The Usual

November 20, 2013

I was sitting quietly in the corner of an entirely fictional pub the other day and overheard the following conversation at the bar:

‘I’ll tell you something, You never hear of the idiot and the dog these days.’

‘Not these days, no.’

‘I wonder what happened.’

‘The usual I expect.’


[They contemplate The Usual]

‘Well, no great hole, and I’m sure and I’ll survive.’


Fired by this burst of public enthusiasm, but aware that there was nothing to be done about what they had quite correctly identified as The Usual (horrific, mundane, inescapable), I felt I could at least make some half-hearted attempt to keep the ashes warm…

In fact, I thought, as I munched on my entirely notional bag of dry-roasted peanuts, the act of writing seemed very like the act of trying to light, maintain, and stay warm by, a peat fire. You have a little kindling, which will give the initial flame, and a large amount of damp, old, cheap compressed earth, which will form the substance of the fire. You also have yesterday’s paper, the crossword a scant third completed, and a barely flammable box of matches. By means of these, plus a fuckload of artificial firelighters (placeholder for drink and drugs let’s say), you eventually light the kindling, the flames giving an initial burst of optimism. Once you have got this burning nicely, you put on a large piece of peat, which immediately stifles the flames and creates a deal of smoke. You find more quickly-burning material to throw on it, and through a mixture of cosseting, extreme care and a fuckload more firelighters, eventually get the underside of the peat to start glowing, though it’s clear the outcome of the entire time-consuming enterprise is never anything less than dubious.

If you are lucky, lucky mind, the peat will reach a critical temperature and start, well burning would be too much, smouldering in a way that suggests it is not imminently going to stop. Success. You may place on more peat.

The fire itself will of course never give off any heat, unless you hold your hands very very close to it, – ie can be considered no sort of success in and of itself – and will require almost constant care and attention merely to keep the semblance of it going. Nevertheless it may offer some private pride and a little local warmth.

You have read stories about how families kept the thing going perpetually, the slow-burning nature of peat allowing the fire to lie in abeyance overnight, only to be revived the next morning with the addition of more peat and a little careful blowing. Thus the fire never goes out, and provides a constant source of much-needed warmth and sustenance for the entire household.

Naturally, what you see the next morning is little sustenance and a load of ashes, still somewhat warm yes, but clearly very far from being of any use to anyone or anything, even yourself with your very low threshold of success.

You rake out the grate, make a cup of tea, put on your heaviest jumper and two pairs of socks, and fetch the duvet from the bedroom, before settling to today’s crossword.

Of course, if The Usual is anything, it is an acknowledgement that flames do not burn forever.

So, rather than even attempt anything of worth, I’m going to set the bar low and use this place as a weekly record of Things I Have Liked Or Found Mildly Diverting. Basically youtube embeds and a couple of quotes.

As a USP it might need some polishing. Crowds or even small mildly diverted groups I do not expect.

2012-12-04 20.36.37

lrb copy eds need greater knowledge of youtube pop

May 12, 2013

Enjoyed reading Diarmaid McCulloch’s piece on the Council of Trent in the latest LRB – One Enormous Room (DMc uses a quote from Kenneth Clark at the beginning ‘I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room’)

But it really, really needed to be titled ‘One Big Room, Full of Bad Bishops’


And we sound like Luther Luther Peter Peter Bishop of La Cava

Them basic bishops give a shit, but I don’t even bother.


I got Tridentine plenum

I got that ius divinum

Open Papal representative

Trust me in your diocese

Yeah you can kiss the ring, but you can never touch the crown

I smoke a million Reformation butts and I ain’t never coming down

Bish, you ain’t et Orbi

I see you work in Urbi

Council II, Supersize

Hurry up, need Luuumen.

Gnarly, radical

Ex cathedra magical

Santa Maria Major, Concilium episcopal.

Call me if you need a fix,

Call me if you will recuse,

See them Presbyterians

They don’t ever leave the group.

We’re in the Adige, cruising,

We’ve got the stolen plate

Serving Pope Paul 3 over there in the City State

Trent’s colder than a fridge or a freezer

We’re snatching all your bishops at our LEISURE.


One big room, full of bad bishops.



Luther Luther Peter Peter Bishop of La Cava

We’re looking at Madonna but we’re glossing the Church Fathers,

Paul – you know I keep that work in my trunk,

Got the Law on sole faith, if you wanna press your luck.

We’re yelling “free matrimony”,

Till we get Tametsi,

Young, rich and flashy

I’ll be with Medici

You can’t find that? I think you need a Danti map

My Florentine Pitti pals, did push Savanarola back.

Encycle that, my groupies follow the Curia,

I’m writing up a Vulgate and calling I Loyola

While you’re looking bitter, I’ll be looking better

The type of bishop that you wish was present at Nicæa.

Nuncio, director, plus I’m my own boss,

So plush, mitre fierce with the gold gloss

Which means nobody getting over me

I got the swag and it’s pumping out my monasteries.


One big room, full of bad bishops etc.


Ohhh, all you basic-ass monks out there?

Man I got a room full of bad bishops.

They don’t need Zwingli, they don’t need Luther. Calvin.

my favourite people in *religion and the decline of magic* so far

May 11, 2013

the antinomian who declared that he would sell all religions for a jug of beer

the butcher in the diocese of Ely in 1608 who set his dog on the people as they went to church

Brian Walker, who in 1635 was asked if he did not fear God, retorted that, ‘I do not believe there is either God or Devil; neither will I believe anything but what I see’ and who as an alternative to the Bible commended ‘the  book called Chaucer.’

A Cambridgeshire man was charged with indecent behaviour in church in 1598 after his ‘most loathsome farting, striking, and scoffing speeches’ had occasioned ‘the great offence of the good and the great rejoicing of the bad.’

The Bexley man who in 1313 made images of wood and stone in his garden and worshipped them as gods, before proceeding to kill his maidservant [obv that bit’s not so good]

When Mr Evans, rector of Holland Magna, Essex, preached in 1630 about Adam and Eve making themselves coats of fig-leaves, one loud-mouthed parishioner demanded to know where they got the thread to sew them with.

of confusion regarding communion: At one church in the area there were only two male communicants. When the cup was given to the first he touched his forelock and said, ‘Here’s your good health, sir.’ The second, better informed, said, ‘Here’s the good health of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ At Chippenham a poor man took the chalice from the vicar and wished him a Happy New Year.

the salutory story of the man of sixty who had all his life attended sermons, twice on Sundays, and frequently on other occasions in the week. yet the answers he gave the minister who questioned him on his deathbed spoke for themselves:

Being demanded what he thought of God, he answers that he was a good old man; and what of Christ, that he was a towardly young youth; and of his soul, that it was a great bone in his body; and what should become of his soul after he was dead, that if he had done well he should be put into a pleasant green meadow.

the people in 1547 of one parish in Cambridge where, ‘when the vicar goeth into the pulpit to read that he himself hath written, then the multitude of the parish goeth straight out of the church, home to drink’

Lady Eleanor Davis, who in 1625 ‘heard early in the morning a Voice from Heaven, speaking as through a trumpet these words: “There is nineteen years and a half to the Judgment Day”‘. From then until her death in 1652 she had a continuous career of prophetic utterance, interrupted only by consequent periods of imprisonment. Contemporaries believed her to have predicted the deaths of Charles I, Laud and Buckingham, as well as that of her first husband. her ecstatic and utterly obscure pronouncements were frequently printed, and as frequently suppressed. In 1633 she was imprisoned and heavily fined by the High Commission for illegally printing at Amsterdam a commentary on Daniel in which she made dark predictions about the fate awaiting Laud and Charles I. A few years later she went berserk in Lichfield Cathedral, defiling the altar hangings and occupying the episcopal throne, declaring she was the Primate of all England. This led to a further period of restraint.

two bits of commentary from Keith Thomas worth quoting as well:

[In the Elizabethan period] a substantial proportion of the population regarded organised religion with an attitude which varied from cold indifference to frank hostility.


Not enough justice has been done to the volume of apathy, heterodoxy and agnosticism which existed long before the onset of industrialism.

Cannot be said enough. It is not something we have just discovered, or to be used as some indicator of ‘progress’ – worldly indifference is persistent.

Just Checking

August 15, 2012

Accidie’s a sin, right?

Browning’s Birthday – May 7th, PUT IT IN YOUR DIARIES.

April 25, 2012

Ok, I meant to say in that post on the first Sordello book that the reason, part of the reason, I’m reading it, is because it’s Browning’s 200th BIRTHDAY on May 7th.

There’s a great tumblr celebrating his birthday here:

I’ve actually got a few questions for browning versions, but I’m not sure how tumblr/non-tumblr blogs do this.


I mean, the hell. (I’ve only listened to Andrea del Sarto so far – it’s great.)

Here dem questions anyway [EDIT then i go and think more about them in a comment, rather’n just lazily asking]:

1) The Ohio edition. Regularly see phrases like ‘disgraceful’ and ‘massive deficiencies’ bandied about regarding it. What happened? Why so bad? Poor textual readings? Insufficient editorial apparaturs? Guess I could google around a bit more, find out. I’ve got a few of these tho as they came up cheaply remaindered a couple of years ago. Just got ’em for the poems, just got ’em for the poems. But if these are BAD readings, I wanna know. [EDIT keep saying ‘readings, readings’ like it’s f’ing shakespeare. Just mean punctuation, choice of edition, sensible word choice where there is editorial confusion etc.]

2) A Death in the Desert – Renan/Strauss. Wot.

3) Ok, Dryden and Browning, holding on to the ledge, obscurity beneath etc. Agreed. Why tho? I mean, what are the drivers of popularity in non-contemporary poetry these days? Academia? Lit pages? In some ways he seems like an ideal internet poet, sorry sorry, but the sort you can make an encyclopedia for (there is one of course! I had it in my hand the other day). Surely ‘difficulty’ isn’t a bar these days? Why isn’t he cool? Not enough King of a Movement stuff? Too long?

4)  “tbh I getMen and Women and Dramatis Personae mixed up, have to look at the contents to remember what’s in what.” phew.

RIght, want to write on BOOK II of Sordello, but I gotta go get pizza. Browning woulda ate pizza for sure – plenty of good places just near his house:


bastard wasnae home to twats wi book bags.

I’d’ve let him go first if only I’d known

August 22, 2011

After all it’s easier to respond than to put forth.


I wrote a long, rambling post about e-readers, and how their effect won’t be to do with bullshit psychology but marketing, that like most of what I write irritated me the next day by seeming dishonest; the act of putting things into words somehow sundering the connection between what I feel and what is said. That’s writing for you, I guess, or at least not particularly good writing. I went to bed late and was knackered for work today for that shit! Not only that, but the next day I see an article, an entire speech no less, that goes into the marketing etc of writing in the future far better and in more detail.


Read the rest of this entry »

Little Detchie-Head

August 23, 2010

Look, I was going to keep this for after I’d done a longer piece on Brooke, but it’s taking so goddam long that I might as well just whack this up anyway, from The Dog at Clambercrown:

My impressions of India, however, were perhaps derived less from Aunt Ada than from the story of Little Detchie-head – that most terrifying of children’s books, rivalling for sheer Freudian horror even Strewwelpeter himself.

I SUPPOSE THAT Little Detchie-Head has, like Stumps, been long forgotten; it is certainly out of print and appears to be quite unobtainable. The little book was published, I think, in the same series as the better-known Little Black Sambo and Little Black Mingo; at any rate, the formate and the illustrations were very similar. I should not be surprised to learn that Little Detchie-head had been withdrawn by the publishers, at an early date, in response to the protests of parents whose children, only too probably, had become half-witted or stark raving mad after reading it. The only reason I didn’t go mad myself was, I think, because the scene of Little Detchie-head was, after all, laid in India, and I could comfort myself – as we have most of us comforted ourselves, in recent times, when reading some more than usually terrifying ‘exposure’ of Nazism or Communism – with the thought that ‘it couldn’t happen here’.

Little Detchie-head was about a little girl ‘who lived with her parents in India’. Apparently normal and well behaved in other respects, she suffered from a precocious form of pyromania, which manifested itself in an incurable passion for poking fires. One day, in the kitchen, when the Indian servant’s back was turned, she slipped and fell (it was only to be expected) headlong into the flames, and ‘her head was burned right off’ – thought the rest of her, oddly enough, remained not only intact but, apparently, alive and kicking. The servant returns – ‘And, oh! Domingo’s face,’ says the tetxt, ‘when he saw his little missy-baba lying on the floor with no head.’ Domingo, however, is a resourceful type; hastily seizing a large detchie, or cooking-pot, from a shelf, he paints a pair of eyes, a nose and a mouth upon its side, and sets it carefully upon the heroine’s severed neck, surmounting it (a nice touch, this) by her cotton sun-bonnet, which apparently, by some miracle, has survived the flames. With remarkable self-possession (and suffering, apparently, from no considerable after effects) little Detchie-head trots off to her parents who, it seems, notice nothing particularly unusual about her, apart from the fact that ‘all she can say is “Clap, clap, clapper-apper-apper.”‘ This rudimentary vocabulary apparently suffices her for the next weeks, nor do her parents seem unduly troubled by it. Christmas, however, comes at last, and Santa Claus, with an admirable appropriateness, leaves in the little girl’s stocking a large, blonde, pink-faced doll’s head. Delighted by this seasonable Yule-tide gift, little Detchie head rises with the lark and, discarding the unbecoming detchie, sticks the doll’s head upon her neck, with the help of a handy pot of glue. Then she runs to Mamma and Papa, tossing her expensive, brand-new curls, and chattering away nineteen-to-the-dozen – presumably in her normal, pre-Detchie-head accents. ‘And’, so the story relates, ‘they were very much pleased’ – surely, one feels, in the circumstances, a rather tepid reaction on the parents’ part; though they do not, it must be admitted, appear to have been a very sensitive or perceptive couple. Little Detchie-head, at any rate, is completely cured, thereafter, of her pyromaniacal proclivities, and indeed, as the author (or authoress, as I suspect) concludes, ‘has to be dragged past a fire’ in future.

The surprising thing about Little Detchie-head is, I think, its date – it must have been published in the nineties or the early nineteen-hundreds – and also the fact it was written, presumably, by a middle-class Englishwoman for English children. Strewwelpeter, after all, was written by a German, and an early nineteenth-century German at that, so that one can explain it – if not excuse it – as a by-product of the ‘Romantic Agony’. But Little Detchie-head is quite another kettle of fish: one doesn’t look for such sadistic horrors in Edwardian England, and it seems barely credible that it should ever have been published in this country, let alone widely read (as it undoubtedly was) in English nurseries.

In my own case, as I have said, the Indian setting made the horrors of the story seem comfortable remote; on the other hand, the knowledge that such appalling events could happen there was to colour my ideas about India for years to come (the only other book about India by which I was ever deeply influenced was E.M. Forster’s novel, which, when I first read it, seemed more or less to confirm the alarming impression made by Little Detchie-head). I developed, myself, a wholesome dread of fires; and the sigh of an Ayah, attendant upon some children staying in our village, could fill me with a tremulous apprehension. I was half-inclined, too, to identify the original little Detchie-head with my cousin, Nancy Pullen, whose hair was suspiciously blonde and curly, and who, moreover, had for several years ‘lived with her parents in India’. I never dared asked her whether she had had, at one period of her life, a ‘detchie’ instead of a head; but it remained a disturbing possibility, and I should hardly have been surprised if , reverting suddenly to her former detchie-hood, she had startled the company at tea-time by rattling out those jangling, metallic syllables (‘Clap, clap, clapper-apper-apper’) which had left her heartless and impercipient parents so strangely unmoved.


Ooh, a half-formed note I couldn’t really develop in any way –

The only thing I’d add to this is to point out the potential for the grotesque those writers with a moral purpose have. Whether it is the exempla of the monastic ages, Swiftian satire or minatory fables such as Little Detchie-head, the disorder in the physical world that imprudent behaviour or moral turpitude engenders is representative of disastrous alterations of the material universe. (And ghosts, are, after all, moral creatures – spiritual excretions congregating around wrongs, with no understanding of the pragmatism that human flesh requires).

(grotesque as non-moral secular absurdities – see Kayser – “the Elder Bruegel paints the increasingly estranged world of our daily life not with the intention of teaching, warning, or arousing our compassion but solely in order to portray the inexplicable, incomprehensible, ridiculous, and horrible.”).