On the road again, Poland

My first serious brush with Poland was A-level nineteenth and twentieth century European history. At one time, the raw youth was probably capable of giving an account of the various partitions without being much the wiser. And then there was Westerplatte and the laughing German soldiers pushing aside the gate to the Versailles border.

We went our separate ways until 1972 when I rolled eastwards on an evening train from GDR Berlin with my then girlfriend from Ecuador. Intending to hitch-hike, we jumped off at the first Polish station, went down the nearby stairs and out into the village, where we sat dozing on a seat in a small square, untroubled by border checks or other formalia. And then follows the confused travel of youth, unprepared, too far, too fast. Wroclaw, a fine empty hostel in a park, probably not officially open to westerners. By train to Zielona Gora and up in the hills to the Czech border where a puzzled border guard let us out after wondering how we got into the country.

By 1974, I’d moved to Sweden and took the ferry from Ystad to Swinousjce and down on the sleeper to Cracow. Travel skills had improved and I have memories of the Cloth Hall and the castle and that bulki means breadroll. Rather less than a decade later, in Szczezin to organize a meeting, I was discreet and stayed mostly invisible in my hotel room although I do remember the splendid Brama Portawa, although only much later did I know that it meant Harbour Gate. I saw Polanski’s Tess but knew already then that it wasn’t Marnhull, the historic home of the paternal line of my family that was being portrayed but somewhere in France. And then a long journey into the suburbs, doubling back to make sure I wasn’t being followed, flashing a photograph quickly ushered into a flat where I was fed and got rid of various packages of alcohol and other treats stowed about my person.

Dormant for a long, long time, our relationship revived this century when I flew from Skavsta to Gdansk to catch a plane to Doncaster. Easily mocked, it was in fact highly convenient and I had a full day in Gdansk to explore the historic sights and see children in their Sunday best being rewarded by a post-service ice cream. Another trip to Gdynia followed when I learnt the meaning of Pomerania (at or by the sea), a longer trip to Gdansk and a couple of trips to Szczezin.

And now I’ve seen the interior, two days in Poznan and three in Warsaw. Poznan was a treat with its fine reconstructed buildings, Warsaw stimulating but more of a challenge. I knew of course about Hitler’s order to destroy the city after the uprising. But not that the instruction also included killing the people. I’ve now read Alexandra Richie’s book “Warsaw 1944. Hitler, Himmler and the Crushing of a City”. Harrowing reading as the SS, including the infamous troops led by Dirlewanger looted and raped their way through the city burning district after district and killing the inhabitants, regardless of age and sex.

Richie describes the background well, how the insurgents hoped to emulate the citizens of Paris in liberating the city, believing incorrectly that it would change the outcome if they were in control of the city when the Soviets entered. Uncoordinated with the movements of the Soviet army, they misinterpreted shooting from a temporarily successful German counterattack as the Red Army driving the Nazis out.

I am aware, of course, that economic exploitation has led to other horrific abuses by, for example, the Belgians in the Congo, against the indigenous populations of America and by the British in India. But it will take time for the images in Richie’s book to fade. I would prefer to look away and not to think about it but I don’t think we should stop trying to understand the broader background which creates scope for these events to happen.

But there was more to Warsaw than horrific episodes in its history. And I’m glad that my familiar Europe has definitively moved eastwards and that Poland, its language, culture and politics will be an increasing interest.

The darkest hour before the dawn

Two days before take-off and I am struggling to prevent myself reorganising my library.

Sensitive to dust, I have to stop sleeping with books. My collection of French books has to leave the warm western-facing light of my bedroom and make its way to the sombre Lutheran north wing of my 45 sq.m.

I mourn but it has to be so. And now I have a concept and am ready to attack. But I have to stay my hand – precipitate action would end in tears, at least lying lumbago-ridden on the floor cheek by jowl with Proust and other citizens of the republic of letters milling around in sub-alpine confusion.

I have recently emerged from a 45,000-word tunnel. Ideal David Kendall would rejoice at the return of freedom, cook healthy slow food, walk 8,000 steps a day, study Bengali, read Pagnol, the Financial Times and Le Monde Diplo, lose weight and spick and span the flat. Real-existing David Kendall opens yet another packet of ready-made soup and wanders off in the direction of the mall to buy a down-filled pillow, distinctly not prio 1. But emotionally satisfying to be able to evict from my aesthetically savaged bedroom the lumpy IKEA pillow remnant, which screamed inadequate elderly man at me every time I tried to avoid looking at it. I have to compromise with this hopeless character R.E.D.K. that life has lumbered me with. I indulged him with the pillow but tomorrow has to be a highly-disciplined, well-planned day if I am going to get to bed before 03.00 on the morn of travel.

In the last couple of days, I have learnt about obsidian, which is volcanic and non-crystalline. And I now know the meaning of tyro, which I’ve seen around for a long time but always thought it meant someone who was eager and expert but in fact means someone relatively new to something (apparently from a Latin word for recruit). And that “bel espirit” means a witty person, which led me to realise that “witty” is cognate with Swedish “vettig” (which means sensible and sagacious). In Old English, there is “wittig” which means clever, wise, loquacious, while witty has wandered elsewhere.

And I have continued to read Henrik Sienkiewicz’s Quo vadis. I’m not a great fan of historical novels, especially not ones written by deeply catholic authors. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1905 and I am curious about the Academy’s reasoning. I shall take a trip to the newspaper library when I’m back in Sweden. I’m also curious about how this author was treated by the Polish Workers Party – how much he was published then. He has presumably received a lot of attention from the current regime.

I’d better get to bed and stop mucking around with words….my tomorrow is fast approaching.

Replacing Lilith with a screech owl

Yesterday I visited not just one but two events to celebrate St Jerome, patron saint of translators, whose saint’s day is 30 September. We share him with librarians and encyclopedists, which seems not an unreasonable combination, although they don’t seem to make such a fuss of him as we do.

I don’t know when he picked up the name Hieronymus but I now know that it means a person blessed with a holy name from the Greek Hieros (holy), the nymus being derived from the Greek word for name (being called David, I think I should have a chance in the holy name stakes although I somehow doubt that my translations will be eagerly read in a thousand years’ time; I hope not…).

I caught sight of a reference to Jerome in a recent review in the London Review of Books of the British Museum’s Feminine Power exhibition. The article mentioned Lilith, called the first wife of Adam in the Jewish tradition, who was said to have fled Paradise when she refused to submit to Adam’s will and refused to return when God sent a troop of three angels to bring her back (this description is reminiscent of SL’s ticket inspection squads, cowing the ticketless by numbers…). She then lived in the Red Sea and gave birth to demons, and was thought to be a threat to pregnant women. There are connections from this myth back into classical times and it also reminds me of Kali in the Hindu tradition.

The Christian tradition seem to have decided that it was better to purge her from the pages of history rather than use her as an example of the fate that awaits what they regard as uppity ladies, And this is where Jerome comes in. According to the LRB article, Lilith appears once in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 34:14) in a section  describing the Day of Vengeance “when wild beasts will take over the earth). Lilith will meet with hyenas and wild goats in a landscape overrun by briars”. Translating from the Hebrew in the early fifth century, St Jerome apparently decided to replace “Lilith” with “lamia” meaning witch or sorceress in Latin, but which also meant a kind of flatfish and a species of owl. “Later translators followed his lead, so Lilith is “the lamia” in the Geneva Bible and a “screech owl” in the Kings James Version.

Exit the difficult lady in other words, replaced by a screech owl, which fitted in nicely with the hyenas and wild goats.

To start with, I thought that this was just an amusing infelicity in Jerome’s translation. However, Jerome was not just a translator but had also been an important figure in the papacy and continued to be very active in theological discussions. And, at this time, after Constantine had legalised Christianity, great efforts were being made to replace local theological deviations with a more centralised and approved message and Jerome was a key player in these efforts. The process described above may therefore not have been so simple but instead part of an ongoing endeavour to hone the message in the Bible in desired directions by the selection of texts and translation choices (I suspect there may be other places where young maidens have become virgins in the course of translation. When I get some time over, I shall learn Aramaic, Hebrew and Classical Greek and get to the bottom of this).

It’s all very fascinating and we must not either forget how Lilith as a woman who defended her integrity has attracted feminist attention and how that has affected the view of her and the use made and importance attached to various sources. The LRB does mention some sources but I’m going to be disciplined and not follow them up as I have more than enough rabbits to chase already, Despite being an atheist, I find the Bible fascinating as a work of literature . in fact it’s probably an advantage being an atheist when studying it as you don’t distracted by trying to defend the indefensible.


I’ve just checked Isaiah 34:13 and 14 and the text is as as follows:

“13. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be an habitation of dragons and a court for owls. [Here there is a note “or night monster”].

14. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl shall also rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.

15. There shall the great owl make her nest and lay and hatch….”.

The plot thickens. It doesn’t seem to be an isolated reference to a screech owl but there are several references so any tweaking of the passage must have been more extensive than a single word. Are the screech owl and the great owl the same or different owls? The owl is anyway feminine so Lilith has a ghostly presence there (while the satyr appears to be male). And who wrote the note about the alternative translation of “night monster”.

I need to know more about Isaiah and the history of the anecdote about Jerome but perhaps I should finish my own translation first (without introducing any screech owls into the text).

Indo-saracenic palace and a ghat in Brighton

Opposite the cottage where I lived in my teenage village, there was the Captain’s place, full of items from India. It was only ten years after the empire scuttled away from its starvation and bloody shambles and India was present in England in a different way than now. It is exotic but not unknown for me.

On Sunday mornings, my father and I used to take the ancient electric train to Brighton, past the red and white trolley buses downhill to the beach, ride on Volks even more ancient electric railway along the coast to Rottingdean, go to the aquarium and at the right time of year, watch the De Dion Boutons roll down the esplanade in triumph at the end of the Old Crocks veteran car run from London.

India was (and is) very present in Brighton in the shape of the Royal Pavilion, George IV’s summer palace at then fashionable Brighton built in the Indo-Saracenic style (and later sold by Victoria who preferred to keep her loyal subjects at somewhat greater distance at discreet Osborne in the Isle of Wight).

During the First World War, the Pavilion was used as a military hospital for wounded Indian soldiers among others. Some, of course, died and up on the Southdowns near the village of Patcham, there was a ghat where they were cremated (still a somewhat exotic practice in the Britain of this time). There is a chattri (memorial) up there. I have never been there but I will visit it. For a while after the First World War, the British were respectful of the Indians who had died for a cause very foreign to their own needs (sending Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII, who abdicated) to inaugurate the chattri). Grateful memory was rather short-lived, however. Very little was done for the destitute widows of the dead in India and the chattri apparently became quite dilapidated in the inter-war years but has at least now been restored.

Even more curious is the story of Sake Dean Mahomed, born in Patna in 1759 to a Bengali Muslim family (and died in 1851). After the early death of his father, who served in the East India Company’s Bengal army and died in battle, he was looked after by a Captain Godfrey Baker, an Anglo-Irish protestant officer. He came back to Ireland with the Captain, then later opened England’s first Indian restaurant in 1810, the Hindostanee Coffee House near Portland Square in London. He later moved to Brighton and opened “The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath” and introduced the English to the delights of shampooing (hence the somewhat alien word Shampoo). When I was in Brighton, I found his grave at St Nicholas church, unfortunately barricaded in by restoration in process. It wouldn’t have been too difficult to clamber over the wall of the graveyard and get to the grave but teetering around perilously on tombs is not really compatible with my silver elegant demeanour…(Background info on Dean Mahomed mined from Wiki).

I also found a small model in Brighton museum of Tipu’s tiger, showing a tiger savaging a soldier of the East India Company; there is a large one in the Victoria and Albert museum in London. I must try and find out how it came to be in the Brighton museum. I believe it was called Tipu’s tiger as the large piece was looted from Tipu, the ruler of Mysore’s palace when the British led by Warren Hastings defeated Tipu (after Tipu had defeated the British in an earlier Anglo-Mysore war). I had always thought that the image of the solder being mauled by a tiger was symbolic for the British being defeated by the Indians, especially as Tipu was known as the Tiger of Mysore. But on the net, there is the story of the sixteen-year-old East India cadet Hector Munro who died after being savaged by a tiger, which sprang on him and dragged him off to the bushes, which was supposed to have inspired the gruesome ceramic piece. I’m not convinced by this unpretty prettyifying…

I haven’t been to Bengal since before the Covid trudge but am beginning to hope for the not so distant future.

What did you do in 1848 poor poet?

August/September are often quiet months for translators; sometimes there’s a little spurt as folk finish off what they didn’t manage to get done before the holidays before everything goes quiet. I’m fully occupied dusting my books, which I should do continuously like the painting of the Firth of Forth bridge (but don’t). And now it’s high time as the air in my home office was not sweet.

The project goes slowly, interrupted by the discovery of buried treasure from yester year, half-remembered or half-forgotten projects. Two cards on a shelf fight for attention, one by Carl Spitzweg /1808-1885), The Poor Poet, showing the bohemian poet lying in bed protected by an umbrella against the leaking roof. The other card is from Dante’s Inferno XV 29 showing Dante looking at the burned features of his “teacher” (source Robert Hollander (Princeton University), 20 August 2001.

“The task is not just to understand the world but to change it” was tattooed on my brain when a callow youth. This I tried for some years until I lost my way, narrowed the struggle to loosening my own chains, became a serial reproducer and latterly also give tender loving care to my cerebral orphanage of unwanted information. But I look at the two cards and think what did I become, what should I have become, what did I turn my back on?

In fact, the comparison limps as the Dante picture is complicated Under my own steam, I had only got as far as recognising Dante.

Robert Hallander is refreshingly undumbdowned. He writes “As Dante’s readers are aware, this verse is usually printed as “chinando la mano alla sua faccia”, a reading that has been, as we shall see, intelligently questioned in the recent past, but which, restored to its suspect glory by Petrocci (1966) has returned to nearly unanimous favor.  The problem is for once, a simple one and can be described as follows: Dante, looking down at the burned features of his “teacher”, Brunetto Latini, either extends his hand toward that face or else lowers his own face in the direction of Brunetto’s, followed by three pages analysing the likelihood of Dante extending his hand or lowering his face and the wording of Dante’s Inferno.

This is heady stuff for a translator and chaser of intellectual rabbits emeritus like me. I realise that it is not enough to have read and poorly understood Proust and Joyce. I have to tackle Dante’s Inferno too!

And, like the poor poet, surrounded by books, with Teach Yourself Bengali, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s (Chatterjee) short stories), the Fair Maid of Perth, a history of Lever Brothers soap emporium and land ownership in Scotland, Dorset churches as well as various weighty works on imperialism, whose nature I am trying to penetrate, and almost 100 pictures of St Jerome I need to work on, I feel the approach of another major project. Like poor King Midas who changed everything he touched to gold, everything I become interested in becomes a potential PhD. Probably not a curse in my case but to do with poorly functioning frontal lobes…

There’s another picture by Spitzweg which I like, called The Bookworm. (Der Bucherwurm).

It’s in the Museum Georg Schäfer in Schweinfurt in Bavaria. According to Wiki, Georg Schäfer ran an important ball bearing factory and was a Nazi city councillor, as well as having a fine art collection (some of doubtful provenance). But that’s another story and I probably shouldn’t get into it if I’m going to finish dusting my books.

30 beds and travelling light

After being home a week, I no longer lie half awake laboriously reconstructing where I might be. But I still dream obsessively of complicated travel tasks to be completed, getting entry codes or worrying about connections, before becoming fully awake and aware that the route to the fridge and the bathroom is straightforward without risk of being stranded by the wardrobe for hours.

Disaster awareness increases with age and I worry about things that I wouldn’t have given a thought to twenty years ago, at the same time as being intellectually aware that these worries are unrealistic.

Perhaps more remarkable is that there have been relatively few determined assaults on walk-in cupboards as I try, semi-conscious, to bend the uncompromising shape of hanging clothes into a half-remembered bathroom. Remarkable because I have made two major trips overland to the UK this summer, each of them involving staying in fifteen different places. Despite having become seriously elderly, it seems that the old dog can learn new tricks to adjust to nomadic life.

I do, however, have to make some concessions to advancing age. Attempts on a pub staircase in Dorset to disprove Newton while person handling a heavy case probably led to unpleasant results.

I want my everyday life to continue so that travelling, for example, to Scotland is not just socks, a toothbrush and lactose tablets but books on crofting and the land question, Teach Yourself Gaelic, offprints on Gaelic place names, OS maps and guides, and needs arising en route so that I would have purchased Walter Scott’s Fair Maid of Perth had the city’s not-so-fair book merchants made room (saved in this case by a fair friend from Sweden, who sent me a link).

And returning via Cheshire, then the relevant volume of Pevsner’s architecture series is a must as it is for Dorset (and perhaps Somerset too), which also requires more maps and other material about the county, my own notes not least. And then there’s Bengali which I didn’t want to neglect for six weeks (although that was what happened).

The travel necessities of ideal David Kendall are in other words pushing way beyond the recent breathless temperatures in the forties to 50 or even 60 kgs, which, in the absence of a train of bearers or a few of Lord Curzon’s elephants, is a non-starter.

The concept of luggage needs to be reviewed. Transitional objects of marginal use to help the traveller deal with the trauma of the unknown are easy to eliminate. And a reality check can be made on the extent to which ideal David Kendall’s desires can be achieved by actually existing David Kendall. But there is still a stubborn pile of inexpensive objects being transported with effort back and forth between the same or similar places. It seems more logical to let the luggage stay where it is and just transport myself; I have started to address this problem by leaving suitcases of clothes and books, initially at four or five frequent locations, with friends or, in one case, a self-storage facility.

I had my first substantially luggage-free trip back from the UK this time. It was a dream to be so nimble – when arriving at Strasbourg with no taxi in sight and a queue in the baking sun, it was easy to retreat and find a bus via Google maps. Or being able to weasel my way lightly loaded through a tangle of contorted bodies to grab a seat when the Danes did their usual trick of taking so long to check passports in a stationary train that I missed my connection and lost my seat reservation at Fredericia. Or not travelling home by taxi from the airport.

The “hug-me” moment lasted almost the whole way home when a quick check outside my flat revealed that I was one bag missing, which I’d left at the bus stop in central Uppsala, my imagination’s relaxing moment of arrival in my armchair replaced by a thin-lipped fraught bus ride back to town where my little grey bag with a few treasures and a pile of receipts was waiting patiently for me on the shelter seat.

All beginnings are difficult (and endings can be too if you let your guard down too quickly).

Crofters and the land issue in Scotland (a first attempt to focus an untidy mind)

It’s been great to travel nimbly without heavy luggage but it’s had its negative sides. Not having my laptop with me has been a pain and I won’t lightly repeat this experience; I find it hard to think without my computer.

I’ve tried three times to summarise my thoughts on crofting and more broadly the land issue in the Outer Hebrides and Scotland. I’ve threshed around unsuccessfully to write on my blog using my mobile. I’ve written texts that are now floating around sadly in the cyber void. This is just as well as they were unsatisfactory. I’ve now tried again but instead of statements, I’ve produced a list of areas that I would like to know more about, which can hopefully enable a more systematic and alert re-reading of the material I have access to.


Before 1800 (arbitrary choice of date)

– Decline of clans and transformation of clan leaders into landlords

– Developments in agriculture. Similarities and differences to situation further south

(as regards enclosure of common lands, agricultural modernisation etc. movement of surplus agricultural population to industry/proletarianisation (or lack of this possibility). Accumulation of statistical material.

– Financial situation of landowners

– Demographic developments

– Structure of land ownership, Scottish land law, feudal remnants

– Emigration, nature of emigration prior to main period of clearances in C19. Landowners attitude to emigration (negative in some cases from concern about loss of reserve pool of labour). Who emigrated and under what conditions. Further fate of emigrants. Possible differences in emigration at this time and later on during main Clearance period.

– Class structure of (especially) Highland society. Crofters, cottars, landowners. Relationship to and involvement of landowners in other occupations – kelping, fishing. Who were the Scottish landlords and what other economic interests did they have?

– Removal of crofters from areas wanted for sheep farming and transfer to small shoreside crofts with poor quality common land. Not viable by itself (without secondary occupation).

After 1800

– Extent of clearances in Hebrides and elsewhere in Highlands in period from 1800 to main clearance period in mid nineteenth-century. Forced emigration, brutality. Attitude to Gaelic population. Subsequent fate of emigrants

– Effect of poor law system on landlords’ desire to remove crofters.  

– Changes in agriculture.

 – Scottish equivalent of potato famine and landlords’ activity or more usually non-activity to alleviate starvation. Treatment by different sources and limitations of these sources.

 – Study of literature, both academic and non-academic, romantic and revisionist.

– Development from deference to political resistance.

– Effect of World War 1, Irish situation and Russian Revolution. Information about positions of, for example, Scottish CP on land question.

– Crofting legislation – what it provided and limitations.

Limits to efficacy of state repression and attempt by authorities to resolve problem by concessions to most militant section of crofters in local area (Outer Hebrides).

– Situation after World War One

– Intervention by Lord Leverhulme.

Study of Lever Bros (Unilever) – Port Sunlight and search after sources of palm oil. Activities in Belgian Congo (contact with authorities after problems obtaining labour). Relationship with trade unions. Attitudes to Lord Leverhulme’s activities on the part of the rest of Lever Bros, later Unilever.

Plans for industrialisation and Lord Leverhulme’s negative attitude to crofting.

Splits in crofters’ response – collapse of Leverhulme’s intervention after downturn in fishing industry and his withdrawal.

Ideological considerations – inadequacy of Christian approach of good and evil to analysis of actions and interactions of social classes.

– Political considerations – viability of crofting, attitude to proletarianisation (from left). Confirmation of limitations of “peasantry” (farmers) in leading political changes (too locally based etc.)

– Development of crofting after World War. Did it remain unviable – if not, why not. Could it be viable under conditions of capitalist agriculture?

– Continued development of land situation. Scotland’s highly concentrated land ownership. Nature of traditional aristocratic landowners and other activities.

– Nature of capitalism in Scotland (degree of integration of Scottish pools of capital with UK capitalism).

– Significance of striving towards Scottish independence. Will this lead to less sympathetic treatment of large landowners? Relation of Scottish landowners to other classes in Scotland. The land issue in Scotland today.

Some categories need further editing but it should be sufficient to enable me to read sources critically and make notes that can be shuffled more intelligently as I become more fleet of foot in the area.

Mora stenar (Mora Stones)

”moor” means an uncultivated upland area in English but it also has a secondary dialectal meaning of “fen”. Both meanings exist in Old English “mor” which could mean both hill and mountain and morass or swamp. There are not a few place names in Sweden where “mora” is part of the name, including the site of Mora Stenar (Mora stones), a few miles south of Uppsala where I was today.

For many years, I’ve flashed by on the motorway, seen the sign to Mora Stenar and wondered what it was. I now know that the location of the stones was on the border between two old “folklands” of the Svear (later Swedes), Attundaland and Tiundaland. It was here the Kings were elected, at least from the mid-13th to the mid-15th century, first by the Svear (followed by an eriksgata (a traditional journey around what is now Sweden) and later with lawmakers from elsewhere in Sweden in attendance at Mora as well.  

According to Wikipedia the Westrogothic law reminded the Geats (Goths) that they had to accept this election Sveær egho konung at taka ok sva vrækæ meaning Swedes(Svear) have the right of choosing and deposing the king.

“The detail that the Swedes were not only entitled to elect their king, but that they also had the right to depose him was institutionalized a long time before, as attested by Snorri Sturlason’s (died 1241) accounts of Swedish history (the speech of Torgny the Lawspeaker, and the deaths of Domalde, Egil, Aun, and Jorund in the Heimskringla). The location was on the border of a wetland and according to Snorri, five kings had been drowned in this wetland, when the people had been displeased”. 

The original coronation stone has disappeared. I’ve seen various explanations – that it was hidden from the Danes or hidden or disposed of by those who wanted the monarch appointed by right of inheritance and not by election (with Gustaf Vasa being a prime suspect). But there were also commemorative stones celebrating the coronation of particular monarchs, originally kept alongside the large coronation stone, and it is these that are said to be Mora stones. A local military officer Carl Wijnbladh (1705- 1768) built the building where the stones are kept (he was more than just a military officer but also apparently had far reaching responsibility for buildings and wrote about their appearance).

There was a blue and white sign informing us that we were at Mora Stenar but I’m not even sure that it even had a brown sign for a historic site (not that I miss those brown signs much).

It was strangely neglected; only one small sign in Swedish and that was largely illegible (completely for me). And a small eighteenth century building by the side of the road; as there was no one there to watch over them, the stones could only be viewed inside the locked building through a metal grille.

An odd treatment for something of historic significance, feeling almost as if the Scots had deposited the Stone of scone in an enclosure alongside a recycling centre behind Tesco in Perth (I know the Stone of scone got pinched from the English (after being pinched by the English) and then got broken but they are taking a bit better care of it now in Edinburgh Castle I believe, with perhaps an excursion to Westminster in the not-so-distant future).

It feels as if the Mora stone keepers don’t quite know what to do with the stones (I wonder whether there are doubts about their authenticity). It probably wouldn’t feel right to move them from their historic site but they are not making much of them; it’s as if they were somehow the black sheep of the stone family.

On the other hand, runestones, some beautiful and historically interesting, are scattered around Sweden and often in the open air so perhaps this is just the Swedish way of doing things.

I was pleased with my excursion. I explored my new home city of Uppsala intensively when I first came and when the world was closed for covid. But since then, I’ve been gallivanting again as is my wont and I haven’t learnt so much new about Uppsala this year. Mora stones was a good start, to remove that niggling corner of my brain, activated every time I pass them on the motorway, thinking that I must investigate them some time.  

I have also learnt the Swedish word “triberg” which is “trimount “in English. According to Wiki, a trimount is also described as a mount mounted, or shapournet shapourned, a representation of a mount with three tops. If you haven’t seen “shapournet” before, you’re in good company as it’s not even in Webster’s dictionary. I don’t feel a need to know much about heraldry but the language used sometimes fascinates me. Mora stones are anyway just inside the borders of Knivsta municipality, which was broken away from Uppsala some years ago. And Knivsta’s heraldic device (arms?) has a trimount at the bottom, apparently representing the stones.

And a few other new words I’ve learnt. I’m pleased to make the acquaintance of “clade” which is a group of organisms comprising all the evolutionary descendants of a common ancestor” with the etymology given by the Concise Oxford as being from the Greek “clados” branch. I wondered whether “clan” was related. Greek is not mentioned as an origin of “clan “but it does refer to Old Irish “clandh”, with a reference to Latin planta for sprout, which is a bit branch-like. “planta” is some way from “clandh” but these Celts can be rather flexible with their initial consonants.

I’ve also learnt “encaenia” which means a festival of renewal and dedication and is used in the academic world for a ceremonial occasion (especially in North America, I believe.

And “prolophobia” – a hatred of the working class.

I’m glad I could find these words, although I’m not keen on prolophobia and doubt whether encaenia will trip off my tongue very often.

By nature, I’m weakly structured, which, in the world of notebooks, means that I have an awful lot (I haven’t counted them but I will some time) as I scribble down what I want to remember in whatever notebook is closest to me floating on the surface of my existential swamp (or moor…). And then, of course, I can’t find it when I want it as that notebook has sunk below the surface or fallen into one of the mini-black holes that accompany me through life. I have to consciously compensate for my aimless floating and do so by planning (which I think I do quite well if I remember to). I’m now working my way through my notebooks, dedicating them to particular purposes so that I have a notebook for new words, one for things pertaining to Dorset, multicetera, and deciding where they are to be stationed. Hopefully, by the end of the year, this will be another niggling corner of my brain dealt with – when I’m no longer oppressed by seeing a fine notebook that I picked up at some museum, having two pages of odd scribble but otherwise neglected and I can instead happily think “Ah there’s Notebook 017 Dorset”…..

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.