Saturday, December 23, 2006

A little harmless boasting

I've been away for a bit. Sorry. But here is some boasting to disarm you. I had my viva on 14th December - very polite and surprisingly nice handpicked examiners - and they agreed to give me my doctorate. So, I've spent the past few days in sybaritic luxury, waving away questions and annoyances with a lordly flick of the wrist. This'll last until the beginning of January, perhaps, when I really need to think about getting a job. But until then, let the good times roll.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Malory 4

'And sythen he hath no name, I shall gyff hym a name which shall be called Beawmaynes, that is to say Fayre Handys. And into the kychyn I shall brynge hym, and there he shall have fatte browes every day that he shall be as fatte at the twelve-monthe ende as a porke hog.'
Sir Kay taking the mickey out of a nameless wight, who proves two pages later to be 'Garethe, and brothir unto sir Gawayne of fadir syne and modir syne.' That's one of the perelest knyghtes to make an enemy of, and no mistake.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Adventure

This is a story of heroism and derring-do, travel and alarums. But first a picture of my brother walking safely on the frozen Tjörn. We call this proleptic irony.

On the last full day my brothers had here with me in Iceland, we decided to rent a car and go to see Vík, a beautiful black-sand beach at almost the very south of the country. It's about 180 kilometres from Reykjavík. The town's real name is Vík í Myrdal (I can't work out how to put an accent on the letter 'y', but just imagine it's there), which means 'Bay in the Marshy Vale'. But don't let that put you off. Ben drove all the way there and back, excellently.

We left as the sun was coming up, at about eleven am. It's not a particularly exciting drive, but you know, it's authentically Icelandic. We stopped at various points to drink coffee, take pictures of waterfalls

and admire Icelandic agricultural machinery.

We also noticed the desire to live in large communities which is so manifest an element of the Icelandic character.

We got to Vík at about two pm. There are some nice stacks there

and Tom and Ben performed a few characteristic activities, viz. taking photographs of sand and walking about looking rugged.

The adventure started shortly after I took this photograph. I was standing on a rock facing the beach, when suddenly a larger-than-normal breaker hit me from behind and knocked me over. The North Atlantic ocean is particularly chilly in early December. I got up fairly quickly, certainly before the next wave came along, but I was sodden wet, in the middle of Iceland and without any dry clothes. So, we hurried back to the car and I took my trousers off. There is a photo of me, naked from the waist down, in the passenger seat of the car, but I'm not going to share it with just anyone. Ben and Tom were both incredibly competent and highly compassionate. Ben picked me up. Tom gave me his spare jumper and bought a large beach towel covered with puffins in the souvenir shop at Vík for me to cover my modesty (which, given the cold water, was a more-than-adequate fig leaf). Ben allowed me to sit my naked self on his jumper so as not to get the car seat wet. Oddly enough, he decided not to wear the jumper today. We drank a lot of coffee and then pottered home, because it was getting dark. Excitement enough. One interesting thing is that in the time it took me to get hit by the wave, fall over and get up again, all my pockets were filled with sand. So I am finding little bits of gravel and pummice and basalt all over my bedroom today. Time for a spring-clean (pre-Christmas-clean) perhaps.

Twilight looks pretty much the same at both ends of the day.


These are my two brothers, Tom and Ben. You have to guess which is which.


This is the first all-steel boat made in Iceland. It's in the process of being decommissioned. I learnt these facts from a man who saw us looking at the boat and asked us, 'Do you like this boat?' Which makes a change from the traditional question, 'Do you like Iceland?' Also, an easier question to answer. My brother is at the front for purposes of scale.

Sign of the Times

This is an official streetsign. It seems that the owners of the burgerjoint just to the east of it petitioned the authorities for the naming rights. What's wrong with Karlmarksgata, we ask ourselves?

Icelandic Graffiti Redux

I went walking round Reykjavík with my brothers. We found lots of grafitti - the picture in the middle is the most self-effacing. Although the idea of self-effacing grafitti sounds like something town councils have been trying to invent since tagging began.

Monks on the Run

We went up the church tower again to see Reykjavík from on high. With us was a party of Buddhist monks. I speak no Tibetan (Tom says they looked Korean; neither speak I Korean), but it is possible to deduce that they were interested in the church bells. My evidence:
1. 'ding-dong' seems to be a universal piece of onomatopoeia.
2. When the clock started striking, they immediately got out their expensive digital cameras and started recording the resounding two pm.

Ice Cream

A slight hiatus in the posting: my brothers have been out here visiting me.

We went to this ice cream parlour: it had enough neon and shiny packaging to make me imagine I was either in the future or in one of J.G. Ballard's nightmares. The ice cream, sadly, was not great: the range of toppings available was wide, as long as you like chocolated liquorice.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Antikythera Mechanism

Sounds like a Robert Ludlum thriller, is actually this. Am I right to be extremely excited in a sort of Atlantean way?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Henry Treese

Well, not really Henry Treese. There's a poem by Henry Treese which, I think, starts 'Like the fey goose-girl in the haunted wood', and which I would have liked to quote here, because it goes with the picture. But it's not in the library here, and it's vanishingly unlikely to be in the bookshops in town. It is, if you're interested, included in Edward Germain's Penguin anthology Surrealist Poetry in English. Which is out of print. But, if you have access to a university library (or my bedroom), then you can find it and have someone read you the poem while looking at this picture, which will provide an advanced multi-media experience for those of you who have nothing better to do. It's quite a good poem, by the way.


I think this is what they call the global market-place.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Breaking News

O.J. Simpson book reconsidered. So that's alright then.


Does this word exist? Anyhow, very little colour in Iceland at the moment.

A Damned Lie

Swans' feathers are not as white as snow.

Would the crook-necked bird I saw serpenting across the surface of the harbour earlier today have been a cormorant? In which case, why the white neck? Sadly, this is the best photo I could get.
Maybe I'll by a pack of frozen prawns and squid and feed them from the shore, enticing them close to me with the promise of crustacea and cephalopoda. A crazy plan, but it might just...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Amazing Developments

Sorry for the slight delay: the internet's been down in my room for a few days, so I've only been able to use the absolute emergency, fifteen minutes a pop, internet in the library. Which left little time for frivolity. Or even talking about the weather.

Well, Friday was nice. Little wind, a brisk -10ºC.

And then when it got dark it got warmer and blusterous.

And now it's all like this.

Which is fun as far as snowmen and snowballs are concerned, but I move at approximately 50% of my preferred walking speed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

For Your Information

It's freezing really quite hard. When I went to the outdoor swimming pool yesterday, the air temperature was -6ºC. My hair froze. This is a note to my brothers not to forget their swimming trunks when they come to visit me. Nor their Arctic exploration gear.

O.J. Simpson

O.J. Simpson is publishing a book. It is a 'hypothetical memoir' called If I Did It, Here's How it Happened. In it, as you might be able to guess, Mr Simpson describes how he would have murdered his wife if this were a crime he had committed. It's said to be very realistic. Two things: First, Humbert Humbert's diary being found by his second wife, Lolita's mother.

'You are ruining my life and yours,' I said quietly. 'Let us be civilised people. It is all your hallucination. You are crazy, Charlotte. The notes you found were fragments of a novel. Your name and hers were put in by mere chance. Just because they came handy. Think it over. I shall bring you a drink.'

Secondly, how far can this go? Can I write a book called If I Were Being Libellous, Here's Some Offensive Speculation and expect to get away with it?

I don't know if this post is inspired by the fact that it rhymes with the previous one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

William Empson

Note on Local Flora

There is a tree native in Turkestan,
Or further east towards the Tree of Heaven,
Whose cold hard cones, not being wards to time,
Will leave their mother only for good cause;
Will ripen only in a forest fire;
Wait, to be fathered as was Bacchus once,
Through men's long lives, that image of time's end.
I knew the Phoenix was a vegetable.
So Semele desired her deity
As this in Kew thirsts for the Red Dawn.

The Tin Men

'Take your department, Rowe. Now, you're producing a programme which will permit all the bingo games in the country to be run simultaneously from one central computer. Well, that's obvious. It had to come. There's nothing very revolutionary about putting such a purely mechanical process of randomising and correlating out to a computer.'
'No, no.'
'Then you'll start producing a programme for automating the football results. Again, it had to come. Professional football is becoming increasingly uneconomical, but the pools industry has to carry on somehow. It doesn't take even the stupidest wee businessman long to see that paying twenty-two men to do nothing but make a random choice between win, lose, and draw is economic madness. Once you've done football it won't take people long to see that you can replace all the racecourses in the country with one quite simple and inexpensive computer. And of course cricket. When takings at the gate have fallen low enough to cure any tendency to sentiment, people will notice that a computer is a far more suitable tool than a cricket team for producing a complex score sheet from the variables of ground moisture, light, surface wear on ball, fallibility of wicket-keeper, and so on. In fact all the complex mass of statistics produced by the sports industry can without exception be produced not only more economically by computer, but also with more significant patterns and more amazing freaks. I take it that the main object of organised sports and games is to produce a profusion of statistics?'
'Oh, yes,' said Rowe. 'So far as I know.'
'No one has ever suggested any other reason, have they?'
'I don't think so.'
'No, of course not. But one needs to get these fundamental considerations straight before one builds on them. Anyway, if that is so, I think we can assume that a computer is a more efficient statistic-producing machine than any possible combination of horses, dogs, or muscular young men.'

I copy this, of course, while waiting for England to kick off against Holland.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

Monday, November 06, 2006

More Modern Art

There's an exhibition of "American Art in the Third Millennium" at the Modern Art Museum at the moment - it's a bit repetitive and naïve in a way I don't like. For example, there's one exhibit with photos of Tom Cruise and a Palestinian suicide bomber next to each other - what do we think? Suicide is as dangerous as celebrity? No, it isn't. America and the "Orient" are opposed, with America trivial and "The Orient" serious? Again, not so simple. The artist just cut two striking pictures from the newspaper? In which case, I'm in the wrong career. But here's a few pictures of some of the exhibits. This isn't to endorse them.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

It's all gone a bit Hitchcock...

Marian is out here for a week, which is lovely (of course, it's only Day 2 of the visit, but I'm willing to stick my neck out). It has also, I assume completely coincidentally, decided to blow a hurricane. Last night we were kept up by the wind howling through the cracks in my previously impermeable window, and we woke up this morning to horizontal rain and the noise of flags tearing themselves free from their flagpoles. So, naturally, we decided to go and feed the ducks: they're having a tough enough time of it without having their rations withdrawn simply because a spot of drizzle. All was going well until we attracted the attention of the large flock of seagulls at the other end of the Tjörn.

Assyrians and wolves on the fold had nothing on it. Except the number of purple and gold seagulls one sees is probably limited. But it soon became an all-out war between the swimmers and the flyers, with the seagulls (unable to get video footage of this) dropping down to pick bread off the waters, and occasionally off the backs of the ducks and swans, when the bread didn't fly quite where we wanted it to go. Of course, the swimmers had their secret weapon

which was probably the most impressive thing I saw today, even if I have not a clue what it is. Battle finished once we ran out of ammunition.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


A Mural

The horse at the top of the picture, whom we only see the half of, is Óðinn's horse Sleipnir, the finest of all horses. You can identify Sleipnir easily because he has eight legs. He is the son of Svadilfari, a grey stallion belonging to a frost giant, and Loki the god of trickery, who turned into a white mare in order to entice Svadilfari away from his owner. As you might be able to guess, there's a story behind this, but I'll leave it till later. Anyhow, Sleipnir is sometimes depicted with six legs, four at the back and two at the front, but here he has all eight, so you can distinguish him from a beetle. But mistake him for a spider, perhaps.


These all seem to be on a similar theme. I wanted the one with the child in it to look as if it was a child on display in a shop window, but the little fool moved at inopportune moments. Can't they just glue his feet to the floor or something?

Those Ker-azy Serbs

There was an exhibition of Serbian photography in the photo museum, as well as one of Polish photos from the era of Solidarity. The Serbs looked like they had more fun. Or else were better able to cope with being humiliated by the photographer.

Gulls on Ice

Which sounds like the title of a slightly desperate icecapades show.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Look at the sonnets

'Did you ever think that Shakespeare had a cat? Look at the sonnets. Most of them aren't written to a woman or a boy. They're addressed to a cat.'

Kenneth Tynan reports a conversation with Gordon Craig, 1956.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Yes, but is it art?

Reykjavík is having a few weeks of exciting contemporary artists setting up mobile exhibitions in strange places all over the city. The exhibition I went to yesterday was mostly concerned with the slightly naïve appropriation of political imagery in order to show videos of an imaginary parallel universe in which Reykjavík was conquered by a band of guerilla fighters, who poisoned the water supply, executed all the children, and masturbated into a gigantic cockroach. I didn't quite follow the last bit. They also hung flags adorned with a diagrammatic representation of a womb all over the main shopping street. Today's exhibition, which involved dry ice, video footage of gypsy fiddlers, and this disturbing doll-face stuffed into a large false intestine,

was a little less offensive but no more comprehensible. I suppose this post should really be signed 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' - why can't we have proper art like in the good old days? You know, oil on canvas, absinthe and people chopping their ears off?

Icelandic Faces 6

This is Þorvaldir the lawyer.

Icelandic Faces 5

These were all taken in the lobby of Reykjavik's main library, which is also where they hide the photo museum.