november 28, 2003
Sir Esmond Inarage Whyte-Knuckleby
Sir Esmond Inarage Whyte-Knuckleby was born at 11:15am on Friday, November 28, 2003 in a small office in Boston. He sadly passed away at 11:34am on the same day.
Throughout his very short but active life, Sir Esmond suffered from a singular tragic malady that eventually killed him off for good; namely, the man who created him could think of nothing for Sir Esmond's character to do, although not for the want of trying.
Briefly, at about 11:21am, Sir Esmond tried to make his narrative way in a short ghost story without success. A minute later, it was believed that Sir Esmond might find his fictional feet in a spoof Victorian poem about India, although, alas, this adventure, too, was doomed to failure.
Many theories have been put forward for Sir Esmond's failure as a character. As his author said just moments prior to Sir Esmond's demise, "I am not sure that silly names are all that funny, and the only justification for Sir Esmond's existence is as a silly name."
And so it seems probable that Sir Esmond Inarage Whyte-Knuckleby will only be remembered - if he is remembered at all - as a might-have-been; a man who was born too late, perhaps sixty or seventy years too late. Ultimately, he was a man whose time had long since passed. "The future", as his author so rightly remarked at 11:35am, "belongs to characters with names like Andy Assworth."
stephenb 14:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Holiday Story
november 26, 2003
After Vincent Van Gogh had applied the final brushstroke to his Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear, he stood back from the canvas and thought to himself, "You know, one day this picture is going to make a damn fine jigsaw!"
He began pacing back and forth, warming to his theme. "Over a thousand pieces," he decided "Suitable for ages twelve and up. But it should be kept away from children because they can swallow the smaller pieces." Vincent threw his paint palette and brushes into the corner of the room, "Yes, I can see it now!" he cried out loud, "One day, many years in the future, a young man in America will spend an entire morning trying to complete the jigsaw on his mother's dining room table. Later, with only a mere sixty pieces left to insert before completion, his mother will ask him to remove the unfinished jigsaw from the table immediately because she needs to serve Thanksgiving dinner. Enraged at this interruption, the young man will seize a sharp knife from a table place-setting and slice his own ear off. Then he will run into his mother's kitchen waving the jigsaw box in the air with one hand and pointing at his bloody head with the other, all the while screaming, 'There's A Piece Missing! There's A Piece Missing!' And ever since that day the Americans serve cranberry sauce with their Thanksgiving Turkey."
It was at this point that the men in white coats came to take poor Vincent away. And so, children, the moral of this story is, during festive occasions you must sit in the living room all day with the rest of your family listening to all the rubbish your aunt talks, rather than hiding yourself away doing a jigsaw and pretending they are not really there. Or else you will end up like poor Vincent, a misguided, anti-social genius.
stephenb 14:04 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Poet Considers The Thanksgiving Guest
Ah, weedy Herbivore in yonder footballed lounge
Come, let us sing of roasted birds and cranberry!
For thy request for repast of verdant leaves and raspberry oils
Doth sit heavy with my pilgrim blood and gravy.
Will ye partake not of the shank, the breast or crackling wing?
Behold, bronzed stuffing awaits thy benapkinned pleasure!
And thy tongue can findeth easy purchase in this walnut stuffing.
Yet this will not be, I fear, for being vegan is not fun.
So, sir, thou art the other, other white meat. Begone!
stephenb 13:35 - [Link] - Comments ()
Above the Fold, Beyond the Pale
november 25, 2003
In daily newspapers, surely the section heading Op-Ed must be shorthand for Hop Head. Certainly, I can think of no other explanation that does justice to the contents discovered therein.
I cannot remember the last time I bought a newspaper: could it be the time when I needed something to cover the floor while repainting my bathroom; or the occasion when I decided kindling alone could not encourage the bonfire I was building. One of those events, I am sure, must have required the purchase of large acres of newsprint (suitable for reading ages 4 - 9.)
Stop Press! Yes, please do so immediately and do not begin again.
stephenb 09:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Thanksgiving Wish
As we ponder the meaning of Thanksgiving and our debt to the American Indian, I wonder if today there still exist young men who cry "Geronimo!" as they leap from the foot of the bed into the arms of their beloved, as indeed, I was inclined to do in the days when I could boast a more springy physique. I certainly hope so.
stephenb 18:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
I envisage this as a sort of 'Phantom Insufferable Ass of the Opera' type grand-guignol comedy when it is finished. The following is a first draftish exposition of the phantom recalling his early days
"Your problem," Dr. Gleedle, an eminent - yet in my expert opinion -over zealous, impertinent, and aggressively bald psychologist told me on my sixth birthday, as I sat in his gloomy office wearing the black woolen Little Lord Fauntleroy suit that I had persuaded my father to have specially tailored for the occasion, "Is that you do not live in the moment."
He smiled benignly, leaning backwards in his creaking chair and staring at me expectantly, adjusting the Mickey Mouse ears attached to his head.
"Do the voice." I told him.
"Your problem," he began again, only this time in a sort of high-pitched screech. Fortunately, I had recently perfected the art of the raised eyebrow and learnt the meaning of the word 'charlatan', and was able to make effective use of both. Obviously I have often looked back on this day with regret, wishing I knew then what I know now, namely such words as 'cretin', 'popinjay', and 'fraudster'.
"He gets it from your father." I overheard my mother tell my own father in the Dr Gleedle's waiting room. Although I did not know at the time what the 'it' was to which she referred, I later discovered she meant my genius. You might think that most parents would be proud of rearing a child prodigy. Such, alas, was not the case with my own. Should the world be presented with another Abduction From The Seraglio, apparently my parents did not want it emanating from the dreary, flat-chested bosom of their philistine family.
It was my mother's comparison of my musical genius with my Grandfather's rather feeble novelistic oeuvre that proved, in my own titanic mind, exactly how foolish my parents really were.
My grandfather, or 'The Old Fool' as I called him, had been a communist who wrote unreadable novels using the pseudonym 'Comrade Alf'. His technique, if you can call it that, was to take familiar figures from Soviet history and place them in unfamiliar surroundings, which, since The Old Fool wrote science-fiction, were usually the farthest reaches of the galaxy. His books had titles such as The Heroes of Stalingrad Conquer The Space People and Uncle Josef Goes To Mars. The latter title is perhaps his best remembered work, if only by members of the rebinding departments of small Mid-Western libraries.
Once, after I had recounted the adventures of an imaginary friend of mine who had constructed a papier-mâché bust of the Emperor Nero from the pages of my father's favorite Bible, The Old Fool remarked, "The boy has an author's grasp of character." Needless to say, I soon replaced that particular imaginary friend with a more extravagant and appropriate fictitious companion.
stephenb 16:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Threadbare Carpet in the Locked Room at the End of the Hall of Mirrors in the Tower of Babel that Needs a New Lightbulb
Aside from skillful handling of the slippery eel that is structure, it seems to me that the most difficult tasks facing someone who wishes to write something are adopting a suitable narrative point of view and adjusting the authorial voice to the correct pitch. The tone of much modern writing, including my own, often sounds to me like the stuttery babbling of an unctuous child recounting their self-important version of non-events.
My own novel, for example, suffers from the necessary evil that the first-person narrator is a complete bastard. He is, of course, a sort of Edwardian absurdly moustachioed and black cloaked dastardly bastard, but a bastard nonetheless. Obviously the trick is to seduce the reader into joining in with the narrator's maniacal laughter and gleeful hand rubbing. Easier said than done, especially when you are also constructing a ludicrous plot at the same time. It is an attempt to create an Edward Goreyesque scenario in words, and I must admit, the whole thing is beginning to weary me.
And so ... I have recently rewritten much of the first chapter in a radically different style, far more narratively sympathetic, while still incorporating much of the oddball humor and nastiness, only tilted slightly in another direction.
We shall see....
stephenb 13:56 - [Link] - Comments ()
Bricks And Mortar
november 24, 2003
The trouble with modern architecture is that, unlike the rest of the modern art world, you cannot avoid it. It is often literally in your face, just squatting there on the side of the road with it's finger stuck up it's own bum. I mean, you don't have look at Piss Christ if you don't want to. But Piss Building? No escape. And there are lots of Piss Buildings about. You may even be forced to work in one.
However, I have absolutely no interest in architecture; except for a relentless and all consuming conviction that most of the world's buildings should be demolished and rebuilt in the manner of Sir John Soane.
Only after such a ruthless but very necessary crusade has been pursued to its victorious conclusion, only after the wrecking ball has reduced the last horrible concrete boxy thing to a satisfying heap of rubble, will we truly be able to say a house is finally a home.
For you know as well as I do that all those modern architects who design the horrible concrete boxy things, well, they all live in beautiful Regency style townhouses. You won't find them inside one of the horrible concrete boxy things they design unless they are there to pick up a cheque.
See also: James Panero's amusing observations on the New York Times' horrible concrete boxy things critic
stephenb 10:09 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Lecture on the Subject of Lectures
It is probably a good thing that the British no longer send their novelists over here on prominent lecture tours, or talks on improving subjects or whatever they were. In the past, of course, America received with open arms and open wallets such notable figures as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, John Cowper Powys, and Evelyn Waugh - all worthy of a hearing and very entertaining I am sure. But who would we get today?
That "Trainspotting" person: incomprehensible gibberish and swearing. No thanks.
Or, perhaps, Will Self: incomprehensible sentences featuring compound words he invented five minutes before hitting the stage. I'm afraid it would not get me out of bed.
Then there is that lesbian woman who writes about fruit.
Ian McEwan (spelling?): too boring.
Yes. We are indeed fortunate that today's British novelists only read passages from their recent books in specialist bookstores when they haul themselves over to the States these days.
Mind you, I always wonder what John Cowper Powys must have talked about. The only topics I know of perpetual interest to him were anti-vivisectionism and advocacy of a daily masturbation regimen.
An interesting gentleman, no doubt. Weymouth Sands was the only novel of his I could actually finish. I made an extra effort with A Glastonbury Romance, Wolf Solent and The Inmates, but it was no good.
stephenb 17:09 - [Link] - Comments ()
Today has been a foul, foul day. A black spot on the calender. I feel like I have been wrestling Grendel's mother at the bottom of an extremely murky quagmire all morning, and shaving the head - snake by writhing, spitting snake - of a particularly disgusting Medusa all afternoon. And later I must tackle the awful Tower of Billbel, that enormous pile of unopened envelopes from the utility companies requesting monies owed that squats in the corner of my office, mocking me.
Is there no respite from the demands of the world? Will we never be set free?
stephenb 16:38 - [Link] - Comments ()
november 21, 2003
On Sunday night I viewed Gangs of New York for the first time. Most amusing. I felt the carnivalesque characters were going to break out into song at any moment, like Oliver! armed with knives and hatchets. Or a sort of squalid, slum-dwelling violent Mary Poppins. One question for Mr. Scorcese: why was there no animated talking dog? Surely such a beast belonged in such a film.
Are you worried that the economy is adversely affected by low consumer spending? You had better start visibly shaking then, because it seems the stores don't sell anything anyone in their right mind would wish to buy. At least this was the opinion I formed on my fruitless expedition to the local shopping mall this weekend, and I wanted a new shirt!
stephenb 09:55 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Lecture on the Subject of Keats
"And I bet not one of you ignorant sods knows what a Keat is do ya."
Well, actually, as a matter of fact, we do:
A Keat is a small, frail twittering thing with a very short life expectancy. Often the Keat's nest will be usurped by stronger, more arrogant twittering things such as the Lesser Spotted Shelley and the Web-footed Belching Byron. When it gets cold outside, such as late August, the sensitive Keat will be forced to migrate to warmer places like Italy, where, prancing around in effeminate plumage that is too big for him, the Keat will pine away both day and night annoying the more robust local twittering things such as the Large Jawed Garibaldi. Nevertheless, the song of the Keat is still regarded as being among the most daintiest lilts ever to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
Finally, it is worth noting that when shot, the Keat makes for good eatin'.
stephenb 17:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most unnerving experience encountered while dining in a restaurant is the appearance alongside your table of cooking apparatus that would not look out of place in a snow drift next to a heavily distressed tent pitched on a Himalayan mountain range in the 1920s. Your waiter - or Sherpa as he might as well be - then produces a rusty steel tray featuring a deathbed of brown lettuce and withered shrimp upon which lay the gutted remains of the saddest eyed fish you have ever seen. It is a defrosted Sea Bass circa 1987.
Such an aquatic revenant was the Culinary Avalanche of Warmed-Up Yeti Leftovers that had the barefaced cheek to call itself my dinner last night.
I do not think I am still fully recovered from it.
It is my own fault, Sea Bass twice in a week is not a good idea.
stephenb 13:12 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Third World Collection
november 20, 2003
Below I have collected all my posts about the Third World, bound them in a very nice zebra skin folder, and will soon be placing an ad for this 'once in a lifetime' offer in the Parade section of your local Sunday newspaper. Meanwhile, you can enjoy the electronic edition by reading on... and what the Hell! If you can't sail close to the wind then you shouldn't go sailing at all.
Economic Thin Tank
Yesterday I heard the startling fact that with the money we spend on food for a single week we can feed the Third World for an entire year, and I thought to myself, does that include the discount I get by using my Supermarket Customer Courtesy Card. Actually, I have always felt that I am being overcharged at my local store and this is the proof in the pudding! So I figure that flying to the Third World and doing my grocery shopping in bulk at their prices, I should be able to make considerable savings on my yearly food bill. Obviously, I have to consider the haulage fee for shipping 565 cans of pineapple chunks back to the US - but if they only cost 0.03 cents per tin, what the hell! - and apparently you can bribe these people anyway! The flight pretty much pays for itself. And, of course, there is always the airport duty free shop too....
I Speak For All
I have been invited to write an Op-Ed article for The Nation, and they have agreed to print the following slice of wisdom:
So anyway, it's like three-quarters of the kids in the Third World don't get any clean drinking water because they don't have a kitchen and what they have is the same as their toilet anyway so it's not a proper one and that moron Bush has taken all the Iraqui's hot water tanks and turned them into a massive coffee thermos for the Pentagon and they get free refills at Starbucks. So all the Third World kids have to drink neat gin instead and all the big multinational conglomerates like Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire and the other one won't let the starving Africans get the deposit back on the bottle because they are against recycling and so all the forests die because the US military eats twenty-times their own body weight in Chicken Mcnuggets every day.
It amazes me that people get very argumentative and bent out of shape about child labor. Starting work so early in life will enable these kids to assemble massive pension funds and social security dividends for when they retire. According to my calculations, the average five-year-old machine operator toiling in the average sweatshop for seventy years should be able to claim a sum of retirement money equaling the entire GNP of Bhudistaniphur.
And there are other rewards also - after working like a rabid, mangy dog for his whole life in cramped quarters, our crippled and blinded sweatshop employee can finally return to his hovel, secure in the knowledge that he has devoted his entire life to manufacturing nasty, tasteless, cheap polyester clothes so that idiotic Western kids can look cheesy in suburban discotheques.
So get stitching all you Third World orphans, and remember, every penny earned is a $000.01 voluntary pre-tax saving!!
stephenb 09:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
More Bush In Britain
Of course, the truly odd thing about all those people protesting the Presidential visit to Britain is that their own government pursues the same policies for which the protesters jeer Bush. Surely, therefore, they should be protesting with banners everyday that Prime Minister Blair is in the UK as well, if they really care so much. Alas, they probably too busy with their "raves" to spend that much time supporting their convictions
Only a casual glance at photographs of the protesters, however, places all this in perspective: they are mostly young and trendy students. Congregating in Trafalgar Square is really just party time for them. To paraphrase a famous, old anti-nuke rallying cry: "Protest And You Might Get Laid."
That is what it all comes down to in the end for them, if you ask me.
stephenb 13:51 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Leaf from Soames' Book
Since my good friend Enoch Soames is possessed of too much good sense and taste to mention the name Harrison Ainsworth, it becomes the weary task of your present humble servant to post a plug for this justly forgotten and happily out of print giant of the Victorian potboiler.
Ainsworth wrote (obviously at fairly rapid pace) historical dramas centered in such locations as the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and Sherwood Forest. Duels are fought, heroes and heroines fall in love, bodices are ripped (although with careful attention to contemporary conventions regarding female modesty), and comic characters lighten the already excessively lightweight tone with their merrymaking activities.
For me, the great tragedy of Ainsworth's life is that he never wrote a novel called Anne Hathaway's Cottage. However, in the interests of having nothing better to do today, if he had written such a book, it would begin something like this:
Chapter the First
In which we meet Will and Anne upon their wedding day. Her Royal Highness parades through Stratford with Sir Kenneth of Branagh to present Will with a new quill. Ogbert and Ninny make a pudding with disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, Will's sister writes a play but nobody takes any notice. Now. Read on!
Although I would advise you not to.
stephenb 10:33 - [Link] - Comments ()
Oireland and the Oirish
november 19, 2003
It has always amazed me that someone who could write something as entertaining as Dante and the Lobster could find himself committing to paper something as unrelentingly miserable as Krapp's Last tape. Alas, such is the fate of people who wish to be taken modernistly seriously ... although many of us believe, of course, in the existence of a second tape, one that is far more jolly and enjoyable which the po-faced era Samuel Beckett suppressed.
Which brings me to my main point: if I buy a ticket for one of those Beckett plays where robed and hooded figures march around the stage in quadrilateral formation, and one of these figures accidentally stumbles, does this mean I am no longer watching the play I bought a ticket for, the play that Beckett wrote? If so, am I entitled to demand a refund at the box office?
But is was always so with the Irish emigrants, to be sure. Your man Joyce starts off well with his short stories and Portrait of the Artist.., but as soon as you turnaround, he presents us with the unreadable Finnegan's Wake, surely a demonstration of genius rather than a work of genius. Frankly, I think they should have all stayed at home like the truly great Flann O'Brien, author of the immortal The Poor Mouth. Now there is great Irish literature for you.
stephenb 09:17 - [Link] - Comments ()
Bush In Britain
november 18, 2003
Behold him, heckled in the field,
Yon solitary Presidential Bush!
If George Bush really wanted to win the hearts and minds of the British public, surely he should pay a visit to the set of famous, long-running soap opera, Coronation Street. Afterwards, he could announce from the steps of Anne Hathaway's Cottage that he has a problem with bulimia. As far as I recall, such a populist approach worked wonders for Princess Diana's public profile.
Alternatively, he could fraternize with the Spice Girls, a ploy that increased Bill Clinton's appeal to the lumpen Britishers. Such photo opportunities, of course, are the only issues the public really cares about - just look at the British newspapers if you don't believe me.
If the president were photographed playing keepy-uppy soccer with David Beckham, the war would be forgotten in an instant.
stephenb 10:19 - [Link] - Comments ()
I never read the Guardian myself, for obvious reasons, but The New Criterion's weblog reports that the English newspaper has printed a series of letters to George Bush from a number of eminent celebrities. Unfortunately, there was a slight transcription error with the note from Harold Printer, it should read as follows:
Dear President Bush,
I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal,
Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down
with a glass of blood, with my
Harold (pause) Pinter
(stage goes black for twenty minutes)
stephenb 16:01 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Publishing Revolution
november 17, 2003
What a great pity that novelists do not include an index at the back of their books. This simple addition would make re-reading favorite passages of novels much easier. For instance, in the back of Kafka's great entomological story you could locate the following references:
Samsa, Gregor: turns into giantic insect 1-2, 7, 10; sister's reaction to transformation 2, 4-159; etc.
Or in The Leopard we might find this:
Amphitrite, fountain of: 12, 15, 42, 118-120
Or in the great Norse sagas, this awesome index entry:
Slaughtered heroes on battlefield, ravens feeding on flesh of: 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,20,22,
Ah yes. Good stuff. But that is probably all I have time for today. I am very busy all morning, dealing with those two implacable tyrants Juan Thing and A.N.Other.
stephenb 09:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
What's In A Name
The surname Powell has always held great significance for me for the following (Anthony Powellian) reasons:
1. First girl ever loved was called Louise Powell
2. Favorite male author is Anthony Powell.
3. Favorite female author is Dawn Powell.
4. Favorite film director is Michael Powell.
5. Favorite actor is William Powell.
6. Favorite painter is the watercolor miniaturist Aloysius Powell
7. I only made one of these up, all the others are true.
What can it all mean? Does anybody else have such a strange and eerie connection with a surname that is not their own?
stephenb 14:42 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Serious Historian's Girlfriend
november 14, 2003
Despite the palaces, canals and priceless art works, the Serious Historian understands that there is only one real scholarly reason to visit Venice, and, as every Emeritus Professor worth his cap and gown knows, that is to examine The Leads, the prison from which Casanova escaped by clambering on to the roof and getting his frock coat all dirty and stuff.
Of course, the Serious Historian will run into several problems attempting to conduct his research, namely, the Serious Historian's girlfriend will demand that he and she actually spend their time being shunted along the canals in a gondola rather than visiting gloomy dungeons. She will also ask the annoyingly penetrating and insightful question, "Why are you so interested in Casanova, anyway?"
At this point, with his important studies in peril, the Serious Historian must reply, "It was the same when we went to Greece and you didn't want to climb up to the top of the Acropolis. I was on the verge making new and valuable discoveries and you kept going on about Island Hopping the whole time."
Alas, it is the Serious Historian's girlfriend who will become finally triumphant, because, "she ultimately hands out the grants" as they say in academia.
stephenb 08:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
Thoughts From The Poet's Window
Hail yonder resolute yet merry gnome, sentinal here in domestic wintry pasture whom doth angle for golden carp in vain, dangling thy fairy pole o'er icy lily pond of plasticated foundation wrought, whilst loosened hounds do pisseth at thy stoic feet, hath Phoebus marked thy chipped nostril with sunburned disfavour, or doth ye quail twixt bushel of rhododendron and naked apple tree? I pity thee, my bearded friend.
stephenb 12:55 - [Link] - Comments ()
One For The Long Winter Nights That Swift Approacheth
Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy was first published the year after the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Mayflower; and so, unfortunately, they could not take a copy with them to read on the voyage or to enhance their libraries with upon arrival at their chosen destination.
The Anatomy of Melancholy is an enormous Stuartian sort of Chicken Soup For The Soul, only full of real scholarship and real wit.
Nicholas Jenkins in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time calls the Anatomy a book "about everything".
My own copy was printed by the New York Review of Books in paperback, and they have kindly translated all the classical quotations and poeticisms, provided annotations, an index, and made the whole thing much easier to read. You can purchase the same edition from 'good' bookshops everywhere. I suggest that you do.
Not than you can read the whole thing through at once, of course. It is, in my opinion, a book to be dipped into from time to time, mainly because you can randomly unearth sentences such as this: "His eyes are like a balance, apt to propend each way, and to be weighed down with every wench's looks, his heart a weathercock, his affection tinder, or naphtha itself, which every fair object, sweet smile, or mistress' favour sets on fire."
Good stuff. Buy it.
stephenb 11:36 - [Link] - Comments ()
If you examine the faces of the personified elements printed on ancient maps and carved into Victorian barometers, they almost always appear as plump, rather jolly figures.
november 13, 2003
In the case of the Sun, I have no argument with this image. Certainly, the Sun should be a plump, rather jolly figures: a hail-fellow-well-met, endearing rogue, who obviously does wear his hat at a jaunty angle and is indeed always ready to come out to play.
The Wind, however, is another matter. The Wind should be the sort of flint-hearted, vicious authoritarian who rules Dickensian schools for orphans with a rod of birch. A hunched, gaunt, skeletal spectre, possibly epicene of manner, who stalks the corridors of the world with an icy glare upon his unforgiving and spiteful face.
The only good thing about the Wind is that he has a lovely daughter called Summer Breeze, who, when you rest upon your bed on a hot summer night, comes softly to your pillow with....
Anyway, that is how I would redesign the old maps and barometers.
stephenb 10:33 - [Link] - Comments ()
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Greatest Story Ever Told, the most fabulous science-fiction fantasy ever conceived, the most epic tale ever dramatized around a campfire, and the most daring saga of an enduring quest is undoubtedly the Hero's journey to pay his phone bill. Not only must the Hero With Many Extensions locate the legendary stamp, he must also confront the evil "phone company".
Of course, the Hero can never actually slay the phone bill since it comes back to life again every month. This is why it is such an
exciting story and such an enduring myth. And why it is much better than that Lord Of The Rings: Return of the Trunk Call thing.
Of course, both Freud and Jung believed that the paying of a phone bill was merely a modern version of an ancient fertility rite. Essentially, they believed that primitive man owned an old and dusty tome which they called "The Phone Book". Primitive man would look in his phone book under the heading "Child Bearing Hips", and this way he was able to contact a woman and leave a message after the tone asking her to be his brood mare. If he did not pay his phone bill, well, his phone would be cut-off, and his line, as it were, would become extinct.
Since the cost of Healthcare in the States is so high, I decided to see a Voodoo Priestess about my back problems. On the face of it this seemed like the cheapest method of obtaining decent treatment for what is an extremely annoying complaint.
So I set sail for the West Indies aboard a tramp steamer called the
Smelly Foot. The journey took several weeks and I had to bring my own lunch. When we landed in the West Indies I had to hire a guide and pack mule to ferry myself and suitcases to the jungle clearing where the ceremony to cure my persistant back ache would take place. But first I had to buy the three live cockerals who were going to have their throats slit. All in all, considering my travel costs, live stock expenses, Voodoo Priestess fee, and then tipping the hypnotic tom-tom drummers, the entire trip and remedy was extremely costly. The moral here, is that my annual HMO subscription is actually pretty good value.
stephenb 17:57 - [Link] - Comments ()
Memoirs of the Forties
november 12, 2003
Part One: A Brief Encounter
Henry Green packed bag, waits. Horizon: cold station platform, unlivably cold, uninviting. Traveling throng clatter along concourse, the usual suitcase crowd. Waiting room, windows small advertisements plastered there featuring vacuum cleaners. Found corner table connecting chair uncomfortable. Stained linen reminds Henry shroud waiting always. Stained cutlery, besides. No Lyons Corner House here. Cigarette, Craven-A exhalation yet teacup scrapes against lipstick smudged saucer. Buttered bun also. Waits anxiously, Birmingham bound. Hopefully train arrival estimation good, Henry coughs. Slim waitress attends, hovers over folded mackintosh. She unaware, ticketed name incorrect, changed via Yorke. Ha ha.
Wait? Where peacock come from?
Dodging the bloke, Lily and I strolled up to the counter and I drew her name with my best poking finger in the dust piles that collected on the glazed pyramid of cakes.
"What's he on about?" Lily asked me, pale skirt slowly disappearing up her thighs like an evaporating puddle in the sun.
"Station master had to go sick." I told her. "Too much rotgut siphoned through a dirty towel, if you ask me."
"How many coupons you got?" Lily said suddenly, dragging her heels across the paving stones. I could see the apprehension in her eyes.
But I took my shoe off and looked, anyway: seven greasy coupons. I had been saving them up for a new typewriter. The old one had jammed when Deaney had set fire to his hat back when we were both out East.
He always called me the Tartan Terror. Must have had something to do with my name, I suppose. I never asked him. You didn't. It just wasn't done. That was all ancient history, as they say.
Lily and me had always talked about going to Brighton for the weekend, strolling down by the pier after the pubs shut. That must have been what she wanted the coupons for. All right. She could have them as far as I was concerned.
Meanwhile, I had to see a man about a review copy of Graham Greene's latest hardcover reason for converting to the Roman religion.
Bugger it, I thought, and kissed Lily on the throat.
Those two Green(e)s, Henry and Graham. I had come full circle but was going nowhere, except Brighton.
stephenb 10:01 - [Link] - Comments ()
Warhol. A Reappraisal
Andy Warhol produced large, silk-screened pictures of Elvis Presley in a various garish shades that he sold from a large box of tin foil in New York. When asked if they would like to buy one, most sane people replied, "No thanks. If I want a picture of Elvis Presley, I can buy a life-size singing inflatable Elvis from my nearest novelty toyshop for a fraction of the price. Alternatively, I could simply cut one out of a magazine."
Artistic failure in a young man who wears a wig is terrible thing. Warhol would have been better off doing portraits of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. He would have been more artistically successful at this for the following reasons:
1. He could have drawn a shoe, perhaps the only thing he was actually good at.
2. Could have used bewigged self as model for Old Woman.
3. Includes element of childish fantasy he enjoyed so much in his life.
4. Suitable for Ages 3 to 9, an age range suitable for all his work.
5. Would have made good jigsaw the MOMA could sell to raise funds.
stephenb 12:09 - [Link] - Comments ()
Two Rants For The Day
november 11, 2003
The sound of contemporary "authentic" folk music: an overweight whale lover from Pittsburgh with a live chicken jammed in his left nostril and his right ear stuffed with parsley complains about seafaring conditions in the sixteenth century while two cats fight in a bucket and a dwarf repeatedly climbs a step ladder to tap an pig's head with a wooden spoon.
Internet Punditry sites are like those bumps on a cartoon character's head: as soon as you push one down, another pops up somewhere else. That other good doctor, Samuel Johnson, could have been writing about Internet Punditry:
"The irregular combinations of fanciful invention may delight awhile, by that novelty of which the common satiety sends us all in quest: but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the stability of truth."
There is, perhaps, only one Internet site that combines both fanciful invention and the truth; alas, modesty forbids my naming it.
Nevertheless, look upon The Stephenhead's artful postings as the silvery drool of perception tumbling down wisdom's distinguished chin, nestling in the sensitive sage's softly flowing beard of golden cheer.
As for some of the other trendily designed diversions you may encounter online ... how the Hell do they know the contents of the mind of the President of the United States, or what disastrous living conditions exist for the people of Iraq; surely they have been too busy "blogrolling" sites of equal White Rastafarian inspired insipidity to perform such feats of knowledge. Too busy linking to Rolling Stone.com and the campaign to legalize marijuana, no doubt.
stephenb 10:51 - [Link] - Comments ()
Igbert, son of Arthurian Igraine, no ignoramus he since St. Ignatius educated, whilst studying the Igorot, within his igloo did ignite an iguanodon sat upon an igneous rock, a most ignoble, ignorant and ignominious thing to do, and so may Igbert remain in ignominy.
Can anyone do better than me with 'ig' words?
Rules: the tedious phrase or saying "iggy Pop" does not count since it is not a real word.
Prize: free subscription to this free weblog. I know it isn't much but times are hard.
stephenb 15:16 - [Link] - Comments ()
Ex Libris Ad Astrum, or Something Like That
Today's post is dedicated to Enoch Soames
The stories of H.G Wells, of course, will be familiar to most booklovers, but how many readers remember another scion of early science fiction, the Edwardian writer Edmund Fredericks?
A good friend of Gosse, Blunden and other Edmunds who were members of the famous Edmunds Club, Fredericks' best known novel probably remains A Gentleman on Mars published in 1918. Fredericks was the first author to treat subjects such as Astro Tweed with the serious attention nobody thought they deserved. A Gentleman on Mars concerns the adventures of Sir Flashius Gordon of the Space Highlanders. Sir Flashius travels to Mars where he must defeat the evil Emperor Bolshie and his deadly Prole Ray, aimed at Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Suffice to say, it is an absolutely ripping read.
It is shame this wonderful but forgotten novel has been out of print since the day it was printed. My own copy is a first edition, inscribed to me by the used book dealer who sold it to me,
"Sucker. Thanks for taking this smelly book off my hands."
stephenb 12:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
Tremendously busy today, he groaned.
november 10, 2003
However, I did recieve a very nice email from a lady who suggested an idea I could elaborate upon. It immediately made me think of Joe Orton's home decor. Watch this space!
stephenb 11:20 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Joy of Diabolical Cooking
After a tiring day battling Norwegian hordes and traitorous Thanes, the average Warlord wants to come home to something a little more ambitious than just plain, old moldy haggis. That's why we here at Satanic Soups have created a gourmet Devilish broth just for you. No double toil, or even trouble. So why not brew one in the windswept comfort of your own blasted heath tonight... 'Tis time!
What you will need:
a) three old cackling hags, you can pick these up on the street.
b) cauldron filled with boiling water. Ensure that it is bubbling before you add the ingredients (not supplied).
First throw in the poisoned entrails, followed by a toad that has slept under a cold stone for thirty-one nights. Let simmer.
Then add fillet of fenny snake, eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog, adder's fork, blind-worm's sting,lizard's leg and a howlet's wing.
Now add scale of dragon, obviously, followed by the tooth of a wolf, a witches' mummy, maw AND gulf, a shark (make sure your pot is big enough), a hemlock root you have dug up in the dark, a liver of a blaspheming Jew,
a goat's gall,a yew slip,Turk's nose, Tartar's lips, finger of a babe strangled at birth, and a tiger's chaudron (look it up, we did).
Finally, cool your soup with baboon's blood, and voila, ready to serve!
Caution: contents will not only be hot but may also make your wife go stark raving mad.
stephenb 19:23 - [Link] - Comments ()
The End of the World
november 08, 2003
Since it seems that, once again, the services of a multi-tasking shepherd cum ship's captain may be required before too long, I ask the following pertinent question: whom will God nominate as the new Noah?
Obviously, since planet Earth will be irrevocably doomed, this new Noah will be building a space rocket rather than the boat his predecessor constructed. He will be transporting his zoological pairs to distant galaxies rather than merely keeping their heads above water. The new Noah's craft will be a Space Ark. Therefore, the new Noah must be a man of rare and varied skills.
Now let us get one thing perfectly clear, it will not be me. If you think I am going to spend forty days and forty nights zooming through deep, implacable, inky black, endless space with only rhino stink and monkey chatter for company, you are mistaken. I wholeheartedly prefer the terrors of the flood. I mean, even a single foolish giraffe with legs and neck akimbo flailing around in zero gravity would be a burden, but two would be an absolute nightmare.
I am sorry. Take your new Noah search elsewhere. May I suggest the veterinary department at NASA, if there is such a place.
stephenb 09:25 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Latest "Design"
november 07, 2003
And so, much like Sir Thomas More's hair on the eve of his execution, this page has turned white overnight. Hopefully, unlike the whims of Henry VIII, it will consequently be easier to read.
The illustration is, once again, from the hand of Osbert Lancaster.
Greedy Mr. Stephenhead ate half a dozen oysters last night in celebration of companionship. He also had several slices of ahi tuna, later trumped by a large porterhouse steak with asparagus, creamed spinach and blue cheese mashed potatoes. He swallowed more glasses of Shiraz than he should have done, which followed the Martini he drank before dinner. The glutton then concluded his evening with two glasses of port and an espresso.
Chocolate cake, sir?
No... but thank you... I couldn't possibly...
stephenb 17:14 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Spectator Calls
november 06, 2003
I was asked to write an essay in the manner of the good doctor, Theodore Dalrymple, referencing Proust and fine wines. My entry was received the next day. I win the usual prize of a silver plated stethoscope from Huntley and Palmer and a copy of 'Turf News'.
A Second Opinion
Any sane person who works in a prison, as I do, will have been startled by confabulations of young men wearing vicious, ill-fitting gray garments decorated with vertical arrows of eldritch black. This is the depressing state of sartorial elegance exhibited by today's convicted felons, who stalk the same cells once paced by Oscar Wilde.
Last week, in the prison where I bang my head against the wall, such a specimen of jailed manhood clothed in his cotton quiver came to see me.
"Doctor, I have been stabbed in the chest." He said in the familiar self-pitying and aggrieved tones common to his kind.
I asked him if he had read A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. My own copy was presented and inscribed to me by the grateful President of Mobowayoland.
"Noooooo." He mumbled, as he spilt more of his own garish blood upon my pristine floor. Reader, he did not request a mop and bucket from me with which he could have cleaned up his own sticky mess.
How can such a creature, I wondered, provide for the prodigious brood of welfare brutes he has no doubt sired in partnership with a slum load of anonymous slatterns, if he cannot nurse his own flesh wounds?
I myself regularly tend an entire herd of giraffe.
I looked up from my lunch of fresh Lobster and Burgundy to ask him this simple question. But alas, dear reader, he had died.
I think this column is getting very tired.
stephenb 09:35 - [Link] - Comments ()
In honor of myself, and because my brain is currently low on inspiration, here are some of my favorite posts from yesteryear. I have no idea why they are my favorites. The one called Very Random is indeed very random. But then they are all random in their way. And that is the way I like it, I suppose.
The One Man David Bowie Tribute Band
Bossanova's Chinese Restaurant
Time's Little Character Sketch
Proof in the Pudding
stephenb 17:46 - [Link] - Comments ()
Autumnal Meditations Beside The Poet's Grave
November's gray and scudding clouds obscure the sun. The swallows pack their bags and take wing for Honolulu, but can Robin Redbreast afford the tree house rent this year .. on what she earns? The busty milkmaid, drawing her gaily-colored shawl around her shivery shoulders, retreats to the cowshed and the consolations of the cider press therein. The frog pond will soon be frozen o'er. Aye, the icefrog cometh.
A frosty slime thickens the blood of withered lily dwellers. Ha.
Browning leaves are gathered in the funeral urn but we shalt make a mash of them yet. That is what has become of Waring. And what of the folk in the yonder mental institution. Will ye all be Bill Sykes again for Old Scrotum's Orchard Pantomime? No Thanksgiving pudding in my larder, miss. No. No. Not for want of baking! I am bored of today. Amen
stephenb 15:33 - [Link] - Comments ()
Sound and Fury, Signifying Rubbish
november 05, 2003
What is a classically trained actor? Someone who has studied a rigorous curriculum of declamation and posture, rather than sitting in a drama school circle channeling the characteristics of a bottle of washing up detergent? Someone who can wear a Greek tragedians mask without suffering debilitating spasms of face ache? Someone who has been taught to suffer the slings and arrows of Shakespearian groundlings with equanimity? And once Shakespeare rears his balding head, what of classically trained actresses? Theoretically, there are no such beasts.
Oddly, whenever you hear a thespian described as "classically trained", it is when they are starring in some awful piece of modern rubbish, in which, you would imagine, classical training of any kind would be a hindrance to successful interpretation of the author's vision.
stephenb 11:46 - [Link] - Comments ()
Boston versus New York
An individual using the nom de plume 'Scratchy' replied to my criticism of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with the following remark: "Quit your whining! Apparently this is news to you: Boston is not New York City. Boston is a tiny city and has to make do with what it has."
The observation that Boston is not New York City is incontrovertibly true; but what it has to do with the architectural folly that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is beyond me. My verdict on that particular building is not a judgment on Boston as a whole, which, if you include Cambridge, has many fine museums and edifying institutions of various stripes that are well worth visiting. And besides, Boston is not a tiny city that has to make do with what it has. Laodician at times it may be, but it is not tiny and make-do.
I called the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum a second-rate Frick because they are both private houses holding collections gathered in much the same manner. However, the Fricks did not, as Mrs. Gardner obviously did, feel the need to reconstitute the interior of their house with nonsensical, sentimental, and whimsical masonry.
By the way, none of my correspondents referenced the very clever Mellors-Gardner joke in the original post. Too oblique, I suppose.
Or just not funny?
stephenb 18:29 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Thin Greuze
Received via email, two remonstrances accusing your humble host author of being a pompus ass regarding his review of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Jigsaw and Tote Bag Shop on November 4th (see below).
Fair point, I suppose. I often enjoy adopting the persona of the pompous ass. However, it cannot be denied that the dreams of Isabella Stewart Gardner are not that far removed from those of Thomas Kinkade.
Sentimental dreams? Please pass the waxen fruit. Thanks.
stephenb 14:28 - [Link] - Comments ()
This Sporting Life
november 04, 2003
Physical exercise and its vaporous anticlimax is a necessary adjunct to living the bookish life; and so, once a week I play Squash, a game modeled after the venerable medieval sport of Racquets. Squash is rather like the modern sweat and lunge free-for-all known as Racquetball, only with more rules, a much smaller ball, an elegant racquet, and requiring greater finesse; in fact, it is a superior game in every respect.
The squash player looks upon the racquetball enthusiast as his inferior, as a pygmy, as a wildebeest in a world of sprightly gazelles, a Neanderthal barely capable of lifting his stunted bat to prevent the ball bouncing off his exceedingly tiny skull.
Not really, but they did usurp my favorite court last night. Bastards!
stephenb 11:07 - [Link] - Comments ()
Where Was Mellors When You Needed Him
Phew! I have just narrowly escaped the chore of escorting someone around the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Lucky me. Here is my capsule review from a previous visit to this shrine of hodge-podge.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a second-rate Frick, is essentially a mixed bag collection of items purchased during one of Isabella's shopping sprees across an "Everything Must Go" Europe on sale. The building itself is like one of those dual textured candy bars: creamy Bostonian coating on the outside with crunchy Italianate fixtures on the inside. An architectural mish-mash presented as sophisticated living. There is a café too, but we won't go there, literally or figuratively. Sometimes they stage scatchy concerts as well. Interesting, albeit easy to do, selection of artistic jigsaws available in the gift shoppe.
stephenb 17:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
So. Apparently I cannot leave the banner title of this page alone even though the alterations are only slight; the merest ripples disturbing an otherwise stagnant surface: rather like canal water in that respect. The current 'design' resembles poor man's Art Deco, or so it seems to me. Let us hope that the Photoshoppe has closed for the duration and that the Devil will find other things for idle hands to do.
stephenb 13:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
Hymn To Bad Poetry
Silence. 'Tis the Hour of the Owl
That neither rhymes nor scans
Scorns both Yeats and Lowell
Pontificating upon an oaken perch.
Auld Hooty knows no Keats
Sayeth limpid Ted. But then:
A sickening crunch of bracken underfoot
Comes the happy Huntress
Or the muse in a weird mood?
stephenb 11:35 - [Link] - Comments ()
How To Write Like The Stephenhead
november 03, 2003
Brevity. It is important to be brief since it is highly likely that you do not know what you are talking about and that your opinions are absolutely worthless and boring. So keep it short. A single paragraph is a good length because you will not have to bother with proper construction and all that rubbish.
1. Quotation: All prose works should begin with a quotation, either from a writer of the Classical period or the chorus of a contemporary pop song. If you choose a Greek epigraph, remember that Cyril Connolly has done a lot of the work for you in his book, The Unquiet Grave. So steal some of his. But be vigilant, some of the Greek phrases Connolly employs mean, "I was a big pansy at school." - and you don't want that.
2. Punctuation: Use as many semi-colons as you can; people will think you are clever; and besides, since every sentence you write will mean the previous thing only written with different words, it will probably be correct usage (bonus score)!
3. Poetical Language: Poetry is not good prose. However, it does mean you can use extra wide margins and limit yourself to four lines on a whole page! (see brevity)
4. Foreign words: German is not good English.
5. Lists: When in doubt, make a list.
stephenb 09:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
Painting By Bumblers
Strolling through a local art gallery this weekend, I found myself cast under a dangerous spell, and the words to this spell were the familiar incantations of that hideous hag, The Muse of Modern Crap: "Yes I too can do that and sell what I have done for a thousand dollars, and I don't even have to bother framing it either."
Consequently, as if in some opiate dream, I walked to the nearest art supply store and bought myself a box of paints, a mixing palette, and a handsome easel. I spent the rest of the day stretching canvas and gadding about in a smock.
My first work in oil, finished last night and provisionally entitled The Moron Laughs, I am extremely pleased with despite my failure to render the mouth correctly. Ignorance of significant form and a total disregard for the laws of perspective might also be considered barriers to complete artistic satisfaction. But with the wisdom of the truly free and liberated creative artist, I realize that such petty, fuddy-duddy strictures do not matter in the slightest. And so, despite the fact that bits of gooey oil lumps are crumbling off the canvas as I write, I am entirely confidant that the painting, when re-titled The Shapeless Figure Scowls: Discordant Symphony in Yucky Green, will be a great success with gallery-goers of all stripes because it is sixty feet high and eighty feet wide.
Note to Museum of Modern Art: picture will make excellent souvenir jigsaw! I can do more in different colors if you would prefer a set of coasters.
stephenb 15:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
Clears throat and adopts jovial, high-falutin' tone of 1950s travelogue voice over
Massachusetts in the Fall brings out the best in quaint, russet-brown New England: the sleepy, ancient farming community of Old Scrotum in Buttauk County, unchanged since the days when George Washington had his first pair of wooden teeth fitted here by Auld Mother Crikey of Dentalbury back when redcoats still paraded on the village green.
Drinking too much cider like me, the weary traveler can topple off his Shaker rocking-chair and fall asleep in the fire at one of Old Scotum's welcoming inns and old-style Yankee taverns. Yes. Here he can burn to death in a manner familier to those witches of bygone days, safe in the knowledge that Old Scrotum's way of life carries on much the same as it always has done except for the casino, shopping mall etc.
stephenb 11:48 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Bore And All His Works
As every civilized person knows, the greatest threat to human happiness comes not from Corrupt Politicians and Nefarious Businessmen, but from Crashing Bores and their hideous activities. Unfortunately, these three personality types are rarely mutually exclusive.
Tyrants, for example, who erect statues of themselves everywhere, unfurl huge pictures of themselves that cover the facades of entire buildings, and then stand in front of those buildings droning on and on about themselves are exhibiting classic Bore behavior. Alas, anyone discovered yawning is liable to be bored to death in a far more horrible manner.
We shall never be set free until the Bore in all his many guises has been chained and fettered. The punishment, in this case, undoubtedly does fit the crime.
stephenb 10:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
InScrutonable: An Intelligent Persons Guide To Civil Unrest
I have been reading Untimely Tracts by Roger Scruton, a collection of topical essays he wrote for a British broadsheet newspaper in the middle 1980s - yes, the only news I enjoy reading is old news. Anyway, in one article he draws attention to the fact that during those days of Thatcher rule, "Old" Labour being a total shambles at the time, the striking British coal miners provided the only viable opposition to reigning Tory administration.
Interesting comment, since Britain seems to be in the same position today, albeit with the party political situation is reversed, of course: the Tory party seems to be a total shambles, and apparently there is no real alternative to "New" Labour. So which blue-blooded entity will play the role of the striking miners? Will the members of venerable, exclusive London dining clubs take to the streets and barricade Pall Mall waving cigars instead of iron bars? Or the pro-hunting lobby with their woodland friends?
Let us hope so.
stephenb 09:31 - [Link] - Comments ()