The Aubergine Song
Probably the most risqué song I've ever sung on stage. Now with dynamic text: tell your friends!
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I hope Scotland votes Yes today. But remember: William Wallace sold you a lie. Scotland can be just as unfree under Holyrood as it is under Westminster. Freedom isn't increased merely by changing masters, whether those masters live in London or Edinburgh. Good luck, but be wary.
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The handle to raise and lower Kent
(first draft of song)
Oh, I was down in Maidstone,
I called at County Hall,
And in the council chamber there's
A handle on the wall.
They said, "Don't touch that lever!"
I asked them what they meant.
They told me, that's the handle
To raise and lower Kent.
Up, up if we pull!
Down, down if we press!
Our goals are Kent's
From here to near Sheerness.
We made the airfields higher
To help the Spitfires land.
And when the Normans landed,
We took away the sand.
We built the Channel Tunnel
By using this control,
And if we like, the Medway
Can vanish down a hole.
We've kept this secret weapon
Of ancient Kentish kings,
Who kept Invicta guarded
By mounting it on springs.
When tourists get too rowdy
Then given half a chance
We'll shake the earth beneath them
And bounce them into France.
Gentle Readers: phrase and foible
I've been ill. It was rather worse than it should have been, because I hadn't registered with a new doctor up here yet, and then quite a lot of paper had to fly around giving various people permission to do various things. So I haven't been in a fit state to write this for a week or so, which is frustrating because I had a lot of interesting articles planned. I may start adding in some extra days in order to make up the time.
A poem of mine
"...and not only did he run off in the middle of the night,
he even left a creepy-crawly in the bed for me to find in the morning.
I tell you, that's the last time I go home with Gregor Samsa."
Sometimes, when I read about people from the past, I wonder what it was like to have a conversation with them. Can you imagine going out to get fish and chips with Carl Linnaeus, for example? You'd be chatting about something, and all of a sudden you'd hear him gasp "Oh, Veronica," so you'd look round and he'd be on his hands and knees saying, "My goodness, a hitherto undiscovered variety of speedwell!" And of course it's rather easier to imagine what Johnson was like to meet socially, since that's how so many of his biographers observed him.
Another such person is a Baptist minister named Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-1897), the owner of an inquisitive mind, a formidable beard, and one of the strongest things in the world: a good habit. As he read, and he read a great deal, he would write down every question that crossed his mind. When he found the answer, he would write it on the same piece of paper, then file it. You may imagine that paper files formed a large part of his life, and also a large part of his house.
Something from someone else
In his mid-twenties, he collected many of these questions together into a popular science manual entitled A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar. This sold so well that it enabled him to leave Norwich and travel around Europe, investigating and learning. Because the book also brought him into the public eye, he began to receive a great deal of correspondence about questions the book had raised, which nourished his files still further.
He returned to England at the age of forty-six, to begin his greatest work: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Many of the questions he had considered were about mysterious allusions in his reading; what did this phrase mean? or what story was referred to there? He determined to answer as many as possible, in alphabetical order. The job took fourteen years. Even though he was sixty by the time the book was published, he went on to produce a revised edition in 1891 at the age of seventy-four.
It's still in print, and I urge you to find a copy if you can-- it's easily found second-hand. Discovering Brewer enriched my childhood; I would wander through his pages and learn things fascinating enough that it didn't matter how useless the knowledge might be. It often came in useful, though, years later. And Brewer's own touch is on every line: you really can imagine that it would have been much the same to have a chat with him, darting from subject to subject with the dazzling randomness of a dragonfly.
In Welsh, where he started, the wizard in the Arthur stories is called Myrddin. In English we say Merlin, which comes from his Latin name, Merlinus. The Latin name seems to have been made up by Geoffrey of Monmouth (yes, him again). Now, there's no sound in Latin corresponding to Welsh "dd", but generally you'd represent it with a similar sound, like D. So why on earth did Geoffrey change it to an L?
Well, I read something today (and now I can't find where), which pointed out that Geoffrey must have been familiar with Norman French, so presumably he figured that calling a character "Merdinus" would bring hilarity rather than gravitas.
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Gentle Readers in video form
Gentle Readers: like an apple tree
I've been up to surprisingly little in the last few days. I'm trying to be peaceful and spend time reading and taking things in, instead of always being on the go and trying to make things, otherwise I'll wear myself out. That may be crashingly obvious, but I've managed to avoid noticing it for years.
A poem of mine
Adam: "Happy birthday, Eve!"
Eve: "It's today, not tomorrow."
Something wonderfulMitochondria are tiny living things, rather like bacteria. They live inside the cells of almost all animals, plants, and fungi, where their job is to process glucose in order to provide a source of power for the rest of the cell. Without their help, we wouldn't be here.
Gentle Readers: harmless phantoms
It's been three months! This is the last issue of volume 1, and next week volume 2 begins: it'll be more of the same, except that I'm adding reviews of some of the children's books I've loved in my life. I'll be collecting the twenty issues of volume 1 together in a printed book, which I'll be emailing you about when it's ready.
This week has been busy but uneventful, which I wish was a less common mixture, but it was good to drop into Manchester during the Pride festival. I apologise for this issue being late: I had it all prepared, and then there was a server problem, and then I found I'd lost one of the sections completely, so it had to be rewritten. Never mind: you have it now!
A poem of mine
ON FIRST LOOKING INTO AN A TO Z (T13)
My talent (or my curse) is getting lost:
my routes are recondite and esoteric.
Perverted turns on every road I crossed
have dogged my feet from Dover up to Berwick.
My move to London only served to show
what fearful feast of foolishness was mine:
I lost my way from Tower Hill to Bow,
and rode the wrong way round the Circle Line.
In nameless London lanes I wandered then
whose tales belied my tattered A to Z,
and even now, in memory again
I plod despairing, Barking in my head,
still losing track of who and where I am,
silent, upon a street in Dagenham.
In the poem above, I mentioned Berwick-upon-Tweed, or Berwick for short, which rhymes with Derek. Berwick is the most northerly town in England, two miles from the Scottish border. It stands at the mouth of the river Tweed, which divides Scotland from England in those parts, but Berwick is on the Scottish bank: for quite a bit of its history it was a very southerly town in Scotland instead. The town's football team still plays in the Scottish leagues instead of the English. Berwick has been in English hands since 1482, though given next month's referendum I'm not going to guess how long that will last.
As befits such a frontier town, it's impressively fortified, and the castle and ramparts are well worth seeing. But today I particularly wanted to tell you about the story of its war with Russia.
Fans of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and anyone who had to learn The Charge of the Light Brigade at school, will remember the Crimean War, a conflict which remained an infamous example of pointless waste of life until at least 1914. Now, because Berwick had changed hands between England and Scotland several times, it was once the rule that legal documents would mention both countries as "England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed" to be on the safe side. And the story goes that when Britain declared war on Russia in 1853, it was in the name of England, Scotland, and Berwick-upon-Tweed, but the peace treaty in 1856 forgot to include Berwick, so this small town remained technically at war with Russia for over a century.
In fact, the tale is untrue: Berwick wasn't mentioned in the declaration of war, as far as I know, though I admit I haven't been able to trace a copy-- can any of you do any better? But such is the power of story that in 1966, with the Cold War becoming ever more tense, the town council decided that something had to be done about the problem. So the London correspondent of Pravda, one Oleg Orestov, travelled the 350 miles up to Berwick for peace talks, so that everyone could be sure that Berwick was not at war with the USSR. The mayor told Mr Orestov, "Please tell the Russian people through your newspaper that they can sleep peacefully in their beds."
Something from someone else
from HAUNTED HOUSES
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.
We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.
There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.
ice and elevation
My ankle and side are still painful, but it's nowhere near as bad now as the first few days after the accident. But this puts a metaphor into my head. When I was told to rest and elevate my ankle, I didn't: I grabbed a crutch and went on with my ordinary life as best I could. It was foolish, but staying still for that long made me very anxious. In hindsight, I see I should have iced and elevated, at least for a few days.
And here I am also trying to get over PTSD/anxiety things, and it seems I have the same problem there as well. So, what's the mental health equivalent of ice and elevation?
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