Saturday, 3 December 2016

100 Good Things About Growing Old (Part 1) Winter Aspects.

It's a marker.  After years of saying, "forty is the new thirty", and then "fifty is the new thirty", followed by "sixty is the new forty", one can no longer put it off any longer - the realisation that one is actually old.  It's the physical signs that one can't ignore - the knees which hurt, the not being able to read anything at all without a pair of reading glasses, the having to ask people to repeat what they just said. 

However, there are many upsides.   After the introversion, the looking back at history and the prevailing gloom of my thinking since June 24th, I have turned a corner.  I am now going to focus on the positive.

One hundred good things about growing old - I'm starting today with seasonal aspects.
  1. Turning the heating up to 21.5 degrees no longer seems like an indulgence, but a necessity.
  2. I don't feel guilty about writing very little (or nothing) in Christmas cards to people I seldom see.
  3. I don't feel guilty about letting people "slip off the list" of Christmas cards if we haven't met for more than 30 years.
  4. I don't feel aggrieved if a sick child (now aged 29) keeps me occupied for a week.  Instead I feel grateful that she's under my roof and control, not out walking their dog or going to "gigs" whilst suffering from flu.
  5. I don't feel sad and heartbroken when said child leaves my premises after staying a week.  Instead I feel grateful to have my own time and sofa and footstool back.
  6. I take it as a badge of honour, instead of an insult, when said child tells me that the old "weird" couple on Gogglebox are the ones her dad and I have most in common with.
  7. It's easy to walk straight past the dresses, handbags and shoes in John Lewis without a second glance.
  8. Instead of drinking up that glass of wine, and then having another, the first thing I do is mentally step back, think, "What will I feel like in ten minutes' time, and what might I say which will cause terrible upset?" and refuse.
  9. Instead of worrying about what people will think of me if I decline an invitation I really dread, I simply apologise in simple terms and move on.
  10. On meeting people I've known for years while out doing Christmas shopping, I shut up after "How are you?" instead of going on to ask about everything they've done in the twenty or so years since I last spoke to them.
More soon.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

"The Tyranny of the Majority"

The phrase "The Tyranny of the Majority"  has a respectable pedigree, prior to the use of it last week by John Major.  Some of the problems outlined in the Wikipedia article (linked) include the election of a demagogue, and the abandonment of rationality.  Both seem particularly relevant this autumn.

In 1922, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, "I think when I read Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check  I made my final decision about America - that freedom has produced the greatest tyranny under the sun.  I'm still a socialist, but sometimes I dread that things will grow worse and worse the more the people nominally rule. "

Significantly, the book to which he referred concerns the corruptive and corrosive power of the press.

Conceivably, the majority could use its democratically elected power to abolish democracy.  This, in fact, is how Hitler came to power.  Food for thought.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Man Food

Hairy Bikers' Belly Pork 

I usually keep my husband on a low-fat, high-fish content diet.  Occasionally he craves something really rich and fatty.  My friends tell me that their husbands are much the same, always ordering something with a huge plate of chips when they go out for a meal.  This week my husband was in craving mode, and plaintively asked if we could have belly pork. 

"Only if you cook it," I replied. 

So I thought I would have a day off cooking, and asked my husband would he cook the Sunday lunch on Saturday afternoon while I was out.  He said yes. 

I returned to the house at 5pm to a kitchen full of black, acrid fumes, and the smoke alarm going off. 

"Where's the smoke alarm?" he wailed in helpless man mode.  I ignored him, after all, he fitted it.

Then he opened the oven door, and sparks of fat burst out, catching into little flames.  I sighed.

Two hours later, after he had covered every work surface with a layer of greasy fat, consumed a fair quantity of alcohol, and created a pool of liquid grease in the floor of the oven, we sat down to eat.

The roast was delicious, but in my opinion, not worth all the effort.  It took me an hour to clean up the kitchen (excluding the washing up, which we did together).  After that we went to watch our recording of Strictly, and left the oven until the next morning.  It needed two cleans, so that was another morning's work.  So much for a bit of time off from cooking.

And never believe that the preparation time is 30 minutes and the cooking time 2 hours. 

Monday, 29 August 2016



by Jorge Ortega    (courtesy of Jorge), first published on the University of Iowa MOOC, "Whitman's Civil War, Writing and Imaging Loss, Death and Disaster"!/users/jorge_ortega_6                                         

Books are like dear friends,
holding your hand
at the worst of times,
when we are alone,
telling us
"The pain you have is nothing
to what we have seen".

Sunday, 26 June 2016

John Donne - a view on the referendum.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631)

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Francis Bacon as Shakespeare

So, after dismissing the Earl of Oxford as a contender, moving on to Francis Bacon:

Book by Ross Jackson 

This book was written to accompany a novel purporting to depict the career of another Shakespearean candidate, Francis Bacon.  The introduction states that it may be read independently.  Not really - I was lost as to the details of what was in the novel, but I persevered.

Francis Bacon was, according to this theory,  the son of Queen Elizabeth I, by Robert Dudley, her lifelong love and court favourite.  (To re-cap, The Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, is portrayed by  adherents as both the son, AND the lover, of Queen Elizabeth). 

In this version, Elizabeth and Dudley were secretly married in 1561. Thus Bacon was not an illegitimate son.  He was the heir to the throne, and one of two, the other being Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.  The latter was factually executed on the Queen's orders very near the end of her reign. Why would she kill her own son?  As it happens, she is on record as stating that the children of the monarch seek to kill their regal parent, in order to accede.  There is no explanation as to why Bacon was neither acknowledged or executed.

One quoted contemporary source alleges that Dudley actually fathered five children on the Queen "and she never goes on progress but to be delivered...."    The thought of all that secret sex with "The Gypsy" is quite exhilarating.  However, there is no mention of the other three offspring in this book.

Francis, according to this theory, was brought up as a "ward" in the family of the Queen's second-most important official, Sir Nicholas Bacon.  He became a lawyer and polymath. This is a major argument for the attribution of Shakespeare's plays which display wide learning and detailed knowledge of the law.  Another plank in the argument is that Francis wrote a prose history of the life of Henry VII.  This is seen as filling the gap left by Shakespeare, who wrote a continuous sequence of history plays starting with Richard II and ending with Henry VIII.  Continuous, except for the omission of Henry VII.  The fact that Bacon wrote this in prose, not as a drama, is not addressed.

Bacon's notebooks are leaned on heavily as direct evidence of the fact that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, and comparisons are quoted extensively.   Bacon's editor, however, in this book gives a detailed explanation of the common quotations.  Bacon was an exponent of the "Notebook Culture" of the time, and listed over 1,600 items as a mental exercise.  Of these, many were already common, including "255 from Erasmus, 110 from Virgil, 107 from the Bible, 46 from Ovid, a huge collection (443) of proverbs in Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian ...."   So they could equally well have been drawn upon by a different man, a playwright.

Most of the rest of the book draws on sources found here, where conspiracy theorists can have a field day.

As with the Earl of Oxford's case, however, one only has to go to the writings to destroy all the falsely alluring half-truths and allusions spread throughout this website  and the book pictured above.

Bacon's prose covers many different subjects and sprinkles aphorisms and nuggets of wisdom throughout his essays - such as the following:

 "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."  (From the essay, "Of Studies").

Quite a nice metaphor.   However, just to make sure that all is understood, Bacon then immediately repeats the whole in clearer terms:

"That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but cursorily; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention." 

Shakespeare didn't see any need to explain his metaphors. Even in the character of Polonius, who was the epitome of a plodding old bore and lecturer, the instructions to his son fly:

"Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There- my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee."

Bacon's essay advising young men on how to profit from travel, states that it is most important to seek "acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors, for in so travelling in one country he shall suck the experience of many."

Bacon's essay "Of Honour and Reputation" begins thus:
"The winning of Honour is but the revealing of a man's virtue and worth without disadvantage."

Shakespeare says on the subject:

"Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism." 

It's witty, ironic, subversive, and employs multiple metaphors.  This is the fat rogue Falstaff talking, of course, so you have to take it as tongue in cheek, but there is a truth under the jovial surface.  Falstaff, the drunken coward, survives the battle-field to die in bed. 

Harry Hotspur, on the other hand, declares:

"By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks .... "

Hotspur's language, more noble, more high-flown, puts active honour high in his priorities, and imagines himself doing fine deeds.  This character dies in battle.

So, to take two random Bacon essays and look into the language, and compare with that of Shakespeare, whoever he was, gives a clear contrast. 

Fascinating though it is, to follow these meticulously worked out conspiracy theories, I am totally unconvinced.


Monday, 11 April 2016

Shaxberd - who was he?

Shaxberd - from the Office of the Master of the Revels, 1605
Unfortunately my pictures are very weak.  I realise that some blogs win awards on the strength of their superb photographs, and I do wish I could be better at it;  my only defence is that usually I am so excited about what I am seeing that my hand shakes. 

Here is part of the displayed copy of the exhibition I referred to in my previous post.

Revels Office records 1604 to 1605

The listing in the margin on the right-hand page gives the names of the players. The King's Players, as Shakespeare's company was called, after their patron King James VI and I, from his accession in 1603, were very active.  Off the page (apologies), appear the names of the plays, the dates and the authors.

"Shakespeare," in the spelling variation "Shaxberd", (see top picture), is shown as the author of plays we now recognize to be his.  Documentary evidence, you might think, from contemporary sources.

Nevertheless, a substantial number of people, including Sigmund Freud and Mark Rylance, (described here by the Guardian as a bit of a fruit loop), believe that Shakespeare could not have been the author of these plays.  Someone else was, and used the name "Shakespeare" as a front.  The glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon could not possibly have had the breadth of knowledge, nor the poetic, classical, and legal education to write the plays and the poems attributed to William Shakespeare.

Well, now that Richard III has been exhumed,  revealed to have suffered from scoliosis, (which some scholars insisted on for centuries, while others denied it), and laid to rest in peace, it was time for me to find a new conspiracy theory.

Some believe that Shakespeare was Marlowe.

Others, that he was the Earl of Oxford, and the film "Anonymous" takes this story to the limit, including the theory that Elizabeth I was actually Oxford/Shakespeare's mother.

Some champion Francis Bacon, and the latest theory I have come across is that Shakespeare was a woman

The thing is, that when I read the theories, much of it sounds quite plausible.  I'm currently reading Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom on my Kindle, and did not feel the urge to shout out "This is complete rubbish" until some way in.  I did, though.

Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford,  leading man of "Lost Kingdom", sounds like a reasonably viable candidate for authorship, until you pick up an actual piece of verse written by the Earl.

See below, from:  The Penguin Book of Elizabethan Verse:

"The Lively Lark Stretched Forth Her Wing" (first and second stanzas)

The lively lark stretched forth her wing,
The messenger of morning bright,
And with her cheerful voice did sing
The day's approach, discharging night
When that Aurora, blushing red,
Descried the guilt of Thetis' bed,

I went abroad to take the air,
And in the meads I met a knight
Clad in carnation colour fair:
I did salute this gentle wight,
Of him I did his name enquire,
He sighed, and said it was Desire."

Here, by comparison is part of one of Shakespeare's sonnets:

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy"

Or this, from "Romeo and Juliet"

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she"

So, I could not be convinced.  Enjoyable though it is to read the long lists of Shakespearean characters who are "modelled" on Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers.