Many a quaint craft

You may have seen many a quaint craft in your day, for aught I know;—square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks; butter-box galliots, and what not; but take my word for it, you never saw such a rare old craft as this same rare old Pequod. She was a ship of the old school…

I’ve been in a typhoon in the South China Sea when returning to Hong Kong in a China Navigation vessel in the 1950s; and crossed the Bay of Biscay in a vomit-inducing gale on a so-called mini-cruise in October — to be sure, a notorious time of year for storms.

Contrast these violent passages with more forgettable ‘calm sea and prosperous’ voyages to Japan, the Philippines and Thailand in my pre-teens, or numerous uneventful cross-channel ferry journeys to France as an adult.

Sailings have featured in recent reads, and though I’ve disembarked from them I’m still aboard another; I’m hoping maybe you’ll be interested in hearing what was jotted down in the captain’s logs for these several sea passages.

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Bookish update

Broadleaf Books, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Book-related update here, and thankfully it’s a short post.

I’m rattling on towards the end of Jane Eyre and will presently post some commentary and, soon after, a review. Unlike Charlotte Brontë’s later novel Shirley, which took me over a year to polish off, Jane’s story has proved to have more forward impetus. More later.

Meanwhile, though Moby-Dick was published (with the title The Whale) on 18th October 1851 in Britain, it first appeared under its now familiar guise a month later, on 14th November, in the States. I therefore officially retraced my steps from the very start yesterday after having stalled a couple of times a few years ago.

Call me tardy, but at least it was 168 years to the day after its American publication; and 2019 is of course the bicentenary of Herman Melville’s birth.

A fellow passenger on the voyage, Lizzie Ross, has already set off, so I will be following in her wake. I’m not sure how fast I’ll go or how often I’ll report on the journey; as there are around 135 chapters I hope it won’t take a third of a year to complete — maybe a rate of 20-25 chapters a week will see me navigate home before Christmas. Look out for entries from my ship’s log!

Have you read this classic? I know other bloggers have already embarked on this mammoth (should that be Leviathon?) undertaking; is it turning out or has it proved to be what you’d been led to expect?

Goldfinch boys

Francesco Maria Sforza (‘Il Duchetto’), by Marco d’Oggiono (d 1530). Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Most days a flock of goldfinches come to our birdfeeder, close to the kitchen window. Unlike the blue tits, who are snatch-and-flee artists, they are happy to keep on patiently snaffling sunflower seeds. They are a joy to behold, a flash of colour with their red masks and their black and yellow gold wing markings contrasting with beige bodies.

In German the bird is known as a distelfink or ‘thistle-finch’ as it is partial to thistle seeds and teazels. Presumably because of this association with prickly plants the goldfinch is symbolic of Christ’s Passion, especially recalling the crown of thorns.

At present the bird appears in news items because of the recent movie adaptation of Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, itself based on a famous painting. This is just one of many good reasons to discuss the songster’s appearance in a miniature portrait, one I usually make a point of viewing in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

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Fancy free

Many of you may be aware of Zenrinji, a blog where fancy flows freely, lubricated by creative juices.

Posts on this site may be intermittent but the upside is that the micropoetry and flash fiction featured are mercifully short, illumined by images which may or may not be relevant.

Recent posts include responses to micropoems on Twitter (such are Web chat, Uni-verse and Summer chills).

There are also parodies, as with Twisted Rhymes, satirical rants (The Joker), fables (Strong Competition and The Hyena and the Wolf) and drolleries (as in the recent Cutting a long story short).

And, if you look hard, you may also spot some more serious pieces. Nothing with great literary merit, though, so no need to feel intimidated: just push open the gate and roam freely.

Man drawer mentality

Reclamation yard oddments

Observational comedy, which relies so much on the shock of the familiar, is a brand of humour which works only if the audience relates to the material. It’s the kiss of death for a comedian if their material rings no bells for the expectant listeners sat in front of them.

Let me give you an example of observational comedy that worked for me at the time, introduced by a British stand-up comic a few years ago on one of his TV shows. This is the concept of the man drawer.

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Tipping point

The day after midsummer’s day
Every day seems to bring new evidence of the parlous state that we and the planet are in. Microplastics in the food we eat, in the air we breathe. The sudden death of coral reefs. Glaciers melting. Species extinctions. Climate extremes. Sabre-rattling by malevolent despots. Politicians proving to be the new Neros fiddling even as Rome burns, while mobs are bribed by bread and circuses.

As the hours of daylight start to shorten (for northerners at least) have we passed the tipping point in more ways than one?

My reading this year has, in some ways, paralleled these doomsday scenarios …

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Midsummer madness: Brexit

Stop Exit Only

I posted this nearly three years ago and apart from Theresa May becoming (and now unbecoming) Prime Minister and foolishly triggering Article 50, aided and abetted by — we now see — a duplicitous Leader of the Opposition, nothing much has changed: Britain is still in a state of omnishambles.

My faith in Parliamentary democracy has been severely dented, and I can’t see that a General Election would solve anything nor that another referendum could be offered since there is no agreed deal to vote for or against.

All I can do is bleat “Revoke, revoke, revoke” in the hopes that somebody sane will listen and make that happen.

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