Wednesday 20 December 2006

Deck the Halls with Printed-off Emails

Will the internet mean the end of Christmas cards? Or am I just useless?

I don't think I'm totally useless. My dad reckons that by the end of university he had lost touch with everyone he knew at school except his brother. Ten years since I sat my A levels, I still keep in touch with most of my friends from Darlo and Barnie, whichever continent they now reside in. Email is a marvellous thing.

But I know that when I get back to my parents' house on Saturday, the walls and book cases will be decked with unfeasible numbers of Christmas cards - from friends from their churches past and present, old colleagues, various branches of the family. Whereas I'm afraid to say I've sent no cards this year - and only received one. (Cheers, Aeneas!)

I hardly know any of my friends' addresses. (Even the ones I visit regularly, I just remember the way to the street and the colour of the curtains in the front window.)

So, is email going to kill off the Christmas card? Or will me and my friends eventually settle down and send out annual round robin letters for newspaper columnists to anthologise?

In the meantime, were I organised enough to be sending cards this year, I'd want to put this on the front:

(He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy.)

Sunday 17 December 2006

Alan Bennett and the Green Knight

As a student, I lacked the diligence to reach the true treasures of Middle English, though the glimpses I got were enough to make me question the assumptions underpinning most of the later English literature I was studying. And from the fierce pride with which Alan Garner (whose judgement I'd trust on just about anything) writes of the Gawain poet, I know what I missed out on.

Simon Armitage has just published a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In yesterday's Times, Garner retells the story of his own discovery of a poem written in the language he knew as "talking broad" - and for which he'd had his mouth washed out with carbolic at the age of 5. He also provides a masterful rendering of a passage in modern North West Midlands English.

Meanwhile, The Guardian had Armitage telling the story of how he came to write his version of the poem. His description of the Alan Bennett mode nails an experience with which I'm all too familiar:

It isn't a particularly cold day in London, though when I left Yorkshire at 7am there was frost on the pavement. This is why I am wearing a heavy-duty parka, a pair of big boots, and why I am sweating. I've never been in the British Library before, and with my new membership card laminated less than an hour ago, I'm beginning to wish that was still the case. At this stage, the best course of action would be to say something like, "My name is Simon Armitage, I'm a published poet, and I've been commissioned to translate the poem." Who knows, she might even have heard of me. But instead, I have entered what is often referred to in our house as Alan Bennett mode, characterised by the outward demonstration of inadequacy and unworthiness when standing before the edifices of the establishment. So instead of speaking, I just sweat some more, and the lady on the desk, says, "There aren't amany pictures in it."

Wednesday 13 December 2006

On beards

In a saner world, people would stop asking me why I have a beard and start asking my clean-shaven friends why they scrape their faces with metal most mornings. Well, it's not quite the same thing, but according to today's Guardian, facial hairiness is coming into fashion:

Forty years ago a beard was a potent expression of the free-living, free-loving radicalism of 60s counterculture. For a while it was the sign of the slacker. Now it's no stranger to the Power-Point presentation. Until web 2.0 companies crash, old-fashioned businesses will have to get used to the hirsute.

Tuesday 12 December 2006


It was time I started a fresh blog.

I had known this for some time and had made sophisticated plans for it, plans which assumed a luxury of time I did not have. After all, I was busy changing the world. Or, at least, finding other excuses for not getting a proper job.

Yet things kept coming along which I wanted to write about. They kept coming along and going unwritten. It concerned me.

So I decided to take a break from making excuses and create the simplest blog I could find. (After all, sooner or later I would get round to tarting it up.)

Here it is.

[I should perhaps add, on the offchance that this blog thrives sufficiently that anyone returns to its first post to discover the circumstances of its origination, that I write this entry with Sebastian Mary Harrington singing at me from a chaise longue, to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas: Five poll swings, four Douglas Hurds, three Tony Benns, two William Hagues and a Social Democratic MP...! Make of this no more than it deserves.]

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