Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My Current Favourite Sentence

"It was on that occasion that I became possessed of my ever-to-be-lamented infant walrus."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Edible Snails

At least, I take it on trust that they are edible.

A Liquid Lunch

"If I give you anything like a connected account of what passed, you must thank Sigurdr's more solid temperament; for the Doctor looked quite foolish when I asked him - tried to feel my pulse - could not find it - and then wrote the following prescription, which I believe to be nothing more than an invoice of the number of bottles he himself disposed of.

[Footnote: Copy of Dr. F's prescription:- vin: claret: iii. btls.; vin: champ: iv btls.; vin: sherr: 1/2 btl.; vin: Rheni: ii btls.; aqua vitae viii gls.; trigint: poc: aegrot: cap: quotid: C.E.F.; Reik: die Martis, Junii 27.]

I gather, then, from the evidence - internal and otherwise - that the dinner was excellent, and that we were helped in Benjamite proportions; but as before the soup was finished I had was already hard at work hobnobbing with my two neighbours, it is not to be expected I should remember the bill of fare.

With the peculiar manners used in Scandinavian skoal-drinking I was already well-acquainted. In the nice conduct of a wine-glass I knew that I excelled, and having a hereditary horror of heel-taps, I prepared with a firm heart to respond to the friendly provocations of my host. I only wish you could have seen how his kind face beamed with approval when I chinked my first bumper against his, and having emptied it at a draught, turned it towards him bottom upwards, with the orthodox twist. Soon, however, things began to look more serious even than I had expected. I knew well that to refuse a toast, or to half empty your glass, was considered churlish. I had come determined to accept my host's hospitality as cordially as it was offered. I was willing, at a pinch, to payer de ma personne; should he not be content with seeing me at his table, I was ready, if need were, to remain under it; but at the rate we were then going it seemed probable that this consummation would take place before the second course: so, after having exchanged a dozen rounds of sherry and champagne with my neighbours, I pretended not to observe that my glass had been refilled; and, like the sea-captain who, slipping away from between his two opponents, left them to blaze at each other the long night through - withdrew from the combat. But it would not do; with untasted bumpers, and dejected faces, they politely waited until I should give the signal for a renewal of hostilities, as they well deserved to be called. Then there came over me a horrid, wicked feeling. What if I should endeavour to floor the Governor, and so literally turn the tables on him! It is true I had lived for five-and-twenty years without touching wine - but was I not my great-grandfather's great-grandson, and an Irish peer to boot? Were there not traditions, too, on the other side of the house, of casks of claret brought up into the dining-room, the door locked, and the key thrown out of the window? With such antecedents to sustain me, I ought to be able to hold my own against the staunchest toper in Iceland! So, with a devil glinting in my left eye, I winked defiance right and left, and away we went at it again for another five-and-forty minutes. At last their fire slackened: I had partially quelled both the Governor and the Rector, and still survived. It is true I did not feel comfortable; but it was in the neighbourhood of my waistcoat, not my head, I suffered. 'I am not well, but I will not out,' I soliloquised, with Lepidus - '??? ??? ?? ??????', I would have added, had I dared. Still the neck of the banquet was broken - Fitzgerald's chair was not yet empty - could we hold out perhaps a quarter of an hour longer, our reputation was established; guess then my horror, when the Icelandic Doctor, shouting his favourite dogma, by way of battle-cry, 'Si triginta guttis morbum curare velis, erras,' gave the signal for an unexpected onslaught, and the twenty guests poured down on me in succession. I really thought I should have run away from the house; but the true family blood, I suppose, began to show itself, and, with a calmness almost frightful, I received them one by one.

After this began the public toasts."

Lord Dufferin, Letters From High Latitudes (1856)

You can guess, in broad outline, where it goes from here.

Specifically, the evening ends with an attempt to catch puffins: "Red-nosed, winged rabbits! I had never heard or read of the species: and I naturally grew enthusiastic in the chase, hoping to bring home a choice specimen to astonish our English naturalists. With some difficulty we managed to catch one or two, which had run into their holes instead of flying away. They bit and scratched like tiger-cats, and screamed like parrots; indeed, on a nearer inspection I am obliged to confess tat they assumed the appearance of birds, which may perhaps account for their powers of flight. A slight confusion still remains in my mind as to the real nature of the creatures."

Interesting Knockers

There is an obvious joke here, which I am not making.

Trading on a Name

The important thing is the certification, of course.

How kind! How generous!

"Por causas razonables, excluidos siempre las de vana ostentación o índole económica, podrá celebrarse el matrimonio en otro templo, contando siempre con la debida autorización."

Much better in England where, if your fancy takes you, you can get married in a kebab van.


See for an instructive comparison.

Local Flora


It is good to look at manmade things. Container ports are a special favourite. Also good are sewage works, but they're more difficult to get close to. And you can't suggest them for a trip in the same way you can ports. Although, 'Let's go and hang around at the docks' isn't an entirely non-suspect suggestion either.

Harry: 13.7.93 - 10.8.6

Birch Juice

There is - I hadn't realised this before - a Polish delicatessen near where I live. I went in for the first time a few days ago. The proprietor was being given the hard sell by an Italian, who wanted him to buy a coffee machine, and turn this rather dodgy corner of the town into a continental-style pavement cafe, which I thought was a step too far. But I was so delighted to find somewhere selling all my favourite Eastern European things that I didn't really register any of their altercation. Instead, I was stocking up on Borzhomi mineral water (so what if the Russian government claims it's contaminated with benzene? They only say one bottle in three - I like those odds). Also, there's a lot of joy to be had in looking at the shelves full of meat-in-jars, cucumbers-in-jars, mushrooms-in-jars. But on the way to the counter I noticed the shelves of fruit juice - rowanberry juice, blackcurrant juice... And the Byelorussian carton I didn't understand at all: 'сок березовый'. Or, in English, Birch Juice. Into the trolley with it. I put it in the fridge when I got home and then went to Spain to see Marian. I got back yesterday and realised this morning that it was a challenge I could no longer avoid.

Birch juice is a colourless liquid: I thought for a moment that it might be some elaborate Byelorussian joke, along the lines of 'sky nails' or 'elbow grease'. Run along to the shops and buy us a pint - ha ha ha - of birch juice. And get us a parting wrench while you're at it. But it is slightly more viscous than water, and leaves a faint oily sheen on the sides of the glass. It has a fresh, faintly intriguing smell, like an empty paint tin which someone has rubbed - about four years ago - with a lemon. I was going to take a glass into my room to taste it in private, but Ben said 'Drink it here. I want to see your face.' So.

Birch juice tastes of syrup - sugar water - with a mildly unpleasant aftertaste: like rotten apples. Or rather, like licking the cask that rotten apples have been packed in. Either way, one to avoid. And I have about three-quarters of a litre left. I wonder if it's good for the plants?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Our Mutual Friend IV

"Mrs Wilfer spake no word, but, having glared at her offspring for a minute or two in an awful silence, retired into her corner of state backward, and sat down: like a frozen article on sale in a Russian market."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Trunt, Trunt, og Tröllin í Fjöllunum

Einu sinni voru tveir menn á grasafjalli. Eina nótt lágu þeir báðir í tjaldi saman. Svaf annar, en hinn vakti. Sá þá hinn er vakti, að sá, sem svaf, skreið út. Hann fór á eftir og fylgdi honum, en gat naumast hlaupið svo, að ekki drægi sundur með þeim. Maðurinn stefndi upp til jökla. Hinn sá þá, hvar skessa mikil sat uppi á jökulgnípu einni. Hafði hún það atferli, að hún rétti hendurnar fram á víxl og dró þær svo upp að brjóstinu, og var hún með þessu að heilla manninn til sín. Maðurinn hljóp beint í fang henni, og hljóp hún þá burt með hann.
Ári síðar var fólk úr sveit hans á grasafjalli á sama stað. Kom hann þá til þess og var fálátur en ábúðarmikill, svo varla fékkst orð af honum. Fólkið spurði hann, á hvern hann tryði, og sagðist hann þá trúa á guð.

Á öðru ári kom hann aftur til sama grasafólks. Var hann þá svo tröllslegur, að því stóð ótti af honum. Þó var hann spurður, á hvern hann tryði, en hann svaraði því engu. Í þetta sinn dvaldi hann skemur hjá fólkinu en fyrr.

Á þriðja ári kom hann enn til fólksins, var hann þá orðinn hið mesta tröll og illilegur mjög. Einhver áræddi þó að spyrja hann að, á hvern hann tryði, en hann sagðist trúa á "trunt, trunt og tröllin í fjöllunum" og hvarf síðan. Eftir þetta sást hann aldrei, enda þorðu menn ekki að vera til grasa á þessum stað nokkur ár eftir.