Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The downside of my job

(You might prefer not to read this post)
On the whole I love deltiology, discovering new (old) places history, art and tradition. Occasionally I’m shocked by what I see. Usually scenes from the first world war. Today I picked up a postcard dated 1908 of a handsome young man from Ethiopia, a Gallas. I was expecting to see the name of his country on the card. No, he was a resident of the Jardin d'acclimatation in Paris. Today more or less a Children’s amusement park, in the past a zoo. I discovered that humans were exhibited there from the late 1800s. Up until 1930 (this is not mentioned on the English Wikipedia page by the way) visitors could throw coins into a pool in their enclosure so that they would dive into the water to retrieve the money.

As with most older photographs, fine details are very much in focus, especially his eyes.

The park does not have a happy history, all of the animals were used to feed Parisians during the siege of 1870…..

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Or OuLiPo if you want to be pedantic. Was a gathering of French speaking writers founded in 1960. Radio 4 had a program about them last week. The idea is that you impose constraints on your writing which provides inspiration for new ideas. That’s what I understand anyway. I rather like the idea of a lipogram, that is to say, trying to write a paragraph, essay, poem or even a book omitting the use of a letter. How about ‘e’? Looks like a good excuse to pick the synonym finder up from the floor and start rooting for new words…

I’ll try to dash off a chain of words without using ‘e’s. Not bad so far, but now I’m short of inspiration, I want aid in this almighty task… My synonym book is so commodious for this work. How long, I ask my mind can I carry on, until I go mad…..aaaaghhhhh.

Now it’s your turn (I did it again [and again])

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do you remember?


Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of the tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the Din?
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of a clapper to the spin
Out and in ---
And the Ting, Tong, Tang, of the Guitar.
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the Halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

Hilaire Belloc

When I was in my early teens we had our Deputy Headmistress for English for the school year. She was a very strict woman and we were determined to dislike her, as with anyone in authority at the age we were.

Every lesson during the week was different and she had a very up to date way of teaching considering her age (probably in her late fifties). I remember that we worked on punctuation at our own speed using algorithms. The we had one lesson in the library where we were just expected to read whatever we liked. One of the books we read as a class was ‘A Kid for Two Farthings’ by Wolf Mankowitz (I’ve just discovered that he adapted the novel and there was a film made in 1955). We actually acted out the fight scene in class. Having taught myself, I know how quickly a class can get out of hand. We were noisy – it was a noisy scene, but she never lost control of us.

Every year the school held some sort of event in order to show us off to our parents. That year she chose us to recite Hilaire Belloc’s poem, 'Tarantella'. She explained to us that she had been taking part in choral speaking (I’m not sure if that is the name for it really), which she wanted to try with us and that she would divide us into groups depending on our voices; light, dark or medium. I think that I might have been a ‘light’. The boy with the deepest voice was to open the poem by reciting the first two lines alone.

The night of the recital I had to move around the stage quite a bit. I played ‘cello in the school orchestra, I was in the choir (extracts from Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and I had to recite one of my own poems about Conkers, which I wasn’t too happy about as I didn’t really want to go down in history as The Girl Who Wrote a Poem About Conkers. Then I joined my class for the big poem. I suppose it was a success. I only really remember how much I enjoyed the poem.

If you’re old enough and from the US you might remember two English School ma’ams being interviewed on your local radio station. It was our Headmistress and her companion, who set off to explore the Wild West one summer in the late 60s….

Friday, November 6, 2009

Do women have a soul?

I was looking up something in a French reference book last week. Quid is a sort of who’s who, encyclopaedia, years news, lists of everything, book. We have the 1992 issue; 2000 pages to get lost in. I was surprised to find that there was a section entitled ‘women’.

This included the debate about souls and whether women were to be considered a human being at all. This is a very ancient debate, by the way, and was used to illustrate some point or other. A lot of statistics, including how many women are beaten and the social background of the men beating them up. Then there were statistics on prostitution giving lots of details on the social background, race, and religion of the men paying for services. How long do women spend on housework? Not a very positive bunch of figures at all. It would have been more interesting to see how many women have received the Nobel peace prize for instance (In the quid yes, but not in the women’s part), the women holding important posts in politics, education etc. I haven’t looked at a more recent Quid. I do hope they’ve managed to find women’s souls in the last 17 years.