Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Soviet Robots!

An illustration from Hello! I'm a Robot! (1989) by Stanislav Zigunenko. More pictures here. I can't find out much more about him, but this is enough to cheer us up for now.

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I'm a Protestant kettle!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blood Sucking Freaks!

For some reason this passage has been playing in my head recently, each time I see Oliver asleep after a feed:

'There lay the Count, but looking as if his youth had been half restored. For the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey. The cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath. The mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran down over the chin and neck. Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood. He lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion.'

But, you know, cuter and less crimson.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Yesterday we bagged Oliver up into his front-slung carrier bag and walked to the new exhibition centre at my university, c arte c (it stands for 'Centro de Arte Complutense', as you might have guessed, but don't you just love the sans-serif abbreviations that art galleries all like to use? My favourite is MAO for 'Modern Art Oxford', which adds a pleasantly Red tinge to the exhibits). The inaugural exhibition, Zoologías: La imagen del animal en los fondos históricos de la UCM y su reinterpretación artística por el grupo de investigación Arte, Ciencia y Naturaleza is a collection of artworks inspired by, and using, materials from the various natural history parts of the University museums.

So, you have e.g. old books about monsters with plaster representations of monsters next to them. Cassowary skeletons, birds' nests, insects decorated to look like celebrants in the Día de los Muertos. Pickled cats, butterfly wings, chicken foetuses.

Skeletons wearing braces, plastic coelacanths, a plaster model of a giant Japanese salamander. As is normal (although it is difficult to use the word 'normal' with a straight face here), Nature ended up beating Art on points.

Hisaji Hara (1964- )

A study of The Room, 2009. More information here.

Thomas Nast (1840-1902)

'The greatest of the cross-hatchers', according to Robert Crumb. More information here.

Jeff Antebi (1970- )

More information here and here. Particularly good photos of Haiti.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Changeling

Two-and-twenty years. Her boy's whole life and history. The last time she looked back upon those roofs among the trees, she carried him in her arms, an infant. How often since that time had she sat beside him night and day, watching for the dawn of mind that never came; how she had feared, and doubted, and yet hoped, long after conviction forced itself upon her! The little stratagems she had devised to try him, the little tokens he had given in his childish way - not of dullness but of something infinitely worse, so ghastly and unchild-like in its cunning - came back as if but yesterday had intervened. The room in which they used to be; the spot in which his cradle stood; he, old and elfin-like in face, but ever dear to her, gazing at her with a wild and vacant eye, and crooning some uncouth song as she sat by and rocked him; ever circumstance of his infancy came thronging back, and the most trivial, perhaps, the most distinctly.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Shrew

She was not going that way, sir, either to-day, or to-morrow, nor indeed all next week,' the lady graciously rejoined, 'but we shall be very glad to put ourselves out of the way on your account, and if you wish it, you may depend upon its going to-day. You might suppose,' said Mrs Varden, frowning at her husband, 'from Varden's sitting there so glum and silent, that he objected to this arrangement; but you must not mind that, sir, if you please. It's his way at home. Out of doors, he can be cheerful and talkative enough.'
Now, the fact was, that the unfortunate locksmith, blessing his stars to find his helpmate in such good humour, had been sitting with a beaming face, hearing this discourse with a joy past all expression. Wherefore this sudden attack quite took him by surprise.
'My dear Martha—' he said.
'Oh yes, I dare say,' interrupted Mrs Varden, with a smile of mingled scorn and pleasantry. 'Very dear! We all know that.'
'No, but my good soul,' said Gabriel, 'you are quite mistaken. You are indeed. I was delighted to find you so kind and ready. I waited, my dear, anxiously, I assure you, to hear what you would say.'
'You waited anxiously,' repeated Mrs V. 'Yes! Thank you, Varden. You waited, as you always do, that I might bear the blame, if any came of it. But I am used to it,' said the lady with a kind of solemn titter, 'and that's my comfort!'
'I give you my word, Martha—' said Gabriel.
'Let me give you MY word, my dear,' interposed his wife with a Christian smile, 'that such discussions as these between married people, are much better left alone. Therefore, if you please, Varden, we'll drop the subject. I have no wish to pursue it. I could. I might say a great deal. But I would rather not. Pray don't say any more.'
'I don't want to say any more,' rejoined the goaded locksmith.
'Well then, don't,' said Mrs Varden.
'Nor did I begin it, Martha,' added the locksmith, good-humouredly, 'I must say that.'
'You did not begin it, Varden!' exclaimed his wife, opening her eyes very wide and looking round upon the company, as though she would say, You hear this man! 'You did not begin it, Varden! But you shall not say I was out of temper. No, you did not begin it, oh dear no, not you, my dear!'
'Well, well,' said the locksmith. 'That's settled then.'
'Oh yes,' rejoined his wife, 'quite. If you like to say Dolly began it, my dear, I shall not contradict you. I know my duty. I need know it, I am sure. I am often obliged to bear it in mind, when my inclination perhaps would be for the moment to forget it. Thank you, Varden.' And so, with a mighty show of humility and forgiveness, she folded her hands, and looked round again, with a smile which plainly said, 'If you desire to see the first and foremost among female martyrs, here she is, on view!'
This little incident, illustrative though it was of Mrs Varden's extraordinary sweetness and amiability, had so strong a tendency to check the conversation and to disconcert all parties but that excellent lady, that only a few monosyllables were uttered until Edward withdrew; which he presently did, thanking the lady of the house a great many times for her condescension, and whispering in Dolly's ear that he would call on the morrow, in case there should happen to be an answer to the note—which, indeed, she knew without his telling, as Barnaby and his friend Grip had dropped in on the previous night to prepare her for the visit which was then terminating.
Gabriel, who had attended Edward to the door, came back with his hands in his pockets; and, after fidgeting about the room in a very uneasy manner, and casting a great many sidelong looks at Mrs Varden (who with the calmest countenance in the world was five fathoms deep in the Protestant Manual), inquired of Dolly how she meant to go. Dolly supposed by the stage-coach, and looked at her lady mother, who finding herself silently appealed to, dived down at least another fathom into the Manual, and became unconscious of all earthly things.
'Martha—' said the locksmith.
'I hear you, Varden,' said his wife, without rising to the surface.
'I am sorry, my dear, you have such an objection to the Maypole and old John, for otherways as it's a very fine morning, and Saturday's not a busy day with us, we might have all three gone to Chigwell in the chaise, and had quite a happy day of it.'
Mrs Varden immediately closed the Manual, and bursting into tears, requested to be led upstairs.
'What is the matter now, Martha?' inquired the locksmith.
To which Martha rejoined, 'Oh! don't speak to me,' and protested in agony that if anybody had told her so, she wouldn't have believed it.
'But, Martha,' said Gabriel, putting himself in the way as she was moving off with the aid of Dolly's shoulder, 'wouldn't have believed what? Tell me what's wrong now. Do tell me. Upon my soul I don't know. Do you know, child? Damme!' cried the locksmith, plucking at his wig in a kind of frenzy, 'nobody does know, I verily believe, but Miggs!'
'Miggs,' said Mrs Varden faintly, and with symptoms of approaching incoherence, 'is attached to me, and that is sufficient to draw down hatred upon her in this house. She is a comfort to me, whatever she may be to others.'
'She's no comfort to me,' cried Gabriel, made bold by despair. 'She's the misery of my life. She's all the plagues of Egypt in one.'
'She's considered so, I have no doubt,' said Mrs Varden. 'I was prepared for that; it's natural; it's of a piece with the rest. When you taunt me as you do to my face, how can I wonder that you taunt her behind her back!' And here the incoherence coming on very strong, Mrs Varden wept, and laughed, and sobbed, and shivered, and hiccoughed, and choked; and said she knew it was very foolish but she couldn't help it; and that when she was dead and gone, perhaps they would be sorry for it—which really under the circumstances did not appear quite so probable as she seemed to think—with a great deal more to the same effect. In a word, she passed with great decency through all the ceremonies incidental to such occasions; and being supported upstairs, was deposited in a highly spasmodic state on her own bed, where Miss Miggs shortly afterwards flung herself upon the body.
The philosophy of all this was, that Mrs Varden wanted to go to Chigwell; that she did not want to make any concession or explanation; that she would only go on being implored and entreated so to do; and that she would accept no other terms. Accordingly, after a vast amount of moaning and crying upstairs, and much damping of foreheads, and vinegaring of temples, and hartshorning of noses, and so forth; and after most pathetic adjurations from Miggs, assisted by warm brandy-and-water not over-weak, and divers other cordials, also of a stimulating quality, administered at first in teaspoonfuls and afterwards in increasing doses, and of which Miss Miggs herself partook as a preventive measure (for fainting is infectious); after all these remedies, and many more too numerous to mention, but not to take, had been applied; and many verbal consolations, moral, religious, and miscellaneous, had been super-added thereto; the locksmith humbled himself, and the end was gained.
'If it's only for the sake of peace and quietness, father,' said Dolly, urging him to go upstairs.
'Oh, Doll, Doll,' said her good-natured father. 'If you ever have a husband of your own—'
Dolly glanced at the glass.
'—Well, WHEN you have,' said the locksmith, 'never faint, my darling. More domestic unhappiness has come of easy fainting, Doll, than from all the greater passions put together. Remember that, my dear, if you would be really happy, which you never can be, if your husband isn't. And a word in your ear, my precious. Never have a Miggs about you!'

Rogues' Gallery


It's always interesting to revisit the past; to polish up memories of things that happened when you were just a little too young to remember them properly, or be fully aware of what people were thinking or doing. So, here's an extract from an article by Peregrine Worsthorne in the Sunday Telegraph during the Rushdie affair, some time in 1989 (I'd forgotten that the fatwa was issued on Valentine's day, which is indicative of a slightly sick sense of news management):

Salman Rushdie's apology may well reduce the danger to his life. But it won't remove it, and it is ironic that someone who was only recently inveighing against Mrs Thatcher for having created a police state should now be compelled to rely on that same police state to save his life. As a result of this experience perhaps he and his friend will come to realise the debt they owe to the practice of phone-tapping, since without that right the security services would never know where to look for would-be assassins.

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After all, it would be fair to say that if Mr X.'s readership were assembled in the Albert Hall the ice-cream salesmen would have a pretty thin time of it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An Ass

'Oh, this is the memorandum, is it?' said Brass, running his eye over the document. 'Very good. Now, Mr Richard, did the gentleman say anything else?'
'Are you sure, Mr Richard,' said Brass, solemnly, 'that the gentleman said nothing else?'
'Devil a word, sir,' replied Dick.
'Think again, sir,' said Brass, 'it's my duty, sir, in the position in which I stand, and as an honourable member of the legal profession, the first profession in this country, sir, or in any other country, or in any of the planets that shine above us at night and are supposed to be inhabited - it's my duty, sir, as an honourable member of that profession, not to put to you a leading question in a matter of this delicacy and importance. Did the gentleman, sir, who took the first floor of you yesterday afternoon, and who brought with him a box of property - a box of property - say anything more than is set down in this memorandum?'
'Come, don't be a fool,' said Miss Sally.
Dick looked at her, and then at Brass, and then at Miss Sally, again, and still said 'No.'
'Pooh, pooh! Deuce take it, Mr. Richard, how dull you are!' cried Brass, relaxing into a smile. 'Did he say anything about his property? - there.'
'That's the way to put it,' said Miss Sally, nodding to her brother.
'Did he say, for instance,' added Brass in a kind of comfortable, cozy tone - 'I don't assert that he did say so, mind; I only ask you, to refresh your memory - did he say, for instance, that he was a stranger in London - that it was not his humour or within his ability to give any references - that he felt we had a right to require them - and that, in case anything should happen to him, at any time, he particularly desired that whatever property he had upon the premises should be considered mine, as some slight recompense for the trouble and annoyance I should sustain - and were you, in short,' added Brass, still more comfortably and cozily than before, 'were you induced to accept him on my behalf, as a tenant, upon those conditions?'
'Certainly not,' replied Dick.
'Why then, Mr. Richard,' said Brass, darting at him a supercilious and reproachful look, 'it's my opinion that you've mistaken your calling, and will never make a lawyer.'

Friday, February 17, 2012

John Suckling (1609-1642)

More information here. I was already a big fan of his for being the author of one of my favourite little poems ('Love is the fart / Of every heart: / It pains a man when 'tis kept close, / And others doth offend, when 'tis let loose.'), but when I found out that he invented cribbage, I was lost.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

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The grate, which was a wide one, was wound and screwed up tight, so as to hold no more than a little thin sandwich of fire.