The Frog dance and being bicultural

Midsummer, more or less the longest day and I am cowering in my flat away from all kinds of celebration. It’s been a good day where I have worked for a few hours, exercised, cooked after a long gap while travelling. But no celebration.

I’ve never liked community celebrations, which threaten my integrity. The Swedes do a peculiar dance at Midsummer, popularly known as the frog dance, where they imitate the movements of a frog, hut apparently a frog that has ears and tails which no self-respecting frog would dream of having. This is accompanied by a special song.

I learn from Wiki that my countrymen have had a hand in this song. The melody is said to originate from the refrain of a military march at the time of the French Revolution Au pas, camarade au pas camarade / au pas, au pas, au pas!” ”In step, comrade” . And the Brits, reactionary brats, changed the words to “Au pas, grenouilles!” (“In step, little frogs”). The English have long called the French frogs but I suspect it is apocryphal, too good to be true. How this is supposed to have reached Sweden is also lost in the mystery of time.

But at least I now have a good reason for not taking part in the dance apart from my personal distaste – I abstain because the dance mocks the French revolution.

Wikipedia has no sources for the information; I have great respect and admiration for Wiki but occasionally it seems like the mythological equivalent of money laundering. Myths are laundered by Wikipedia and emerge whiter than white as honest facts.

There are, of course, other explanations of the Frog Dance, an ancient tribal dance, among others, It would be interesting to read a record of the mentioning of the practice in written sources.

I feel sad when I see Swedes engaging in this dance. You can’t live with a people for almost a half century without developing some feelings of tenderness towards them. And I prefer my “host folk” to be dignified. I don’t like to see them making fools of themselves. They’re not good at it either – the English do it with more panache.

Midsummer is anyway the real Swedish national day, unlike the establishment’s somewhat anaemic official national day.

Living in another country has been a profound and strange experience for me. I don’t identify myself as a Swede although I know a lot about Sweden and what it’s like to be a Swede. And Sweden isn’t a foreign country for me; I have a feeling of homecoming when I cross the Öresund, returning to a place where I know how things work, have had many significant experiences and lived a large portion of my life.

Being a basket case as far as pronunciation is concerned doesn’t help – my otherness is confirmed when I say a single word and the person I am addressing switches to English.

I’m interested in the different ways in which people deal with changing country. Some people seem to manage it without difficulty, keeping the “old country” in affectionate memory, visiting it from time to time, but essentially identifying with their new surroundings.

I’ve never been hostile to Sweden, and have spent much time getting to know the country but the thought of abandoning my old culture has always been alien to me. This is partly an effect of moving from a large to a small culture but also that my settling in Sweden was something that I let happen for family reasons rather than a conscious choice or desire.

My first few years here were too busy to permit existential brooding – I was fascinated by learning about Sweden, its culture, history and language and becoming established in the Swedish labour market. But then I felt England slipping away and I mobilised to protect it. I felt that the change of country was a sharp break in my life and that I had problems obtaining cultural nourishment in the new environment that was “thin” for me.

Over the years, that feeling has subsided. I have put down roots and I know much better how to obtain “cultural nourishment” but it requires effort – one is less spoon fed in small cultures. I’ve greatly enjoyed moving to Uppsala and finding out what I could about Uppsala and Uppland. It feels important for me to delve deeply into things Swedish to avoid becoming accustomed to living superficially in Sweden, shallow integration.

But, of course, England has not stood still either. I’ve travelled backwards and forwards so often that I’ve followed the changes and don’t suffer from the exile’s shock that everything has changed and the old country has disappeared. But I notice in all sorts of ways that I don’t react in the same way as I would have done had I been monocultural.

I’ve also gained a lot by being bicultural – in terms of language (I now know the meaning of a lot of English place names, which I didn’t know before!) but, more seriously, in terms of thinking about life generally. It feels as if I have another storey to my existential building. The ground floor is English but I have built another storey from which I can see the world from another angle.

Living abroad has its pleasures as well as its pains. It’s given me experiences that I wouldn’t want to be without but also a mild feeling of sadness and loss that I attempt to address through various projects related to England to prevent me becoming a “museum English person” who does the same things, goes to the same places and sees the same people when going back.

It’s important not to exaggerate, not to make personal idiosyncrasy into general rules. Feelings of not belonging can be changed by intervening in society so that having another national culture need not be particularly dramatic. Hobby hermits like me whose life consists of much solitary reading are disadvantaged in this respect.

And I can get tired of existential brooding although I can’t stop myself doing it.

Being able to visit other countries is important for me too (Germany, France, Denmark or Ireland (or other countries I know well).  I relish getting away from the dialogue of exile, to be somewhere else than the country I once came from or the country where I now live. Then I can simply be European and forget about Brexit and the Frog Dance.

Having the time of my life with Abdulrazak Gurnah

It’s breakfast time, 06.00 Kendall Variable Time (KVT), 01.00 Central European Standard Time. It’s difficult to live in a time zone that has no fixed relationship with any other time zone, and whose units vary in length according to the mood of its sole inhabitant.   But not being a man to let myself be bossed around by the harebrained notions of a bunch of dead people, 06.00 takes precedence and I find time to write.

I am not only temporally but spatially dislocated as I have just returned from a 13-bed trip, still thinking about the whereabouts of and preparations for my next move and where the bathroom is as I stumble up the hill to consciousness, not wanting to disturb the sleep of the absent.

I need to get back to CEST, KVT is weakly structured and small tasks easily grow to dinosaur proportions. And when I think about the day’s achievements, buying a bus ticket to Perth, recycling hearing aid batteries, filing documents for my UK storage unit, and translating a two-page divorce decree, my achievements fail to impress. But I usually flounder for a while after travelling.

I allow myself a more structured flounder and start to work through the accumulated pile of London Review and TLS. There’s a full-page ad in the LRB for Harper’s magazine. Harper’s magazine I’ve heard of but know nothing about and have never read. My cherished prejudices tell me that it’s probably not for me, full of material about fashion and difficult choices between expensive consumer items that I’ve no wish or ability to own. This is confirmed by my first google to an article about investment. But then my eye catches a long and serious piece about the Nobel prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah. Making a note that my cherished prejudices probably need tweaking, I read it through. To my shame, I have not followed the 2021 Nobel literature prize award and know nothing about Gurnah.

My lifestyle where I have no TV and do not subscribe to a daily paper needs attention to prevent the world drifting away and getting up to all sorts of things beyond my ken. I have a tortured attitude to subscribing to a daily paper. It costs quite a bit and is often unsatisfactory with a lot of ads and lifestyle and sports content that lacks interest for me. And the paper copy has to be disposed of. And I know that if I have an e-subscription that I will skim it carelessly and not get my money’s worth. This is irrational but David Kendall is like this; I have to work with him and know from long experience that trying to buck the foible doesn’t work.

Gurnah seems one of the Nobel Committee’s better choices and his writings on the travails of the former Asian community in East Africa and more generally on exile interest me. I shall make a list of his work, which is presumably readily available now that the surge to the shelves after the announcement has abated. The review in Harper’s was by Nadifa Mohamed, a British writer whose family came from Somalia, whom I have also never heard of but would like to know more about.

In her review “When the Monsoon Winds Turned. The lost worlds of Abdulrazak Gurnah”, she refers to the fate of the last Sultan of Zanzibar, exiled to Southsea on England’s South Coast. I’m not clear from a cursory reading of her review which of Gurnah’s works she is referring to or whether this is background information but I shall return to this. It reminds me of Napoleon III in exile in Chislehurst in Kent, although he at least received a secret visit from Queen Victoria. I somehow doubt that E. Windsor popped down to Pompey to hob nob with the deposed Sultan in his Southsea semi.

Portsmouth and Southsea is almost home ground for me after my first twelve years in nearby West Sussex. Although I mostly think of Portsmouth as a naval base with its flat, vacant 1950s architecture after the awful pasting the city received in WW2, I’ve never related to Southsea as a seaside resort. I must add it to my exploration of the area after visiting Selsey this trip. I want to look at another small island nearby Thorney and the maritime environments of Bosham and Chichester harbour. It’s strange I don’t know these as they were in cycling distance of my old Sussex home but it’s taken me a long time to learn to appreciate quality rather than quantity when travelling and to learn that less is sometimes more when I peddled to distant locations.

Portsmouth is otherwise associated with my mother’s older sibling, Aunt Mabel whom (to her delight, I suspect), I later called Aunt Fantasia after a record I found during an uncomfortable night in a sleeping bag in her “drawing room” above their fruit and greengrocery shop. At this time though she was still Aunt Mabs and my abiding memory of an early trip to Portsmouth is a walk around the block to purchase a single small piece of lace (or imitation lace perhaps) that had taken my fancy and was intended as a present for my mother. Adult opinion thought this too scant a present (it was admittedly a minuscule piece of cloth but the retention of this memory indicates that adult opinion failed to convince). I don’t remember what if anything the tiny piece was replaced by (the nine-year-old DK’s attention span was probably not great).

I wouldn’t anyway have brushed shoulders with the deposed Sultan of Zanzibar, who came much later when I was far from Portsmouth and Aunt Mabs and Uncle Charles had joined the ranks of the dear departed.

And it’s now 02.43 CEST and approaching bedtime in KVT. I’m glad to be able to write again after my laptop went on strike in the UK and travelled home separately.

Lyme, Bridport, Dorchester and the Outer Hebrides

The A35 is the major highway in southern Dorset, starting from Honiton in Devon and ending in Southampton in Hampshire. At least partly a highway as it still passes through the centre of numerous villages. Previously, the building of bypasses was a hot political issue with some inhabitants longing for the restoration of peace and quiet in their villages, while the pub and restaurant keepers feared the loss of the passing trade. But I didn’t see much evidence of strife this time.

I’ve travelled the road many times but still have much to learn. Part of it is Roman but the transport route is probably older than that passing through a landscape with many tumuli, barrows and standing stones, including the Broad Stone and the Nine Stones near Winterbourne Abbas from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. When I’m done with Dorset churches (probably rather late in the Anthropocene era..), I shall look at these early remains, but also travel the road with a historian’s eye, a farmer’s eye, a geologist’s eye and whatever other eyes I can think of, observing the field patterns and the lie of the land, paying careful attention to the place names, great and small, not satisfied with just noting that Dorset is a beautiful county but continually struggling against false familiarity.

Every time I come to Dorset, I learn more. This time I found out about Sir George Somers, a seventeenth century privateer (“state-licensed pirate”), the so-called “discoverer” of Bermuda, which used to be called Somers Island. In those early days, there were many links between the West Country and the colonists in Virginia and elsewhere in North America. Like other formerly officially respected figures from that time, accusations of slavery have been raised against Somers (and denied). His statue in Lyme where he was later mayor has been under threat and I believe his statue in Bermuda has been moved to a more discreet location.

His heart and entrails are buried in Bermuda but the rest of him was shipped back to Lyme and ended up in the graveyard of the Church of St Candida and Holy Cross at Whitchurch Canonicorum just off the main road to the east. Dorset has many villages with “double-barrelled” names and quite a few with a Latin tag. The genitive Latin plural “Canonicorum” indicates that the tithes of the parish were shared between two sees, Salisbury (Sarum) and Bath and Wells. The Whitchurch might originally have been just the colour of the church but is now associated with the relics of St Candida (Wite), referred to variously as a Saxon saint and as being from Breton. I’ve seen the shrine dated to the thirteenth century, which might support the colour being the original determinant of the name (or that the relics were there before the shrine).

It’s one of the two churches (the other is Westminster Abbey) that has a shrine of this kind, most of them being destroyed during the reformation. Perhaps Dorset was such a backwater that the destroyers of idolatry couldn’t find their way through the lanes.

I didn’t go inside the church this time; I’m not enthusiastic about shrines (not just because I’m not religious but also on aesthetic grounds. I don’t want to be disrespectful to the hopes and agony of believers and sufferers but I find the apertures for messages and pleas to the saint for intercession tawdry and unpleasant.

The churchyard is also famous for grave of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian who was given a fatal jab of ricin at a London bus stop.

I visited another church closer to Dorchester, Winterbourne Steepleton (often spelt “bourne” in contrast to nearby Winterborne Martin, for reasons lost in the mists of English inconsistency). What little there is of a steeple is of later date so the name probably derives from the steepness of the valley location rather than the architecture (supported by a tendency to write “stupelton” in old documents (stupian being slope in old English). There is still some Saxon work at the church, the most striking being a stone angel from before the conquest. It’s hard to see what the angel is up to – it appears to be flying backwards. I’ve seen the explanation that it represents St Michael, the archangel whose remit included vanquishing evil: perhaps the unusual posture is because St Michael is destroying various pagan leftovers. The dating disturbs me, however, as it took time for Anglo-Saxons to conquer Dorset and they must have been Christian for quite some time by then (and the remaining Celtic population had probably been Christian from the Roman period onwards) so the question arises of what Pagan leftovers?

The history of church dedications is interesting although I haven’t found many works or articles about this topic.

Further along the road from Whitchurch (but before the Winterbourne turning) is the small town of Bridport, once an important centre for the rope industry and with an unbroken tradition of small industry of various kinds from the eighteenth century onwards (and craft activities before that). Like many places with early industrial activity, the non-conformist denominations were important and still have a presence in Bridport with former and extant churches. I didn’t have my Pevsner on architecture with me but still visited the very pleasant garden of the Friends Meeting House, admired a spectacular blue flower, which I think was one of the cranebills and learnt about the shape of Quaker gravestones and avoidance of the martial month names July and August.

The eastward trek along the A35 ended in Dorchester, a town I’m very fond of.

I passed briefly through Poundbury, Prince Charles creation inspired by the principles of New Urbanism.

It was larger than I remembered it from my previous visit but I don’t like it. Even ignoring the royal association, which doesn’t please me, I find the mix of large urban and small residential buildings visually disturbing. I like some of the individual buildings but not the overall impact. I’m unsure whether I’m in a town or a village. The number and type of retail outlets seemed about the same as last time – an estate agents, a bank or two, a shop selling bridal/marriage wear, among others so maybe I was wrong about the negative impact of Poundbury on the traditional town centre (there are a lot of closed shops but perhaps for other reasons than a drain of resources to Poundbury). I don’t either like the feeling of being cut off from the ancient and rather wonderful surrounding landscape.

Poundbury seems like a dormitory suburb, lacking the interactions of an established village or town. And this is perhaps one of the flaws of New Urbanism. You can reproduce traditional architecture but you can’t artificially reproduce the activities (and quirks) of a population. However, as a taxi driver remarked it’s there now. It would be interesting to read what academic articles are available about the development, who lives there and what they feel about it.

Now I have to forget about Dorset for a while as I will soon be leaving for the Outer Hebrides. I’m re-reading James Hunter’s book, “The Making of the Crofting Community” (unfortunately I have the “popular” edition without footnotes and a bibliography but I shall try to track down one of the more comprehensive editions). I want to get to grips with the pronunciation and meaning of Gaelic place names and look at the distribution of Scandinavian names along the coast of the islands (it’s curious to suddenly come across a settlement called “Bostad” (the Swedish/Scandinavian word for home or place to live, although “bo” is related to many similar words in other languages, perhaps even “bauer” in German (a settled rather than nomadic activity) and “bothy” in Scots).

There’s much of interest in the history of the crofting communities and in Hunter’s work (with references for example, to E.P. Thompson’s work on the English working class). Hunter makes a sharp critique of some (revisionist) academic authors wishing to present the actions of the landlords in the highland clearances and forced emigration as being economically necessary and progressive. In fact, economic forces were creating a framework that strongly encouraged the landlords to make brutal choices. Individual landlords may have made efforts to organise the emigration in a more humane way but they were a drop in the bucket and, while perhaps making the passage less hazardous for a few individuals, did not alter the fact that the landlords, both more and less repressive, largely dismantled the highland communities and destroyed their homes.

The passage of the crofting legislation (in the early twentieth century I believe) gave the crofters greater security of tenure but was hardly a “happy ending” (any more than the abolition of serfdom was in nineteenth-century Russia). Most of the problems of crofting remained unsolved (and currently insoluble). The only approach is to analyse the activities of the various participants – the landlord class, the crofters, and the UK government (who were prepared to make some concessions to the crofters at the expense of the local landlords as they had enough on their hands with the situation in Ireland without fighting on a new front against militant crofters trained in the use of firearms in WW1). I shall check and see what’s available – I might be lucky as Uppsala University is the most important centre in Sweden for studying Celtic languages and societies, including Gaelic.


Living in West Sussex, I went to Chichester, the county town at the age of 12 for an interview for a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital, a private boarding school. It went well until we came to the inevitable (see the school name) religious question and I had no idea whatsoever who Pontius Pilate was, my relationship with the Bible being somewhat chaste at the time.

This PP guy has a lot on his conscience. Two thousand years after his death he prevented me from donning yellow socks and mediaeval kit. On the other hand, had I known who PP was, I would never really have moved to the West Country but largely remained a Sussex boy, and that would have been a loss. It’s a moot point whether it would have been easier in future job interviews to say that I’d gone to Christ’s Hospital instead of Sexey’s School (founded by a sixteenth century royal auditor who splashed money around on charitable causes. I don’t know how he got his name.).

But this time I only passed through the fine cathedral city of Chichester on my way to Selsey (Seal Island) although none were in evidence on my visit). It’s wonderfully quiet here with an absolutely deserted beach with not so much as a dogwalker to be seen. No buckets and spades, no candy floss, no penny in the slot machines, no obesity maintenance joints, no ice creams on sale apart from at a once Polish owned shop, none of the customary clamour. It’s an almost Swedishly unspoilt beach. Chilly but bearable lying with my back against a windshielding rock looking at the rough sea. After intensive relative-focused days and a business day in Dorchester, I felt I needed the sea and am glad I found this little townlet, whose existence I knew nothing of until recently, out of the way on the oddly named Manhood Peninsula, the most southerly part of Sussex, ending at Selsey Bill, which, like Portland Bill was once just an odd name for me.

According to, there is an Old English word bill “bill, bird’s beak,” related to bill, a poetic word for a kind of sword (especially one with a hooked blade), from Proto-Germanic *bili-, a word for cutting or chopping weapons. Used also in Middle English of beak-like projections of land (such as Portland Bill)”.

My respite here will be short as I’m looking forward to meeting daughter and grandson on his first trip to London at Gatwick tomorrow. But I shall come here again when I need to clear my head or hide away for a while or just to practice being a pensioner luxuriating in my west-lit room where there is not only a bath but a bathroom with a window for a sunset wallow.


My plant recognition program is quite determined not to collaborate with Facebook so I have no picture to show of common comfrey (also known as quaker comfrey), shining cranesbill, hawksbeard (sacred hawksbeard or holy hawksbeard), red campion (adder’s flower or devil’s flower), greater stitchwort (adder’s meat or star of Bethlehem), wall barley (wild barley) and garlic mustard (Jack-in-the-bush). The program is a delight; the identifications are perhaps not always right but it’s much more reliable than feverish flicking back and forth in a flower book squinting at leaf shapes. I’m amused by the names and alternative names, hawks with holy beards and adders here and there. And astonished that I have been familiar with wild barley since callow youth but never thought before to ask its name (better late than never). The program gives no source for the alternative names so it’s hard to know whether they are usages from other English-speaking countries or dialectal. A dialect dictionary of plant names would be fun and some time I will have a Shetland buttercup project.

I’m now back in the city or at least in Dorchester, the 20,000 befolked county town, watching my step after my Strasbourgian tumble. According to net findings, elderly people often fall because they shuffle and I am told by reliable sources that I do so (and, according to one source, have always done so). A shuffling foot that hits the ground obliquely, at an acute angle, will more likely stumble on a minor level change than a foot firmly planted at a right angle. Hence to avoid injury, I must change my gait and lift my feet properly. It feels weird as if I’m auditioning for a part as the man from the department of silly walks in a Monty Python film but perhaps I’ll get used to it. The alternative of dressing in protective gear like the Michelin man so that I can take the odd tumble in my stride (or not in my stride..) seems an even greater threat to whatever shreds of human dignity I have left.

This morning I used the word “palaver” for the first time in a long age (a propos the passport chaos in Sweden with long overnight queues for emergency passports). According to net sources, “palaver” comes from the Portuguese word “palavra”, which is given variously as sailor’s slang and a word used for talk between tribespeople and traders. The origin of the Portuguese word in turn is the late Latin “parabola” comparison (hence parable)  and this is given as an example of metathesis, the transposition of phonemes (as in crud and curd). It is also related to the word “parole” in Latin languages. All very satisfactory. A taxi and a funny walk later, I was explaining the intricacies of my hearing aid to a man whose essential role on my life’s stage was to lease me a self-storage facility (we got there in the end after a quarter of an hour’s deaf bonding). A visit to the museum’s dumbdowned bookstall, added a bio of Valentine Ackland “A transgressive life” to my Dorset collection, and I found a guide to the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy in some charity bookshop belonging to the friends of some unremembered body part, ready for the day when I’m done with Dorset churches and start to look at country houses.

And tomorrow, I’m heading east, not all the way to Gatwick but to Selsey, on the Sussex coast, where I’ve never been before and where I’ll spend the night at a seaside hotel, which tells me that fresh English and continental desserts will compliment my meal (flattering words from a crème brulée, not bad!).

It’s fortunate that I will soon be on holiday as my laptop keyboard is giving way and letter after letter is failing to respond to my increasingly insistent tapping. Translating will become more and more like Scrabble when I have to construct meaningful words using just j, q and x, which is going to be a stretch. But in a day or so, I will unlock the golden chain and savour the rare delight of just being.

Walking through three counties

Bourton, North Dorset, a village I cycled past in my youth on my way from the water-poor chalk uplands to the verdant Blackmore Vale where I lived. I noticed the three counties close to one another but not much else. Now I’m a more careful tourist and I’ve explored the back lanes and ferreted the net.

There’s no sad brown tourist sign or explanatory board but Egbert’s stone stands alone and unexplained on the golf course. Egbert was the Saxon King Alfred’s grandfather and the stone marks the point at which three counties meet, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. Such boundary stones were important then as the Anglo-Saxons had only recently broken through to the West of England.

Two of these counties have names of Anglo-Saxon origin, Wiltshire earlier referred to as Wiltunscir, being the people who lived around Wilton (the “scir” later “shire” being instantly recognisable to a Swede where “skära” means cut). Somerset comes from “Sumortonsaete”, the people dependent (or living around) Somerton. The name Dorset, however, is of earlier Brythonic Celtic origin, probably from the tribe the Durotriges or later from the Roman name for Dorchester, Durnovaria.

The boundaries from Egbert’s stone are of ancient date. The stone is also said to mark the rallying point of King Alfred’s army, reformed after being defeated by the Vikings, in the preparations for his subsequent success at the Battle of Ethandun (Edington) when Guthrum and his Viking army were routed and driven out of Wessex back to Mercia and East Anglia.

Not far away is King Alfred’s Tower, a triangular folly, actually built to commemorate the end of the Seven Year War with France and to celebrate the accession of George III. It was built in the 1760s by Henry Hoare, of the banking family, who owned nearby Stourhead. There’s a statue of King Alfred there;  the reference to King Alfred because the history of the Anglo-Saxons was reintegrated into the British national story in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Before then (as it still is to some extent), the Norman Conquest in 1066 was a sharp break. Those still intact of the defeated Anglo-Saxon aristocracy fled or faded away and the elite in England was Norman French for the best part of three hundred years. The Kings (and what Queens there were) were numbered from 1066, not including any pre-conquest Edward. Almost three centuries passed before the English re-emerged in culture with Chaucer among others and with the first English-speaking monarch. Interest in the Anglo-Saxons I suspect was modest, Shakespeare was not tempted to write about a play about King Alfred, as far as I know.

This changed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when a number of books were written about King Alfred and stories spread from Asser, Alfred’s ninth century Welsh biographer. And now Alfred and his victories over the Danes are identified as English in a way that, for example, Boudicca, the Celtic British Queen who badly shook Roman control of Britain is not. Nor do the English identify to any great extent with the Durotriges, the West England Celtic tribe, who were defeated by the Romans under Vespasian at what is now known as Maiden Castle. It is a useful reminder that history is not just there, unchanging and objective, but that it has been produced, often for a purpose, and that the selection can be arbitrary and can change.

For a village that now numbers 800 inhabitants, Bourton has had a remarkable industrial history in the days before the rise of Yorkshire and Lancashire. There was a flax mill here for long centuries, an iron foundry that employed 250 people at the end of the eighteenth century, a large waterwheel said to be Britain’s largest, tanners and brickmakers and even a factory that made Mills bombs, a type of hand grenade, during the Second World War (somewhat tastelessly commemorated by a pair of columns topped by model stone grenades). I’d like to read more about industry in the west in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century . A lot has been written but much in small pamphlets here and there.

I probably won’t pass Bourton on my bike again but more likely flash past in a car on the A303. I now have some more interesting associations to think of.

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…