Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tell it like it is

I know I'm a child, but I did snigger. This is genuine: the fusion of style and content is a triumph of a particularly British way of dealing with adversity.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Two Unalike Things

I've been laid up for two days with food poisoning, and there's a lot to be said for an enforced period of rest. I had friends visiting on the Friday night, and at about midnight I started to feel very odd: racing mind, hearing voices, excessive salivation, a queasy feeling in the stomach like a eddy whirling scummy plastic around in an oily sea. My two friends had my bed and I slept on the floor of my living room, but at about 5am the sluices opened at both ends. It was epic, like an early 19th century no-expense-spared production of Shakespeare: at one point, puking my guts up, I half-expected to see Ellen Terry ride past on a dolphin in the gaslight, singing 'Full fathom five'. I was, you'll gather, hallucinating by this point. Sparing you further personal details, I will quote the marvellous Terry Castle's account of food poisoning in Sicily, from The Professor and Other Writings:

'So was it the gothic dust of the nineteenth century? Or the (slightly "off") shrimp and calamari? By the time we took the ferry to Lipari, twenty-four hours later, it was impossible to ignore: a certain grinding, flopping feeling in my stomach, like a lonely goony bird struggling to take off. Strange ressentiment at the thought of food...Piled onto the scruffy tour boat filed with voluble Sicilians and assorted squalling offspring, then churned off across the waves. Intestines profoundly restless. A couple of crampy-shivery snorkelling stops in the blue Tyrrhenian sea, then debarked at Panarea for the afternoon. Still in denial, despite rough, gasping, even passionate bout of diarrhea, surrounded by mops and buckets in a little gelateria WC. Trying to persuade myself that I and the stomach bug were only having a brief affair.

A major turn for the worse, however, when we docked at Stromboli. The sun was starting to go down, the fabled volcano smoking in sinister, belching fashion. I stopped to paw over T-shirts at one of the many souvenir stalls in a pathetic stab at normalcy...Inward writhing like Laocoon...Walked gingerly toward the main pumice beach in desultory search of a swim. But then nothing to do but break for it: bowels suddenly on fire. B. watching in horror. Mad, self-flinging plunge into the waves, followed by Byronic exaltation (this is something I've never done before; I am breaking every law of God and Man); then sordid, liquefying release. Catharsis accomplished, I hurried back onto the beach groaning like Mr Pooter after the umpteenth insult from Lupin, his annoying ne'er -do-well son.'

So, dear reader, was it with me, although without the more glamorous setting. After an afternoon of this, my friends cut their visit short.

* * *

On another note entirely, I am captivated by this sumptuously sinister, almost mythological garment: a cape woven from spider-silk, that rich gold-saffron colour being the natural hue. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I shall be taking a trip to the V&A to gape in person. Apparently it is so light that you cannot physically feel it: cloth as precious as liquid gold, as insubstantial as air.

Monday, 9 January 2012


Just back from a coffee with Maggie, who's given me a lovely wooden winebox to grow basil in. I relish this time of year, tending as it is in the direction of my favourite festival, Candlemas, on 1st February. It's lustration-tide: everywhere the dead leaves of autumn have melted away and the bulbs are budding, tulips snouting through the soil, bluebells elbowing the paving slabs apart on St Bernard's Road today. I love the still, cold quietude and thin lemonwash light, bedding down early into afternoon darkness. The psychic pot has been given a good stirring recently, and indeed I dreamed a few nights ago of skinning and slicing up a huge white pig, before cooking a piece slowly until all the fat melted and crisped deliciously. As I walked home I thought of that dream, and the time of year, and the close of a poem by Vicki Feaver, from her remarkable The Book of Blood:

I join in the cooking: jointing
and slicing, stirring and tasting -
excited as if the King of Death
has arrived to feast, stalking
out of winter woods,
his black mouth
sprouting golden crocuses.

Spirit of Albion

No word of a lie: I actually vomited with embarrassment when I saw this while researching the new book on the Irish gods. It's going to take some time for me to recover my critical faculties. I am speechless by how low British Paganism appears to have sunk with this film, even by its own hydrocephalitic standards. Exploitative, sentimental, and presumptuous, it's an apt summation of a religion, or set of religions, that klaxons its connection to wild nature and yet is saturated with a specifically suburban kind of self-involvement. The film articulates a conversion narrative of the clunkiest sort in which people just can't get out of the way of themselves, self-deafened by their own internal blether. Theologically, there's no risk of---say---presenting the gods as fathomless, living metaphors mysteriously at work in the soul of the world. Your boss a bitch? Girlfriend left you? Bored with that office job? Well, become a Pagan and you too can have a gormless Terry Pratchett character to be your very own Magic Friend! God, the intolerable, wretched crudity of it, the compulsive obviousness: everything on the self-congratulatory surface, the literal in place of the liminal. This is not profundity: it's LARPing for the inadequate.

The whole religion, the entire shebang, needs an insurance fire.

One final blast of the trumpet before I shut up. I never understand---have never understood---why so few people in UK Paganism ever seem to have any sense at all of how shit it all looks. Go to a public Pagan ritual and it's like the worst teatime kids' serial you ever saw: a Robin Hood for the retarded, a Merlin for the mentally subnormal. Someone has clearly gone to a lot of trouble for this film, but they've done it without any taste or even the consciousness that they lack taste. Man alive, look at the Morrigan's tranny frightwig and metal tits! Clock Ceri(dwen)'s gurning-hippy-in-field face-paint! I'm not arguing for a bon chic, bon genre tyranny but for a basic sense of aesthetics, an ability to move beyond leaden literalism. Do they not realise no one in it can act?! Puddingy Herne ate all the pies but inexplicably appears to have forgotten the two cream horns stuck to his forehead. The Morrigan's on mogadon. And that sublimely awful 'Keeper of the Cauldron' must surely be doubling up as Galadriel for the Sutton Coldfield Amateur Dramatics Society's Crimbo production of The Lord of the Rings. What other explanation could there be for that ludicrous clobber?! I mean, what the fucking fuckitty fuck?!

Oh God, someone just take a tent mallet to my head now and have done with it. I just can't bear the sheer waste of it all. Mundus senescit, gold into dross.

* * *


Sunday, 8 January 2012


Reality sleb Chantelle Houghton recently came out with this deathless line about a conversation she had with her boyfriend, crossdressing cage-fighter Alex Reid:

I'm actually impressed and slightly charmed. She's made a lot of money while having an IQ so low that I suspect one could petition the government to have her human status revoked, and get her reclassified as a donkey, or perhaps a sausage dog.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Jesus Loves Me. With a dead-eyed cat and a hamster.

(reblogged from World of Wonder).

This is stirring memories of my very religious that a real cat? And a real hamster!?

Dear, dear God.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Midwinter Spring

Today I planted a dozen tulips and twenty white aliums on my balcony--third-floor gardening takes quite some effort---while mulling over a particularly mysterious dream about my ex-fiance, and love, and the future. After lunch, still inwardly ruminant, I wandered in chilly sunlight over to Holywell Cemetary, bosky and lovely resting place of many great and ancient university families. I've long been fond of this particular graveyard: aged eighteen, as a green country boy startled and discomfited by the experience of living in a city, I used to go and hide out in it between lectures, reading Traherne to the bees. Foxes and the odd deer appear and disappear between the bushes in summer, and it is full of red admirals and cinnabar moths settling on the hawkweed and marjoram which spring from so many graves ('beautiful uncut hair...'). It has a tranquil, sleepy spirit, cluttered with crumbling funerary monuments netted in briars---here a sleeping infant dreams on the crook of its arm under a yew-tree; there time is slowly veiling the face of a Victorian angel in moss.

By the gate there is a rosebush, covered today in perfect pinkish-white heavily scented flowers. It's hardly unusual for roses to keep flowering into late winter in a sheltered spot, but these were so beautiful, so untouched by damp or frost, that I caught my breath at the sight of them. And a little later, under an elder that was as bleak and bare as could be, I saw a little oak sapling in full summer leaf. Normally I would be disturbed by such signs of nature not knowing which way to turn in this mild winter, but the conjunction of these midsummer plants---oak leaves and pink roses---at midwinter seemed mysterious, charged with numen, rather than merely unnatural. My own mind's been filled with thoughts of renewal and transformation, of the slow healing of a broken heart, and this uncanny eflorescence of high summer in deep winter seemed to be a sign, to presage a change for the better. For I am every dead thing, in whom Love wrought new alchemy.

I picked one rose-sprig, and one set of oak leaves, and have them on the sill near me as I write. It felt appropriate to light a candle, in recognition, in thanks, and in invocation.
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