Friday, 30 December 2011

Happy New Year

Got this trash-injection going round my head now, reblogged from the fabulous World of Wonder. Happy New Year to all readers! Please God let 2012 be less of a car crash of stress and worry than 2011 was. And kudos to RuPaul for the parodic Beyoncé chest-heaving at the end.

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Recipe time at Cantos: a good idea for a quick-ish dinner for four, this.

Butternut squash and sage fusilli


1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and chunked
20 fresh sage leaves, chopped
half a pack of salted butter
enough dried fusilli for 4 people
packet of pinenuts/walnuts
juice of 1 lemon and its zest
olive oil
fresh thyme


Roast the butternut squash chunks with a drizzle of olive oil and the thyme, until soft, c. half an hour.
Towards the end of that period, bring a pan of water to the boil and put the fusilli on.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the chopped sage leaves and half the lemon zest until the butter browns.
Then toast the pinenuts/walnuts in a dry pan, without blackening them.
Drain the pasta when al dente, and combine all the other ingredients, including the other half of the lemon zest and the juice, in a big pre-warmed bowl---all except for the parmesan which you sprinkle on individual servings with lots of black pepper.

Healthy it's not, but it's absolutely bloody delicious on a cold winter's night. Replace the butter with good olive oil to make it vegan, but if you do remember to season it liberally.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Cold Hailey Rainy Night: The Imagined Village

Deeply British and completely fantastic.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Miller Harris, Feuilles de Tabac

Very odd take on woody-tobacco, full of unsettling swerves. Starts with the overpowering and indeed alarming citrus/farmyard/rotting hay note of clary sage which lasts about a minute before settling down to an oily hum round the back of the fragrance. It comes on arm in arm with the clove/herbaceous smell of crushed basil. This pungent soggy-leaves accord then swiftly dissipates and the hay is then picked up by a series of meadowy notes which come forward and circle cheerfully like Graces. Despite the advertising blurb about the 'smoky, romantic brasseries of Saint-Germain' this is in no wise an urban fragrance, nor is it in the least French: it is an attempt in fragrance at the English pastoral. It's all very like a Samuel Palmer print in fact: dusk in August, a harvest moon lengthening the chilly shadows (the cold tang of pine needles) in a field with noble rot (patchouli), and sheep shit hovering under the wonderful, sweet fragrance of drying grass (mainly tonka bean here). But there's something here like the sulphurous quality of bad breath too, and a briny, sweaty animalic note: no bad thing, in fact, as it saves the fragrance from excessive prettiness. Despite the name, there's not much tobacco leaf here: instead it's the fuzzy, vanilla-like sweetness of nicotiana flowers which is prominent, the perfume of which is especially strong at dusk. After this bold opening, Feuilles de Tabac suddenly loses the courage of its convictions and dries out to something cool and woody---leafy, a little 'beige', with a lot of cedar---which sadly then doesn't do much.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Form Is Void

Look at this gorgeous new art blog, Form Is Void (found via the equally amazing Black Nyx).

Friday, 23 December 2011

Cuio anann i Berian! (Long live the Hobbit!)

I honestly nearly lost control of my urine when Galadriel came on. Remind me not to see this 18 times in the cinema like I did with FOTR. (I was VERY DEPRESSED at the time, and living in Melbourne.)


As is traditional on Cantos---the best midwinter poem in the language (Coleridge's 'Frost at Midnight' notwithstanding). Happy Solstice.


'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world's whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—--things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—--which word wrongs her--—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Monday, 19 December 2011

No Cat

My mental state by the end of term.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hagia Hesychia

I've been working on a new icon, this time in a more Russian vein than usual, called Jesus Christ Holy Silence. It's about half done: above is a snapshot of the work in progress. The drapery needs to be shadowed, the hair needs to be textured, and the wings have to be repainted and gilded.

The type is rare: it's an image of Christ prior to the Incarnation, as pre-incarnate Word (Silence). As a heavenly being---for want of a better word---Christ is winged, and is represented as an androgynous youth to symbolise his connection with Sophia, God's personified Wisdom, who is usually depicted as feminine. The folded hands over the breast indicate utter kenotic silence. The halo is both red (divine) and blue (human) in the form of an eightfold star: the hidden eighth point represents the day outside of the seven days of creation, or eternity. This is therefore an image of Christ 'from eternity', begotten, not made.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


Absolutely extraordinary. I can never listen to Sr Marie Keyrouz without feeling that I am in a sound-world of intense devotionalism which would have been familiar to En-hedu-ana. (How unexpected that the world's earliest poet whose name is known and whose work in part survives should be female.)

Friday, 9 December 2011

Ask No Questions

Over at the restlessly brilliant Lathophobic Aphasia, Vilges Suola does a lovely and revealing self-interview; I've borrowed the format to bring you the following.

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Slantwise, earthy, ruminative.

What is your greatest achievement?

Being thought of as more or less sane, professional, and kindly, despite periodic nasty brushes in the schizotypal swamplands of the soul. Or: having made and maintained so many richly fulfilling friendships.

What’s your favourite smell?

Church incense, woodsmoke, wet autumn leaves. All together. (I've done some odd things over the years.) Or---heartbrokenly honest answer---: my ex-partner's hair.

What is your favourite taste?

Artichoke hearts in oil, with goat's cheese and very cold Vouvray. Or: seafood.

What’s your favourite piece of music?

I am a musical dunce, unable, thanks to congenital 'music deafness', to perceive most kinds of musical structure or meaning. Probably Tavener's The Last Sleep of the Virgin. Perhaps Byzantine or Znammeny chant.

What book would you like everyone to read? Why?

I'd be happy with a world in which everyone COULD read.

What website would you like everyone to visit? Why?

Absolutely no idea whatsoever. I'm a terrible, unrepentant individualist and dislike the idea of dictating to people.

What is your favourite sound?

The dawn chorus in late April. The Armenian duduk. Richly textured drones.

If you were an animal, what animal do you think you would be?

A marten.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I paint Greek Orthodox icons and garden.

How many languages do you speak and why?

About ten, but I have to problematise the word 'speak'. I learned French at school which I still read happily, and I am fairly fluent in Welsh, which I learned as an adult. I did Latin from the age of eight and Greek from the age of twelve, both to degree level, so I have a thorough working knowledge there. I then learnt medieval Irish and Welsh, added Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Manx, and have taught Breton and Old English. I read heavyweight academic German and cheapo-airport novel Spanish.

What do you like most/least about your job?

I love academic teaching, and am often identified as a born teacher---not altogether a good thing, as the job brings with it a measure of frustration at the slowness of oneself and others. I do like being able to play with language all day, and the pretence that words are the most important thing in the world for the duration of a tutorial. But I dislike the vamping self-promotion, precariousness, and careerist cant of the profession.

What would heaven be like if you were in charge?

An endless, internally enlarging world of varied, unspoiled, biodiverse, temperate, 'British', landscapes, mainly woodland and meadow. With various young gentlemen famous from stage and screen appearing randomly, all doe-eyed and playful.

When and where are you happiest?

When gardening, between March and June.

Something you are never without.

A manbag with at least two books.

What is your most appealing habit?

Christ, I've no idea. Good manners, probably.

And your least appealing habit?

Gravid somnolence, verbal repetition compulsion.

What is the trait you most dislike in others?

Cruelty to animals, or indifference to nature.

What is your most treasured possession?

My 2,500 volume book collection.

If you could have a supernatural power, what would it be?

Nothing short of full omnipotence, baby.

What words or phrases do you overuse?

'Um...' in a singing note, or, when teaching, 'With me so far!?' Various friends and I share an idiolect, Maux-Hindi, which is literally unintelligible to outsiders, though wholly pellucid to us; in that, 'jhagati namaha agacchanti ma!' is wearing a bit thin as a greeting.

Other than that, 'Your problem, my darling---one of them---' is probably my most overused turn of phrase.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

A bangingly toned body. Or about £10 million.

How would you like to be remembered?

'Inexplicably loveable despite the hint of benign malevolence.'

What music do you enjoy listening to/playing most?

Dead Can Dance, a vast array of medieval music, a lot of Indian and Persian music, old Tozzer Amos, This Mortal Coil, the odd bit of Nu-Disco. Chant, and, broadly, religious music in all its manifestations.

What did you dream of being when you were younger?

A botanist, a garden-designer, a herbalist, a Jungian analyst. Oh Christ, a fucking druid.

What were you like as a student at school?

Mildly disturbed and disturbing. I found everything---Maths, Science, Languages---unforgivably easy and yet I worried all the time. I was always depressed, anxious, manic, enraged, or sexually frustrated. At one point I stopped eating and announced I was a witch. I was also obviously gay as a daisy and without much emotional intelligence, which I have had to learn painstakingly as though from a book. It's been like teaching a badger Urdu. In all, from the inside it wasn't an easy time, but people probably just thought I was a polite, slightly strange boy.

How do you cheer yourself up when you are feeling down?

Meditate, have a glass of red, or ring a friend. Read poetry.

If I hadn’t been a teacher, I would probably have been a...

A garden designer/garden writer. Or a psychoanalyst.

Still might, at that.

Who has been the best teacher you have ever had?

There have been several. My D.Phil supervisor at Oxford was and is magnificent; I learned a tremendous amount from my undergraduate tutors as well. One of the best was the late and lamented Michael Comber.

Something that few people know about you.

Nothing I'd care to klaxon on the internet. Oh: I have a pattern of three moles on my chest that match exactly with the stars in Orion's belt (i.e., one is slightly out of true).

If you could travel back in time where would you go and why?

I'd probably be on the shore of Kent some time in the early 5th century, waiting for Hengist and Horsa with a gatling gun. Being a rich Roman in the Principate might have been OK. Or I might be found hunkering down in the long grass of east Africa c. 2 million years ago with some grunting hominids, saying 'Look, you guys, are you really sure you want to do this?!'

What’s your best learning memory from school?

Reading The Bacchae for the first time in Greek.

Are you a tidy desk or a messy desk person?

Very, very tidy, though I have not deployed Sheila Chandra's improbable system for de-cluttering.

What’s your favourite thing to do when it rains?

Sit under a tree, or if indoors, open all the windows.

A poem you know by heart.

'Kubla Khan'.

What would you like to learn to do next?


What question would you have liked me to ask you?

When would you like Jonas Armstrong to be delivered?

What would have been your answer?

About 10.30pm tonight, please.
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