Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Poetry and language

I'm still trying to find some poetry that'll help me take some time out, so when I heard John Updike reading his sonnet 'Jesus and Elvis' on today yesterday, I thought I'd try to trace it. Many writers have paid tributes to Updike's writing ability. Martin Amis is quoted: 'several times a day you turn to him, as you will now to his ghost, and say to yourself "how would Updike have done it?"' There's a link on the right to the Today segment including the Updike reading.

Here's the sonnet:

Twenty years after the death, St. Paul
was sending the first of his epistles,
and bits of myth or faithful memory–
multitudes fed on scraps, the dead small girl
told "Talitha, cumi"–were self-assembling
as proto-Gospels. Twenty years since pills
and chiliburgers did another in,
they gather at Graceland, the simple believers,
the turnpike pilgrims from the sere Midwest,
mother and daughter bleached to look alike,
Marys and Lazaruses, you and me,
brains riddled with song, with hand-tinted visions
of a lovely young man, reckless and cool
as a lily. He lives. We live. He lives.

Another American who has resisted mangling the language. Nevile commented on some transatlantic solecisms on my entry about Globish. I'm not sure what Jesus and Elvis would sound like in Globish and I'm not going to try. I was always amused by the US use of Momentarily to mean soon rather than for a moment: they used to announce on the aircraft 'We shall be landing in Chicago momentarily'

Friday, 23 January 2009

English - the language, that is

I was prompted to think about the language by a part of yesterday’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ this was about English and how it’s becoming the Lingua Franca of much of the world - certainly the world of business. Barack Obama’s speech was virtually devoid of his fellow-countryman’s mangling of the tongue: verbs like ‘to solution’ and ‘to leverage’. I have a sporadic communication with a teacher friend over these ‘developments’ of the language. But not all the verbing is bad: ‘Showcase’ now seems to be acceptable as a verb and I think has some meaning.

Shakespeare is credited with inventing or developing many of the words and phrases we use regularly today. There are several web sites quoting these - references below - but I’m not sure how authentic they all are. Looking at the list, many of the new words were verbal forms of nouns already in use: to blanket, to champion, to drug, to educate, to elbow, to impede, to lapse, to rival. So Shakespeare was not against verbing. But others are wonderful juxtapositions: moonbeam, farmhouse, lacklustre, outbreak. Many simple words we use today appear first in his works: accommodation, assassination, bump, generous, gloomy, lonely, majestic, sanctimonious.

The item on ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was about the French attitude to the English language. The French, who are quite comfortable talking about le parking and le weekend, have an annual award ‘Prix de la Carpette Anglaise’ (which Hugh Schofield on the programme translates as The English Rug Prize) that is presented to the person who has given the best display of "fawning servility" to further the insinuation into France of the accursed English language. There’s a link to the full talk below. The winner this year is M Jean-Paul Nerriere who has invented a new language - or version of English - called Globish. This he promotes as a common language for international communication particularly for business. He claims that something like this is already developing in the business world so we may as well codify it. And if we’re not careful, the rest of the world will be able to speak it and we English speakers will be lost because we will be looking for subtlety that’s not there.

There are some Globish web sites with examples including the following version of The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father,
Who comes to us from above,
Your name is holy.
Your rule will soon be here,
Your will will be executed, in this world, and in the above as well,
Give us today the food we need everyday,
And forgive what we do wrong
As we will also forgive the other persons who do wrong to us,
Do not lead us to have bad desires,
But, free us from all that is evil,
For your are the ruler of the above, and yours are the power, and
highest honour for ever and ever.

That won’t catch on in Little Hampden.

If you have any views on our language, please comment (when did that start to be used as a verb?) or e-mail (!) me.


From Our Own Correspondent transcription:
Shakespeare words and phrases:
Globish: - contains several links including the 1500 words in Globish

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


I don’t think I can let today pass without comment. I was one of the countless watching the ceremony in Washington today and I don’t mind admitting being moved by it. I have a love-hate relationship with the US - everything is great or awful. I spent most of the paid part of my career working for the UK arm of one of the best US companies. I had four years with a US manager and a mainly US team. The people I worked with were wonderful: positive, supportive, thoughtful, bright, welcoming, open. But much of America is unbelievably narrow and parochial: everywhere is much the same, not the geography, of course. And although people travel great distances within the country most have no concept of different cultures. No wonder that when they travel to Europe they are amazed that London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, Rome can be so different and only a few hundred miles apart. They have succeeded in generating in their people a pride in their nation without losing touch with their roots: Irish Americans are proud to be American but have not lost touch with their roots. We have a loIBM Sysem 360 20t to learn from this. Yet there have been so many examples of discrimination described in the run-up to today. I still find it difficult to accept that such appalling restrictions applied in my lifetime and many still rumble on.

The other thing that my time with IBM taught me was living with - and bringing about - change. The first computer I worked on was the size of a sideboard and had 16k of memory. Memory was ferrite cores woven on wires: the wives of Core memoryPortuguese fishermen were good at crafting these. The first laser printer was the size of a living room. I can remember when the Office Products division invented the term ‘Word Processing’ to go alongside our Data Processing. Today you can buy a 1gb memory card for a camera for £4.00. This is 62,000 times 16k. The file on which I draft my blog entries is currently 86k. Laser printers start at under £100 and today virtually everyone has a word processor. Not that this change happens without pain and difficulty. In fact most of my IBM career was spent managing the changes that were made possible through this technology. But I still get SD cardimpatient with people who refuse to go along with the changing world. Not change for its own sake but change for the benefit that comes with it. I don’t think Neta will mind my quoting today’s experience: I arrived at her house at 2pm with a webcam for her computer. At 2:50 we had a live two-way video call with her grandchildren in Abu Dhabi. I can remember seeing the first transatlantic television pictures via Telstar.

Ian raised the issue of small change in his comment on Saturday’s blog entry. Barack Obama spoke of this in his inauguration speech today:
... the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
So we can all bring about change. And this small change is just as important as the seismic shifts that much of the world is hoping for from Obama.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Poetry again

Did you hear Saturday Live today? The resident poet, Elvis McGonagall, started with this poem:

Damn you Barack Obama for believing
that change is coming like a full force gale.
Damn you, you’ve made this jaded poet
dare to dream that hope, not hate, may yet prevail

    Thursday, 15 January 2009


    Back in December, prompted by Stephen Cottrell to find some stillness, I spent ten minutes reading Dylan Thomas’ poems. So I thought I’d have another quiet ten minutes when I saw the obituaries of Mick Imlah: Mick Imlah was one of the outstanding poets of his generation (Times); Mick Imlah, who has died aged 52, was one of the most brilliant poets of his generation (Guardian). Here are two of his poems:

    You can read the obituaries here: Times Guardian

    There was more poetry in the papers yesterday when Jen Hadfield won the TS Elliot Prize. The Times printed some of her poems:

    What do you think? I’m still looking for my ten minutes of peace.

    Tuesday, 13 January 2009

    Wycombe Winter Night Shelter

    I went to the WWNS tonight. I was very apprehensive about visiting: I didn’t want to be a spectator. But I was surprised by the welcome.

    I was met by Mark, star of the WWNS YouTube video who was the first visitor to the shelter in 2008. He is now no longer homeless and is helping out at the shelter this year. I met Ali who does some of the organisation. I also met some of the volunteers who were manning the centre tonight. They have seven different locations - one for each day of the week. Monday is at the Friends Meeting House in London Road. It’s a big operation: they cook an meal (tonight was lasagne) and four volunteers stay overnight taking shifts. The morning shift gets breakfast and clears up ready to move on to the next location.

    I came away moved by the commitment of the volunteers and pleased that we can help in a small way.

    Here’s the WWNS video. Watch it. You’ll be surprised.

    Want to help?

    Sunday, 11 January 2009

    Oldham Hall back in business - how can we capitalise on this?

    So, the Oldham Hall is open again - two good celebrations yesterday:

    This got me thinking about how we can use this newly-refurbished asset to take the Church into the High Street and get more people committed. I found again the Oxford Diocese video ‘Loving Faith’ - on the ‘Encouraging Evangelism’ page on their web site. Evangelism is not a word many of us are comfortable with but the video gives some excellent examples of taking the Church into the community - much more down to earth than the word conjures up. Take a look at the video - it can be seen at

    There are already a number of activities on the Oldham Hall that engage the community - coffee every morning is a good example. And we’re trying to make it more visibly a Church hall. But I feel that’s only a start. Let’s have some ideas - put your comment on the blog* And if you’d like to volunteer to try something, that’s even better - I’ll do my best to get some support if we believe it’s a goer.

    * See 3 Jan - Pinter and Comments on the Blog if you’re not sure how to add a comment - there should be a link to the right.

    Lots more pictures of the Oldham Hall opening party - click on this picture:

    Oldham Hall Re-opening - grand party

    Wednesday, 7 January 2009

    Snow at Little Hampden - Gt Missenden cut off

    Some pictures of the snow at Little Hampden yesterday

    Sunday, 4 January 2009

    What’s important in life?

    Several things today made me think about priorities. It started with an e-mail from friend Ian who had read my blog and commented

    Something I do which adds to my happiness and hence to the total happiness of the race is to remind myself how lucky I am. The list of my good fortune is extensive, and I suspect I am normal in this. I hope that the contentment I feel makes me behave better to everyone else. Imagine how grim I would be if I didn't count my blessings!!! Thanks for reminding me that there the nonmaterial things are so very important!

    I’ve sent Ian instructions so he can comment on the blog.

    Then Clive James’ A Point of View this morning. His point today is ‘Getting rich quick - and having much more money than you ever need - will look as pointless as taking bodybuilding too seriously.’ He goes on to say that getting rich quick will soon look very silly - in fact it does already. He rails against the superyacht owners: we’ve seen some of these boats in the UK and the Med. We have a term for them: FGP - Floating Gin Palaces. Clive asks what the
    multibillionaires who owned yachts were hoping to achieve. At best, their ridiculous unarmed battleships, permanently parked in the teeming marina of the sort of city where the world's well-dressed dimwits gather to gamble at the casino, were described as floating palaces. What kind of numbskull wants a palace that floats, when he could just have a palace, out of whose front door he could stride with some confidence that he would not plunge face-first into the harbour? I was really asking a question about what you can do with too much money, and the answer was obvious: never enough.
    I think Clive is a little dismissive about boating - but that’s for another day.

    We’ve seen these excesses: I remember one superyacht in Turkey: there was a hire car on the quay in case they needed it, the crew went ashore to inspect the restaurants, and when some of the owners or charterers came ashore, another dinghy had gone ahead to help them ashore.

    Clive ends with
    From now on a man will have to be as dumb as an petrodollar potentate to think that anyone will respect him for sitting on a gold toilet in a private jumbo jet. Excess wealth is gone like the codpiece. The free market will continue but any respect for the idea of free money is all over. If you've got it, flaunt it by all means, but if you haven't earned it, forget about it. There isn't going to be a change of consciousness, there's already been one, which is why I can be so confident when I predict it.
    If you hurry, you can read the full text of the programme and download a podcast at

    There was more later. At lunchtime in ‘Ali Abbas in his own words’ Hugh Sykes talked to the boy who hit the headlines when he was badly burned in a US attack in Iraq - he lost his arms, and all his close family were killed. If you search for Ali Abbas on google images you’ll get some horrific pictures - I didn’t feel it right to copy them here. The whole programme was inspirational (if you’re very quick you can catch it on the BBC IPlayer) but the most moving part was the way he cheerfully described a visit by American servicemen when he returned to Iraq:
    He asked me "what happened to you?" I said "The American bomb" "So sorry" I said "Good enough"
    How’s that for forgiveness?

    Saturday, 3 January 2009

    Pinter and comments on the Blog

    Did you hear the Harold Pinter plays on the radio yesterday evening? We saw two of his plays at the National not long ago. He was reported as Britain's greatest living playwright. His material is renowned for pauses - here's one minute from one of yesterday's plays - looks like more silence than speech!

    Comments on the Blog

    I'm still getting positive comments verbally and via e-mail about the blog but very few comments online so I've done some simple instructions. Clicking on this should open a short pdf file - go on, have a go! Perhaps I need to be more contentious!

    Interesting science and green Christmas?

    I experienced some interesting science on Wednesday. On Tuesday, I had parked outside the Church Office under a tree - and the birds had obviously found some berries! I cleaned the windscreen and one side window using a sponge that son-in-law George had used to wash his car at the weekend. The sponge had some soap in it (Ecover washing-up liquid I think) but I had filled it with water so the soap was very dilute. On Wednesday morning the car was covered in frost. All the windows looked the same but the two that had been wiped with the sponge - and therefore had some very dilute soap on them - were not frozen and scraped off much easier than the others. I know that adding impurity lowers the freezing point of water but I’m really surprised that such a small quantity makes a difference.

    How green was your Christmas?

    I thought we were doing quite well until today. I left our regular paper box full for collection at Little Hampden and took two boxes of cardboard to the recycling centre at Gt Missenden. When I returned home I saw that neighbours had added to the collection pile. I think most of this is packing for children’s toys. I’m pleased that this is all being recycled (and probably much of it was made from recycled paper and card in the first place) - but do we really need all this?