100 years of quarantine

Saturday, 12 June 2021

My eighth day in the UK and frustratingly I am still in quarantine. The testing firm’s interest in my fate seems to have cooled considerably after coffering my sixty pounds. I have still not heard from them although  they did at least provide me with an opportunity yesterday to think about the meaning of life for a peaceful half an hour as I listened to the reassuring English burr on their non-answer facility.

It’s frustrating but I am at least living in a pleasant flat in the grounds of a biggish house, with a substantial garden and  a view across the River Avon and the canal to the edges of Bath. And I have walked through the fine old village of Bathford on my permitted excursions to post my tests and admired the home of the inventor of a bagless vacuum cleaner as well as learning to recognise periwinkles.

I have loads of books to read, Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s Die Insel des zweitens Gesichts in German and English. My German is not good enough to enjoy reading just the German version but it works well for me to read a page in English and then read the same page in German.

I also have Jean Giono’s Le hussard sur le toit , only in French as my French reading ability is better than my German. And Swedish represented by Rudolf Värnlund’s Vandrare till Intet, published by Bokförlaget Röda Rummet in Uppsala.

And on the non-fiction side, I have three volumes of Pevsner, the two volumes for Gloucestershire, one for the Cotswolds and one for flatter parts of the county and the Forest of Dean, and the Dorset volume in case I get down there later. And then there’s my teach yourself Bengali and a tome on the German economy in my Kindle waiting for my attention, as well as a few sheaves of paper copies on political history and a book by David Harvey.

I am equipped to keep ennui at bay for a lifetime of quarantine.

To enhance my feeling of being in the West Country, I started my quarantine reading with Walter Raymond’s “Love and Quiet Life, Somerset Idylls”  (1901 I believe). Walter Raymond can be described as a South Somerset Thomas Hardy although he has not enjoyed the same renown (nor is his authorship up to the standard of Hardy’s). His memory has been kept alive by a few enthusiasts who have reproduced older editions (my copy has fine stamps from a public library in Boston, Mass). Reading Raymond made me think about the Somerset dialect. I learn from Wikipedia’s article on West Country dialects that the Somerset dialect, despite more recently being made the butt of jokes about the back of rural beyond, has fine origins in West Saxon, the variant of old English in which much literature was written, including apparently Beowulf. Fascinating to a language nerd like me are the references back to the Germanic languages so that the dialect’s “I be, thee bist, he/she be, we be, thee ‘rt and they be” are almost closer to Modern Saxon than to Standard English. The dialect’s use of gendered “he” or “she” when referring to inanimate objects also has a Germanic touch (“Put ‘ee over there”) as does the frequent use of the prefix “a” to denote the past participle (“If I’d know’d, I ooden never a-went”). It’s not the same usage as German but I think it has a Germanic feel to it.

I remember encountering some of these features when I moved to Somerset from Sussex in 1958, also the ghostly remnants of the second person singular, the use of a “th” sound when addressing another person (It was only later, of course, when I’d lost my linguistic virginity that I integrated these shreds of experience into a broader picture).

I’m now looking forward with some excitement to spending a few days in the Cotswolds, where there is much to see and do but I will write about that in another post.

At the Roman city of Bath

I often feel slightly melancholic when I leave Sweden for England. I’ve never fully understood this feeling but it must have to do with switching cultures, dropping the Swedish for a while and reconnecting the English David Kendall.

Assimilating a new culture as an adult is a complicated process. I’m fascinated by the range of responses from others in this situation from those who more or less switch cultures without angst to those who struggle.  For me it’s been important to develop my Englishness, not to become a historic “hobby” Englishman in suspended animation since 1973. But also to learn how to obtain nutrition from the literary and cultural environment in Sweden. Over time, I’ve found an Anglo-Scandinavian niche, made easier by the historic and linguistic links. It’s been important for me to accept that there is no way back, that the English life that I could have had never was and never will be, that I am irretrievably bicultural (or 1.5 perhaps…), which, in fact, is deeply satisfying in its own way.

This time my melancholic mood has been overlaid by euphoria at the release from the long tunnel of social isolation, that there is a life after covid.

I am now at an Air bnb outside Bath in west England. A visually appealing city with buildings almost consistently of warm oolite limestone, which has been referred to as the most Italian of the English cities. I am just east of the city half way up the slope of a long valley through which the railway, the canal and the River Avon all pass.

Bath was on the outskirts of the area where I lived as a teenager so I have many scattered associations from way back. The fine riverside environment and the harmonious buildings made an impression on me then even though my thoughts were mainly occupied by second-hand Duane Eddy records, and the acquisition of various items of not-so-tasteful clothing as aids for whatever libidinal extravaganzas I had in mind.

I am looking forward to walking along the canal into the city and tidying up my impressions. But first I have to complete my (at least) five day quarantine period. I am dreading the self-tests that I have to do. If anybody can sabotage these and get a string of inconclusive results, then I’m probably that person. I have Olympic level dyspraxia.

I hope they let me out soon anyway as my thin grasp of the circadian rhythm is already in tatters, having taken to my bed exhausted at 7.30 pm and woken up at 1.30 am. And now I am dowsing myself with blue light, which is all wrong but writing calms me down. As soon as I can get to the shop, I shall buy a candle, a nightcap with a tassel and a quill and ink so that I can write at night (and sabotage my eyesight instead of my sleep, at least achieving fair parity of maltreatment of my various organs….).

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


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

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

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

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

No exit for this Brit

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


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

Landing is permitted though I’ve never done so.

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

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

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

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

Brea buter en griene tsiis is god Ingelsk en goed Frysk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provencal and Rudolf Värnlund

Making hay while the sun shines means being indoors for me. It’s a fine warm spring day and I very much want to cycle in the countryside. But I had a legal text on patent law to do this morning and the final part of a company’s interim report to polish off now so maybe tomorrow.

My appetite for travel got whetted this morning by a discussion with one of my children about the origin of some place names in Provence. In the course of this, I discovered that one of the leading French/Provencal place name researchers was greatly influenced by a German, Hermann Gröhler (1862-1958), Gröhler’s special interests included pre-Celtic influences on place names. He was presumably on the verge of retirement before the “gleichschaltung” – I wonder what happened to research into French and English at German universities in this period.

The German influence on French place name research is an amusing parallel to Dorset´s place names where major research work took place at the Swedish universities of Lund and Uppsala in the years before and after the second world war, I’ll write about this time some time when I get around to it! (hopefully amusing anyway unless there were darker forces at work to show that the northern French were “really Germans”, bearing in mind the special treatment of parts of northern France in the war which were separately administered and not controlled by Vichy or administered together with the other German occupied areas of France).

I want to learn more about the way that Provencal differs from northern French, to see what words from the Franks “ took over” in northern French. The differing impact of German on the western European languages is fascinating. How the Anglo-Saxons largely obliterated the Celtic heritage from most of England (apart from the rivers, some places names and brock the badger), leaving Early English a very Germanic language. And then the Latin languages resurfaced, Latin itself through the church and Norman French through the Norman invasion with the English elite French-speaking for almost three centuries; the end result being that English is the most Latin of the Germanic languages.

The picture is different in France where I think there was more of a merger between the old Celtic language, Gallois and Latin. There was a heavy German input from the Franks, perhaps often disguised by French orthography, so that French became the most Germanic of the Latin languages.

The pre-breakfast dip into Provencal introduced me to a couple of writers whom I want to know about.

I’ve been dipping into Swedish literature too stimulated by the street names around my house. To the west all the names are from Nordic mythology, which is rather fine. While to the east and south, the streets are all named after Swedish authors both of the canon and of minor repute. On my way to my early Sunday morning pick up at my local post office, I passed Värnlundsgatan (Värnlund Rd), which I’d been meaning to look up for some time, I learnt that Rudolf Värnlund (1900-1945) was one of the proletarian writers (Wikipedia claims that he was the first to depict Stockholm from a proletarian perspective but I think this is open to dispute). He was anyway a worker intellectual whose writings were often published in the anarchist magazine Brand but who also active in the social democrats. He died prematurely in a fire, possibly caused by his habit of smoking in bed. I’ve ordered a couple of his books from our local second hand internet book market (which I hope that Amazon’s new Swedish outfit doesn’t crush).

I’ve now had the first of my two jabs against covid-19 and in about six weeks time, I’ll be able to travel. I’ll longing to be back in the UK again but will probably have to quarantine for at least five days. I’ve got so used to my restricted existence that it requires effort to “re-think” and work out how I need to prepare to be  out of Sweden for a while. One project that I’ve had in mind for some time is to make sure that I have access to my major translation aids in digital form to avoid lugging dictionaries around with me. For many years, I was spoilt by having a base in Islington where I had a bookshelf but I need alternative solutions now. It will be a project that will anyway quickly repay the time spent on it, not just for the UK but for my general mobility.

Wake up, lazy body, there’s a world to win

A very early night yesterday after starting the day at 04.00 am.

After a couple of pages of Wolfgang Streek’s How will capitalism end?”, it feels too earnest and I pick up my Uppsala project and think about how the name of the mounds changed from Aun, Egil and Adlis mound (barrow)  to the neutral East, West and Middle mound and the research that must have underlain this change. I dream that I am writing explanatory introductions to a number of short pieces I’ve lifted from the net and I drift through stages of sleep worrying about what creative commons means,  how much I am allowed to lift,  and checking sources. My sleep feels rather feverish and disturbed. Immediately after I’ve woken up at the impractical hour of 2.30 am. I am sure that I will be running a temperature and that the reaction to my jab has kicked in. But no, once I´m fully awake, I am completely OK and cool as a proverbial cucumber.

I’m disappointed that I have had no reaction to my jab. Perhaps it will come but it was a good few hours ago now and there is nothing, no soreness around the jab site, nothing. I don’t really want a splitting headache or to be running a temperature but I would like to feel that my body was starting to put up a fight, going on the offensive against the virus. But no, my body is like a lazy cat on a summer’s day, opening one eye to observe a passing mouse with a slight flick of the tail but no attempt to pounce. And while I admire this refusal to comply with the other’s expectations of appropriate cattiness, I would like my body to show a bit of the killer instinct and not just lie there inert thinking Oh gawd it’s one of those virus things again.

In fact, I just feel very relaxed. It’s been a long period where the future has been uncertain, where I have been intently focused on myself and my reactions, thinking about what human beings need and how I could fool the one I live in to think that it was getting what it needed in terms of human company and purposeful activity and keeping the focus on getting things done, laying the ground  for a better life post-covid (I feel a bit like I’m producing a London County Council housing report in 1943 as I write this…). I know that the danger is not over yet, that it will take a while and another dose and that I still have to take care. But the future is now clearer I know that all being well I will have completed the programme and be as protected as I can be a week or so into June. And that the cards in my hand are improving. I haven’t beaten the virus yet but I can feel that the fortunes of war are changing. And it’s a good feeling.

But, of course, I tinker with my sleeping habits at my peril. It’s 3 in the morning and instead of a gradual return to circadian normality, I’m another hour in the wrong direction. And I am dousing myself in blue light from the computer instead of doing crochet and making some wall hanging with “home is where the heart is”. But writing relaxes me. It feels good to shepherd the stray thoughts in my head into some kind of order. It usually changes my mood so perhaps I can manage another session in the arms of Morpheus before the day dawns in earnest.

A half century of stubborn resistance on the language front


I’ve been in Sweden for 48 years now. Despite this, I only have to say “latte” and people still helpfully shift to English. I could and probably should have put more effort into learning to pronounce less generously (starting my Swedish life with a year in dipthong-rich Skåne only helps when I go to Denmark, where they find my Swedish pronunciation reasonable).

I’m not, however, uninterested in Swedish if I can keep it to myself. Because of the links with Old English and Danish, it’s been of great value in understanding English, especially place names and dialects so that Shetlanders should be careful about making negative comments about me in dialect if they don’t wish to be frowned at.

After years of ferreting around at the interface between Swedish and English, my Swedish vocabulary is at least fairly strong, which is some consolation for being a basket case when it comes to pronunciation.

I usually manage about nine or ten of Dagens Nyheter’s twelve unusual words in its weekly language test. This week “däka”, a southern and western Swedish dialect word for girl floored me. And, more interestingly “idiosynkrasi”, which I hadn’t realised had only been imported into Swedish in its narrow medical sense of “aversion”, “unusual reaction” and not the everyday meaning in English of quirky, unusual behaviour. I’ve never encountered it in a translation but hope that my experience would have prevented me from writing “The patient exhibited bizarre behaviour after taking the medicine”.

I’ve stopped drinking latte anyway so that’s a step in the right direction.

Idle chatter and Schrödinger’s cat

Hedengren’s bookshop at Stureplan had just opened and was almost empty. I couldn’t resist sneaking in to check what they were selling off before their move. Mostly to my relief, I couldn’t find anything I wanted so there’s hope for Hedengrens yet.. Sales where shelfwarmers are purged are rather sad as you suspect that the flogged off diamonds will be replaced by an ocean of froth. I was the ideal customer at Hedengrens – attracted by the sale, I bought one of the other books at the regular price, Robert Philip’s The Classical Music Lovers Companion to Orchestral Music (a Financial Times best book of the year!). Improving my knowledge of classical music has been on my wish list for a long time and this looks as if it could help. So after my day’s ration of 20 pages translation, I settle down to fathom the mysteries of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto (my ear is not naturally sensitive which my record as a serial abuser of foreign languages bears witness to, so I need help to appreciate)..

It’s an intensive period for translators just now- the Annual Report season. And I have ten days to get through 140 pages, 20 pages a day with some time in reserve if  the going gets tricky with a lot of new material), So far so good anyway. I’m up to page 90 but there’s not much time for anything else.

My new routine of starting the day with four or five hours of commercial work and then moving on to less concentrated pursuits has been a Circadian triumph. I am sleeping better and at the “right time”. My problem is that after four or five hours of translation, the old man in me gets militant and I don’t get much else done. I am frustrated about my slow progress with my other projects, learning about Bengal and Bengali, Dorset churches, Provencal, learning about Lyon in France, brushing up my Latin and German, developing my collection of photos of St Jerome, studying the state of the UK and not so few other things which I draw a veil of discretion over. Once I have got this annual report off the agenda, I think I shall give priority to commercial work every other day instead of every day.

I am starting to feel that it might be pleasant not to live in a world of perpetual deadlines but I’m not attracted by the reduced income of living only on a pension. My existence minimum includes rather a lot of travel, a subscription to the Financial Times, and working on my project of having a bigger library than the Library of Congress by my 150th birthday).

I don’t want to kill the golden goose prematurely but I need to find a way a making a half golden goose a viable concept.

I have at least managed to select one notebook to jot things down. I have a horrendous number of used, semi-used and unused notebooks that have attracted me for various reasons, aesthetic, practical and nostalgic. Attempts to put them in order by designating different notebooks for different purposes failed dismally as my clutter of notebooks is now accompanied by half-remembered remnants of numerous overcomplicated systems. But now I have started from the other end, consigned the clutter to a box where the density is approaching a critical threshold. I have just  one book that accompanies me everywhere where I have noted various odds and ends that have attracted my attention as clues to worlds yet unexplored, the first entry “gallimaufry”, a medley of things, a rather upmarket alternative to bits and bobs from an archaic French word galimafree meaning unappetising dish. And I had a friend who referred to a letter I’d written as a homily. And that had to be noted too as my idea of homily was vague – something that a friendly quirky character might produce, which didn’t feel too alien. But on looking it up I discover that homily is defined as a religious discourse, a tedious moralizing lecture, which was odd seeing that I’d written about the Edinburgh police calling their campaign against vandalism on the buses “Operation Proust”: Either the dictionary is wrong or my friend shares my vague idea of what a homily is about (or I am becoming the sort of person who writes letters to the Daily Telegraph but that seems intrinsically unreasonable…).

And while searching for “homily” I find the lovely word “hominivorous” meaning (a creature) that feeds on human beings. I fantasise about smacking a Bengal tiger firmly on the nose and telling it in no uncertain terms to cease instantly its outrageous hominivorous behaviour, whereupon the tiger shamefacedly slinks away into the bushes (since they prefer to attack from behind and there are anyway no tigers within 40 km of places where I hang out in Bengal, this fantasy will probably not be realised).

The same friend mentioned another feline – Schrödingers cat, one of the many paradoxical examples of quantum theory. Wanting to do something about my abysmal low level of education on scientific topics, I start to read about quantum theory while breakfasting but quickly realise that getting to the bottom of quantum theory and translating 20 pages is an unrealistic combination for the same day,,,I also learn a new Swedish word “tryfferad” which I believe means “decorated with truffles” and read an interesting article in Dagens Nyheter about the nineteenth-century author Carl Jonas Love Almquist. I’d stopped subscribing to DN as it had become so magazine-like and timeless but have started again during the pandemic as the recognition of my existence by the outside world in the form of a newspaper arriving felt rather pleasant (I felt that I and the outside world were growing apart and wanted to do something to support our relationship).

I am anyway not likely to become bored even if I do manage to reduce golden goosery to manageable proportions,