Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I shan't be here on Monday, so this is in anticipation. The photo is from Dr Paul Koudounaris' cheery sounding book "The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

William Morris

I'm dying to see the William Morris exhibition which opens tomorrow at Two Temple Place, London WC2, and runs until 29 January 2012.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The dodgy duo

I'm still engrossed in Andrew Rawnsley's The End of the Party. Here's another excerpt from 2004:
Camels grunted in the background. Blair had been warned that Gaddafi would probably offer him camel milk. He was told not to touch the stuff, which was notorious for causing flatulence. That was why Gaddafi would offer it.
Dressed in an ankle-length maroon robe, with a matching velvet cap, Gaddafi lounged back in his seat. He displayed the sole of his foot - a highly insulting gesture in the Muslim world - at Blair. This was designed to play to the Arab street when they saw the encounter on television. The Prime Minister pretended he hadn't noticed what the dictator was up to. Over lunch, he talked about New Labour's version of the "Third Way". Gaddafi delved into his robe and produced a copy of his "Third Universal Theory". He then offered some suggestions on how to run a totalitarian state. When Tony Blair used to talk about "Big Tent" politics, he never imagined that it would encompass sharing fish couscous in a Bedouin marquee with Colonel Gaddafi.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thought of the day

Friday, October 21, 2011


Osama bin Laden, Anwar Al Awlaki and now Gaddafi, all assassinated in the name of "democracy". What do you think about that? Are they simply cases of "live by terror, die by terror"? Or is the West far too trigger-happy? Our political system is based on law and I think these men should have been brought to trial. To murder individuals in the name of democracy, debases us all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

RIP Gaddafi

Is that Hercule Poirot behind Gaddafi?

Funereal humour

Another week, another funeral, seems to be my life at the moment. This week's was dearly beloved Emma, after a 7 year battle with cancer, the first death amongst our year at St John's College, Cambridge. There was a good turnout from our group of friends. One of them kept saying, regarding who should have died first, "It should have been H!" (H being a hard drinking rugby player who was also at the funeral.) Another's farewell words to me were, "Goodbye WW, see you at the next one."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Remember, remember

I took my father to the doctor's for a formal memory test this morning.

Doctor: I have 30 questions for you, some very stupid, some more challenging. The first one is which year is it?
Father: Ummm...I'm not sure about that.
Doctor: Which season is it?
Father: Autumn.
Doctor: Which month is it?
Father: September.
Doctor: Which day is it?
Father: Tuesday.
Doctor: What's the date?
Father: Is it the 18th?
Doctor: Which country are we living in?
Father: England, I hope.
Doctor: Which county?
Father: Hampshire.
Doctor: Which town?
Father: We live in a city...Winchester.
Doctor: Please spell WORLD backwards.
Father (whose hearing's not good): DROW.

And so it went on. My father answered 20 out of 30 questions correctly. The pass mark was 26 so he is being referred to a memory clinic. When we were walking home he asked me, "What were we doing at the doctor's?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Letter of the day

Sir,..Themistocles had a problem raising taxes from an island called Andros, and told them he had two great gods to aid him, Peitho (Persuasion) and Ananke (Necessity), and that the Andrians must therefore pay up. The Andrians replied, "We have two unserviceable gods who never quit our island; namely, Penia (Poverty) and Amekhania (Helplessness). Since we are in the hands of these gods, we will give you no money. Your power can never be stronger than our inability."
This was 2500 years ago (and the currency then was the drachma). I have two questions: first, will the Greeks pay even 20 per cent of their euro debts? Second, will the euro last 2500 years?
Richard Ronald,
Ronald Associates
Hemel Hempstead

Today's FT

Friday, October 14, 2011

The End of the Party

I'm currently engrossed in The End of the Party by Andrew Rawnsley, about the rise and fall of New Labour. It's a riveting account. Here's an extract about events in London on 9/11:
The Cabinet Secretary was lunching at Gran Paradiso, his favourite London restaurant. Sir Richard Wilson heard about the first plane from his driver, Gary. "I bet that's some amateur," remarked Sir Richard as he got into the back of his limousine. As they set off back to Number 10, he learnt about the second plane from the car radio. Jeremy Heywood, the Principal Private Secretary, rang as Wilson's car was rounding Parliament Square. "We've been told the White House is evacuating," reported Heywood. "Should we be evacuating?" "If you evacuate, where would you evacuate to?" responded Wilson. He had a mental image of the entire staff of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office standing in the street clutching their laptops and mobiles looking lost. "I think it's a good rule not to evacuate unless you had an idea of where you are going to evacuate to," Wilson drily told Heywood.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


My colleague's beautiful blonde daughter went to look around Portsmouth University with a view to reading Paramedic Science. A man from the department there remarked to her, "You don't look like the type of girl who'd do Paramedic Science. You look more like a girl who'd do Beauty Therapy!" "That's discrimination!" the girl observed and, turning on her heels whilst flicking her hair, she added, "I don't want to study at this awful place anyway!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Paene insularum, Sirmio, insularumque
Ocelle, quascumque in liquentibus stagnis
Marique vasto fert uterque Neptunus,
Quam te libenter quamque laetus inviso...

Bright jewel of headlands, bright jewel of the seas,
And Neptune's lake, oh Sirmio, you shine
Sparkling and beautiful, of restful ease
And joy. The thought that you are mine
Turns all my cares to untold delights
On seeing you again

So wrote Catullus when he returned to his family home at Sirmio in around 64BC, and his description of this place at the end of a small peninsula on the south side of Lake Garda, still holds true. I strongly recommend a visit. Glorious weather, stunning scenery and some amusing translations including, "Menu of the salty water" and "Menu of the beasts and the air."

There are the remains of a substantial Roman villa, built at the end of the first century BC. I noticed a pair of gleaming amber eyes looking out from one of its rooms above the tourist path: a sleek black cat is now the occupier.