless to say, his views on the contemporary conflict in the former Mesopotamia do not concur with those of President Bush. No. His views are those of the vox populi. For him, the stories of the media are lit by the fires of unequivocal truth; so gather around the campfire, for all television news is jaw-droppable, amazing fact.
Personally, I have no idea what is going on in Iraq, but knowing this fellow as I do, I am absolutely certain that whatever he says is undoubtedly wrong and so I take the opposite opinion to his.
stephenb 09:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 26, 2004
ShowerHead Revisited

I lay in bed all weekend with a debilitating cold. And it was here, snotty in bed, at the age of thirty-seven, that I began to grow smelly. We had been through it all together my body and I: from infant diapers, through learning of the application of deoderant to stubbly armpits, and then the first splash of expensive, Parisian cologne behind my ears. And as I roused myself on Monday morning and groped my way around the house with bleary-eye and unshaven chin towards a door not opened for some period of days, I asked myself, "what place is this?"
And the voice inside my head told me, and it was suddenly as if a thousand scented body wash gels poured over me in a tidal wave of cleansing foam and fragrant water, for the voice spoke a name, a conjuror's name of such ancient power that my nasal passages were immediately unblocked and I was suddenly shaken free from my sneezing, sonambulistic stupor.
"It's the bathroom." the voice said.
So I stumbled into the shower. "Et in arcadia ego," said the soap. "Well, bully for you." I replied.
stephenb 12:35 - [Link] - Comments ()
The music you are listening to, Timothy, is German music

To some extent, A Diary For Timothy and Beyond the Fringe have ruined any hope I might have had of enjoying German music; for while listening to Beethoven or Bach or whomever, I always feel the urge to turn to the person sitting next to me and whisper, "the music you are listening to, Timothy, is German music ... that's something you are going to have to work out for yourself later on."
I found myself in this position on Sunday afternoon, attending a concert of music grounded in Shakespeare's works at the Boston Public Library, where a few of the pieces were by German composers. Fortunately, however, my attention was drawn elsewhere, and, for once, I forgot all about Timothy because ...
It seems that you can never attend a Shakespearian event these days without some self-important crank discussing in the program notes his absurd assertion that Shakespeare did not write the works being performed. And on Sunday, such nonsense spoilt what was an otherwise enjoyable program of music.
These Oxfordites, Baconists, or whatever they call themselves are no different than those maniacs believing that Jack the Ripper must have been a very eminent Victorian celebrity, for someone responsible for such momentous and infamous crimes could not possibly have been just ...anybody.
Well, yes, as a matter of fact they could.
And so it is with the person who wrote Shakespeare's works; it was just anybody; it was William Shakespeare. There is absolutely no proof that he did not write the plays and sonnets ascribed to him, but plenty of evidence to prove that he did.
And besides, if you claim that a person of Shakespeare's education and background could not have written such great poetry, then you must be implying that being a great poet is a vocation that can only be taught in school. What utter rot.

stephenb 10:00 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 24, 2004
Piano Recital

The pianist, whose name escapes me, but let us call him Cynus Heddick, attacked the piano keys with the wild abandon of someone shampoo-ing fleas from a particularly badly infested and mangy dog,occasionally glancing up from this disturbing work at his audience with a rictus grin, as if his head had been removed and replaced with a desperate and embarrasssed skull.
Unable to concentrate upon the music, I thought of the Seven Ages of Man as the pianist demolished yet another sonata, and re-arranged them thus:
The Seven Ages of Man
1. girl
2. clown
3. hooligan
4. moralist
5. lecher
6. tyrant
7. cripple

That seems accurate to me.
stephenb 14:20 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 23, 2004
Membership of A Club

I am in the process of becoming "A Friend" of the New Criterion, a cultural magazine of admirable content, although my exact acquaintance with the periodical might more accurately be defined as, "a nice looking stranger whom I accidently knocked a glass of wine over at a party."
Nevertheless, a very kind and gracious lady named Dawn Steeves sent me a welcome packet of information about "The Friends of the New Criterion", full of interesting reading (and fortunately no dry cleaning bill contained therein). A bargain venture, I would say, joining hands with this 'August publication' ... a good natured pun, since TNC does not hit the newstands in August, the editors no doubt lounging Cape Cod or somewhere like that for the summer months; and who can blame them?
stephenb 14:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Sweet Cheat Gone

"The past", so L.P. Hartley wrote, "is a foreign country; people do things differently there."
Personally, I find the opposite to be true. For me the past provides a warm, welcoming hearth, fine friends and good conversation; a sanctuary in a vague spectrum of aquatints and deep sepia; "Come inside", the damaged photograph seems to say, "make yourself at home."
The present day, by contrast, is like the quayside of a dangerous, distant shore, where I can neither read the signposts nor understand the language enough to ask for directions. Romanticized, I suppose, you might call this an affliction of melancholia, but it is really just a disaffection growing stronger every year. I am getting old. This is what it is like.
stephenb 14:02 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 22, 2004
Clark Diaries

I notice that John "Craggy Face" Hurt will be playing the title role in the BBC's dramatization of the Alan Clark Diaries. I look forward to seeing this televisual presentation, since I enjoyed reading the diaries themselves a great deal; and Clark himself I always found to be an impressive figure, surely one of the most colorful and interesting characters in British politics since Disraeli. It always seemed strange to me that he was considered "controversial"; what do people expect from those they are governed by? At least Clark lived in a castle like rulers should. He owned a fine selection of motor cars too. I shall look forward to seeing those when/if the series is broadcast on American TV.
stephenb 16:34 - [Link] - Comments ()

Many years ago, during days wasted in high school, I took geography lessons from a man called Mr. Sales. Naturally, since he possessed such a name it became common practice to bring a container of soup to Mr. Sales' lectures, either transported in an unopened can, or freeze-dried in a flimsy packet, or even sloshing around steamily in a mug, and then placed in a prominent position somewhere in the classroom.
Sales, for some reason, was always utterly perplexed by these strange reoccurring manifestations of soup, as if he were completely unaware that a prank were being played on him.
"Baldwin. Why do you have a can of soup on your desk?"
"I have art class after this, sir."
"That may be so. But please put it away."
"Yes, Mr. Sales."
Whether he was simply ignorant of his famous namesake, or merely especially dense, I could never tell.
However, other, more demanding school authorities did perceive the reason for this soupy ragging when it was drawn to their attention, although they made a pretence of mystification as to why anyone would wish to do it, despite the obvious fact that they must have experienced countless similar examples of such irregular behavior during their careers.
Very priggish and sanctimonius of them, I thought. Frankly, the whole episode of the soup left a bad taste in my mouth.

stephenb 11:52 - [Link] - Comments ()

The interesting thing about The Unknown is that we know so much about it. In fact, we probably know more about The Unknown than we do about any other subject you care to mention. Ghosts, angels, monsters, UFOs, exhaustive studies have been written of them all. And as for the Yeti, well, we even know what size shoes he takes (size big).
However, there is one subject that does remain a baffling mystery, and it is this: why oh why do people walk around the city wearing winter jackets with ski passes still attached to them, even though the pass has usually been expired for at least ten months. Spooky.
stephenb 10:15 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 21, 2004
What Ails Thee, Sickly Child

"What ails thee, sickly child, sniffling with fevered brow, comatose here upon yon canopy of crumpled tissue, thy snotty head propped on crusty pillow"
"Sir, I hath no health insurance," quoth the sickly child, "and thus the nurse and prescription druggist remain a stranger to myself, thus it be that my nose it runneth over. Sir," said he, "can thee spare a bag o gold so that a poor sickly child canst procure an antihistamine?"
"Sickly child," I said to him, "I am no rich man, but here, take this small zinced lozenge that I draw from my own back pocket. Tis last year's remedy, but tis all I have."

stephenb 16:47 - [Link] - Comments ()
Feelin' Really Hamletty

To link, or not to link: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler on the blog to suffer
The hacks and pundits of outrageous boredom,
Or to take arms against a sea of Blowhards,
And by opposing end them? To grin: to laugh;
Guffaw; and by a laugh to say we end
The tedium and the thousand natural yawns
The web is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.

stephenb 13:20 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Third Opinion

Reader, it is time truth were told. Painful though it may be.
After several eminent physicians in the prison where I work had diagnosed me with Dalrymple Syndrome, prescribing an exhausting regimen of writing sixteen fulminating column inches detailing the irreversible decline of the British peoples every week, and arranging that I should "take the waters" at the renowned Spa de Capitaine Dreyfuss situated on a secluded French rock in the middle of the ocean, I unfortunately became addicted to my medication, Zippitydoodahophrene.
So now I sit behind my desk, recuperating in the Devil's Island where I convalesce, observing the emaciated French convicts cracking stones in their filthy rags...
stephenb 10:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 20, 2004
Government Cutbacks

You are familiar, of course, with my scientific work. No? Well then, let me enlighten you.
For the past fifteen minutes my entire life's work has been completely devoted to the cryopreservation of dead ants, so that, in a hundred years from now when a cure for being stepped on and squashed has finally been discovered, my frozen ants can be defrosted and revived - alive and free once more to crawl over cucumber sandwiches and generally make themselves a nuisance at garden picnics.
Alas, this highly important, valuable and humane work with dead ants is currently under threat of being terminated. Why? Because the United States government has decided not to renew my annual research grant of forty million dollars. How very typical of the luddite and philistine Bush administration.
stephenb 15:45 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Dripping Tap of Time

Bleary-eyed, feeling old and still half immersed in sleep, I confronted the bathroom mirror, hoping to discover there whatever fountain of youth might still spring beside those crags and mossy embankments I am loathe to admit are my facial features. And situated thus, staring deep into the mirror looking for my youth, I felt rather like a ghost must, an anxious specter who haunts the room he inhabited in life, searching vainly for an important, priceless object he left behind, but never realizing that it had been unceremoniously boxed-up and moved elsewhere after his death, misplaced by another's unseen and unsentimental hand.
And so, perhaps having long grown weary of reflecting not only the same face, but also the same chrome fixtures both day and night, last night my bathroom mirror made a desperate though futile attempt to detach itself from the wall on which it hangs; endeavoring, vainly, to covertly unhook itself, slip unobserved to the tiled floor, and slide away in secret like a fugitive seeking the promised land of modernized, cleaner bathrooms, bathrooms frequented by what Hamlet might describe as "metal more attractive". Alas, the mirror is imprisoned here, tethered by bolts and epoxy resin, condemned to hard labor for its jailor every morning as he shaves his misshapen skull, the blade glinting beneath electric bulb, a sharp rebuke nevermore to seek emancipation.

stephenb 10:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 19, 2004
A&E presents: Poirot Investigates The Fall of The House of Usher

The Scene: A drawing room in a large art deco house. Poirot stands in front of the fireplace. A number of other people are seated around him, listening attentively.

Poirot: Ladies and gentlemen, the case of the Fall of the House of Usher is a mystery most formidable, nes't pas. But now, Poirot, he is pleased to say, after resting ze little gray cells, Poirot has ze solution. For the House of Usher it did not fall. Poirot can now reveal that it was ... pushed.

Captain Hastings: I say! Steady on Poirot!

Poirot: No, mon ami. Poirot he will not, how you say, steady the ons. For you see, could not Monsieur Poe, could not he have written ze story with ze happy ending instead of ze terrible tale most disturbing to the senses? Qui. That is so. But no, that is not what Monsieur Poe does. No, no, he ...

Edgar Allen Poe: How much longer do we have to sit here and listen to this nonsense? I ask you.

Poirot: (voice raised) .. But it is not the nonsense as you well know Monsieur Poe. No, no. Poirot can prove that you Monsieur Poe, with ze pen that you dip in ze blackest ink, you write the horror story and not ze nice story. And with a single stroke of the pen, Monsieur Poe, you do indeed condemn the entire House of Usher to a fate worse than dry rot and leaky faucets. You, Monsieur Poe, you push the House of Usher over ze edge. The House of Usher, it does not, as you wanted everyone to believe, it does not fall.

Edgar Allen Poe: Damn you, Poirot!

Edgar Allen Poe gets up and tries to run away. Fortunately, his escape route is blocked by a gang of armed publishers and public domain lawyers.

stephenb 16:19 - [Link] - Comments ()
Poetry Corner

Keats' famous ode, Excuses, Excuses, is that rare example of romantic verse written to celebrate the non-payment of the poet's gas bill. In the following stanza, Keats describes how he cannot pay the gas company's demand because there is a mythical beast living in the mailbox where, unluckily, the gas bills are sent. Only the pure of heart, those unafraid of official looking envelopes can reach inside the mailbox without being worried that their fingers will be broken by the creature who waits therein for unwary receivers of mail:

Deep within the untamed mailbox row
Where the unopened gas bills grow
Dwells the miniature minotaur.
Cloaked in Supermarket circulars is he
Behind the badly dented mailbox door.
Oh such ancient Minoan woe!

According to his literary executor, Mr Stephen Baldwin, Keats had intended the poem for publication in the German magazine, Der Neue Kriteriann. However, the poems scansion was unfortunately damaged in transit - the result of rough handling by Greek fishermen masquerading as international postal workers - and the work was therefore rejected by the editors.

stephenb 13:04 - [Link] - Comments ()
The New Definitions

Stephenhead's New Definitions of Old Phrases.

Quid Pro Quo: The stake of a single British pound sterling on a horse named "Quo" with a bookie at Ascot. The phrase is often completed with the addition of the qualifying phrase "each way", as in "Quid pro Quo each way, please Mr Turf Accountant."
stephenb 10:03 - [Link] - Comments ()
Gregorian Cant

Lecture by me delivered at Harvard Business School

In bygone days, of course, nobly hooded and cassocked Monks were famous and justly celebrated for a litany of many and varied achievements. Today, alas, their fame seems to exist entirely in the brewing of strong ales, and even this fruit of their labors seems confined solely to brethren of Belgian nationality.
But in the past these pious and often silent creatures of the Lord were renowned for making many things.
Lots of money, for instance:
Riding their asses along the highways and byways of medieval Europe, the Monks of the Purchase Order of Saint Cash would sell pieces of the true cross to anyone with the money to buy an ancient piece of dried up wood. Jolly Friars (is there any other kind) would sell "pardons" by the dozen to those who had sinned.
Naturally, such dubious commercial transactions were frowned on - mostly by Geoffrey Chaucer - but these methods of gathering vast heaps of gold coins were, in fact, an example of the huge leaps in monetary and trade theory that had been made by the fourteenth-century. Far superior, indeed, to the ancient Egyptian "Pyramid Scheme" method of accruing interest on your bank balance, whereby money was sealed inside a pyramid and the so-called high priest (depositer) would wait for thousands of years until it was opened again, by which time, of course, he was dead.
So. Therefore. Although opinion may vary on the ultimate validity of Christian belief, until the Reformation it had at least been economically sound.
I think.
stephenb 09:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 18, 2004
More Opera

Due to the unpopularity of my previous operatic endeavor, Loch Nessun Dorma, a work many people rather unpolitely referred to as "a musical disaster", I have decided to make another stab at the form, although this time confining myself to more conventional score and theme.
Consequently, I am proud to announce the completion of the first act of Hey Duke of Milan! Where's My Birthright?, an opera based on William Shakespeare's famous play, The Tempest.
The main characters are as follows:

Preposterouso - a wizard - Baritone
Hormona - his daughter - Soprano
Gin - a spirit of the island - Slurrissimo
Cannibelle - a transvestite of the island - Basso Falsetto
Iago - in the wrong opera - Silencio
Fattobutta - the King of Bastardy - Basso Obnoxious
Prince Nez - his son - Tenor Reefa

I expect full staging of this work to commence at the Sydney Opera House shortly after the arrival of my hefty bribe at their corporate office: I hear they are in desperate need of funds.
stephenb 17:12 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 16, 2004
Joseph Roth

There is an article in the book review section of this week's New Yorker called "The Rediscovery of Joseph Roth".
Frankly, I thought Joseph Roth had already been rediscovered for some considerable period of time. In fact, I am not sure you could say he was ever entirely lost to the world of letters. A few months ago, even I wrote a little piece about What I Saw, a newly published selection of Roth's journalism written during Germany's Weimar period. You can read it here, if you really want to.
stephenb 17:38 - [Link] - Comments ()
Subway Vignette

On the train this morning, across the aisle from me, sat a young woman wearing a pale green overcoat and a lilac, woolen pixie cap, color tones accented in sharp relief against the frosted white outside and hinting, perhaps, of the warmer spring to come. She spent most of the journey applying an assortment of cosmetics to her already quite rosy face, applying lipstick to her lips in the manner of a squirrel eating a nut, furious bursts of rouge-ing activity disrupted by periods of almost inanimate yet intense concentration, and in these meditative moments she would converse with her friend, sat next to her and wrapped in layers of complete black. They spoke of disaffected love affairs.
"Just listen to your heart." her friend advised.
I wanted to lean across and say, "But how you can you listen to your heart when cannot understand the ancient, cryptic and foreign language that it speaks. Only a chosen few such as myself possess the Rosetta Stone that can decipher its esoteric inflections and reveal true meaning."
But, alas, I did not. I just sneezed instead.
Meanwhile, more salutary email in my inbox this morning from another charming and intelligent person who describes herself as one of the "huddled masses warming ourselves by the fire of your satire take good care of us, put strawberry poptarts of prose in our toasters in the morning, tell us bed time stories at eventide about prince inarage (or whomever) who kisses all the girls and they turn into frogs and he turns it into a lucrative pickled frog legs business.
sooo, what i like about The Stephenhead is that you are BRILL!! absolutely fabulous! don't ever change dahling!"
Words to warm my cockles on this cold morning. Thank you.

stephenb 10:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 15, 2004
Jack Frost the Flesh Stripper and his cloak of Murderous Cold. There is nothing else to talk about; this bleak, unforgiving cold eliminates all other subjects. The mind becomes a pellucid glacier drifting numbly in sea of icy blood, sinking those Ships of Thought trapped and icebound on their voyage to discover the Northwest Passage to human happiness, crushing them down, down into the freezing waters of...
"Hello Mr. Penguin, how are you today?"
"Hello, Stephen. I've just bought a new bow-tie from Mr. Polar Bear's thermal bow-tie shop."
"And what a nice bow-tie it is, Mr Penguin. I have one just like... "

We apologize, this post is malfunctioning due to bad weather. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

stephenb 16:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
Speaking of Painting ...

I suppose we all better resign ourselves to becoming sick of the sight of Vermeer's extremely famous and - as John Updike poetically described - "moist and thoughtful" lipped Girl With A Pearl Earring if we have not already been reduced to tears of extreme tedium by the mass reproduction of the painting plastered on the cover of a novel every time we walk into a bookstore. Now, since a piece of cinema based on the book has been filmed, we are faced with - not one - but two girls with pearl earrings, side by side, whenever we pick up a magazine or newspaper. One of them, of course, is Vermeer's masterpiece, the other is apparently an actress called Scarlett who looks like she should is posing in an advertisement for teenage acne medication. So, to avoid confusing simple minds, we should perhaps refer to that girl with a pearl earring as "Female Teenage Demographic With Clean, Fresh, Silky and Kissable Skin, Wearing Blue Turban by The Gap. Earrings from Miss Cheapo Jewelry Store Available Now At Your Local Mall".
I think that is good title for it.
Meanwhile, you can see some rather good paintings here
stephenb 12:06 - [Link] - Comments ()
Reward Program

A charming, intelligent and highly discerning person writes in: "Reading your blog is quite delicious."
It is lovely, flattering remarks like this that makes it worthwhile struggling through the icy wasteland to sit at my computer in the morning. Now the day is filled with radiant sunshine, verdant pasture, Arcadian shepherds playing the flute, gambolling lambs, and - best of all - wizened villagers armed with flaming torches off to burn the monster out of his mountain top lair.
Interestingly, my correspondent is slightly distressed that I am not a painter, however, as my regular readers will be aware, I am, and I often post descriptions of my paintings here ....not that it makes for pleasant reading, of course (still working on The Moron Laughs in my attic studio).
stephenb 09:23 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 14, 2004

If only merry, rosy-cheeked insects did really don tiny scarves and hats and go ice-skating on the frozen lakes of ice formed by small pot holes in the road, then I would not mind the recent arctic temperatures so much. As it is, currently I countenance no argument against draping oneself in fine coats tailored with animal fur.
stephenb 11:29 - [Link] - Comments ()
Living In The Past

Last night, whilst out carousing, a lady with a tinkling laugh judged my diction to be "passť" on the grounds that I repeatedly insisted on referring to Iran as Persia. Fortunately - and oddly - discussion regarding that geographical region did not travel across borders to the topical subject of Iraq (Irak), which, naturally, I would have felt compelled to call Mesopotamia, and consequently eliciting yet further derision from my partner in conversation. I did, however, manage to insert the phrase "curly shoes" into my argument, thereby flooring my opponent.
It is interesting how a phrase like "curly shoes" can be interpreted as offensive by some people. After all, the existance of such footwear cannot be denied and, more to the point, what the hell must these people think is wrong with curly shoes anyway. Personally, I think they look very fine when combined with flowing robes similar to those worn by Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia.
At any rate, for me, both the names Persia and Mesopotamia recall an era when these once fabulous places were better governed and I shall continue to refer to them as such.
stephenb 09:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 13, 2004
How To Avoid Difficulty

As a young man, when trying to deal with an uncomfortable situation I would always ask myself, "what would the Last of the Mohicans do?"
After reading the book, I discovered that he would generally run about a lot and hide behind large and convenient bushes. Not, perhaps, a very profitable solution to the problems of modern times, although I still find it a workable last resort when everything else has failed. (When I say "everything else", I am, of course, referring to the probable evasive actions taken by the Swiss Family Robinson if they were to encounter difficulties similar to those currently faced by myself).
And that really, in a Lilliputian nutshell, is the secret of my success. I am available for motivational public speaking engagements and children's parties. Reasonable rates.
stephenb 13:49 - [Link] - Comments ()
Settling Disputes

Last night I received one or two emails casting good natured doubt on the veracity of my claim to have written an unpublished novel called, Whyte-Knuckleby and the Red Herrings, featuring my popular character Sir Edmund Inarage Whyte-Knuckleby, mentioned in an earlier post.
I can assure my readers that such a tome does indeed exist, and that the reason for its lack of binding within hardcovers is merely due to the fact that it remains unfinished, and also I have been told that nobody would read it anyway.
The book was initially projected as the last of a series of novels featuring Sir Edmund, all inspired by the idea of a P.G Wodehouse type world that has turned upside down and somehow gone horribly wrong, resulting in an atmosphere of deep anger, resentment and barely supressed violence rather than the light, musical theater hi-jinks typified by Wodehouse's work.
The plot of Red Herrings was, as always, a simple one:
On her death bed, Sir Edmund's sister, Flavia, made Sir Edmund promise to take care of her son, his nephew; an untidy, dissolute youth named Egbert Vague-Lounger.
Sir Edmund, his temper famously short-fused as his name implies, becomes increasingly angry and furious with Egbert's indolence and lack of respect for anything at all. Egbert, sensing his life hangs in the balance if he remains in his uncle's vicinity much longer, runs away from Whyte-Knuckleby Castle and hides in the attic a nearby public house. However, despite being enormously relieved by his nephew's departure, Sir Edmund is a man of iron principle and feels it his duty to locate the young man and return him to the family fold, even though this would benefit neither Egbert or himself.
Egbert, needless to say, has thrown a number of red herrings across the path to discovery of his whereabouts; red herrings that, of course, ensure Sir Edmund becomes even angrier than before every time he comes upon one. So angry does he become, in fact, that when he finally does confront Egbert, before he can administer the horse-whipping he had planned, Sir Edmund dies of heart failure. The end.
Now you can see why I never bothered to finish it.

stephenb 09:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 12, 2004
Another Bathetic Scene From My Daily Life

The man behind the counter possessed such a vertical shock of crackly black hair and equally eldritch, seared eyebrows that, together with his somewhat blistered, swarthy complexion and the circles of steam from a nearby coffee pot that enveloped his head and shoulders, made it seem he owed his existence not to birth in the normal manner, but to sudden expulsion from a blast furnace at extreme velocity, the arc of this trajectory capriciously depositing him behind the cash register at my local grocery store. Such was my absorption in the appearance of this strange looking character - "talk about carbon-based lifeforms!" I thought - that I forgot my change, forcing the sulphuric figure to hail me back to his store as I strolled off down the street deep in thought.
stephenb 16:44 - [Link] - Comments ()
Advice To Youth

Lines spoken by the character Sir Edmund Inarage Whyte-Knuckleby, from my as yet unpublished novel Whyte Knuckleby And The Red Herrings

"My dear boy, a gentleman's shirt tails belong securely fastened within his trouser belt, not flapping around outside like a pair of effeminate popinjays at a public lavatory door."

Just thought I would share them with you....
stephenb 16:42 - [Link] - Comments ()
An Example of my Trivial Scholarship

Anyone who has read Anthony Powell's epic novel cycle A Dance To The Music of Time will be aware that Nicholas Jenkins and his friends spend many happy hours drinking and playing Russian billiards in an establishment called "Foppa's".
Therefore, it is interesting to note - being mindful of the themes of artistic representation and classical allusion that run throughout the work - that Foppa is also the name of an Italian painter of the quattrocento, and that one of his works, The Young Cicero Reading, can be viewed at the Wallace Collection, also home of the Poussin masterwork that provides Powell's novel with its title.
Does it matter? No. I don't suppose it does, really.

stephenb 14:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
People In Lalique Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones

The enduring popularity and appeal of Art Deco, of course, has nothing to do with actual design elements themselves, but everything to do with the atmosphere of sleek, blithe, faux sophistication the form inspires.
Poverty cannot exist in the Art Deco World because there simply is no scope for it, even the servants here receive rich gifts from their amorous, elderly employers; and there are no starved people either, because there is no food, just an endless list of exotic cocktails; and the only huddled masses visible are dancing cheek to cheek on the Monte Carlo hotel dancefloor. Ultimately, it is this ingredient of unruffled, affluent and sensual elegance thrown into sharp relief that is the only feature Art Deco really offers to recommend itself to anyone.
I was watching the Agatha Christie series Poirot last night on television, a mystery show based in the nineteen-thirties; hence the Art Deco diatribe. And it is interesting to note - and generally true of all detective stories - that so unconvincing and convoluted are the detectives' solutions to their mysteries, that the villain must dramatically admit their own guilt when faced with accusation, for culpability could never be proven in a court of law based on evidence uncovered by these famous sleuths.
stephenb 13:27 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 11, 2004

I have decided to write an opera in the manner of Puccini, set in the highlands of Scotland. Naturally, it will be called Loch Nessun Dorma. The plot concerns a hero - loosely modelled on myself - who seeks to prove the existance of a monstrous, mythical tenor who inhabits the deep, dark loch near the hero's home. Scientists believe eyewitness accounts of this huge fabulous creature are actually merely the confused sightings of three separate tenors seen together in close proximity at the same time.
The music is written for a thirty piece bagpipe orchestra, and includes the haunting aria "Ha'e ye nae shame, mon."
stephenb 15:11 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 09, 2004
If it's ever spring again, spring again, I shall go where went I when ...

An icy, unforgiving wasteland lies beyond the perimeter of my house, where, hunched and shivering, heavily bundled people weep tears of cold into an unforgiving wind and no birds sing. I am warm inside, body and limbs compacted deep within the confines of my couch, yet the basket of ivy suspended in my window has brittled, browned, and died; the soil its stem emerges from has frozen into windswept tundra almost overnight.
Even Shackleton might think twice about rising from his bed in such conditions. Arctic hiatus. I shall not venture forth this chilly day. Instead, numerous cups of tea fulfill all my requirements; hot chocolate even, perhaps a cigarette. A day for listening to those poems of Thomas Hardy set to music by Gerald Finzi and Robin Milford.
Meanwhile, really important events are unfolding elsewhere
I love this sort of thing.
stephenb 11:18 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 08, 2004
Go Fish

Repeatedly positioning his spherical bowl at various points of the compass within the living room, I attempted to determine an optimum location that might restore equanimity to my goldfish's morose and disordered state of mind. In this manner, as if some eager tourist making excursions to diverse quarters of the globe, my fish embarked on a whirlwind sightseeing expedition; exploring the dark jungle cover provided by a plant decorated table in the corner, then relaxing on tropical beaches created by three bay window sills, also wandering through the bohemian metropolis bordered by several bookcases, and finally, ascending to high, alpine regions atop the mantelpiece.
Perhaps he will write a travel book for others of his kind, should he free up space in his busy calendar, that daily log currently booked solid with all this swimming about, an activity that must be completed before his piscatorial mind can turn itself to other matters.
stephenb 17:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Voice of Bathetic Humility

There are certain fleeting moments, fragments of time so immeasurably brief as to be incomprehensible as patterned experience; cloak and dagger events in the play of ordinary life, deceptively inconsequential at the instant they occur, and whose true nature or meaning is revealed only when examined under the microscope of suddenly stimulated reminiscence, where, captured and manipulated by a powerful retrospective lens, their component elements may be carefully scrutinized, rearranged, and reinterpreted, eventually revealing formerly secreted implications and significances that must, without exception, finally be confronted. Such a moment, hitherto confined by me to an unimportant file in a seldom searched archive of personal memory, summoned to an active arena of consciousness by the black magicians of circumstantial incident, uncompromisingly manifested itself at the forefront of my mind quite recently. If this recalled moment was not so gloriously advantageous to my already delightful character and flawless reputation, I might describe its machinations for you, however, as the situation stands, I assure my readers that a sincere humility prevents the recitation of such a narrative.
stephenb 15:35 - [Link] - Comments ()
Pickman's Model

This morning on the train I took a seat behind a dignified elderly man dressed entirely in shades of gray; clothes chosen, perhaps, to complement his hair, which he wore in tight gray curls; indeed, almost all of him was gray, except for a multi-colored muffler vividly covering his ears.
He clutched several pencils in his left hand, often selecting and exchanging these with the pencil held in his right, with which he sketched his fellow passengers on large, loose sheets of paper balanced upon his knee. These drawings, exclusively faces rendered at frontal elevation and numbering three or four to a page, were arranged in various stages of incompletion, as if the artist's chosen model had sat down opposite him but then unexpectedly departed the train before my gray friend had opportunity to add detail, shading, or even the establishment of principle facial features to his basic outline. I wondered if, like Anthony Powell's Mr. Deacon, he was simply a "collector of heads and necks", since sketching on a cramped subway train must surely provide the mobile artist with many alternative and varied subjects to find inspiration in: a conflux of wedged bodies forming interesting lines and shapes, for instance; or a still life of crumpled knees and pinched feet viewed from an unusual angle; perhaps, even, a single, gracefully curved arm hanging from a steel balustrade, descending into an ocean of hunched shoulders from which the tips of the backs of bowed heads emerge like dangerous rocks to shipwreck the unwary.
I don't know. Personally, I just prefer to stare out from the train windows at the passing walls of dark tunnels.

stephenb 10:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 07, 2004
The Weather in the Streets

First thing this morning, I noticed that a crisp, white toupee of frost had fallen across the crown of the decorative stone lion who stands sentinel atop the steps to the apartment building next door. It was as though the animal had somehow taken fright overnight, and this fresh layer of wintry mane glinted harshly in the cold, bitter sunlight: perhaps a warning that further frigid weather should be expected. I observed, also, that someone - whom, I know not - had extinguished a cigarette there, like an additional braid sprouting from the beast's head, the stub still smoldering as if, indeed, smoke poured from the lion's ears at such gross indignity. Alas, poor Leo, I thought, alfresco heraldic ashtray thou hath become.
stephenb 12:32 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 06, 2004
The Irreversible Decline of the Planet Mars

Have you seen these historic color photographs of Mars? Very dull they are, I'm afraid.
Alas, within living memory, people believed Mars to be the HQ of little green men who flew to Earth in their wondrous ships; and the Red Planet was also - crucially - the backdrop to many of Flash Gordon's heroic cliff-hanging adventures. Now, thanks to these annoying pictures, we must come to terms with the fact that Mars actually looks like Death Valley on a particularly dreary and eventless Sunday afternoon. To think it that this barren and tedious planet is named after the God of War - the God of Vacation Picture Slide Show Carousels is more like it. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
And so I ask the question: why oh why does NASA feel compelled to launch their absurd camera-toting flying robots off into the depths of the galaxy like oversized, metallic Japanese tourists with more film than is good for them? The answer is simple: they must have discovered an extremely reliable and cheap One Hour Photo Booth on the Moon that remains a closely guarded secret to this day.
There can be no other possible explanation.

stephenb 17:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Rusting Hustings

I was awoken this morning by strange and disturbing sounds emanating from my clock radio. Some zoological news feature, I thought, a recording of the mating call of the African jungle slug or the death rattle of a dung beetle. Something like that, I decided, before re-situating my head upon the fresh, soft downiness of the new pillows I received for Christmas.
As it turned out, my sleepy-eyed guess was wrong, for according to the radio presenter, I had been listening to a gaggle of politicians desperately scrambling for what he called "the nomination", and not the taped revelations from the insect world that I had assumed these noises were.
How sad to think that such snorting and bellowing beasts are the men upon whom we must rely for governmental guidance. Whatever happened to politicians of the calibre of Disraeli: statesman, novelist, and dandy; he is the yardstick by which must be assessed, the man by whom all other politicians must be measured, the great and grand inch who dwarves the puny millimetres of contemporary politics.
Later, as I took my shower, I thought of the old Anglo-Saxon system of government: delegating some axe-wielding maniac from your settlement to ride into the woods and argue with other axe-wielding maniacs chosen from other settlements, and then recording it all in a Chronicle that takes twenty years to write.
Ah, the more things change the more they remain the same.
stephenb 09:58 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 05, 2004

Women are never more deadly serious than when they are pretending that something doesn't matter all that much:

She: "Oh, it's nothing. Don't worry about it. Really. It doesn't matter in the least."
He: "Well okay. I'll see you later, then."
She: "Get back here and deal with it at once you selfish waste of a scrotum before I scratch your bloody eyes out."

Girl problems? Someone asked me.
Of course. I don't think I could live without girl problems. They are my favorite thing in life. Indeed, girl problems are the only thing that makes life worth living, as far as I am concerned. The madder the better. They are so full of frission. So exciting.
stephenb 17:13 - [Link] - Comments ()

I still cannot BELIEVE that I actually had to get up and go to work at 9:00am this morning. The Labors of Hercules were merely a mildly irritating chore compared to the colossal feat of endurance that was me kicking off my bedclothes and slipping into my dressing gown at 8:00am this morning. Sisyphus was condemned to a relatively simple task compared to the shaving of the vast acreage of stubble on my chin achieved by me at 8:30am this morning. And they call those lazy good-for-nothings Men of Myth! I tell you, the Voyage of Sinbad was a short trip around the corner compared to the endless miles of commute undertook my me at 9:15am this very morning.
Oh, the agony of it all. Yes. The holidays are terminated, and with forlorn hope of every returning, we bid the couch and fireplace fond farewell. Wearily trudging off to work we go, once more forced to play Pierrot in the Harlequinade of the Daily Grind. The huge, creaking mechanism marked "Back To Your Desk" once more coughs and splutters into action: cogs must be greased, levers must be pulled, underlings must be castigated, new data must be entered. And just where the Hell is that billowing black smoke coming from?
Yours ears, sir.

stephenb 16:16 - [Link] - Comments ()
Global Swarming
My Speech To The United Nations

As every observant person must surely have observed, there is currently a complete dearth of dearth in the world today. In other words, there is far too much.
Personally, I find myself continually knee deep in a lack of dearth. Surely there ought to be some sort of Dearth Watchdog to ensure this abundant situation does not reoccur without warning. Sailing the seas of plenty is one thing, but the average citizen should be able to circumnavigate the vast oceans of glut without running aground on the dangerous dearths of dearth.
And it is not just in the overstuffed public spaces that this nefarious dearth of dearth can be experienced. Even in the private sanctuary we call home, once a model of spartan monasticism, things are budgeoning.
For instance, as I stepped into my bath this morning, filled to the brim it was, I discovered that I would have to share this once soothing watery glade with a flotilla, nay a navy, nay an armada of floating rubber ducks. I counted four hundred and thirty eight of these yellow squeaky strangers, these invaders of the hallowed tub, before I had even finished washing my numerous private parts. Where had they come from? I asked all four thousand of my wives if they had bought them, and they all denied it. Yet another example, ladies and gentlemen et al, of Global Swarming, of the mysterious dearth of dearth that threatens to engulf this department store bargain basement we call Planet D'Earth.

stephenb 10:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
january 03, 2004
No Way To Start The Year

I have been at Death's Door for the last few days, camped outside, hammering on the ancient oaken panels, ringing the bell, shouting through the letterbox, and so on. But the old Scythemeister did not want to let me in.
"Go away," he yelled from an open upstairs window, "You've only got a cold. It's not a particularly bad one, either."
"But I have come a long way and I am weary." I told him. "Look I have brought the money to pay the ferryman," I added, hastily covering both my eyes with two gold coins.
"No ferryman here." Death replied, and slammed his window shut in a very haughty manner.
So in the end I went home and, I must admit, quickly began to recover from my brush with mortality.
stephenb 16:20 - [Link] - Comments ()