Tuesday, December 22, 2009

pitch and soot

On Sunday morning a group of mysterious lights hovered out on the road. They were, I supposed, the sun coming off a 4-square window, though now I think more likely a tail-light or an Xmas dec. Later I went downstairs and put a foot onto the path and nearly fell on my threshold. It must have rained and then re-frozen, everywhere was a sheet of glass.

We drove gingerly to Bath, revelled in shops and cafes until we were forced to leave (if you don't happen to drink, this curfew is effectively 17:00 on Sundays), crunched up the hill and set off for Little Chef and as we drove the snow finally started to fall. It's been in the east for a week, but not here. We discussed our chances of getting into work the next day. Then Laura astonished me with an expression I'd never heard anyone use before. She said: It looks like the snow's pitching....

Snow is the only kind of weather that so tangibly comes to stay. Perhaps that's why very young children regard snow (as they regard animals) as one of the few truly amazing things about being alive.

Snow comes for a stay, welcomed by some but not all, yet drifts away, is a nomad, a funfair. So "pitch" is a perfect word (Paulton, home of the muses). And, since spoken language can sometimes be as over-determined as dream-language, "pitch" also evokes the idea of snow sticking on a steep roof. Eventually, and cascading from it.


Lazing in Spain with nothing more pressing to do than be vacantly content, we've wiled away many a break between other diversions thinking up pairs of four-letter words and challenging each other to work from one to the other by changing the letters, e.g. GRID to LOCK: GRID GRIP TRIP TRAP CRAP CROP CHOP SHOP SHOT SOOT COOT LOOT LOOK LOCK. Or sometimes we do five-letter words, but four is better because it's more likely to be possible. Indeed, I have long cherished a Grand Unification Theory (unfortunately, disproven for all but sentimental purposes) that you can get from every four-letter word to every other four-letter word, so long as you can have an unlimited number of goes.

If you ever play this game you'll soon come to appreciate the vital tactical importance of -OO- as a way of switching vowel-positions. There is a great central concourse that I like to call the Soot Highway, in honour of the single most useful word in English.

As with the motorway network, plotting a route from PRIM to RUCK actually comes down to plotting how to get from PRIM to the Soot Highway, and then off it again at the other end. Grand unification theory ultimately fails because there are some stubborn fourth-world isolatoes that refuse to link up with the Soot Highway (ORAL-OPAL, for example). But gradually these too have been compelled to join the civilized world, and with a little latitude on allowable words (Oram? Opan? Opel?) we continue to throw down timber-roads across swamps. Odd how the patterns of aggressive globalization lie embedded in my hazed reverie.

And now, scraping ice from a path, I extirpate a nest of scoundrels all over again, just as when I scythed nettles in the summer. I'm always King Billy, never Vich Iain Vohr. But maybe that's because the only chores I'm good at are the destructive ones.

Monday, December 21, 2009

wrapping presents

Grandmother taught me lots of things. One was that after you used the sellotape you turned over the end to make a tab so you could find it next time without having to scrabble away at the roll. She called it "sealotape"; she also pronounced Marmite "Marmeat".

Grandmother didn't buy wrapping paper. But when we were all sitting around opening presents, a busy, dissonant voice constantly punctured the air with warnings about ripping the paper, which she would instantly whisk away from us and fold into slightly wrinkled quarters. She expressed greedy satisfaction with these recyclable wrappings. Of gifts addressed to her, however, she expressed only regret: how foolish, what nonsense, oh it's far too much etc.

There was, however, one exception. This was the brooch I got for her the first time I ever chose my own presents (I was not yet old enough to pay for them). It was a cornet made of gold and pearls, as I supposed, and we got it in Woolworths in Tunbridge Wells. I was really very good at choosing gifts in those days, I could do it in a trice. Grandmother was absolutely delighted, and she never came to visit or dressed for any special occasion without prominently sporting the flamboyant brooch on her cardigan. There was a loyalty between Grandmother and me. Accordingly I devoutly believed all the things she taught me, including the pronunciation of sealotape. Essentially they amounted to a fond but complete condemnation of our lives. Of course, my parents were terribly busy, they were so active, they had so many responsibilities, they had every excuse. Grandmother was very fond of my young parents, especially in view of how fiercely critical she was of everyone nearer her own age. But I thoroughly understood that it was only Grandmother who really knew, who really took the trouble to do things in the correct way.

Grandmother didn't even use sellotape herself. When she made a parcel (generally, of something she had knitted or found in a church sale), she nestled it in the already-crumpled wrapping paper of Christmas Past, and then tied it all up with bottle-green twine or wool or string. That way, there was a good chance of the wrapping-paper coming back to her without any additional rips. And she wrote the recipient's name on a scrap of white paper, which she slipped behind where the string crossed.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


It's impossible to think about a leaf.

I picked up a leaf in a parking-space today - it had been a birch leaf, though now it was leathery and chestnut-coloured, I wanted it to swab some birdo off the D/S window.

shape of an ivy-tree mist; berry-splattered birdo

I must know no language. I can't write with only these keyboard letters.

I have to be somewhere else. Only then...

In a strange office; grey, charcoal, pools in which kindle locally the hearths of the tribes, the sharp colours of Microsoft Windows and polo-shirts. But predominantly, grey and charcoal. Through blinds and frosted glass, also charcoal on grey, the mysterious comfort of scripture: the shapes of leafless branches.

               tekið blaðka gleðileg      jólinn: gras
               lendinnar, Þú ert
                         á óvinni           unnu mig
; almennilega viðarkolum,lætú                     mig
                karlinn vedri           vilja vera           drykkjuvísa ur
                               í vatnum fossni,
               ormblóð ert tveir
                mál (sekúnda tungu     
     mál), sum er Ék                ferðaföttil

hugtag: Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl

Friday, December 04, 2009

... and talking of LTM retrieval...

Check out Michael Lally's unfolding account of his experience after brain-surgery. He can hardly type, but he knows when something's worth writing. I hope he gets somewhere with the piano.


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