24 June 2018

A Latin lesson with Plum

'Nothing is more curious than the myriad ways in which reaction from an unfortunate love-affair manifests itself in various men. No two males behave in the same way under the spur of female fickleness. Archilochum, for instance, according to the Roman writer, proprio rabies armavit iambo. It is no good pretending out of politeness that you know what that means, so I will translate. Rabies -- his grouch -- armavit -- armed -- Archilochum -- Archilochus -- iambo -- with the iambic -- proprio -- his own invention. In other words, when the poet Archilochus was handed his hat by the lady of his affections, he consoled himself by going off and writing satirical verse about her in a new metre which he had thought up immediately after leaving the house. That was the way the thing affected him'.

- P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl on the Boat, 1922

[The phrase more precisely means something like 'Rage armed Archilochus with his own iambic' [i.e. the poetic device, iambic pentameter]

18 May 2018

Brugha's bulwark

On the Irish side Cathal Brugha passed into folklore as the contemporary embodiment of the legendary hero Cuchulain who tied himself to a tree stump during battle so that he would not fall from his wounds. Cuchulain's enemies only approached him when a raven perched on his shoulder, indicating that he was dead. Brugha, a Vice-Commandant whom a former colleague later described as being as brave and as stupid as a bull, received twenty-five wounds. He was defending a barricade erected to guard the Nurses' Home where the Volunteers' leader Eamonn Kent along with William Cosgrave, who later became an Irish Prime Minister, and a small group of rebels were located. He gave his watch to a subordinate to be given to his wife - if the Volunteer ever got out alive.

Then, his own life apparently forfeit, he turned to defend the barricade alone for as long as he could. Inside the Nurses' Home the Volunteers were dispirited and weary. It appeared that the end had come and while waiting for a final attack that they did not expect to survive, they joined Kent in saying a decade of the Rosary. Then from outside the Home they heard Brugha singing God Save Ireland. He had dragged himself into a position with his back to a wall where he could command the barricade and was challenging the British to come over it. Reinvigorated, the rebels shook off their depression, remanned the barricade and kept the British at bay. Incredibly, Brugha survived the Rising - to die six years later in a civil war at the hands of forces commanded by a government which included William Cosgrave.

- Tim Pat Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising, London, 2001, p.117-8.

See also:
ComedyThe Irish police force, 30 November 2014
ComedyEvery Irish wedding ever, 26 March 2014
Blog: Ireland, 5 June 2010

06 May 2018

02 May 2018

How to cope with bullies

In David Mitchell's charming 2006 coming-of-age novel, Black Swan Green, 13-year-old protagonist Jason Taylor is growing up in rural Worcestershire in Falklands-mad 1982. Flirting with clandestine poetry-writing, dogged by a ruthless stutter and beset by school bullies, his lot is not always a happy one. 

In one class, music teacher Mr Kempsey sends Jason on an errand to fetch a school whistle for the teachers' post-class bus duty. (Jason seeks directions to Kempsey's office from another teacher who is reading a notoriously perverse French intellectual novella, L'histoire de l'oeil (The Story of the Eye), but he tells none-the-wiser Jason it's a history of optometrists). 

On Mr Kempsey's desk, underneath the whistle and obviously meant to be discovered, Jason finds a stack of Xeroxed pages, each with the same short note - an epistle to the bullied:

Contrary to popular wisdom, bullies are rarely cowards. 
Bullies come in various shapes and sizes. Observe yours. Gather intelligence. 
Shunning one hopeless battle is not an act of cowardice. 
Hankering for security or popularity makes you weak and vulnerable. 
Which is worse: Scorn earned by informers? Misery endured by victims? 
The brutal may have been molded by a brutality you cannot exceed. 
Let guile be your ally. 
Respect earned by integrity cannot be lost without your consent. 
Don't laugh at what you don't find funny. 
Don't support an opinion you don't hold. 
The independent befriend the independent. 
Adolescence dies in its fourth year. You live to be eighty.


30 April 2018

Technicolor fragments from the 1920s

I absolutely love this collection of 'two-strip' Technicolor film snippets from the 1920s, which were discovered recently by the BFI as scrag-ends spliced into other films when they were surplus to requirements. While they're generally very short glimpses, they're also amongst the earliest 'proper' colour film footage ever made, and it's intriguing to see the 1920s in this way when we're used to only viewing it in black and white. The Louise Brooks screen test for the 1926 Famous Players-Lasky film The American Venus, which is otherwise almost completely lost, is a priceless example of this important work.

28 April 2018

Pickin' out a mess of blues

I've always been deeply suspicious of the arch-conservative tendencies of country music, but like Whispering Bob Harris always says, it is the Home of the Song, and you often find incredible musicianship there. Witness here the flying fingers of 74-year-old English guitarist Albert Lee, who has performed with everyone under the sun and was in his prime in Emmylou Harris' Hot Band in the late '70s, on this classic, Country Boy. Recorded earlier this year for the Old Grey Whistle Test reunion TV special, which is great viewing.