Less Will Be More

It’s a library kinda week; I’m still waiting for my train to come so I can finish the review of ‘Ideas above our Station’, a train-based short story collection.  I have submitted this twice now to Thresholds and they keep saying they like my style etc but could I just…?  So I did just… – and now they’ve come back to me again saying, yes it’s better but couldn’t I just also…?  Oh, and by the way I need to reduce the word-count.  So they want more content but in fewer words.

* Sigh *

I guess this is pretty much par for the course, though.  So to occupy me while I’m waiting for my train-book to arrive, I shall be going to the library to take part in the Crime Group, where we will be discussing Rod Duncan’s book, ‘Backlash’.  I shall be complaining that due to the sustained tension of the long final scene it kept me awake until 1 am.  But to sustain me after that I am now reading the much gentler ‘Thrones, Dominations’ which is a sort of post-mortem mish-mash of a Lord Peter Wimsey novel.  Begun by Dorothy L Sayers and completed by Jill Paton Walsh, it’s turning out to be an excellent read, and much better bed-time stuff than a high-octane chase through the back streets of Leicester.  I shall post a full review when I’m finished.


And now I must away.  The library beckons!


Kirk out

Don’t Mention the War

OK so here was my schedule for last night:

10.30  – 3.00: sleep

3.00 – 5.00: cough

5.00 – 7.00: sleep again

The coughing was so persistent that it barely stopped at all: at one point I counted the gaps between spasms and the longest was 15 seconds.  That’s probably more information than you need, but I wanted to get that off my –

– er


OK then… in other news, George Orwell has now returned from Paris to London and is trying to live for a month on ten shillings.


His account of the ‘kips’ he dosses in, what with the coughing, the unwashed sheets, the filth and the poor nutrition, make it sound almost as bad as the Mid-Staffs hospital:


though perhaps not quite as bad as anything Vera Brittain had to deal with: I have now finished ‘Testament of Youth’ and found it a remarkably clear-eyed account of her experiences in the years 1914 – 25; doing war-work in French hospitals, surviving bomb-blasts and infection, horrendous conditions, shortages of supplies and frankly ridiculous disciplinary rules which make the average convent look like a holiday camp.  Literally everyone she cared about was killed in the war: her fiance, her brother and her two best friends – and the transition from youthful enthusiasm for the war and the bitterness which followed are handled with a remarkable lack of self-pity.  To my mind the worst thing, though, was the aftermath: far from receiving a hero’s welcome, they were regarded as an embarrassment.  No-one wanted to talk about the war after it was over: the whole thing was revealed as a ghastly mistake and everyone involved in it was tainted.  In the words of Eric Bogle,

and the band played Waltzing Matilda

as they carried us down the gangway

and nobody cheered

they just stood there and stared

and they turned all their faces away.


The unfairness of this made my blood boil even more than her subsequent struggles at Oxford, to gain equal recognition with men, where her contemporaries included some remarkable figures of the age such as Winifred Holtby and Dorothy L Sayers.  She concludes the memoir with a remarkably restrained account of her relationship with the man she was to marry.  I was struck here by how advanced her views were: not only did she carry on with her work after marriage, she also kept her own name.


In marked contrast to this were some of the contemporary women featured in the programme ‘Make Me a Muslim’.  I’m not totally anti-Islamic: I think the religion has some good points, but I do not agree with the hijab: it makes women responsible for men’s behaviour – and, frankly, if men have that much trouble concentrating around women then they should wear a paper bag over their heads.  Still, the programme is well worth watching and includes a shocking case of a woman who consented to be someone’s second wife!


Unbelievable.  But interesting.

Kirk out.

The Two Vultures and Terza Rima

Mark and I had a ‘two cultures’ type conversation this morning about the recent debate on the lack of arts subjects in the new baccalaureat: obviously this concerns me but I think there has been a recent bias towards arts and away from science.  Mark commented that this needn’t – and shouldn’t – be an ‘either/or’ thing.  Ah, C P Snow, thou should’st be living at this hour!  As Mark says, there’s an idea that science presents a ‘gold standard’ of truth, something objective and ‘outside’ the human standpoint, whereas the arts are all wishy and washy and subjective and, oh gosh- just so darned fuzzy.

Know what I mean?

This led on (don’t ask how) to thoughts about Dante’s Inferno.  I really liked the Peter Greenaway video version with John Gielgud:


The whole thing, as you know, is written in terza rima, a scheme with groups of three lines where the rhyme scheme is aba, bcb, dcd and so on.  In other words, the middle line of the first three is picked up by the first and third of the second three, and so on and on and on – it gives an incredible effect of relentlessness, even remorselessness; and to keep that up for thousands of lines, even in Italian, is nothing less than heroic.  Here’s a taste of the original:

‘Nel mezzo del camino di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

che la diritta via era smarrita’


in midway through the path of life

I found myself in a dark forest

where the right way was hidden.

If you want a good English translation, I can do no better than recommend Dorothy L Sayers’ work.  Best known for the ‘Lord Peter Wimsey’ books, she was an academic of no small standing, and her translation not only preserves the terza rima but is highly readable in English:


And here’s my own effort at a bit of terza rima:

God says: ‘You are the weakest link.  Farewell’

and in an eyelid’s blink, you lose a life

and tumble in an endless Fall to hell.

Not bad for a Saturday morning.  Take a look at yesterday’s vid, a rant about The Weakest Link, if you haven’t done so already – and please comment.  Please – I could do with some more views for my vids.

Off to Tomatoes and then yoga with Peter.

Kirk out