The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I'd been trying to extoll to someone the virtues, the cleverness, the neatness, the deliberately narrow but rich set-up, the exquisite pleasure of watching the psychological torture that Columbo inflicts on the party he thinks and we know to be guilty.

"Uh-huh...Columbo. Smart cop plays stupid, yeah?"

Which stopped me short. "Yes, I suppose so," I said, deflated, and saddened that she had managed to reduce one of my household gods to his essence so completely that there was no possible comeback. At the time I was arrogant enough to think that this indicated stupidity on her part: I mean, couldn't she see...? Of course, it was acuity, and a technique that I've found to be useful since then.


Thus, it's unfair to describe Edwin Muir's Scottish Journey as an extended grump - but not by too much. Granted, it does not take account of Muir's elegance, perception and the force of his argument, in a book which is still in print, regularly name-checked or quoted in Scotland, and has served as an inspiration for similar, later tours which try taking the nation's temperature; granted also that by any standard the view becomes depressing once Muir leaves Edinburgh, particularly in the industrial West. In fact, one can't imagine that anyone in the low dishonest decade was having a particularly good time of it, post-economic crash and pre-war (apart from in Spain and China, where war had got off to an early start.)

Nevertheless, Muir seems to see the 1930s in Scotland as an endpoint, with no prospect of things improving. In a way he was right - they got worse, but they did get better afterwards. Without falling into the traps of hindsight or historical inevitability, one can still say confidently that things do change. Watching the first two episodes of Smiley's People the other week was like looking at a museum piece.


Thinking of this, I predict that Labour will lose the next General Election. Brown simply doesn't feel lucky, not enough of a winner. My tip is to begin preparing for the consequences of this now, and try to see past the grey, muddled, inglorious 18 months which I guess are in front of us. I will be delighted if I'm wrong about this.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


There's a sonnet by Belli which consists of almost nothing but various names for the male member, which must present an interesting task for the translator. Here's a little snippet from Gore Vidal's Point to Point Navigation which may throw light on why - a Roman preoccupation, or simply a male one?
[Federico Fellini] was certainly a phallophobe in a culture rooted in phallophilia. He had even done a book of caricatures of phalluses, with such labels as "the happy cock", "the snobbish cock", "the angry cock". He entertained ladies with these drawings.
Whether or not this is normal behaviour for a phallophobe is beyond me.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dudley Moore Beethoven Sonata Parody

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Orwell complains - no, really - that the distinction between imply and infer seems to be in decline and beyond rescue. That was in the 1940s, so one can only assume that the patient, though still far from well, is proving remarkably hardy. But Bill Bryson notes this, in Troublesome Words:
The distinction is useful and, in careful writing nowadays, expected. However, it must be pointed out that there is not a great deal of historical basis for the distinction. Many great writers, among them Milton, Sir Thomas More, Jane Austen and Shakespeare, freely used infer where we would today insist on imply. Indeed, until as late as 1976, The Concise Oxford Dictionary treated the words as interchangeable.

I am currently putting on a convincing, interminable impression of a 19th century consumptive, possibly Doc Holliday as portrayed by Dennis Quaid. My wife is trying to outdo me. It's like having a pair of howler monkeys in the house. While trying to track down causes on the internet, I came across the following word, used in medicine: idiopathic.

It's Greek for "we don't know".

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Monday, October 01, 2007