I say not pshaw or balderdash to claims of capitalist rationality but peacocks!


Now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, we are no longer treated to stories about the planned economy where machines spotted out thousands of right foot shoes in one size as it was easier to fulfil plan targets without resetting machinery. Or lorries driven empty for hundreds of miles to fulfil targets expressed in terms of distance. Some of these stories were probably exaggerated but we were encouraged to laugh at the folly of trying to plan an economy. However, I can report that the economy has not become drab and uninteresting with the demise of the Soviet Union. Capitalism has stepped into the breach. I offer this quote from today’s Financial Times:

“A government white paper published last week painted a picture of a railway system hobbled by the byzantine structures created since privatisation……

The system now has almost 400 full-time staff called “train delay attributers” (sic) whose job it is to argue with each other about assigning blame for a delay… .The most bizarre dispute of recent years involved a debate about who was to blame for a train hitting a peacock. If it was defined as a small bird, then the company driving the train was responsible: if it was categorised as a large bird, then the blame went to the operator of the tracks. The two sides ended up haggling over whether peacocks were bigger than geese. (The answer: a peacock is a “large bird”.)”.

I have a feeling that the jokes about the Soviet economy might have oversimplified things a bit…

No exit for this Brit

The good news was that I no longer needed to rush to get to the post in time, the bad that I had no book or phone with me nor my hearing aid so that the details of the lift repairer’s cheery reassurance were hazy. I thought about using the time for a siesta until I realised that the glimpsed recumbent unresponsive figure on the lift floor might lead to complications not elegantly resolved by my springing to my feet with a bright smile.I was rescued after about 20 minutes. They prised open the back door between floors, letting me heave up my shopping trolley with its assorted metal, glass and plastic fractions and then myself, surprised at the vigour and strength left in a 75 year old carcass.There were no reporters waiting for me so my suggested headline «No exit for this Brit” went to waste.Lesson for the future? Take your hearing aid when recycling even if the opportunities for dialogue with containers are few. You never know what challenges you will meet during your epic struggle to save the world.The pic by the way is from a later ride with the repaired lift after the handy type in overalls had extinguished the flashing blue and red lights caused by DK hopefully pressing everything he could find in an effort to escape..


On our island, my younger son and I take a trip to a lakeside builders supply shop, the kind of place where practical people buy mysterious things, in this case,  various objects for the finishing touches to a jetty refurbishment project. Crossing the lake, the rain and choppy water remind us that we are 59 degrees north. But in between bumps, there is the pleasure of passing closely by the small island of Estbröte. It’s bigger than a skerry but not much bigger. A hill rising out of the water with two summer houses, owned by a local municipality and boarded up so that it’s practically a nature reserve.

Landing is permitted though I’ve never done so.

There is an ancient fortification at the top but the main attraction is the story in Erikskrönikan (Erik’s Chronicle), written between 1320 and 1335 (Wiki). This tells us about Jon Jarl who returned to his home on a larger island close to Estbröte about 1200 after nine years crusading against Russians and Ingrians in the east. Sadly for him, the joy of homecoming was short as he was killed by pirates the very first night. His wife escaped across the water to what is now the suburb of Norsborg on the rede metro line but was then known as Hundhamra. She was understandably much grieved about her husband’s fate and gathered together what folk she could find. According to the saga, they caught up with the pirates at Estbröte, killed them all and burnt their boats.

Estbröte doesn’t look like a great place for a battle as it rises steeply out of the water with hardly any foreshore (unless the defenders were at the top). But the description of the pursuers catching up with them makes me think that this battle took place on the lake.

I shall read Erik’s chronicle – it feels time to revisit some aspects of Swedish history.

On our way back, frustrated by not finding what was needed at the store, we had our own battle as the rain increased in intensity and being in a small boat in a big lake was not a nice place to be. But unlike the pirates, we got home intact.

Brea buter en griene tsiis is god Ingelsk en goed Frysk

My window on the world is at 8.00 am on Sunday morning when I pick up the week’s parcels from an otherwise empty post office.  This week’s favourite was “The Frisian Language and Literature” by Waterman Thomas Hewett (1879). A reproduction of the original book which is (I hope still) in the University of California library at Berkeley. It contains a copy of an evocative stamped page starting on 6 November 1953, lent again in 1958, 1966, 1972, 1985, 2000, 2003 and 2007. It’s a pleasing thought that as I beavered away in primary school with my round glasses trying to learn to multiply decimals, hair firmly held in place by a kirby grip, and then throughout all life’s later escapades that W.T. Hewett’s book has been slowly spreading the word about the Frisians.

I’ve thought from time to time when I’ve crossed the Netherlands and Niedersachsen that I should visit the area where Frisian is spoken, find a good Frisian bookshop and get myself a Frisian dictionary. But the thought has remained idle, despite my crossing unaware one of the two German Frisian-speaking pockets, the Saterland bog area around Cloppenburg as my ICE barrelled down from Bremen to Osnabruck.

North Frisian is also spoken in some coastal areas of northern Schleswig Holstein but the major Frisian speaking area is in the Netherlands, just across the Ijsselmeer and around the city of Leeuwarden. The language is strongest there (and has official and legal status in the Netherlands) but not sufficiently strong to avoid being classified as vulnerable by Unesco.

Frisian has been heavily affected by what are now the larger languages surrounding it – West Frisian by Dutch, Saterland Frisian by Low German and North Frisian by Low German and Danish.

This has contributed to making the various Frisian languages (or dialects, a point of contention for linguists) not readily understandable to one another, which has further weakened their status.

The fascination for an English language nerd (or aficianado) like me is that West Frisian and Early English (Anglo Saxon) were very close, probably greatly easing the work of Anglo-Saxon missionaries in spreading Christianity in the area.

The Wikipedia article on the Frisian language has an amusing quote in Frisian “Brea buter en griene tsiis is god ingelsk en goed Frysk”. We can also note here that Frisian like Early and Modern English has not adopted the hard German “k” for the word cheese but both have a softer “ch” (type) sound.

Apart from Frisian, I have been dabbling with another legacy reprint, Walter Raymond’s “Good Souls of Cider Land” (1901). His dates are 1852-1931, not far off from Thomas Hardy’s lifespan (1840-1928). Raymond had connections with the Yeovil area in Somerset (I believe there is a plaque in the library to him but I’ve never seen it). He is the closest that South Somerset has to Thomas Hardy, although not at all so famous (and not such a great novelist but I am prepared to forgive him much in my Nordic exile just to read the names of villages familiar from many a youthful cycle trip). It’s interesting to think about what Hardy does that Raymond lacks. Raymond‘s plots are weaker and he does not, of course, have Hardy’s eye (perhaps an architect´s eye) for landscape and the big picture. Raymond has the dialect and he does write a lot about flowers and plants (I´ve been meaning to re-read Hardy specifically with flowers and plants in view to see how much he does actually mention them – I’m curious about Hardy’s intellectual formation before his famous years and to what extent he was “country person” in detail as well as a precocious young intellectual fascinated by the wider world). Walter Raymond was very prolific and I have a number of his volumes waiting to be read. He’s been out of print for a long time.

Stumbling across this kind of person and doing some of the better Times Literary Crosswords (the ones that still focus on literature and not on verbal flashiness; ideal Kendall’s “doing” here should probably be written “trying to do” as far as Real Existing David Kendall is concerned), one quickly realises that the literary “canon” is just one of the stronger and more widespread ways of viewing the field. It does have to do with literary merit but also on a lot of other factors which attract the publisher to a particular author, sometimes overegging (poor hanged Tess keeps the momentum up for Hardy for not altogether good reasons). A large number of people in the nineteenth and twentieth century aspired to lead literary lives. Some were successful in their lifetimes and then gradually disappeared from the public view. Others briefly hauled themselves over the parapet of public attention, only to disappear.

The Powys brothers have just about held their own and stayed in print (I should distinguish them but I plead laziness). Walter Raymond has fallen on the wrong side but has been revived by one or two brave publishers. I have anyway done my bit by ordering three of his books twice, either through a computer glitch or through temporary nocturnal distraction (or perhaps by  divine intervention of the God of Wessex, who has a soft spot for Raymond).