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2006
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February 28th; O2 fails to recharge my phone.
February 27th; Mother still seems weak & ill. Finish her copy of an early-60s 'Larousse Encyclopaedia of Ancient and Medieval History' in English. Packed with detail, it traverses the centuries at breakneck pace. Full of fantastic forgotten princes with names like Rollo, and towns with names like Merv. Very Eurocentric, despite the effort to be universal, with China and India often getting a paragraph each at the end of a twelve-page chapter about Europe & the Near East. Refreshing to see Hungary gets five paragraphs in the whole book, about the same as sub-Saharan Africa. Within Europe a strong Francocentric bias. Understandable in a way if France had 15 million people at the time of the Hundred Years' War and England 3 or 4 million. In a couple of places a historical character appears with no introduction. The general editor was Marcel Dunan. A rambling two-page introduction from an elderly-sounding Arnold Toynbee stresses seven or eight times how important world peace is.

February 26th; Finish mother's copy of 'The Planets Within', by Thomas Moore, a slightly bland book about an interesting-sounding Florentine Platonist of the 1480s and 1490s, Marsilio Ficino. Going into the past by way of Jung and Hillman, Moore proposes we reread Ficino, a protege of Cosimo de Medici, as a psychologist of the soul who used astrological signs as archetypes. Ficino apparently inspired Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd, and Sandro Botticelli, so he sounds a bit more than a psychologist to me, but Moore knows best. Rather too many typos, and a sentence near the end that says the opposite of what Moore means by missing a word. Would have liked more quotes from Ficino and more details about the Primavera painting.
February 25th; Finished 'Knots' by Alexei Sossinsky, a nice short book, introducing some of the simple topics in knot theory for beginners. Sossinksky explains well, and makes the chapters almost independent. Then, having bought the huge, waffly Guardian today to get the free DVD they were giving away, watched the DVD on laptop. Not quite sure why I watched 'Wicker Man' by Robin Hardy, a cult film in more than one sense. A beware-of-the-inbreeds movie about a police officer [Edward Woodward] who arrives on a remote Scottish island to investigate a report of a missing child, only to find that worship of the old pagan gods is alive and well on Summerisle. It is definitely a seventies film - eccentric laird Christopher Lee sports a yellow polo-necked sweater at the film's climax. The overall plot - everyone is in on an immensely cruel joke at the expense of one man - makes this one of those films where you must watch the horrible end inexorably approaching. Much of the plotting is clunky - didactic close-ups on details like the superstitious painted eye on the rowing boat, the Druid-looking name of the tavern, odd sweeties in the corner shop, all repeatedly remind us where we are heading. Much of the acting has the cheerfully hammy quality of 60s and 70s television drama, and Lee seems to undergo a rapid costume and make-up change as festivities culminate. On the other hand, the film powerfully speaks to anyone who has ever felt the creeping weirdness in madrigals and morris men. Deft use of folk music creates a chilling atmosphere of rustic loopiness. And the climax is so appalling and played with such flair that I was quite shaken afterwards. I'd like to know what Christians think of the film. Afterwards, I retire to bed to finish library copy of Julian Barnes' 'The Pedant in the Kitchen', hoping to blot out a vivid, repeating memory of Woodward screaming to Jesus for help while being dragged towards the fertility effigy of the title. Only partly successful, despite Barnes' amiably cross tone. His book is about cookbooks and their flaws, and has lots of adorable painted illustrations deliberately reminiscent of prewar recipe compilations.

February 24th; Read a Hebden Bridge Library book by Don Cupitt called 'Solar Ethics'. Rather good, perhaps even important. Cupitt is often accused of just asserting, rather than arguing, his cases, and this is also true here, but he is still persuasive in an enjoyably rhetorical way. He describes "solar" living as a kind of giving out of energy, and a denial of the West's old contrast between the interior & exterior. Not so much detail of what this might mean for the narrower sense of ethics, but fun. Cupitt gives a special mention to the cover photograph for this short, effervescent book. Apparently the artist Christopher Bucklow makes his solar portraits out of thousands of images of the sun using pinhole photography.
February 23rd; Friendly man looks at faulty thermostat. Says the electrician who installed the boiler clock might have miswired it. Later meet Ed in Bradford.

February 22nd; Doctor prescribes liquid food for mother. Unsuccessful visit to Leeds to find something detailed about both of Godel's proofs.
February 21st; Read mother's copy of Susan Greenfield's 'The Private Life of the Brain'. Another one of those books summing up recent research and theories about the brain. Greenfield does not duck the question of consciousness, attacking the AI simulation-is-enough view, and she also puts emotions at the centre of her approach, very sensibly, criticising compartmentalisng views of which bit of a brain does what. Despite the wise intentions, a little surprising to find her misquoting philosophers of mind, explaining Searle's Chinese Room as a translation program, for example, which it isn't. Greenfield has some interesting ideas, for example that phobias are the opposite of fear, but overall a little unsatisfactory somehow.

February 20th; Do kippers for breakfast.
February 19th; Finish Hebden Library book 'Beginner's Dutch', even virtuously noting down some handy vocab before handing back in. Gerdi Quist & Dennis Strik do a good job of explaining colloquial Dutch, though in a few places they use a word not given in that section's wordlist.

February 18th; Uneventful day. Mother still without appetite and weak.
February 17th; Finish mother's copy of Richard Causton's 'The Buddha in Daily Life', an account of the Japanese style of Buddhism where devotees chant "nam-myoho-renge-kyo" repeatedly each day. Causton describes the beliefs of the sect founded by Nichiren Daishonin in the 1200s quite convincingly, giving rather sober accounts of British people whose lives were immersed in what a Westerner would call sin and what a Buddhist or Christian Scientist would call error, and how chanting helped them. The basic idea is that something within you attracts the good or bad things that happen to you, and the chant [a Japanese translation of a pithy description of the Lotus Sutra] allows you to understand this and change it. Oddly American, in that the practice offers quick results as long as you take complete blame for whatever situation you are in. This of course relies on the doctrine of karma from previous lives, probably the Achilles' Heel of any Buddhism. Accepting that you have helped to make your own situation worse is realistic and mature. Accepting that your karma is entirely your own, comes from your previous lives, attaches to all acts, and that all fates are equally deserved, is just potty. Causton intelligently concedes that this the hard part for many Westerners to accept, since it offends the Western notion that newborn children represent hope & innocence [rather than just another stage in the working out of previous lifetimes]. Yet Western doubts have a point: the confident tones of Daishonin gloss over all sorts of unexamined problems such as determinism. Causton's normally sober tone seems a little more cultish when he repeatedly refers to Daishonin as the fulfilment of Buddha's forecast another would refine his teaching after 2000 years. All the sect's other numbers being quoted with rather pious precision makes it harder to overlook that Diashonin-minus-Buddha equals seventeen, not twenty, centuries.

February 16th; Reread mother's copy of 'Greek Fire' by Oliver Taplin after a decade. Full of nice photos, as a book-of-a-TV-show should be. Taplin persuasively shows how the influence of ancient Greece keeps popping up again in West European history, just when we least expect it. Hence his use of Greek fire as a metaphor - a kind of Byzantine flamethrower liquid that was said to be able to even squirt underwater and surface still burning. Part of trying to show how the ancient is still modern is talking about the present, which means that much of the book is already oddly dateable to the 1980s: lots of mentions of Tony Harrison, and photos of the Greenham Common women protesters [remember them?] in two different chapters, for example. The architecture chapter was fascinating, though the emphasis given to post-modernism now looks exaggerated. Taplin's view that modernism was a repudiation of classicism is surely wrong. As his Corbusier quote suggests, the International Style struck most people at the time as a kind of neo-neo-Classicism, a return to the pure white functional, stripped-down beauty most people in the 1930s still thought had marked Greek architecture. Back then the gaudy colours ancient Greek temples were painted were only just being rediscovered, and are still not widely known, a century later. Leon Krier gets a lot of mentions. Well narrated shifts in fashion among classicists, and intriguing details including the last Swiss canton to still have only men voting in the late 1980s [since 1991 women can vote too, even in Appenzell].
February 15th; Swish woman doctor returns to check mother. I hear back from Hebden-based ISP co-op. Phone chats with Ed & Bob.

February 14th; See a film at the slightly self-consciously named Hebden Bridge Picture House. 'De battre mon coeur s'est arrete' ['The beat that my heart skipped'] is (apparently) a French remake of a 1970s American gangster film, about a young rough, Thomas, who helps property developers intimidate tenants but is torn between his tough, high-earning life and classical piano. Not as embarrassing as it sounds. All the acting and plotting excellent, with the main role played powerfully by Romain Duris. Though I don't really buy into the thesis that Bach redeems the soul, the film skilfully suggests how the strengths & weaknesses that led Thomas into his father's world of real estate both help & hinder his performance at the piano.
Opposite the cinema is a large, dark-stoned Baptist chapel which takes pains each month to put up a cringe-making poster on its billboard outside, if possible including an excruciating pun. The latest is outstanding. A slick yet primitive square-shaped cartoon man with stubby arms & legs is in tears in front of a broken computer. The slogan, in brightly-coloured capital letters, reads "Life just crashed? Send Jesus a Knee-mail. He cares!"
February 13th; Vandorlo alerts me to Cambodian Signing, via a Harvard site.

February 12th; Read another of my mother's Colin Watson books: 'One Man's Meat'. Eerily, it is now the mid-70s, yet Purbright still has the same straw-coloured hair, youthful Sergeant Love, and aristocratic, gardening-obsessed Chief Constable Chubb he had in the late 1950s. Flaxborough as part-Trumpton, part-Camberwick-Green still charms, though Watson manfully makes the comedy more explicitly sexual and cynical to move with the times. I suppose this is what happens when you invent a fictional world - you have to decide whether it ages as fast as you do. This book is about industrial espionage and petfood manufacturing. Though funny, and with some lovely characters, such as the professional entrapper and "bearded bee" Mortimer, I had the odd feeling at the close that not all the plot details quite pulled together.
February 11th; Low-key day. Mother still not eating properly.

February 10th; Some work at a Bradford Internet cafe. Mother stable.
February 9th; Elegant, pretty woman doctor comes to see mother, who is still ill in bed. Finish mother's copy of 'A new kind of fool', a sweet account by a Franciscan from India of his journey to Italy and Israel in the footsteps of Saint Francis. Author called Christopher Coelho, I suppose no relation to the Brazilian novelist. Coelho illustrates the book with his own pen sketches of cottages, churches and trees around Assissi - there is apparently a longer version with verse extracts and photography by the author. Potentially extremely twee, but the tone is so friendly & happy, it's hard not to fall in with the author's gentle message, which is that the Humble Brother was a cheerful, humorous saint who cared about individual people and loved nature.

February 8th; Reread 'Pi in the Sky' by John Barrow, and found it a bit bewildering 2nd time round. A sustained attack on mathematical platonism, it is well thought out and full of interesting ideas, but an editor could have polished up some of the sentences a bit. Excellent detail on the human struggles in Cantor's and Brouwer's lives, and left me much clearer on what the finitists and the rest were up to. The long early section on the anthropology of counting and number words in different cultures is particularly good, though perhaps not quite bolted on to the later stuff about Godel and the crises in logic and maths between the 1880s and the 1930s.
February 7th; Mother still weak and not eating. Read one of the books I got her for her birthday, 'Fashionistas' by Lynn Messina [what a fashion-editor's name that is]. Amusing and readable. Each chapter is headed by lovely little pen sketches of tall girls lolling on desks or gossiping by water coolers, the kind of impossibly leggy mannequin drawings that newspaper fashion columns used to carry. The novel charts a power struggle inside a glamour-focussed New York magazine narrated by a demurely decent Jane-Austenish junior editor. Some funny moments, some sharp descriptions, nothing laid on too thick. Slips down very easily. A competing product to 'The Devil Wears Prada', presumably.

February 6th; While choosing a belated birthday present for my mother, a pile of copies of 'Yesterday's Houses' suddenly falls on my toe in a bookshop. Hurts. Shan't get her that then. Later, I finish the 'Color Atlas of Immunology' by Gerd-Runiger Burmester and Antonio Pezzutto, a foolish choice to have ever started. Despite adorable little diagrams on each right-hand page of blobs and arrows in pastel colours, this was incomprehensible due to the special terms. Silly me. Of course, with a glossary running to thirty pages instead of four and a bit, it could have been quite possible to read normally. They don't even use most of the fifth page of glossary, leaving it largely blank. Some lovely words like 'bleb' and 'cation', and some of the horrid photographs of scars and deformities that make me glad I never did medicine.
February 5th; Dinner in Bradford with Ed. Later on, manage to get my very simple test program running in qbasic, thanks to Nigel's tutorial last week. Delphi continues to elude me. Nigel says that qbasic is a trike, and Delphi is the bike I really need to learn to ride. Perhaps. Mother still frail.

February 4th; Read an odd children's book I have been vaguely meaning to read for a long time. 'The box of delights' by John Masefield must have been already dated by 1935 - it felt Edwardian rather than interwar. Peculiar. A surprise to find that Masefield ran away to sea as a boy in the 1890s, spent some of his twenties doing manual labour in New York, and after returning to England became Poet Laureate. Not quite what I'd call a children's classic, but very entertaining in parts. Unforgettable quote: "You'll have to lend me some tin, Louisa...I haven't got a tosser to my kick." [I have no money.] The word 'scobble', as in to seize or kidnap, totally new to me. Given that I must get round to the Ramon Llull[y] reader waiting for me back in Budapest, I was startled when Masefield decides on page 167 that his strangely old magical Punch-and-Judy man is in fact Ramon Llull, having drunk a mediaeval elixir of immortality. The box of delights is his creation too. Touchingly, the climax of the plot is to return some kidnapped church dignitaries to the cathedral in time for them to celebrate the service at midnight on Christmas Eve. Whole story very High Church & Country House. Our hero, Kay, thinks he should be old enough to be allowed to drive a car, though he seems to be about eleven, has the conveniently missing parents of true boy's own fiction, and maids and cooks are much in evidence. Even the local police chiefs are something between indulgent and deferential during his regular trips to brief the authorities on the ongoing magical beastliness. Almost certainly this book was left behind by Nick when I was seven - I think it struck me as stuffy & childish then, which it is. But enjoyable too.
February 3rd; Reread mother's copy of 'Bump in the night' by Colin Watson, though remembered none of the twists in the plot after so many decades, only the explosions. Inspector Purbright taken out of Flaxborough to a neighbouring town to solve some mystery bombings. I missed his angelic Sergeant Love. Mother still not eating what I cook her.

February 2nd; Read mother's copy of 'Hopjoy was here' by Colin Watson. No memory of reading it before. A lovely example of the Flaxborough books, with a wonderful comic duo added in the form of the suave, pipe-smoking Intelligence chaps up from London, so confident & persuasively at ease it takes us a while to see how lost they are in Purbright's little corner of awkward England.
February 1st; Morning meeting with heart consultant. With show of concern he lets me go home with mother in the early afternoon in a hospital car. While she sleeps I find and thank the kind neighbours who forced her door and called the ambulance last week.

Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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