The Bells, the Bells…!

I can’t pretend to have read Victor Hugo’s novel, but I do believe these words were said by Quasimodo, the deaf and deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame. To check this, I googled who said the bells the bells.

Now, this is only the latest of today’s google searches. Before that I googled sonnerie, of which more (probably) in a subsequent post. Briefly, sonnerie is a musical form based on the sound of bells in a bell tower, or similar. And then I thought, who lived in a bell-tower and slobbered The Bells, the Bells…! Was it not Quasimodo?

Before that it was rotoscoping animation. This was because I found a free film to watch on Amazon Prime (no mean feat, since Amazon Prime contains some of the very worst films ever – that’s why they’re free). The all-knowing reviewers of this particular free film were going on about the technicalities of rotoscoping. What on earth is rotoscoping? I wondered. Turns out it’s a kind of tracing technique used in animation. The one example I can remember having seen is that iconic A-ha video:

aha2

Gosh, that Morten Harket was beautiful. Apparently he’s 60 nowadays. This is not good news.

Anyway, back to the googling. Before that I searched battery operated candle. I was thinking of lighting a solitary candle to celebrate Samhain. The trouble is you are supposed to leave it a-flickering in your window all night. I am averse to leaving anything burning overnight, especially with 19 cats restlessly patrolling the windowsills. Terrible fire risk. Also, the neighbours would probably have thought I’d lost the plot and come over to check on me.

Before that it was how to celebrate samhain alone. I mentioned Samhain in my last post and was suddenly inspired to – well, what exactly was I inspired to do? It’s all gone a bit blurry; after all it was several hours ago –

I believe I decided to replace all Christian festivals, in the privacy of my own home, with the marking of the eight sabbats on the Wheel of the Year:

sabbat

I recalled that I was an Old Soul (probably) and therefore (probably) pre-dated Christianity. I needed to return to my roots like the proverbial falling leaf (reading suggestion: Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah).

You see, this is the trouble with being (probably) ADD – on the great, green pond of life you hop from one enticing lily-pad to the next, onward and onward, sideways and back, and then you can’t exactly recall how you got there.

To find the above Wheel of the Year I see I googled pagan festyivals. It found it in spite of the fat-fingered typing.

Before that it was wendy williams meghan markle latest. Now, this really lets me down after all the above semi-intellectual stuff, but Meghan Markle annoys me. She has especially annoyed me recently with all that simpering stuff about being a vulnerable new mom and having been so naïve as to think the British press would be fair to poor little me.

She married a Prince, for Pete’s sake, having previously been an actress in some TV drama that hardly anybody watched. She has him; she’s become a Duchess; she has the super-elegant wardrobe and all that money! She has comfort and security for life. She has that exorbitantly remodelled Frogmore Cottage, vaster and more luxurious than any cottage lived in by any normal British peasant:

cottage 4.jpg

she managed the first of the two requisite babies (the heir and the spare) in spite of being somewhat long-in-the-tooth for such enterprises, and no doubt the second will follow on schedule, and no doubt it will be a girl so that they can designer-dress it.

She and Harry chose to make a spiteful (him) and whingeing (her) documentary about how terribly stressed and put-upon they were during a visit to a continent where many people are suffering unimaginable hardships on a daily basis. Oh, thank you so much for asking how I am. You see (flutter, flutter) people hardly ever ask how I am…. She’s an actress, and she’s acting now, and not even that well.

And before that it was alan rickman death. Sadly, when you get older you tend to be plagued by doubts as to people’s existential status. I had a feeling he was dead, but then I thought, maybe he isn’t – but I’m sure he died – but surely he was too young to have – ? I was wondering whether I could face watching Love, Actually just one more time. Maybe twenty-five was not enough – but then I thought, before I watch it I need to know whether Alan Rickman died or not.

I sometimes wonder how I managed to exist at all, before there was Google. I seem to remember ordering numerous books from the local library. They seemed to have to order them for you, even if there wasn’t a single copy in the entire County system, even if they were terribly expensive and no one else, ever again, would want to take out that book, and you only needed it to check a single fact. You had to fill in an A6 size green card. In triplicate –

Things that go bump in the night

Recently I spent a pleasant hour inserting mildly relevant emoticons into the names of my ‘Contacts’ on my new mobile phone. Well, I lead a very dull life and have to take my fun where I can find it. The friend referred to in this blog as ‘Daisy’ had a daisy and ‘Rose’ had a rose; my friend down the road who in her (misspelt, incomprehensible) texts seem fixated on the ladybird, got a ladybird. My plumber got the umbrella + raindrops, my dentist got the little yellow man in the surgical mask and my doctor got the sickly green face. Ex got the anchor, and I won’t expand on that one.

When it came to the hospital I found myself automatically selecting the skull and crossbones. Half an hour later – superstitious, I suppose – I went back in and changed it to a spider’s web. Once in the hospital, I reminded myself, it is almost impossible to find your way around, and difficult to locate the Exit when you leave.

I suppose we are all a bit anxious about skulls. I remember the point in my childhood, if not the exact age, when I suddenly realised I had a skull inside my head, and that was what was keeping my brains in. It worried me. And then I started looking at Mum and Dad, and Nan and Grandad and everyone. They’ve all got skulls inside their heads! They’ve all got squidgy brains inside them!

It’s just one part of the vertebrate skeleton, but there’s a certain fascination, isn’t there? Why do skulls appear everywhere at Halloween? I guess we like to be frightened, but not too much. Presumably in imagination we superimpose the living face over the dead bone, and we don’t only do this for our contemporaries. Isn’t it fascinating to come face to face with a real Neanderthal, modelled from an ancient skull?

neanderthal

I was writing about paintings of St Jerome yesterday, and how he is surrounded by his own particular ‘iconography’ – red clothing, book, writing materials, and sometimes eyeglasses. This morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t said anything about the skull, which he always has. Was it the same little whisper of anxiety that made me delete the skull emoticon from my Contacts?

Skulls appear all over art, particularly medieval and renaissance art. In those days, life was, from our perspective, unimaginably short. A man from a landowning family in the Middle Ages had an average lifespan of 31.3 years. This is taking into account an infant mortality of 12% or thereabouts. Even in the Renaissance, say late 16th and early 17th century, the average lifespan was 39.7 years. Not long to win your passage into Heaven, and not long to avoid the terrifying actuality of Hell. So paintings of the time showed the skull, to remind people that they must focus on spiritual matters.

aston

Sir Thomas Aston at his Wife’s Deathbed

All this is a bit creepy, Halloween or no. However, in paintings of St Jerome the skull has a more nuanced meaning. The skull is the seat of thought and of spiritual perfection. The death of the physical body, symbolised by the skull, enabled one to be reborn at a higher level, where the spirit could rule. In St Jerome’s case – he was known for his translation of the Bible from Greek into Latin, and for his many Commentaries on the books of the Bible, and he is often depicted as a very old man with an angel, or occasionally a dove, whispering in his ear. The skull in paintings of Jerome, therefore, indicates that he is writing down truths from the spiritual world, even as his physical body fails him.

I don’t know whether you like Halloween? I personally don’t, mainly because, in this country anyway, it has become so tawdry and ridiculous. I live on my own and don’t like the prospect of four large teenage boys wearing masks knocking on my door at eight o’clock at night demanding – anything. Trick or Treat seems to me just a disguised form of blackmail, an implied threat. I also think it’s plain stupid, in this day and age, for smaller children to be sent out after dark to knock on strangers’ doors, with no knowledge of who or what might be waiting to open that door to them.

I prefer the pre-Christian festival of Samhain (sow-rin) or All Hallows. In Celtic times, after Harvest, it was customary to mark the arrival of ‘the dark half of the year’. People lit bonfires and wore costumes to frighten away ghosts, for it was believed that on All Hallows Eve, and at this time of year generally, barriers between Earth and the Other World became thin. The Living and the Dead might interact: there would be ghoulies and ghosties about.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggety beasties
And thing that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us.

An Old Naked Guy in a Curtain

Haven’t forgotten about cat/Halloween posts. Naked Guy just – appeared to me in a vision – or something.

saint jerome

Well, my sister, the one who was recently widowed, rang me from Canada. As part of her recovery she has signed on for an art degree course made up of a series of modules. Currently she is engaged upon a compulsory ‘painting’ module; something she had been dreading all summer.

Apparently, when the weekly project was announced – to copy an old master entitled Saint Jerome and the Angel by someone called Remi, there were grimaces all round. I’d have grimaced too. However, she completed it and, apart from getting his right leg a trifle too short in my opinion (I didn’t tell her) she made a really good job of it. I was going to try to insert her painting in here, but then I thought it wouldn’t be fair as I hadn’t asked her, and it might accidentally ‘identify’ her. Her angel a wee bit more spikey and etherial. We agreed the Remi angel was a bit of a porker. Maybe it’s just the draperies.

Anyway, we spent an hour or so on the phone discussing the Remi painting. I found it on my Fire after several false starts. No, not that one… it’s an old naked guy in a red curtain! But they were all old naked guys in red curtains. Everybody in the world seemed to have done their version of him. He’s got a leg, that pokes out… The same leg that’s a bit too short in her version.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the other leg. He doesn’t seem to have another leg…

We perused the painting together, and located it. It’s just a heel and part of a foot, really, and it looks for all the world like part of that improbable red drapery, but it is where a foot would be, given a knee where it is, beneath the book.

Sister and I tend to look at things differently. She looks at pictures like blocks of colour, and shade, and artistic stuff. I, not being gifted in that direction, look at them like stories. I want to know why stuff is there at all.

What’s that little pot? I asked. Next to the skull (why the skull?) there is a little black pot. Thinking about it, we decided it was an ink pot, which would go with the scrawny little feather in his right hand, which must be a quill.

Why is he reading?

We realised he was not reading. He was writing stuff down. In those days, presumably, paper or parchment would be bound into ‘books’ or ledgers.

What is he writing down?

Whatever the angel is telling him. Look – their eyes are locked, they are in rapt concentration on one another. She is teaching him something – look at her hands, she is making a series of points, enumerating them.

I don’t particularly like the painting. Why is her hair swept back by some invisible wind, whilst his beard isn’t being swept forward? Why does that left foot look so much like a piece of red curtain? He’s got the ‘flabby’ aspect of the ancient St Jerome right, but then why are his ancient arms and shoulders so magnificently muscled? Why is he naked in any case? Who sits about in a curtain? Why are her wings that dingy grey? What’s the point of having an angel if she’s – depressing?

This morning, out of curiosity, I decided to find out a bit more about Saint Jerome. He seems to have led a rather muddled real life but has a correspondingly vivid legendary life. He was the one who translated the Bible from Greek into Latin, producing what is now known as the Vulgate Bible. He also wrote a string of Commentaries on books of the Bible, and it is these that the angel is helping him with.

(He’s also the saint who, legendarily, removed the thorn from that poor lion’s paw. I love him for that, even though he only did it legendarily. Being a cat-person, if I came across a lion with a thorn in its poor old paw I would feel irresistibly drawn to try to help it. And no doubt the lion would eat me. )

st jerome lion

I like enjoy this painting much more than Old Naked Guy. Look at that lion! Oh, my poor paw! its face is saying. I love it. I suspect a real lion would be bigger than that in relation to a human being, but maybe not.

Further research. Like many saints, Jerome tends to be depicted with  a number of iconic objects, among them red garments (explains the curtain), a book and writing implements. Later – not in this painting – there were also eyeglasses. This is because in his Commentary to Ezechiel he complains that:

I am quite unable to go through the Hebrew books with such light as I have at night, for even in the full light of day they are hidden from my eyes owing to the smallness of the letters.

This made me smile. Suddenly I liked Old Naked Guy a lot better. Whilst researching for my previous post (the one about Cat’s Cradle) I had to get out the dreaded magnifying glass to read the tiny index. An admission of defeat. I am catching up with Old Guy. Short sighted, I was always comforted that I could read even tiny stuff if I took off my ‘eyeglasses’. Those days are definitely gone.

Addendum: Many, many decades ago I bought a postcard in the souvenir shop a posh London art gallery. I couldn’t afford to buy anything else. It was lurking around for ages, but then, like most of my possessions, it got lost. I loved Dürer – still do – and liked the look of the quiet old gentleman, with his casually sleeping lion and sleeping dog. How quiet it all looked. I so wanted to be in that sunlit room, sitting on one of those wooden benches. And it’s just dawned on me – that was St Jerome too.

durer 4.jpg

 

The Magic of Cat’s Cradle

When I was a kid some other kid showed me how to make a cat’s cradle by looping a circle of string around my hands. That was only one of the many possible patterns, I realise now – and probably the most basic; but nobody told me so I just thought – been there, done that, boring!

Now I discover there’s all this sort of stuff, for one pair of hands or two. Maybe more!

cats cradle 2

I seem to be spending the whole of my old age discovering yet more ways in which my youth was totally and utterly wasted.

I thought I might venture a few cat and/or Halloween-related posts. I have a really good book of English folklore – obtained second-hand/falling to bits – and with some difficulty. I also have The Golden Bough. These should serve as a starting point. There’s the good old internet to fill in any gaps, of course, but I do like to start with books, old books; proper books, all heavy and faded and dusty and smelling of – ah! -book.

I always assumed it was called Cat’s Cradle because what you were making was a cradle for a rather small cat. However, apparently not. It’s likely to have come from cratch-cradle. Cratch is one of those archaic English words. It used to mean – well, it meant to scratch or claw (appropriate for cats) but it also meant crib, or manger. It’s related to the French word crèche, which also used to mean manger.

If you type cratch into Google images you’re more likely to see a kind of plain or fancy gate still used on English narrowboats, which is there to ‘restrain’ the boat’s cargo and hold up part of the roof . The connection, I think, is the wooden framework involved – you can see how the same kind of triangular or crutch pattern could also have been the basis of a crib.

cratch2

It’s a kind of trellis, and cat’s cradle is also a kind of trellis.

I was looking for folklore around Cat’s Cradle, because apparently it is one of the oldest games ever, and has been played all over the world. The Golden Bough (1890) says that among the “Esquimaux” tribes, as they were referred to in those days, it was taboo for a little boy to play at Cat’s Cradle. Should he do so, when he grew to be an adult and went off hunting the whale his hands might become entangled in the harpoon line. I am guessing this would not do one’s hands any good. In fact, one might be handless at the end of it.

How is the one thing connected to the other? Because it’s an example of negative magic. In tribal (and not-so-tribal) societies magic can be both positive and negative. Positive magic would be to do a certain thing in order to make something desirable happen. Negative magic would be to avoid doing a certain thing in order to avoid something undesirable happening. So taboo and negative magic seem to be more or less the same. But it’s quite subtle. For example it’s not taboo to say ‘Do not put your hand in the fire’ – that’s just common sense. Taboo is to avoid doing something symbolic of the thing to be avoided, and the consequences of breaking the taboo will not necessarily take place now but at some time in the future.

Digressing slightly, it seems that in the past, in the village councils of one district of India, it was forbidden for anyone to twirl a spindle. (Since the meetings were all male, I would assume that both men and women might twirl spindles.) The twirling of the spindle would mean that the talk would be doomed to go round in circles and never reach a conclusion. It occurs to me that someone must have been secretly twirling in a dusty corner of the House of Commons over the last three years.

Cat’s Cradle has different names in different countries. In parts of America it is referred to, poetically, as Jack in the Pulpit. In China it’s Fan Sheng (turning rope) and in Russia, more prosaically, it is The Game of String.

choki

In case you should be seeking inspiration for Cat’s Cradle-related reading there’s a book called Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I would like to claim to have known that all along, but I just found out, and I haven’t read it yet. I’m not entirely sure I want to. It’s science fiction (one of my favourites) but apparently it involves man’s greatest fear: the witnessing, or worse still, the survival of Armageddon.

Bullet Point Blitzing

  • Uptown Top Ranking

The title of this post – which pinged into my reverse-colander of a morning-mind unbidden – reminds me of a vintage pop song called Uptown Top Ranking by the joyous Althea and Donna. I have looked up the words, and here are a few:

See me pon the road I hear you call out to me
True you see mi inna pants and ting
See mi in a ‘alter back
Sey mi gi’ you heart attack
Gimme likkle bass, make me wine up me waist
Uptown Top Ranking

At a guess I would say this is about setting off for town to have a really fun night out, wearing an outfit which includes killer trousers and a black halter top. I envisage drop dead gorgeous and plenty of bling. She calls to the bass player to crank up the bass, to inspire her in her wild and sinuous terpsichory.

I just love it, whatever it means. If you ever feel miserable put on Uptown Top Ranking and dance and sing along. You are unlikely get the words any more wrong than you would have done for a karaoke I Did It My Way or The Wind Beneath My Wings.

  • As Black As Yer ‘At (Over Will’s Mother’s)

Well, it’s as black as yer ‘at outside, despite being nine in the morning. This is because it is raining and when it rains, in this corner of nowhere-in-particular, the universe wants you to both know about it and suffer. When I’ve finished this – and believe me I’m spinning it out as long as possible – I ought to be getting out of my grubby dressing gown and into ancient jeans, jumper and raincoat, to drive fifteen minutes to the Farm Shop for a loaf of bread, plus – other stuff. There is a species of bread closer to hand, at our solitary village shop, but it is that white and doughy caravan people bread. Also, the village idiot tends to lurk either inside the shop or at the – solitary – bus stop outside. He likes me very much – unsettlingly odd people always do – and so I have taken to driving past the village shop/bus stop with head averted.

  • A new word

I have learnt a new word, from a post by Matthew, The Wolf Boy entitled Improve Your Blog While Minimizing Blog Suckage. Suckage…

Suckage… lovely word.

One of Matthew’s examples of Suckiness is this:

The paper is usually on your porch every Tuesday but this Tuesday it wasn’t, and now you have nothing to read with your tea.

I am very much afraid that my blog sometimes falls into the pit of suckiness on this count. I live a very dull life. Sometimes nothing much happens for a whole day apart from, say, Henry being sick along the back of the sofa or – noticing that the shed door is undone.

On that count I recently spent a whole rough windy night in terror, imagining that my house was about to collapse or maybe the water-tank fall through the ceiling into the living room, because of a deafening banging and creaking every few seconds. When I ventured out the following morning I discovered I had left the meter cover unlocked when I read the meter, and the thing had been slamming back and forth all night. The neighbours probably got even less sleep than I did. Oh God, I’m Antisocial.

  • Thinny Cat

Talking of cats, I notice my eighteen year-old Rosie is becoming kind of two-dimensional. She has shared and comforted me through so many horrendous adventures and I don’t want to lose her. Though of course that’s life – ie, death. She desires only to occupy my particular warm corner of the sofa; no other place in the house will do. Every time I get up, she slithers back and curls up.

This morning I realised the cushion felt a bit funny and there was Rosie, lightly sandwiched between it and me, unharmed but more two-dimensional than ever. Stay with me, little Rosie. You gave me my blogging name; now give me just a little more time.

IMG_20190731_111918

The sprouting of damp souls

I have ordered a new smartphone; cheaper and, I sincerely hope, smarter than the Doro. The Doro wasn’t very smart at all. My sister is seven years younger than me and has a son with a degree in computing who designs apps for a living – at least, we believe that’s approximately what he does – and says the Doro has got to go. “It’s time,” she says. A smartphone deserves to be in a bin, she says, if it

  • turns itself off and on at random;
  • will no longer charge except within its own special little cradle;
  • refuses to open one of those little square boxes with patterns on that produce Amazon return labels, whilst its Owner is edging towards the front of the queue at the Post Office;
  • is perpetually loading but never actually starting a weather advice app that it’s owner didn’t want in the first place;
  • has space for only one app in addition to the Google and Doro bloatware that it came with and demands that you delete even that every time Google or Doro want to update any of the never-used bloat-stuff; and
  • becomes convinced, after every unscheduled hibernation, that the date is January 1st 1970 and can only become convinced that it is 2019 or thereabouts after five minutes of laborious scrolling. And then there is the time to reset from 01:00 hours –

Why would it even contain a calendar going back to 1970? Surely mobile phones – those huge house-brick things that go with the frizzy hair, the weird lipstick and the rainbow-coloured exercise outfits – didn’t appear till the ’80s?

I have also given up and turned on the central heating. It was getting kind of dank in here. The washing – which I’ve been draping from the doorframes to dry since the tumble-drier gave up the ghost – was not drying, at all, merely adding to the general air of Dickensian dampness. It’ll be the black spots next, I thought. And after that tiny mushrooms or maybe – toadstools – sprouting from the skirting-boards.

Which reminds me of a school poetry lesson many years ago, when a Jehovah’s Witness classmate objected to the souls in ‘Morning at the Window’ by T S Eliot. “There is no such thing as The Soul, sir!” she said, standing up behind her desk. Her desk was near mine, and I could see her trembling. “No such thing!”

After fruitless negotiations, along the lines of “Couldn’t we just assume the existence of The Soul, in the context of this particular poem – ?” she was led away by the left ear and deposited on the bench outside the headmistresses office.

Poor girl. How hard it is to speak up when we should, and how hard to stay silent.

Morning at the Window – T S Eliot 1888 – 1965

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

Fungums

This is my new umbrella term, as sociologists used to love to intone in the sixties (along with ‘dichotomy ‘) for anything either unexpected or unwanted that suddenly appears in one’s garden. Above is something my mother would probably have called a honey fungus. I wonder how big it will get?

At the bottom is something disgusting and fungus-like which has begun to grow on an old cane chair I left outside. Maybe it is some exotic type of fungus that has lain dormant within the cane since it was imported from India or Malaya or wherever. Maybe it will be like Japanese Knotweed and gradually Take Over.

In the middle is a Something that my burly  next-street-down neighbour kindly left behind in my garden, having invaded whilst I was out in order to replace a fence panel. It’s too heavy for me to lift and too big to go in my car. I was quoted £50 or £60 to remove it, the dumping fee being £30.

Or, said the Quoter gently, seeing the look on my face, you could get out the secateurs and regard it as a Little Winter Project…