Monday, February 28, 2011

The Diplomatic Platypus

I had a duck-billed platypus when I was up at Trinity,
With whom I soon discovered a remarkable affinity.
He used to live in lodgings with myself and Arthur Purvis,
And we all went up together for the Diplomatic Service.
I had a certain confidence, I own, in his ability,
He mastered all the subjects with remarkable facility;
And Purvis, though more dubious, agreed that he was clever,
But no one else imagined he had any chance whatever.
I failed to pass the interview, the board with wry grimaces
Took exception to my boots and then objected to my braces,
And Purvis too was failed by an intolerant examiner
Who said he had his doubts as to his sock-suspender's stamina.
Our summary rejection, though we took it with urbanity
Was naturally wounding in some measure to our vanity;
The bitterness of failure was considerably mollified,
However, by the ease with which our platypus had qualified.
The wisdom of the choice, it soon appeared, was undeniable;
There never was a diplomat more thoroughly reliable.
He never made rash statements his enemies might hold him to,
He never stated anything, for no one ever told him to,
And soon he was appointed, so correct was his behaviour,
Our Minister (without Portfolio) to Trans-Moravia.
My friend was loved and honoured from the Andes to Esthonia,
He soon achieved a pact between Peru and Patagonia,
He never vexed the Russians nor offended the Rumanians,
He pacified the Letts and yet appeased the Lithuanians,
Won approval from his masters down in Downing Street so wholly, O,
He was soon to be rewarded with the grant of a Portfolio.
When on the Anniversary of Greek Emancipation,
Alas! He laid an egg in the Bulgarian Legation.
This untoward occurrence caused unheard-of repercussions,
Giving rise to epidemics of sword-clanking in the Prussians.
The Poles began to threaten, and the Finns began to flap at him,
Directing all the blame for this unfortunate mishap at him;
While the Swedes withdrew entirely from the Anglo-Saxon dailies
The right of photographing the Aurora Borealis,
And, all efforts at rapprochement in the meantime proving barren,
The Japanese in self-defence annexed the Isle of Arran.
My platypus, once thought to be more cautious and more tentative
Than any other living diplomatic representative,
Was now a sort of warning to all diplomatic students
Of the risks attached to negligence, the perils of imprudence,
And, branded in the Honours List as 'Platypus, Dame Vera',
Retired, a lonely figure, to lay eggs in Bordighera.

by Patrick Barrington (1903-1990)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Here Be Monsters

I thought it was a long time since we'd had any sea-monsters, so I googled "here be monsters" and this is what sprang up. Most adequate.

William Hogarth (1697-1764)

I think this is called Characters from Raphael, Carracci, Leonardo etc. (1743). More info here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jeffrey Brown (1975- )

More information here.


Apologies for the exclamation marks in the post's title: that's just the sort of emotion these triumphs of technology rouse in me. Last Saturday we went to the Casa de Campo by cable car, starting close-ish to our house and heading out in the first group at midday. Obviously, it's not the only way to travel; it was very enjoyable. We crossed the Rio Manzanares, about which my boss said in one of our fraught and generally surreal meetings that once they get it sorted out and run it in canals across Madrid, it'll 'knock your Seine and your Thames through the bathroom window'. I think he thinks that's an idiom.

Madrid herself was sunk in smog: apparently, until the rains came a day or so after this trip, the air quality was at its lowest level of the whole year. That's the Catedral de la Almudena in rather hazy silhouette.

The most exciting thing to see from the cable car is, of course, other cable cars.

We had bought return tickets, but decided to walk back to the centre instead. On the way back we saw the Madrid Parque de Atracciones which is terrifying even shrouded in smog and through a number of digital filters.

There was a loud and belligerent blue-tit.

A publicly-funded duck house on a public lake (MPs in Spain: more honest, or more subtle than their UK counterparts?).

And, crossing it on foot, the Rio Manzanares has something about it that suggests my boss might not be entirely insane.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

More Sarah Palin

"So I listened to that Sputnik moment talk over and over again, and I think, No, we don't need one of those. You know what we need is a Spudnut moment. … The Spudnut shop in Richland, Wash., it's a bakery, it's a little coffee shop that's so successful, 60-some years, generation to generation, a family-owned business, not looking for government to bail them out and make their decisions for them. It's just hard-working patriotic Americans in this shop. We need more Spudnut moments in America, and I wish that President Obama would understand in that heartland of America, what it is that really results in the solutions that we need to get this economy back on the right track. It's a shop like that."

I think the problem here is the sound of her solution.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Crab Moulting

"Crab Moulting" sounds like a village near Aldeburgh, but... oh no it isn't!

Books Read In January

Vicente Luis Mora, Alba Cromm (2010)

Katherine Anne Porter, Collected Stories and Other Writings

"Veniamin Kaverin", Two Captains (trans. Brian Pearce; the cover here isn't the cover of the edition I read)

Gal Beckerman, When They Come For Us We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry

Dovid Bergelson, Descent (trans. Joseph Sherman)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Más allá de la ciencia

Our first appearance in the Spanish version of the Fortean Times. I can't link to the whole article, it's about ten pages long, but a substantial treatment of our edition of Yusupov's account of the murder of Rasputin sits in close company with other freakery. Here's a translation of the cover stories:

The secret life of Rasputin's killer.

The mystery of the ambulant rocks.

The alchemical peach.

Exclusive revelations about alien technology.

New techniques to change one's karma.


Are animals warning us of the end of days?

On a related note, I've been tempted every time I've been in David's bookshop over the past few years to buy the second-hand Dover thrift edition of The Complete Books of Charles Fort, but even being second-hand and thrifty it comes out at about £27. Oh well, maybe I'll just have to make up all the accounts of alien phenomena I need.

More Fog

I got the other fog photos developed. Most of them are like the first lot, but here's the view from my office.

Heeeeere's Sarah Palin!

And nobody yet has, nobody yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak and no, not, not real enthused about what it is that that’s being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt. And, in these areas that are so volatile right now, because obviously it’s not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with. And, we do not have all that information yet.

Which I think sums up the situation in Egypt pretty well.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


As promised, photos of Chinchón. We were there on a bleak bleak January day with Laurie and Alex and Hazel, and ate steak and stroked donkeys. A few photos of Alex and Hazel and Laurie in what for the time being is their natural habitat to begin with, then donkeys and bleak bleak ploughed fields with little white boundary markers like graves.

Current Favourite Sentences

There are other hoarding categories. Some, such as bibliomania – obsessive collecting of books – aren't too worrying.