memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 16 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Halcyon days

Did you know that the word «halcyon», as in halcyon days,

comes from the ancient Greek word for a «kingfisher»?

                                                    How’s that for a completely        

Unnecessary,

Uncalled for,

Unwanted,

Unwarranted,

Unsolicited,

A-propos-of-nothing,

Gratuitous,

Pointless,

Out-of-the-blue

And totally irrelevant piece of etymology?

KINGFISHER

KINGFISHER

My new Kindle

PATTERN HAND-PAINTED by FRANCES MILNER

PATTERN HAND-PAINTED by FRANCES MILNER

I used to be a techno-snob

I observed each passing phase

With a tolerant disdain

Without worship or marvel

I bowed to its inevitability

I viewed the digital era as mass mediocrity

The mobile phone as a paradox

Of communication breakdown

My generation couldn’t type

Never saw the need

Shunned e-mail until

The last moment

 

Then my life suddenly changed

Radically, irrevocably

Fell into the pit

With the other losers

Equally decrepit

Scrabbling helpless

Feeling for the edge

 

Went into survival-mode

Had to relearn a load of stuff

In my solitary world

Can’t be squeamish

Sauve qui peut

 

Tech was my lifeline

Bought a laptop

Steep learning curve

Trained myself to the

Muscle of memory

Dash of culture

Bob’s your uncle

 

Began to tap the long climb back

Each word a painful hash

Each sentence a fatigue of correction

Each paragraph an exhausting triumph

 

Wrote a book

Fumbled ineptly through

The para-world of online

Self-publishing and

After about nine months

Gave birth to a pink

Wriggling little book

Like all parents

Inordinately proud

 

I have been reading

A book every day

For over 50 years

Though not the same book

Not the same book

 

Time was when I read voraciously

Long, squat dense paper-backs

With miniscule print

On cheap paper

Crime and Punishment

Look Homeward, Angel

Tristram Shandy

A Dance to the Music of Time

And so on

And so on

 

Of late my 60-year-old eyes are tiring

But not my 60-year-old mind

I still need to fuel my philosophy

Feed ideas into the gaping

Furnace of my being

 

So I, who have over two thousand

Books spilling out of every room

Of my little apartment

By the sea

And further hundreds

Spilling out of my room

Here at the Home

(What’s the best place to hide a book?

In a library, of course)

I have decided to go Kindle

 

Instant addiction

I love it

I love its lightness of being

The handiness of it

Above all I love its potential

The collected works of

Emil Zola

For a couple of Euros

Here I come!

Kindle_paperwhite_1 

Be cool

Go Kindle!

Sailing to Byzantium (2)

I have always considered that this poem, Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, to be very beautiful.

Sailing to Byzantium

THAT is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

 

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

 

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

 

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

a-perfume-brazier-in-the-form-of-a-domed-building

 

Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Another grim passage in the history of Christianity was the sacking of Constantinople, the rich centre of the Eastern Byzantine Empire by the Western armies in 1204 after a two-year siege during the 4th Crusade.

byzantium

The Crusaders mainly composed of Frankish and Venetian troops, looted, terrorized and vandalized Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were either stolen or destroyed.

The famous bronze horses from the Hippodrome were sent back to adorn the facade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where they still remain.

TWO OF THE FAMOUS BRONZE HORSES IN BASILICA ST, MARK'S

As well as being stolen, works of immeasurable value were destroyed merely for their material value. One of the most precious works to suffer such a fate was a large bronze statue of Hercules, created by the legendary Lysippos, court sculptor of no lesser than Alexander the Great. Like so many other priceless artworks made of bronze, the statue was melted down for its content by the Crusaders whose greed blinded them.

The Library of Constantinople was destroyed.

Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the Crusaders systematically violated the city’s holy sanctuaries, destroying or stealing all they could lay hands on.

Nothing was spared. The civilian population of Constantinople were subject to the Crusaders’ ruthless lust for spoils and glory.

Thousands of them were killed in cold blood.

Women, even nuns, were raped by the Crusader army, which also sacked churches, monasteries and convents. The very altars of these churches were smashed and torn to pieces for their gold and marble by the warriors who had sworn to fight in service of Christendom without question.

This was the final nail in the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

We can therefore build up a profile of the western Crusader knights.

They were cruel sociopaths whose value for human life was zero, whose belief-system was completely twisted and warped and whose lust and greed knew no limit. They were narrow-minded xenophobes with minimal aesthetic appreciation for Eastern art.

They were the profane destroyers of Temples and places of worship.

Thus was the sacking of the holy city of Byzantium.

HAGIASOPHIA - CHRIST

HAGIASOPHIA – CHRIST

Supergirl

My wife has gone to the West Indies

Jamaica?

No, she went of own accord.

STAGE 1

STAGE 1

My brother went to Eastern Europe for a holiday

Romania?

No, I went with him.

STAGE 2

STAGE 2

I’ve been learning a Scandinavian language

Finnish?

Not yet.

STAGE 3

STAGE 3

It’s not the jokes that count, it’s how you write them.

STAGE 4

STAGE 4

I’ve got Togo

SUPERGIRL

SUPERGIRL

MERRY CHRISTMAS

My Nonesuch Shakespeare

THE NONESUCH PRESS. SHAKESPEARE, William.

Of all my beloved books, my most cherished is, perhaps, my Nonesuch Shakespeare.

My father bought the seven elegant leather-bound volumes in 1940 for one hundred pounds and treasured them all his life. They graced his book-shelves in London, Paris, Cologne and South Yorkshire. At present they have a home on my shelves here in Portugal. They are still in well-nigh perfect condition.

I recently checked out an identical set for sale on the net and read the following technical description:

Nonesuch shakespeare

Seven octavo volumes (24.3 x 16.5 cm). full limitation of 1,600 sets. Designed by Francis Meynell and printed by Walter Lewis, Printer to the University, at the Cambridge University Press in Monotype Fournier, with new capital letters made for this edition, on Pannekoek mould-made laid paper.

Bound in London by A.W. Bain in publisher’s full gilt tan niger morocco leather, spines in six compartments, top edges colored pale pink and gilt on the rough, other edges uncut.

The text is printed litteratim from the First Folio, except in the case of Pericles and the poems which were not included in the Folio and hence are reprinted from the Quartos…. The Shakespeare represents the chef d’œuvre of the Nonesuch Press and is a model of careful proof reading and imaginative setting. The best of ancient and modern conjectural emendations are unobtrusively set in the margin for the benefit of a glancing eye. This is the finest of all editions of our greatest poet. (Meynell, The Nonesuch Century, p. 69.)

About 40 years ago, on leave from the Algerian desert and with my pockets jingling & jangling with cash, I went to visit my brother in Norwich where he had been roosting for a couple of years after attending the university there (UEA). During my visit I haunted the inevitable second-hands bookshops with which such medieval cathedral-cities so richly abounded and came across the first public edition (1935) of T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom produced by Jonathan Cape in tan-coloured buckram.

A big, heavy impressive object – I had to have it! I dithered, weighing up the pros & cons (as one does) … it did have the Kennington Plates showing all the tribal sheiks … but on the other hand 5 quid bought a lot of pub-time in those days … I prevaricated, stepped out of the shop, stepped back in again. I think I’ll take this one, I remarked casually to the shop owner and carried off my prize. What was the point of that little vignette, I can hear you (who are still reading this) ask?

Simply this. What the opinion of a writer whose life and work I greatly admire (T. E. Lawrence) thought about the Nonesuch Shakespeare brought a warm glow of approbation in my heart. In a letter to David Garnet, Lawrence writes:

We turn over to the Nonesuch Shakespeare. There you have created a most marvelous pleasure…. It satisfies. It is final, like the Kelmscott Chaucer or the Ashendene Virgil. And it is a book which charms one to read slowly, an art which is almost gone from us in these times. Every word which Shakespeare uses stands out glowing. A really great edition.

I think that it is very fitting that the work of the towering genius of English literature … is not clothed in borrowed robes.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Father to son

It was thirteen years ago today

That first you saw the light of day

And we came to think of names

No better appeared than James

 

(Later on came a boy in a million

Whom we decided to call William

Bit naughty at times but a nice kid

With funny English & a hat like a lid)

 

Now you take size 40 shoes

And show interest in the News

You’re starting to show your gifts

And no longer play around in lifts

You go to bed too late at night

Trying to create a new web-site

 

Here’s another present apart from the bike

Hope you get something you really like

Just wrote these silly words to say

Hope you have a really lovely day

WHEN YOU WERE FIVE

WHEN YOU WERE FIVE

 

The end of the world

END OF THE WORLD

21. 12. 2012

For all seven billion plus of us

It’s a win-win situation

 

A win because the magic number

Zero, three ones and four twos

Is predicated on an erroneous

Dating system

The Christian calendar.

(They made a mistake)

 

And also a win because I have

 Something to say to all

The faithful and the faithless

The hopeful and the hopeless

Old and young and in between

Rich and poor and in between

Black and white and in between

Good and bad and in between

 

we who dwell in the slums of

Great cities

Green mansions

Country pastures

Wet Forests

Dry bush

Frozen tundra

Searing deserts

Flooded deltas

And the islands

 Those thousand islands

This quote is for all of us:

 

This is how the world ends

This is how the world ends

This is how the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper

T. S. Eliot – «The Hollow Men»

The salt of the earth

Salt, also known as table salt, or rock salt, is a crystalline mineral that is composed primarily of sodium chloride NaCl, a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of ionic salts.

The time that I spent in the Sahara desert in the late seventies was during the hottest part of the year, between April and September.

Every morning the sun rose suddenly over the rim of the eastern desert. By midday it was implacable, shining fiercely down on all our endeavours. We used to move slowly from place to place like zombies, with our Ray-Bans and our low-brimmed caps. Only twice did I see to the south the rolling clouds of a sand-storm, driven by the fearsome winds of the Sirocco. Sometimes the sun was obscured by a slight haze but usually it was a great white ball of light burning from a clear sky.

At least that was our assumption; the truth is that one never really looked. There’s usually a sort of literary convention in descriptions of the sun in the desert. One of my favourites is from The Seven Pillars of Wisdomand the sun rose to greet us like a drawn sword.

THE SUN ROSE TO GREET US LIKE A DRAWN SWORD

Salt is not only an essential mineral, a sine qua non for the body’s survival but it also forms part of our linguistic heritage, serving as a metaphor for something fundamental – he’s just not worth his salt or she’s the salt of the earth.

During the Middle-Ages noblemen used to carry a small pouch of salt at their belts to feed to their falcons.

Thousands of years ago merchants and traders, tracking through the deserted wastes of Africa and Asia, would be paid in salt (hence the word salary).

At times our bodies would dehydrate to the point where we were urinating only once a day – time for some salt pills!

The camp medic would issue them on demand and anyone with an ounce of common sense would drink a commensurate amount of water to absorb the extra minerals.These salt pills were really heavy-duty, the sort that would give your average horse severe cholesterol problems, and yet some of the men would recklessly gulp them down (presumably guided by the precept that you can’t have too much of a good thing).

Sometimes there were dire consequences:

–          Station C calling Algiers, Station C calling Algiers, over.

–          Go ahead Station C, over.

–          We have a man down, suspected jagged kidney/gall stone, over.

–          We’re onto it Station C. tell the man to just hold on to his britches, help is on the way, over and out.

What happened next was impressive.

About six hours after the radio-signal to Algiers about the pill-guzzzler who’d been found behind the sanitation cabin (shit-house) lying in agony in the sand clutching his stomach, a neat little air-ambulance, a Swiss Red-Cross Lear jet, landed delicately at our landing-strip (in a cloud of dust) and disgorged the pilot, a doctor, a blond nurse and a stretcher and, while we were gaping at the nurse, transfer-documents were signed and exchanged and lucky, lucky, thicko Joe was stretchered onto the little aircraft which then took off, turning back north, it’s lights winking in the sudden desert dusk and whisked Jammy Joe into an operating theatre in a private clinic in Switzerland (all covered by the expensive Company insurance plan).

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