7 January 2012


I've started studying my typos, not for evidence of diminished brain function, but for how distracting the current cold and dark is.

Writing has always been difficult and one area of literary criticism that most amuses me is the way literary historians work. They scrutinise revisions and rewrites as if they had some other worldly significance. Usually they can be taken as evidence that the writer had a friend drop by for a visit or that they had temporarily stopped thinking because they found the task in hand boring.

I know that in a long body of work, when the writer has been showered with acclaim, how they approach the craft comes under well earned scrutiny. Leitmotivs, evidence of emotional changes as can be traced in handwriting, introduction of new words... it goes on indefinitely as I learned at a tortuous lecture in Trinity College once.
I'll fix the confusion at the end of the last post in time, if ever.

Europe can be such a bore... (And in this case a typing course might get skills better honed.)

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Come Back, Signor Berlusconi, (Almost) All is Forgiven?

Lago di Garda, Screenshot

I have only twice been to Italy and the effort to negotiate buying dinner with a smattering of Latin and vast translation from French, which many waiters speak there, has left its mark. Travelling with friends who have not bothered to learn any foreign language leaves one in the position of a UN representative. A war could be caused by the slightest misunderstanding of the nuances.

Loud enthusiasm usually impresses Italians, from my experience so far, but it was also explained by a helpful English couple that one should learn to indulge officials in functionary positions, as they are not helpful when spoken to as if one were their equal.

Although the Irish have often been called "The Italians of the North", I think that this prejudice must be based on lack of efficiency and the aforement yelling. It could not have anything to do with kow-towing to authority and I was surprised to find ticket sellers in train stations so unhelpful. Even in France, instructions will be screamed through sound proof glass at a pitch that would wake the dead, leaving no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding.

The latest news from Italy, relayed through my only trusted source, the BBC, is that the new chief bottle washer there has now got his wife doing the cooking for every social gathering that could implicate partying at the expense of the "the tax-payer". Do I, I ask myself, want to revisit a country where women are called on to support their husband's career beyond the bounds of reason?

Six years studying Greek have ensured that I would not step foot in a Greek jurisdiction without signed contracts with fellow travellers, regardless of linguistic ability. There is a law in Greece that claims that when a man is arrested his wife or partner is often held in custody as well, because women always know everything. Whoever put this onto the statute books must have a vivid imagination. And since my knowledge of this law is based on the case of two English people who were at an air show where military aircraft were photographed years ago and that the details are too confusing to repeat, I've also added air shows to a long list of no-go events.

Travel does not broaden the mind. It can wear people out and cause untold psychological damage.

And as for going to Italy again, the jury is still out. We never got to the Vatican because the nice sign at the entrance to the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj caught my attention. The sign was for food, of course, and the palace itself was a highlight of our trip to Rome. Also, I had forgotten that, being a separate state, one gets put through security systems again so I thought about if seeing another basilica was worth the risk of getting frisked and subjected to suspicion.

I draw a veil over the fact that the Irish government has taken an attitude to the Vatican that seems extreme. Davimack's reaction to politics is very similar to mine... why waste time thinking about problems that other people have made?

Not only is the political not personal in my mind, the personal is not political. And I think for many people the two may have parted company for some time to come.

Verona, May, 2011

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Calatrava in Dublin

The naming of the "Samuel Beckett Bridge" in Dublin distracts from the fact that it was designed by Santiago Calatrava.

The design has received mixed reviews, but its impact is unmistakeable. It has brought drama, yet again, to the city in my eyes and is very pleasant to photograph. The two-hander achieved by the literary association and the visual impact is also pleasing.

Finding access to drive across it takes the wisdom of serpents, but I finally managed to do this for the first time a few months ago.

Samuel Beckett Bridge

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The Value of the Printed Page?

In the race for acceptance it now seems that both printed and digital materials are neck and neck.

On "Book Dirt" readers were asked for their opinion... give good reasons that the printed book will survive.

Since I don't have an insistance that a "book" need even be recorded in writing and that the full contents of the body of knowledge we now associate with book learning is often carried for years in writer's minds, or in the case of the past, in oral tradtion, the question posed is of fundamental interest to the survival of humanity.

But, not to be a spoilsport, here is my answer to the question: You have probably come across the game a few years ago where people used just leave books they had finished reading in public places for others to find.

It's easier to lose a book, as I know from experience, than an expensive machine, as one is likely to take more care.

You asked for the edge printed books have over digital. In the case of photography books, pages can be removed and the images framed... though with the arrival of digital cameras such mutilation is now, fortunately, not necessary.

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6 January 2012

The New Year Just Goes On and On and On...

One reason to wish I was abroad at the moment, apart from the hideous weather and low light levels, is that I'll miss the Chinese New Year in a warm climate.

Since I'm a Dragon and chatted with a Chinese lady, much younger, who's in the same category in the past, I'm up to date with the iconography and enjoy the loud fire crackers and special food produced for the banquets in cities where the festival is a major social event. explains that the Dragon has Seven Sons, according to the old mythologies, and they are a busy bunch indeed, mostly involved with artistic endeavour and keeping the peace , apart from Number 4 who loves howling. But since positive thinking is seemingly embedded in the system, this is a good quality linked to protectiveness.

A year ago we were in Singapore and followed the crowds to the beach. I have never seen so many people per square metre anywhere before and some of the photos would be worth sharing again.

Since the Chinese see red as a fortuitous colour, unlike Europeans for whom it means anger and danger, a bokeh image in that colour might be a good start to the run up to the Year of the Dragon.

2011 has been the Year of the Rabbit.

Perhaps that's why so many people have been running so fast all year just to stay still?
Chinese New Year 2, Singapore

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5 January 2012

Words, Words, Words...

I've just found a great blog in the Blogspot system... Book Dirt. Beautifully written and, at this very moment giving 25 reasons why books (the printed versions) will survive.

Grammar finally abandoned me at the end of my zealous post there. I'm sure they'll work it out...

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Vanitas Vanitatum

Vanity publishing has always been spurned by those who value authority and who see the desire to promote oneself as being the self indulgent haven of those too cowardly to find an editor. I mentioned a friend's book in a bookshop a few years ago. The recipient of my joyful explanation that such an edition existed made a simple, abrupt enquiry. "Vanity publishing?"

While the cynicism of a very small minority of youthful spirits continues to surprise and alarm me, I was able, hand on heart to answer firmly "No". It was not the moment to mention that Proust self published or that most bloggers would not bother to turn on their computers if they had to deal with the neuroses of the publishing trade these days so I left the person in question happily assured, thanks to a quick search that the book in question was not the worst he had come across that day.

Nor was it the moment to point out that such lack of enthusiasm was probably killing the book trade off quicker than many of the reasons being put about, officially, both in real life and online. Printed books are being replaced by digital for thousands of reasons but I had another even more astonishing insight in the problem when I was able to inform another bookseller that the writer I had been speaking about had just won a major prize and that it might be worthwhile moving one of the books into the relative limelight of the vast sales space we were standing in.

I know this sounds pushy but Laurie Lee used go into shops and physically move his own work up front, even though he had the backing of a veritable power house of publishers and editorial acclaim.

This post explains, most of all, why most people would probably never dream of writing a book.
Too much of a fuss...

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Letting Our Little Light Shine

Some years ago, having got used to my Flickr account and having got onto amicable terms, my now virtual friend Billie from the Beach asked a very sensible question.
"Does the sun ever shine over there?"

It's difficult to explain that I probably have come to prefer muted tones and mysterious dusky photos, with a strong bias towards black and white images in real film rather than digital. Friends from brighter climates are forever putting on lights which startle me into an over-alert state as, in Summer at least, I like the long steady evening light.

However, the ongoing gloom of January is ahead and at this time, the only strategy is to avoid looking at anything out of doors by bringing the blinds down and filling the house with good strong electric light.

And the sun did actually shine a few days ago and I managed to capture the moment on film.. Flowers in January Light

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Well, Blow Me Down With a Feather...

I don't have the energy to post on Davimack's blog, being in another system as it is.
However it is a relief to know that they are surviving merrily enough given the circumstances of being caught up in some tornado or other. I don't know if the hilarity the pieces have caused me are intended, but having weathered snow last year my virtual friends have taken the gales on the chin and are knitting, writing and making beautiful photos as usual.
I woke to a report from the BBC that a delighted arboriculturalist was actually out in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens to study the top of a 50 foot felled tree. It's rare to be able to study such a specimen, it seems. Good news was forthcoming. The lichens at the top of the tree are numerous and healthy, evidence of good air quality.

Somebody out there must have heard all our pleas for the moaning to stop.
We are now being blown away with happy stories...

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Gulliver and Dublin

This is a surprisingly often viewed photo on Flickr. It is one of a series taken over several years of sand sculptures in Dublin.

Mostly they can be found in Summer in an interior couryard in Dublin Castle, but since I'm not a great fan of the medium used I haven't bothered to upload any more.

I don't much like Swift's writing either and while Sweet Auburn was a favourite literary reference point for adults when I was growing up, I found his writing coarse. Rabelais has the same effect and the recent dramatisation on Radio Four left me with nothing to listen to for a dull hour on a Sunday night.

The official media are a puzzle... as is why so many people bothered to look at this somewhat indiffent photo.

The artist in this case was excellent, but since the work was surrounded by protective metal girders I found it really difficult to photograph it well. Gulliver in the Land of Giants (An update... Oliver Goldsmith, not Swift wrote "The Deserted Village" and I've sorted the confusion out by posting on Widgetinghour. This post has reminded me, as if I needed reminding, that the pleasure of keeping a blog is that it involves uploading only material that one enjoys and not having to produce work that is paid for by others.)

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4 January 2012

Setting It to Music

Finnegan's Wake is still to be found on the walls of Dublin.

Finnegan's Wake on the Walls of Dublin

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Le Jeu Continue

Never let it be said that Dubliners are not optimists.

Balloons everywhere on Harcourt the other day... Party Time

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Fair Copy

Wind and cold inhibit lucid thought, I'm certain. The typos continue apace here so I'll just go back to photography until the gales die down.

It's pleasant to think that Summer will return in the not too distant future...
Atlantic Coast, West Cork

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Ca m'est Egal

The title here has reminded me of all the rules and regulation governing the placement of accents in French.

Not on capital letters, ever, if memory serves. But since the last time I checked was in the 1980's I'm not going to stand over this.

Friends, who are always quick with good ideas that could leave one spent, tired and cross in the extreme, have sometimes thought I might like to write here in French.
Not a good idea, given all the blasted accents that pepper the written language and which will probably, in time, lead to its demise. Greek is a much prettier prospect, to my eye, at least, since they changed the rules in relation to accents, but since my little Greek is shrinking yearly and since I have no intention of going to Greece, chances are slim of much being put into print in that language in the near future.

People do not like difficulty and challenge, if they are any way ordinary, as I am. The annoyance of reaching my potential would probably kill me off years before nature has intended and all the stressed moan-bags who continue to haunt the Irish airwaves are probably being handsomely paid for their efforts as they praise the fearful newfangled activity, entrepreneurship.

It seems that this country is bankrupt. Since there's not any chance I can do anything about it, élan vital will have to suffice.
Potential, in any case, can only be measured by performance. Performing one's socks off to an empty audience is not much fun...



The "wicket gream" for "wicked gleam" in the last post may as well be let stand as is.

A nod to one of my favourite writers, Lewis Carroll.

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Innate Grammar, How Are You...

If innate grammer actually exists, I think it may have passed me by.

English is my mother tongue, even if the Hiberno version I speak sometimes brings a wicket gream of amusement into the eye of some shopkeepers on what is delightfully known to some as "The Mainland". Enthusiastic declamations of "I will indeed" when "I shall" would suffice, look as if overkill has been achieved. However, since to use "shall" in parts of Ireland is to join the linguistic equivalent of "les precieuses ridicules" I very rarely use it in speech and rarely in writing.

France is always a joy (if the government changes there there might be some chance I'll muster enough courage to visit again) as most people think I speak like a true Britannique and subject me to their enjoyable foibles, depending on how they view our damp little islands... that is, if they manage to see them at all, lost as we are in the linguistic mists beyond La Francophonie.

There has been a certain relief in knowing that the work of James Joyce has been released from copyright bondage at last. I no longer have to think about quoting his work without fear of punishment.
Also some of his bizarre characters who thought that speaking the language of the invader was some foible can now be put into a measured historical perspective, perhaps.

Most people these days write and speak in acronyms. I need a decoder, not a linguist.
br> However, grammarians, an eternal force, not unlike intellectual gardeners, are always welcome...

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Chins Above Water, As Usual

I find myself thanking my blessings, despite the gales that are raging through the British Isles, sending trees and electrical wires crashing.

A year ago we were snowbound and although I know that much of Europe has months of frost and snow every year, I find a sort of comfort in knowing that the Gulf Stream continues to warm our shores and give a sense of well-being.

Anybody who has described an average Winter in New York has ensured I have never been tempted to go there. Yesterday's post about staying home was based on experience, not fear of the unknown, btw. It is sizzling hot in Melbourne as I write and I have met many people there in the past who craved a brisk breeze after months of what I experienced as enviable warmth. Having never spent more than four months in a warm climate, I don't know when the desire for cold weather would actually have begun. A trip to Australia was punctuated, in every sense of the word, by a visit to Tasmania's Cradle Mountain, an experience that could not top the fear that Mont Blanc struck into my heart, but which came a close second. I share with every sensible person who lived up to the time of the drug fuelled Romantics, a healthy respect for mountains. Mostly I like them to be placed picturesquely at a very safe distance, but if compelled to visit closely, being at the bottom rather than half way up in the sleet and snow would always be a personal preference. Having given my ski gloves to a friend who wanted to wander around Dove Lake, I spent a strange day muttering to myself as I tried to get warm, bonded with the only living creature out of doors, a very photogenic member of the crow family and sat in the only place offering lunch and felt a strange sense of longing for Europe in the company of a Spanish artist. We hardly spoke, but he interpreted the unmissable belled and whistling plastic gew gaw that heralded the arrival of our food while I surprised him by picking out his accent from a thousand possibilities and getting it right. He drew in a small pad. I examined my photos with over zealous scrutiny, as there wasn't much else to do.

One of the more terrifying images, to my eye, of the great mountain, were Explored on Flickr, which has never happened much since, showing that struggle is part of true art. However, I'm happy to stay home and make dreamy black and white film images with my new Canon EOS RT, a camera that had a short lived success in 1989 and which seems set to become a classic, if those of us who possess the calm its pellicle mirror system sports manage to master it and it finds a wider audience. So here's to mystery, romance and flat terrain for 2012. Beads and Bokeh

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3 January 2012

Round We Go Again

The New Year always brings a predictable flood of reminiscence and predictions from media sources. It can be extremely long winded and as a result I find myself looking out at a chilly garden wondering when I can muster enough courage to take it on again.

Sweeping leaves is a healthy pursuit, but not when it could involve catching a chill or picking up one of the remarkably efficient viruses that now lurk in every building in the land. Show the slightest weakness and these enviably resilient strands of dna kick in.

So I continue to change channel whenever the news comes on, watch old movies while planning a spectacular 2012. Since gardeners seem to measure time in aeons, not paltry swathes of twelve months at at time, I remember 2011 as a mixed bag as usual. The first half included a lot of travel, which would have once seemed an impossible dream. To visit Australia, Italy and the UK in the space of four months is not something I would complain about, but it makes being home a very valuable experience.

Travel was always a bit of an upheaval, but even though I rarely suffer home sickness or culture shock, the sheer inconvenience of getting from one place to another made me decline an invitation to an event abroad towards the end of the year.

Home it shall be, thankfully, for some time to come.
Gable End of Old House in Dublin

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