Sunday, December 25, 2011


Don't worry about what it means (it is in fact a poem written by my young friend Masha Cherepanova, and a nice one), just look at the Kyrillic alphabet. This is what Frederick Bodmer says in the chapter "The Diseases of Language" in "Loom of Language" referring to the influence of Church Slavonic on the secular Slavonic languages:
 [words in bold are my emphasis]
"The Russians did not emancipate themselves from the literary tyranny of the Church, and to create a written language of their own, till the end of the eighteenth century.  As a hangover from their church-ridden past, citizens of the USSR still stick to Kyrilliza...The Poles and the Slovaks are free from this cultural handicap..."
 And later:
 "While the Kremlin curbed the power of the Greek Orthodox Church, it made no attempt to bring itself into line with Europe, America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand by liquidating the cultural handicap of the Kyrillic alphabet..."

For me, there is always the fascination of "cracking the code" of a different writing system, and I still get a buzz from reading Russian. But I have to admit that page after page of Kyrillic can become somehow stultifying, perhaps because all the letters seem to take up the same square space. I suppose it's a bit like reading texts written entirely in capital letters. So, although I can't go all the way with Bodmer, I think he has a point.
Mind you, I wouldn't say so to Masha - she and her poems and her language are all far too beautiful.

Вечер,музыка,клуб,нас знакомят: «Привет.»
Я напротив сажусь. (Симпатичный,но нет)…-
Эта мысль в голове пробегает стрелой.
Шум, толпа, голоса.(Трудный день…)-Алкоголь?
-Не сегодня.-Пойдем. Этот танец за мной!
-Я устала.(Огонь…)- Сигарета важней?..
-(Черт возьми, кто ты???)Нет! 
-Так пойдем, не робей! 
(Это вызов? Зачем? Что кому это даст?)
-Не робей??Что ж, пойдем, танец силы придаст. 
Шаг. Еще.(Этот взгляд!) Поворот.
То лицом, то спиной, руки накрест, обвод...
Голова закружилась,шатнулась...Рука
С нежной силой меня притянула слегка.
Один танец мгновенно сменяет другой.
Я теряю ход мыслей, поистине твой
Этот вечер и танец в весь вечер длиной.
Ты меня не пускаешь- хотела уйти,
Руки,волосы,шея...сердце рвется в груди...
Голос внутренний шепчет лишь слабо:"Очнись!"
Тихо...Музыки нет.-Мы с тобой увлеклись..

Federico Barocci

I was in fine voice last night (in fact, early this morning) at Midnight Mass. It was good to be singing carols that I knew from my childhood: all shepherds and magi and mangers and swaddling clothes. The Nativity scene above was painted by an artist I had never heard of (shame on me!), Federico Barocci ,1535-1612. The painting hangs in the Prado, but I never saw it there, I was always too preoccupied with Goyal El Greco,  Velasquez. and the like.
The reason the painting is here on my blog is that it was on a Christmas card a dear friend sent me. Makes a change from overfed robins wearing pixy hats.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cigar Box Guitar Blues

While we were in Cambridge yesterday, Bruna and I stopped to listen to, and then to talk to, a tall skinny lass who was busking on a cigarbox guitar. Turns out she makes them herself, and is so obsessed with them that, she said, her house is filling up with them. The cigarbox guitar has a pedigree a mile long, starting out in the early jazz years along with the kazoo, the gutbucket bass and other instruments home-made from bits and pieces. Hers was a three-string, which she played in the hawaiian manner. Here's an exponent of a six-string version.

Mrs Trellis doesn't pull her punches

Dear Mr Sarkastic, she writes, you don't seem to like the British Prime Minister, David Cameroon, very much. I don't like him either, him being English and a Tory and all, but I tell you, there's one good thing about him: he really knows how to make you angry.
And where I come from, we say that if the French are annoyed with us, we must be doing something right.
Have a nice Christmas, and do try to smile properly, not that crooked grimace that makes you look as if you'd got the Eiffel Tower stuck up your fundament.
Yours etc
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, retd

I've got a cunning plan....

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you.

Actually, what I need is not a penny or indeed a ha'penny, but fifteen euro, the price of a Turkish visa. Yes, lads and lassies, the imperial arse is getting out of the imperial chair and going to the Land of Lokum for a stretch.
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, will be spent doing laundry, clearing out the perishables and packing a wee suitcase. Boxing Day will be spent recovering from a fat lunch to which I have been invited. Tuesday, I climb into big silver bird and go through sky to Istanbul, where I will be met by my wonderful Angit.
There's more to the trip than a few good fish dinners at Yakamoz, though. I am fixed up with some consultations with some top medicos in Ankara to see if we can finally work out what is causing my weird medical condition, and what can then be done about it.
I could come back to the UK feeling a new man (Don't even go there, I'll do the jokes).

So, Lights of my Life, wish me well. And if they discover my bones are beyond repair, this is what I want on my stone:
Don't mourn for me now,
Mourn for me never,
I'm going to do nothing
for ever and ever.

Roller coaster

I'm not sure all this exciting activity is good for an old scrote whose only ambition is to do nothing for a while followed by a nice rest. Having put Jeremy and Sarah on the coach to Heathrow on Wednesday morning (they have both arrived safely back in NZ and USA respectively), I went back later to collect my "adopted granddaughter", Bruna. She is only here for three days before going to visit friends in London and Paris, and then back to Brazil. Three days out of a two-week trip to Europe, her first, just to visit her English avozinho: I am privileged and humbled both. Bruna is great company, bubbly, lively, curious about everything and a very quick learner. We have managed to visit Cambridge, drool over King's College, have lunch in Auntie's Tea Shop, buy a ukulele (for Bruna, not me - I long ago gave up setting conditions for failure), visit Ely and the cathedral, and have coffee with various of my lovely local friends.
We have sung songs, listened to choro, talked in foreign tongues, eaten scrambled eggs, laughed till our jaws ached, and explored a zillion topics. Mes chers potes, there may be luckier men on earth than me, but there can't be many.
Christmas is almost upon us. If I can stir my ageing carcase, I will go to Midnight Mass tonight. When you are as lucky as I am, you need to say thank you to someone.....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Courser it is!

Now, here's a bird you don't see every day of the week. My friend Tony P finally caught up with it in Samburu NP, making it the last of this family of waders he needed to complete his tick list. It's a Heuglin's Courser, a bird I hadn't even heard of, but then, I have to accept that Haddenham is a bit of a backwater.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another "sign of the times"

My thanks to Sonia Z for sending me this poignant cartoon. Translation for those unlucky enough not to know Italian:
Grandpa: Just think, at your age I was already working
Grandson: Just think, at your age I will still be working!

Plus ça change, plus ce n'est point la même chose

I came across this old photograph of the village primary school I attended between 1941 and 1946.
The by liine accompanying this picture read
Hadley Boys & Girls Junior School - now a mosque.

If it's all right with you guys, I will not be making any nostalgia trips to my natal village.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mum's funeral

 [I needed to write this more than you probably need to read it, so I will not be offended if you switch off. Explanatory note: mum's real name was Irene, and that was the name used by everyone yesterday. "Maggie" was my pet name for her, used by friends, but never by the family]
The funeral - service, interment and wake - took place yesterday in Liverpool. About forty people attended, mostly mum's relatives. As the wicked lothario who had carried off the favourite niece all those years ago. I felt a little uncomfortable, but in the event everyone was very friendly towards me, thank goodness. I immediately recognised two of mum's aunts (her mother was one of eight sisters), Dorothy and Rosie, and we had some rare old chats after the funeral. Of mum's three siblings, I knew her "little sister", Angela, at once; she's one of those lucky women who doesn't seem to age. I took at little longer to recognise David and Michael, and had long chats with them as well. .But the surprise for me, and even more for Jeremy and Sarah, was the number of offspring. Aunts had had sons and daughters, little known to us, and those sons and daughters had had sons and daughters. Bewildering and beautiful.
Jeremy and Sarah were magnificent. They looked good in their funereal black, they had organised everything to the last detail and played their part in the service with immense dignity and warmth. I defy any one to stay dry-eyed, especially when the eulogies were delivered.
After the service, I had a quick chat with the vicar, the Reverend Alan Kennedy, himself a scouser with all that that implies - nous, sense of humour, feet on the ground, and as affable as they come. He forgave me for having put the standard AV of Psalm 23 in the Order of Service, when I should have used the sung version, and congratulated me on my children: "You must be very proud of them. You and Irene did a wonderful job as parents". That was the moment when I ceased to be dry-eyed.
Jeremy stayed in Liverpool overnight so that today he can spend a quiet time at mum's graveside. saying the private farewells that he couldn't yesterday because he was so "on duty", making sure that everything and everyone was all right. Sarah and I came back to Ely by train, exhausted but tranquil, knowing that mum had had the "good send off" that she and Jeremy (and I) wanted.

The day was full of anecdotes, and I am glad I had one to add to the collection. Irene's grandmother, the formidable Grandma Holmes, had married off seven of her eight daughters, and was ready to turn her attention to the next generation, of whom Irene was the eldest and the favourite. So when she heard that some fellow was courting Irene, she needed to vet him. So Irene and I went to Platt Farm, the clan headquarters, and I stood, apprehensive believe me, before the Imperial Throne, ie, Grandma Holmes's elevated chair (it had a valance to hide, it was said, a crate of Guinness, but that is surely a canard - they would never have told scurrilous stories like that about Queen Victoria). She had piercing black eyes, appraised me silently for a while, and then motioned for me to come a little closer. Then, without warning, she reached out, grabbed my thigh and squeezed it really hard. She then announced to the assembled clan "Well, he's got good legs anyway." And that was it. I was accepted, or at least not rejected, and some while later, Irene Marjorie Pye became Mrs Allsop. And very shortly after that, Jeremy and Sarah Allsop were born.
Time for a cup of tea and another box of tissues.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friday, December 02, 2011

Rest in peace

There may be silence from me for the next week or so. A sudden family bereavement has thrown us all into chaos. My children Jeremy and Sarah are coming to the UK on Wednesday from New Zealand and California respectively, arriving at Heathrow within ten minutes of each other. I shall be there to meet them, of course, but after that we are likely to be tied up dealing with all the consequences of a death. If it is your wont, please add us to your prayers - we shall need all the strength we can muster to get through the next few weeks. If you are not the praying kind, please think of us on December 15th, when the mortal remains of my wife, mother to my children, are laid to rest.

Oy weh!

A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. 
To check it out, she went to the Wall, and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.
She watched him pray, and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview. 

"Pardon me Sir, I'm Rebecca Smith from the BBC. What's your name? 
"Morris Feinberg,"
 he replied 
"Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall to pray?"  
"For about 60 years."
"60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?" 
"I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims." 
"I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop." 
"I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man."
"And how do you feel  Sir, after doing this for 60 years?"
"It's like talking to a f*cking brick wall."