Hard landing in France

Arriving in Strasbourg from Germany, the first thing I do is to fall over. I was lucky I didn’t break an arm or a wrist, probably thanks to my reactions being so slow that I never managed to extend a protective arm. I’ve done this on a couple of occasions and it irritates me; it’s the kind of thing old people do, not silver tigers like me. And, of course, it’s potentially dangerous although this time no worse than a scraped arm, a few spots of blood on my shirt and a confused couple of minutes while someone helped me reassemble my scattered possessions and get back to the vertical.

There was nothing particular about the ground and I couldn’t work out why it happened. These new versions of David Kendall from 70 onwards do require a bit of tinkering to operate. There are some good new functions but you really do have to keep your eye on what they’re doing. You can’t just let them deal with the boring bits on autopilot and dream about etymology as you could with the earlier versions…..

But apart from this spatial dissonance, all has been well. A fine week in Berlin where, among other things, I’ve learnt about the German version of the Garden City movement, visiting one area east of Berlin and the more well-known Falkenberg, a very attractive verdant area with its flowers and flowering bushes  not at all far from the dense stone city. I’ve been interested in William Morris for a long time but have more recently visited Welwyn Garden City and read about Ebenezer Howard. These strands were more concentrated in Germany, perhaps because of German industrialisation occurring at a later date and at a faster pace. I found an interesting doctoral thesis on the net which takes up the various strands which made up the movement, social-democratic reformists focusing on trying to improve working class housing within a capitalist society, more mystical elements wanting a different kind of life, involving dances and other cultural activities beyond my pain threshold for the excruciating, and the dark Germany longing back to a vanished sense of community and culture untarnished by the growth of the industrial metropolises (no prizes for guessing which section of the population was blamed for this development..).

I also wanted to enhance my knowledge of German literature and focused on Tucholsky, who had lived in the area north of Berlin at some time before fleeing from the Nazis to Sweden and the perhaps more well-known Theodor Fontane. I’ve read Effi Briest in translation but have now also bought Fontane’s Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg (auswahl), which I’m going to try to start today on the train to Paris. I acquired this on a brief trip to Neuruppin, the so-called “Fontane Town” where he had lived and which is full of Fontane connections; it’s on my list for a more leisurely trip to the area another time I’m in Germany, as well as a trip to the castle of Rheinsberg with its associations with Tucholsky (echoes of the lakeside castle of Mariefred in Sweden where he lived his final days and is buried there, his grave a site of pilgrimage for lovers of German literature).

I love learning about a culture by drawing on a thread and seeing where it leads me. Some imes the author or whatever the thread is proves less interesting but it still enriches my relationship to the culture. I’ve practised this over many years in Sweden where I’ve wanted to avoid fastening in a superficial familiarity which can easily be the fate of exiles and others living for a long time in a foreign country.

My German reading is coming along nicely but my comprehension leaves a lot to be desired. And, as usual, I make few concessions to local prejudices about pronunciation.

I’m reluctant, however, to enrol for a formal course as to date I’m wholly self-learnt in German, which I find amusing and satisfying. But German will have a place in my work for the rest of 2022 and for my plan for 2023 with the aim of being able to understand news programmes in German and improve my ability to follow what people are taking about within a year.

He came, he looked confused, he went

Wednesday, 4 May

I’m now in Köpenick, a small town to the east of Berlin, not quite a suburb and not quite an independent town.

Berlin has fascinated me since I first visited the city in 1969, arriving there after an overnight journey, involving a perilous pillion ride to Helmstedt on a fast motorcycle, without a helmet but with a heavy rucksack making both man and machine unstable. There have been trips since then. In the old days when I travelled mostly by land between Sweden and the UK, I often made a detour via Berlin, crossing to the East to get the train to Stockholm (Neutral Sweden had less taut transport connections and we travelled to Sassnitz on special coaches attached to normal DR trains and not the special corridor expresses).

I was in Köpenick in the old days too or at least passed through on my way to the Muggelsee.

I was travelling from Athens to Luleå in northern Sweden, an almost American distance. I’d stopped overnight at the then somewhat tense Greek-Yugoslav border, fending off the attentions of a dubious couple of men  full of expressions of brotherly love who wanted to take me for a drink and I suspect keep my wallet as a small souvenir of our encounter. And then a walk around Skopje and a long bus ride to the outskirts of Belgrade with an elderly lady who was recruiting guests to her B&B “just around the corner” (kind and pleasant but truthfulness about location wasn’t her strong card).

Half awake on the early morning train, I abandoned thoughts about breaking my journey in Dresden and continued directly to Berlin. A longing to immerse myself in water and wash the travel stains away brought me to an FKK beach, probably on the Muggelsee, the scruffy westerner with his rucksack exciting discreet curiosity from the other bathers.

I’m staying in a second-hand bookshop which is also an hotel, a wonderful combination where every room is named after an author. I’m in Octavio Paz with Pablo Neruda just next door. Poor Tucholsky whose suicidal grave is by the lakeside castle of Mariefred in Sweden has his room down the corridor. I’ve never read Paz but now know a little more about him after cursory internetting. It would have been nice to have pictures of the authors in the room and some more information. There are a couple of his books and a few others by Christa Wolf and Brecht, and strangely a book about a football championship in 1974, which Germany won, although I don’t know whether there was a Paz or a Mexican dimension. It’s odd as the book is too big to have been dropped off by a casual guest and the hotel is otherwise respectful to literature and not the sort of place to dump unsorted heaps of books here and there.

I probably won’t get a chance to comment on this as I have booked directly and will not be subject to exhaustion marketing, where every last drop of opinion is squeezed from my almost lifeless body.

I am continuing to read Pagnol but also the Bengali author Saratchandra Chattopadhyay. One of the main characters in the novel is a woman who, according to the blurb, “lives and travels by herself, has relationships with various men, looks poverty and suffering in the face, and asserts the autonomy of the individual being, In the process, she tears apart the frame of the expatriate Bengali society in Agra, where she lives”. It’s full of discussions about issues in Bengali society and culture. To start with, I felt that the discussions, although very interesting, weighed down the book. But the more I get into it, the better I like it. It’s remarkable for a book written in 1931 and I’m not surprised it caused turbulence then. Next time I’m in Kolkata, I will try and find reviews and comments on the book from that time if they will let me into the big state library again.

There are lots of threads to follow in the book to understand Bengali society better. I’ll read it quickly through and then do a plod reading following up the use of tharkurpu, boudi, babu (and kakababu) and the Vaishnavas, and getting my ashram, bramachari, Brahman and Brahmin in the right place. (I am already at least half educated about the waltz around apni).

When it comes to things Bengali, I am like a child who has discovered a stairway to a new floor at hisher house, rooms full of interest and fascination. I would like to get a grasp of the Hindu religion, not for religious reasons but simply to understand. I’ve read two substantial volumes but am only at the beginning of comprehension where some of the terms become more familiar. But I’m still a long way from being able to link ideas within Hinduism about the duality or non-duality of the universe with the Greek tradition and how some of the fault lines and debates within Hinduism relate to the somewhat tortured history of Christianity in relation to the nature of divinity and the trinity and all the rest of it.

I am really a family of individuals who don’t always rub along too well. There is the Dave Kendall of the world, anxious to understand what’s going on around us and eagerly reading political history and studying the nature of imperialism. And then there is the Dave Kendall, who seems to want to be some kind of intellectual mid-nineteenth century Anglican bishop, who could perhaps feel at home in the pages of Trollope. Bishop Kendall won’t be happy until he has mastered Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Sanskrit, knows his bible, is a dab hand at the history of religion but probably has a collection of rocks as well to satisfy his thirst for geological knowledge and is not averse to botanical excursions. Is he a man of the eighteenth or the nineteenth century? Perhaps there are two David Kendalls hiding here too.

There are minor avatars of Dave Kendall as well, the Dorset David Kendall steeped in local knowledge and well within the tradition of William Barnes and Thomas Hardy. Perhaps he could engage in unity talks with Bishop Kendall if Bishop Kendall agreed to drop this Bishop nonsense and become an intellectual village priest (I write priest for lack of a suitable hook – I don’t think any of us David Kendalls want to splash water on babes or offer homilies to the devout, We just want to hold fine leather-bound volumes in book-lined studies with French windows leading to green sunlit gardens tended by someone else, Mållgan perhaps).

The political Dave Kendall shakes his head at all this nonsense, where is this luxury parasite Bishop Kendall’s sense of responsibility to his fellow humans? In earlier times, he would probably have muttered pshaw or humbug in best Dr Johnson style.

Being the man in overall charge of this family of ill-sorted individuals makes me feel like that I am directing the movements not of a pantomime horse but a pantomime centipede, struggling around taking awkward steps in every conceivable direction.

There’s very little help from the community available for this kind of problem. Asking for family therapy for what appears to the superficial eye to be a single individual is not going to end well.

I guess I just have to muddle through as best I can – until the muse of memory and the patron saint of lost causes stand wistfully together by my grave with its epitaph “He came, he looked confused, he went” and saying to one another as they float together through the cemetery twilight “he was a magnificent failure”.

On the road again

Monday, 2 May

The first day of travel

Tired and out of sorts after a booster Covid jab surprisingly obtained on 1 May, the unmasked multitude presses in on me on the train. Three babies are on duty in varying states of disintegration; noisy despite one mother’s heroic efforts to calm her offspring by a Guinness book of records rocking session. I’m annoyed with myself for being disturbed but I have forgotten my earphones (along with my toothbrush) to be duly noted on my quality assessment for this departure.

I manage to start seriously getting to grips with Pagnol’s La Gloire de mon pêre. I learn that Pagnol believes he was of Spanish descent as his ancestors were referred to in the records as “L’espagnol”. It sounds neat and explains the name that I reacted to as odd without delving further. But were they so late to adopt surnames in Spain?

Pagnol was born in Aubagne, a town I’ve flashed past when travelling by coach from Aix-en-provence to Nice. So now to get to know better another area after Giono’s Manosque.

I follow up Pagnol’s references to the Roman general Caius Marius, famous for inflicting a crushing defeat on the Cimbri and Teutones at Aquae Sextius (later Aix) in the first years of the first century BC, after Roman forces had previously suffered humiliating defeats Wiki tells me that the Cimbri and Teutones were Germanic tribes and I wonder what language they spoke. Cimbri sounds distinctly Celtic, while Teutones sounds suitably German but was any language knocking around at that time that could be called early German? I know very little about the early language history of northern and central Europe. I know that Celtic languages were widespread then but how did the development of German fit into that?

Pagnol refers to Mont St Victoire near Aix, made famous by Cezanne and I wonder what victory it refers to? Could it be the massive Roman victory? While, of course, I knew about the invasions from beyond the Rhine that brought down the Western Roman Empire, I wasn’t aware before of how shaken Roman might had previously been by invaders from the north.

I want to know more about Provence and this part of southern France and love to follow threads like this, where one piece of information leads to another and another.

And somehow as a digression in my wandering around in the weak light of the ancient past, I get into the word “gob”, slang for mouth and preserved in gobstopper. My guess would be that it was of Celtic origin and various sources seem to bear this out. I don’t have the exact source but “gob” seems to have been an Irish word for mouth in 1540. And further back there is Gaulish “gobbo” and “gob” for beak in Gaelic. It seems to have some kind of relationship with “gab” and “gift of the gab”. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that it’s not in dignified use, but I’m unclear whether this applies to gab or gob or both (I think gob is the more likely candidate as “gift of the gab” could more easily make its entrance into polite society).

I’m fascinating by such ancient “outcast” words that survive centuries unloved, Caliban words.

And at some point in the mist of history, I fall asleep surfacing briefly in Östergötland and the Småland highlands before I wake properly in Eslöv in Skåne. Now in a territory full of memories from my first period in Sweden when I lived in Lund, I look for Felix food factory where I taught English. There I muddled my Gert-Inges and Ingegerds, struggled with Sweden’s compound nouns and integrated my dipthongs into my version of Swedish, which makes few concessions to the prejudices of folk north of Hässleholm but goes down a wonder with the Danes.

And finally to the great brick hall of Copenhagen station with its memories of my first trip to Scandinavia in the early 1970s with my then English girlfriend. We arrived in Copenhagen late and slept on the street in a cul-de-sac (we were still immortal then). And later in the day, to the central station to get more cash from England to cope with coffee at what seemed astronomical prices (and this long before the invasion of the purveyors of fake coffee). The following day we also slept outdoors in some quiet corner alongside the Öresund and looked at the lights of Sweden across the water, before buying clogs in Helsingör and making for the ferry and setting foot in Sweden for the first time in the little square outside Helsingborg Ferry Station, that historic spot probably long gone now.

This time I slept in comfort at a hotel in Copenhagen. I’ve rather gone off sleeping in odd places, although I had quite a tradition of doing so in my rural youth, curled up in telephone kiosks on my way home from some libidinous excursion when the means of transport died out in the wee hours.

Picking up the threads

Sunday, 24 April

Six o’clock, the final pages of my annual reports translated. Life resumes but not too leisurely as I’m off to Berlin soon. I allow myself a few pages of Jean Giono’s Le hussard sur le toit”, a grimly realistic description of his Angelo with Cholera epidemic victims. Giono apparently liked Thomas  Hardy although I don’t as yet agree that they are similar, apart from being regional writers and Giono’s region is more inside him than outside. The influence in Le hussard is more Stendhal than Hardy, Stendhal, whom I know attracts a following although I only dimly know why, I decide to read what Simone de Beauvoir has written about him but I postpone it as I realise it’s the royal road to the lunchtime removal of my night shirt. So to accelerate the Japanese tea ceremony of my morning routines, I try to speed up but not before a stop at my desk where I catch sight of  “Dorset Church Walks” which my brother has kindly sent me, I’m attracted by the walk from Sturminster to Marnhull, ancestral home of the patrilinear line of my family, past Hinton St Mary, place of discovery of a Roman mosaic now in the British Museum. The walks passes a spinney, a word I’ve never used. It comes from Old French espinol, a briar patch, place of thorns and brambles, although it’s wandered to be regarded as a synonym of copse, although a spinney is a small copse, purportedly often created as a shelter for game birds.

My mobile’s morning alarm call to take my medicine interrupts further investigation of thickets and boscage. 6 am has become 8,30, Nudging myself forward with a firm hand, medicated, sweet smelling and dressed, I get up enough speed to escape my nightly orbit and make my internal 9.00 day mode deadline with minutes to spare.

Then composing an irritating letter to a company which has sent me a last payment reminder for an order I don’t recognise referring to an invoice I’ve never received and threatening to send the claim for collection in three days time if the bill is not paid. All the hallmarks of a scam but I must still compose a letter contesting the claim and find somewhere to send it. There’s no email address on the reminder, only a post address that looks suspiciously inadequate. I send a registered letter there anyway so that I have proof of contesting the claim. And post March’s bookkeeping to my accountant as well as doing my James Bond saving-the-world stunt by pitching an empty sardine can into the metal container,

A few hours off to visit the local Uppland museum, There’s an interesting exhibition on runestones and a runestone walk around Uppsala which attracts me; I want to know more about runestones and their interpretation, The main exhibition on the history of the city makes a flimsy impression on me, dedicating a lot of space to the city seen through the eyes of an imaginary family. The old chronological jumble of bits and pieces left much to be desired but this half-baked focus on topics and themes in the guise of reaching out to the community is not the answer. But then again why should we expect a society which doesn’t encourage a coherent view of the present or the future to have a coherent view of the past? I must cool down about this topic…I feel that there is an indignant retired colonel from Tunbridge Wells writing a letter to the Telegraph lurking in the background.

But I do love museums and also want out to reach out to the community (but want to give it a good shake so that it wakes up, not just to hold up a mirror with the words “you’re wonderful” on it),

I should really have participated in a social event at my block of flats this afternoon to get to know the other tenants. But I’m moderately excited about this and persuade myself that I still need to be careful about Covid, which  has become my standard excuse for not doing things I don’t want to do.

Long experience has taught me that other people take up less mental space if one observes the niceties of polite social intercourse. But at times the hermit in me gets the better of me, especially after three or four weeks of intensive work, I am in urgent need of concentrating on my own projects, both the quirky ones and renewing my efforts to understand imperialism and to develop a critique of the sloppy use of the term by people who have no excuse for not knowing better, Bukharin is next on my agenda.

And there’s the not so small detail of preparing to leave Sweden for some time, Besides imperialism, there is Dorset, the UK economy, St Jerome, Bengali, French (Giono and more), among other rabbits to chase. But to cater for all of this would demand 40 kg of luggage and I’m travelling by train; a non-starter.  It’s probably doable if I think carefully about exactly what I’m going to do and make sure I have as good electronic resources as possible. But it requires thought and time not chaotic plucking of flotsam and jetsam at 2 am on the day of departure, It would have been fine to have bought the old railway sleeping car that the Swedish Enforcement Authority was trying to flog, I love the idea of being able to kit it out as a travelling study but I somehow doubt that there is a stipendium available to buy a locomotive (several given different rail systems), perhaps crowdfunding would shift it. Electronics and careful exploration of the catalogues of the British Library among others is probably the realistic way to go.

Lacklustre hangover feeling after escaping from the word  tsunami but I shall lie in my cot and plan the morrow, when all will be golden…

Climate change, mines and reindeer

A day of celebration for me – I have been to the cinema for the first time in over two years, to Zita in Stockholm, to see Thomas Jackson’s film  on the Same artist Britta Marakatt-Labba, “Historjá stygn för Sápmi” (Historical Stitches for Sapmi, the latter word referring to the Sami land and people). It’s a very long embroidery, like the Bayeux tapestry but on the history of the Sami people. The focus is on the artist but the film is not just about her but on the difficult conditions faced by reindeer herders because of climate change and the consequent warming and seasonal unpredictability, which is threatening the Sami’s traditional way of life and culture (and ultimately, language).

It´s an aesthetically pleasing and gripping film even for those like me, with an aversion to snow and not inclined to talking to watercourses.

The director has done a fine job of integrating the work of art with general reflections on the future of the Sami people. I thought it well worth seeing.

It’s very topical just now as it’s not just the climate which is threatening the Sami, The Social Democratic Government has just controversially granted Beowulf Mining plc an exploitation concession. It’s been a longstanding wish of the company to exploit the iron ore deposits at Kallak near Jokkmokk in Norrbotten Sweden’s most northerly county (which, by the way, is the size of Belgium, the Netherlands and half of Switzerland combined).

According to Beowulf, the iron ore is of high quality with a low rate of impurities, which in itself confers some environmental advantages,. There are friendly green words in the announcement, spirit of collaboration, maximising benefits, partnerships.

 The Sami parliament, the representative body for people of indigenous heritage in Sweden, has warned that the mine will destroy grazing areas, cut off the only viable migratory route for reindeer followed by the Jåhkågasska Sami community who move westerly with their animals to the higher land on the Norwegian border for animals to calve during the spring.

Other Sami communities will also be affected by a reduction in their grazing area.

The departure of the Green Party from the Government made it easier for the Social Democrats to grant the Exploitation Concession (which was opposed by the Left Party as well as the Green Party).

The local community is split between those who see an opportunity to reverse falling population numbers and tax take up and increase employment, hoping that new money will stimulate the local economy despite Beowulf being a foreign company.

And, on the other side, those who believe that the rights and wishes of the Sami community on the use of  their historic land must be respected.

The last word has not yet been said as there has to be an environmental assessment and a balance struck between what the government refers to as conflicting national interests, minerals and reindeer husbandry.

The granting of the concession has attracted widespread opposition even outside Sweden (Unesco)

And inside Sweden, the archbishop of Uppsala has said that the proposed mine is not existentially and spiritually sustainable  (a new concept for me). So the last word has not yet been said but money does speak loudly.

————————————————————–

English language sources;

Announcement, Beowulf Mining plc 29 March 2022

Article in the Guardian, 30 March 2022

Crony, chum and comrade and Turkic en passant

Using the word “crony” in a recent blog post made me wonder about its etymology According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, it originates from the Greek khronios, meaning long-lasting and came into English in the seventeenth century as Cambridge University slang. It has acquired pejorative connotations since then.

A completely different origin from the rather disgusting word for old woman “crone”, which derives from old northern French caroigne meaning carrion, clearly a male chauvinist and chronochauvinist word that one should never use.

Thinking about “crony” led me to  “chum” and “comrade”, whose origins have similarities. According to COD, chum also originates from seventeenth century slang and probably is short for chamberfellow; I have seen elsewhere on the net that it was also university slang, but this time Oxford rather than Cambridge. There is also a spatial dimension to “comrade” which COD states as having originated from the French camarade and from Spanish camarada, room mate.

The Russian for comrade “tovarich” (not sure that my transliteration is up to speed here) apparently originates from a Turkic language but I don’t know what it means in Turkic, my library resources being deficient when it comes to the etymology of Turkic languages. The Turkic language family is a bad gap in my formation. I need to know more about them (and possibly have to buy a book or two, although there will have to be a slight purge soon as my project of squeezing the Library of Congress into 45 square metres is running into difficulties). I will anyway dedicate a few days to learning about the Turkic family of languages soon (and try to resist the temptation of buying a pretty file and making a nice label “Turkic” and then thinking that the problem is almost solved).

Postscript: I’ve used “chronochauvinism” incorrectly – it’s prejudice about one period of time being superior to another rather than personal age. I rather like it but as malapropism is a cardinal sin for a word tinker, I have to explain myself. I suppose “ageism” would fit although I hanker for something Greek but can’t bend “geras” to my will. I am in increasing need of an epithet; too many twinkly-eyed and avuncular situations when this silvertop (pink top?) gets asked “you don’t mind waiting while I serve this person, do you”. And I need to be able to say “Yes, I do Xchauvinist (mutatis mutandis). I’m in a hurry and have a world to win”.

Help those who come to Sweden and need help but don’t let the fog of war cloud our brains and “Promzona”

It’s such a pleasure to continue my exploration of Uppsala, my new home city, after the interruptions of intensive travelling and Covid. I visit Upplands Konstmuseum, the Uppland art gallery, for the first time, presently located at the castle. I’ve been to the castle before but ages ago and didn’t remember how fine the view over Uppsala is from there.

I wanted especially to look at an exhibition of the work of the Russian artist Pavel Otdelnov, Promzona, which I found out about by chance (for understandable reasons, the gallery is not vigorously marketing this exhibition just now. Otdelnov has, however, been critical of the invasion but I didn’t see much about his background or standpoints at the exhibition). Otdelnov grew up in Dzerzhinsk, an industrial city, 370 km east of Moscow in the Nizhny Novgorod oblast. The city was an important centre for the chemical industry (including during a period chemicals for chemical warfare, according to the exhibition). Otdelnov’s family lived there and some of its members worked in the industry. Otdelnov describes the dangerous work where the workers were exposed to toxic gases and where explosions with fatalities were hushed up.

He also describes with letters, documents and photos the solidarity of those working at the plants.

All this came to an end (or largely came to an end, I’m not sure whether any remnants of the once extensive industrial facilities remain) with the end of the planned economy. One after another, the enterprises closed down, leaving a spectacular landscape of industrial ruins, which Otdelnov has documented in photographs and by drone.

It’s fascinating to look at the artist’s photos and films but the exhibition has a frequent fault of artists dealing with social questions. There is an attraction to the visually spectacular, and  a tendency to make the worst case scenario the norm, which, in practice, leads to confirming fixed negative ideas, to prejudices rather than analysis. I suspect that a lot of the worst details about life in the plant were from the period of “High Stalinism” in the 30s and 40s. Were the workers at the plant in a better position before the Stalinist bureaucracy sat firm in the saddle? Did things improve after Stalin’s death? We are not told but the historical periods glide into one another in a confused way.

Chatting to the museum staff after viewing the exhibition (as one of the few, if not the sole viewer), I mention that it is strange that the city is still called Dzerzhinsk, presumably after Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the first Soviet secret police, the Cheka, given the extensive purge of city names associated with the Russian Revolution elsewhere. The attendant did not know who Dzerzhinsky was and I provided a short introduction (this was not on my plan for the day..).

Despite its analytical gaps, the exhibition is well worth seeing. I understand, of course, why one might feel distaste for things Russian at present. I don’t, however, share this reaction – for me the ordinary Russian people are not the perpetrators; they too are victims of the regime, not in such a dramatic and violent way as the Ukrainians but still victims. And I am not prepared to let the Putin regime dampen my interest in Russian culture and life any more that I would have made a bonfire of Goethe’s works had I been around in World War 2. We should be critical of the actions of the Putin regime but not allow ourselves to be swept away by Russophobia.

The tragedy of the current situation (as well as the destruction, killing and disruption of people’s lives in the Ukraine and the deaths of soldiers on both sides) is that this conflict has turned and will continue to turn ordinary people in the Ukraine and Russia against one another for a long time to come. Working people in Ukraine and Russia have much in common in their struggle for decent lives against the kleptocrats in Russia and crony capitalism in the Ukraine. The Putin regime bears a heavy responsibility for this but I would also argue that the US, Nato and the Ukrainian government have also contributed to the awful course of events.

The latter is probably not a popular position just now when there is an understandable surge of sympathy and solidarity with the fate of ordinary Ukrainians. But we shouldn’t let the fog of war becloud our brains. We should still think of the agenda of the various parties involved or associated with the conflict. What are the short- and long-term aims of the US government? What is in the interests of the German government and establishment? What do the Russians want? What type of regime is Russia – what conclusions can one draw if it’s not imperialist in the narrow sense? What do the leading economic forces in Ukraine want? What is in the interests of working people in the Ukraine and in Russia?

The annual report season, Starling and caoraich dubha

The annual report season is now upon us and I am now more or less fully booked for translation work between now and the end of April, So far it’s going well much thanks to having a competent project manager, who is taking care of the big picture so that I can concentrate on translating. I don’t often work at full speed these days but I still enjoy doing so occasionally, feeling very focused and buoyed up by the euphoria when the cloud on the horizon of all the work to do starts to disperse and I know that I am going to make my deadline.In my 70s, I aim at being a long-distance runner and not a sprinter but I have to break my own rules from time to time (there wouldn’t be much point in having rules otherwise…).But now a little pause while I wait for more text, all the tables and figures at the end of the report, which will hopefully melt away.I’ve started to prepare for a trip to the Outer Hebrides later this year. This time I’m not going to try to learn Scots Gaelic as I did last time, making sounds that no self-respecting native speaker of Scots Gaelic would allow to pass their lips. I won’t aim to be able to explain in Gaelic that my great grandfather on my mother’s side was William McKeown of Ballymena, County Antrim, uber protestant, and later a soldier and prison warder on Portland Dorset, where he presumably oversaw hard labouring convicts in the quarries. Had he been a dab hand at Irish Gaelic, I might have warmed to him but his heart was probably as orange as they come. And I regard him as a black sheep of the family or least a “caoraich dubha.” At some point, he met a Mary Starling and they produced my grandmother while he was working at the prison on Hardy’s Isle of Slingers. She was the second Starling in my life after my mother told her wondering seven year old son that Starling was dead in 1953.But I won’t be able to leave Gaelic alone altogether. I’m going to try to learn to pronounce the place names correctly, which will fit in well with my aim of learning the phonetic alphabet. The broad consonants look terrifying at first sight but once I get used to the idea that “mh” is pronounced as “v”, that “fh” is silent and that “sh” and “th” are pronounced as “h” (inter alia), things might get easier . I’d like to understand the problems that Gaelic speakers are trying to solve with these combinations. We have after all “gh” in English, which is pretty weird but gets easier to understand when you realise that French speakers were trying to get their heads around how to write down a Germanic sound that they didn’t have in French, But this can hardly be the explanation for these combinations in Gaelic (and come to think of it, bearing in mind the impact of the German-speaking Franks on Northern French, one wouldn’t have thought that the French would have had to cross the channel to get from nacht to night either- Life is full of mysteries).Uppsala, as Sweden’s centre of Celtic Studies, is a good place to be for this project as the answer to my questions can no doubt be found in some dark cavern at Carolina Rediviva (hopefully not minotaur-infested or the wrong side of the Styx).I can’t get too deeply involved with Scots Gaelic as I am already struggling with Bengali, And also reading “Manosque-des-Plateaux”, in French by the Provencal author Jean Giono in his pantheist period. It’s not an easy read with frequent new characters that pop up and disappear, tangled imagery and an approach to vocabulary not fettered by convention. Maybe I’ll try Finnegan’s Wake afterwards for some easy read relaxation.

Morning glory, Ike, Stalin’s henchman?, the Bavarian Illuminati and the Masque of Pandora

I usually wake up early, often before 6 but almost always before 7. But I often find that it’s much later before I’m completely in day mode. I have been, of course, my own employer and can engage in foibles like leisurely morning baths and reading the paper without having to rush away to catch a train to arrive bright-eyed and bushy tailed at some palace of Mammon.

But the delays seem to be getting more extreme as I get older and my foibles more assume the repetitive dignity of a David Kendall version of the Japanese tea ceremony (performed in slow motion). So I decided a while ago that I had to be up and running by 09.00, washed, fed, dressed, medicated with bedroom and dishwasher attended to.

So far so good. Fast forward to today where my breakfast attention was caught by a review in the Times Literary Supplement of a biography of Robert Welsh, founder of the John Birch Society, “A Conspiratorial Life” by Kyle Burke. According to Burke, Welsh was evidently a promising youth enrolled at the University of North Carolina at the age of 12 “where he impressed his peers and professors” (I must check this…). His politics became weirder as he grew older seeing “evidence of subversion in every nook and cranny of American life”.  He “came to believe” that a cabal of traitors in Truman’s State Department had deliberately ceded China to Mao ZeDong’s communists and later that Dwight Eisenhower was “a dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy” (after all, he was chummy with Zhukov and gave him fishing tackle…). The Birch Society was at the peak of its influence in the mid-60s but then declined. By the 1970s, Welsh was seeing a “conspiracy behind the conspiracies” in the Bavarian Illuminati, founded in 1778 who were, according to him, the real puppet masters.

This was perhaps too wacky even for the most hardened rightest oddball but we can see that the more exotic elements in QAnon and all the rest of it are not just a recent phenomenon but have a long history/tradition in fevered minds on the American right.

I’d never heard of the Bavarian Illuminati before and had to check this on Wiki. The Illuminati apparently began as a small organisation that opposed superstition, obscurantism and abuse of state power among other things. They attracted intellectuals such as Goethe and Herder and had strong connections with Freemasonry for a time before they were suppressed by the Bavarian authorities.

And that was probably that except that the organisation has lived on in the minds of those attracted by conspiracy and mumbo jumbo.

This and my delving into the American right led me to think of the saying. “Those the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”. Disturbed by not knowing the origin of a saying I like, I dive back into the info-swamp. And from Wiki, I learn that it had Greek antecedents but to Sophocles not Euripides as previously thought (Antigone: When a gods plan harm against a man, they first damage the mind of the man they are plotting against). There were other quotes from classical sources and mediaeval Latin, the Gods sometimes being rendered as Jupiter and later in Christian times as simply God.

The quote appears in English literature from the seventeenth century onwards, among other places in the Reverend Anderson Scott’s mid-nineteenth century series of lectures on Daniel, a Model for Young Men and by various writers from the American Longfellow to Somerset Maugham. I am attracted by the sound of Longfellow’s poem “The Masque of Pandora” and want to find it but before I do so, I catch sight of my watch and see that it is a remarkable 10.30…..

I haven’t said anything about Ukraine although there is a lot that could be said but I’ll save that for another occasion when I have plucked up enough courage to raise my head above the parapet.


The mirror of the Gods

I’ve found it difficult to write about anything else when we were seeing unpleasant images from Ukraine, which, even allowing for the fog of war and dishonesty of propaganda still provide evidence of much suffering and horror. But I’ve not wanted to write about Ukraine either as my voice is to some extent a dissenting one and passions are understandably running high now. But muteness doesn’t please me either so I’ve broken my informal rule about keeping political subjects to a modest minimum on my blog.

Anyway, now I’ve done that, I’ll turn to other areas of life. As my bedtime book, I’ve been reading “Mirror of the Gods” by Malcolm Bull, who at the time of writing was Head of Art History at Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford. I have this book on my shelf for some time and have wanted to read it as it looked lush and attractive. It’s a very well written account of the reappearance of classical myths and motifs in renaissance art, sculpture and architecture. The first half is an account of the gradual discovery of statues etc. from the classical period, especially in Italy and the second deals with the treatment of various figures – Hercules, Jupiter, Venus, Diana, Bacchus, Apollo etc.

I’ll only remember a fraction of what I’ve read but hopefully it will make viewing renaissance art more rewarding. It’s a fascinating period – the change from art focusing on the Christian bible, martyred saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus on the cross, sometimes lush and attractive but often denying the value of life on earth in favour of spiritual values. And, in the course of a relatively short period, art becomes filled with representations of pagan deities and myths, generously nude and anything but life-denying.

Of course, it can reflect changed purchasers of art from religious institutions to aristocrats adorning their properties. There is after all quite a lot of joie de vivre in Chaucer’s writings in the fourteenth century and there were probably not a few chaste holy folk with eyes upturned to heaven while naked folk were being portrayed in Bacchanalian revels. But it must still have represented quite a change in what was acceptable and how people thought.

Otherwise, I have been trying to sort out a large basket or box with family history papers. I would like to make it into a properly organised archive, user friendly for any future Kendalls who wish to throw light on their past.

I’ve collected these papers over many years with scribblings in any number of notebooks so they are in urgent need of systematic attention. My father is particularly interesting as he was old (55) when I was born and my grandparents on his side were both dead before the end of the nineteenth century (my grandfather died of sunstroke in Surrey while at a military shooting and marching competition in 1895). Even a very modest shuffle of my papers revealed a couple of new facts as well as the location of the place where my father (who was in the artillery) was injured in the First World War (near Lens in 1917). And details of his life post-war as a taxi driver in Herne Bay, Kent. He lost a leg in the war so I’m not sure how he could drive a car safely as I doubt whether he had a car with hand controls but it was probably before driving licences were compulsory.

I’ve just tried to ask Alexa about the year when driving licences became compulsory but, as I expected, she failed to help, telling me first that you need to be 17 to have a driving licence and then finding information about conscription to the Army. She’s anyway useful when I can’t remember what day it is but I don’t use her for anything else (I suspect she is not too hot on the definition of imperialism….).