Wednesday, May 28, 2003
I guess I owe the University of East Anglia an apology, in a grudging sort of way. At the end of last year, I applied for the David T K Wong fellowship, to spend a year at UEA writing a novel set in the Far East (guess where...?). I was shortlisted, and asked to submit extra material, which I did before the end-of-January deadline. Since when, nothing, not a peep; and for the last six or eight weeks I've been muttering in my beard about the bad practices or just bad manners of academic institutions, on the principle that they must have decided by then and just hadn't bothered to let me know that I hadn't got it.
Not so; it really has taken them four months to decide. All that time, and they still go and make the wrong decision. Extraordinary...
Or in other words, I was right, I haven't got it. And I am deeply, guttingly disappointed. It's much easier this way, I don't have to worry about moving my life down to Norwich for a year, and how best to look after Misha, and the house up here, and all my new plants and so forth; and I don't have to deal with new people, I don't have to learn a lot of new names and new faces and smile and shake hands and be unremittingly charming for months on end.
But it would all have been terribly good for me. I do have this dreadful tendency to rut, to dig myself into a hole and stay there, here I squat and here I remain. Being tipped out into another landscape, another city, another society for a year would have been challenging, scary and immeasurably beneficial. And it's not going to happen, and I really bitterly regret that.
There is, I suppose, next year; my desire to write about Taiwan is not going away. But I suspect it's one of those awards that accumulate negativity, where if you don't get it the first time you're less likely to succeed in later years. And the last thing I want to be is a serial applier, Oh God, it's him again, that Brenchley, every year he tries and there's just no point, we don't even read the material any more...
Perhaps I'll ask them, if there's any point renewing my application. Or perhaps I'll just sit here and sulk. Most likely, though, I will go out and shop away my disappointment. I found this remarkable pair of glasses, not like anything I've ever seen before; I'm going back tomorrow for a serious consultation, find out if they can fit my prescription to those frames. It's always an issue, alas; but if they can, oh lordy, I shall feel so cool...
Posted by Chaz at 09:44 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, May 23, 2003
Roger sends me the URL of an article that details one woman's nightmare with after-sales service, the gist of which is 'Never ever buy anything from Dixon's or Curry's'. Damn him to hell and back. I had almost forgotten my own experiences with these people; now I'm sitting here with recovered memory like bile, black bile in my mouth, and nothing to do but spew it out. Sorry...
Let me start by asserting that I would never, ever buy anything from Dixon's, ever. My mistake was in taking out a household insurance policy without asking detailed questions. This information is not in fact in the small print, but when you make a claim they don't dicker over values and then settle up in cash the way people used to; they just supply replacement goods. And guess where they get 'em from...?
So I went happily off to Taiwan, secure in the certainty that my little world left behind would be safe; and I came home to chaos and disaster, two very upset cats and a buggered back door and no electronic possessions. The back door is a whole nother story, getting that replaced and paid for, fun fun; it involved my writing very rude letters and getting several phone calls from the chairman of the company concerned. But that was another company, and besides, I hope he's dead. The people we're concerned with here offered to have their men turn up at my door with new TV, video, computer and so forth; I said that's very kind of you, but honestly, I'd rather choose my own. So they sent me a Dixon's credit voucher, and told me to make the best of it.
So I did, I steeled myself, I shopped in Dixon's. Ugh. But eventually I found what I needed, from manufacturers I could accept (do I sound dreadfully snobby here? Well, I've been accused of it before. I prefer to think that I just know quality when I see it, and conversely I know the other thing also), and my house was filled with shiny new toys, and that was fun.
Until my shiny new toy went wrong.
The amplifier for my stereo system went 'click' and stopped working. I cursed and spat, and went down to the store to tell them. They sent me home again; nothing to do with them, they said, I had to phone this number.
I hate phones, I detest phoning customer service hotlines; but I did, and they promised to send a highly-trained representative next day to repair my machine while I waited, under their guaranteed 24-hour service agreement.
Next day I phoned again, and they promised to send a highly-trained representative next day.
Next day... Well, you get the idea. Eventually one turned up. And he sucked air through his teeth as soon as he saw my amp, and told me that it was a separate. He didn't see a lot of those. He was more used to midi systems, him.
But then he remembered that he was highly trained, and he did manage to take the back off; and he gazed anxiously inside, and then he brightened and said, Oh look, there's a fuse gone.
So he replaced the fuse, and asked me to plug the machine in and turn it on, there being a limit even to the height of his training; so I did that, and guess what? The fuse went. So then he screwed the back back on again and said he'd have to take it away and give it to the lab. I thought bleakly about that 24-hour guarantee, and asked how long it would be. Ooh, I don't know, he said. They'll have to get the manuals, you see. Could be as long as a week. They'll phone you, he said.
So I waited a week, and nothing happened; so I waited another week (see above, under hating-to-phone), and then I phoned them. They said they'd had to order parts, so there would be a delay.
Another week, and the parts had come, but they couldn't make the amp work. They were sending for more parts.
Another week, and they were still waiting; another week - guess how much I was hating this? - and yes, the parts had come, and no, the amp was still not working. They were a bit baffled, really. Leave it with them, they might think of something new to try...
Eventually, I confess that I spoke sharply. I pointed out that they had now had the amp eleven weeks, and it was still not working, and I was a bit tired of leaving it with them; at which point they said that well, of course, if they couldn't fix a thing inside three weeks I was entitled to demand a replacement. I said 'What?' and they said yes, that was right. And I said nobody told me that, and they said no, they didn't tell, a customer had to ask. So I said, let me get this straight. It's company policy to replace anything that they couldn't fix? Yes, they said. But it's also company policy not to tell anybody about this? That's right, they said. You have to ask, they said. So I said okay, I'm asking. Please can I have a replacement? Yes, they said, but you have to go back to the store where you bought the item.
When I had stopped screaming, I did that. And they said, eleven weeks? But you're supposed to get a replacement if they can't fix it in three. Yes, I said, but it's company policy not to tell. That would be right, they said, with one of those conspiratorial looks that people who work for bad companies develop, so that they can seem to be saying 'It's not us, guv, we're on your side, it's the management you want to blame, not us...'
And then they said they didn't actually sell separates any more, so they might have a bit of trouble replacing my amp, and was I sure I wouldn't like a nice midi system instead? Once they were persuaded just how sure I was, they did some phoning around, in that see-how-helpful-we-can-be? sort of way that people do; and joy of joys, they managed to find the very model that I had, in a storehouse somewhere. Leave it with us, they said, we'll get it shipped up here and let you know when it's arrived.
Which they did. They didn't offer to deliver, so I went into town to fetch it myself. And they took me into the back office and there it was, all new and shiny, wrapped up in its plastic bag and chocked up in its polystyrene for protection and boxed up in its box with all its parts.
And then they asked me what exactly the repairman took away, when he took my amp to the lab?
I gazed at them in a thoughtful sort of way, and asked them what they meant. He took my amp, I said.
Yes, they said, but did he take the remote control? Did he take the power cable? Did he take the box, all the bits, the plastic bag...?
In the end, because I was just a little bit frothing at the mouth and chewing carpet, they phoned the lab to ascertain exactly what was there. And then they took the amp out of its box, and out of its plastic bag; and they separated it from its remote control and its instruction manual and its power cable and all, and they placed it in my arms just as it was, all naked; and they smiled the smile of those who know that they have done the company's bidding and saved it the cost of a cardboard box, a plastic bag, an instruction manual and a remote control device.
And that is the true story of my experience of Dixon's after-care service, and I think it shows just exactly how much they do care, which is why I too say never, ever buy anything from these people, ever...
Posted by Chaz at 11:29 PM GMT [Link]
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Jean sent me this, distributed on a list she subscribes to. It's from Baudelaire's preface to Le Spleen de Paris (until this moment, I had no idea that the French for spleen was spleen: unlikely, but I'm very glad to learn it), and it is too beautiful to let pass unregarded. It also describes the point and purpose of what I do, what I aim at, what I struggle for; and does it more acutely than ever I have managed. Damn these poets, sometimes they do nail a thing absolutely. But I still say that ours is the more challenging art, to do the work without the labour-saving tools of rhyme and metre and long-established templates.
Anyway, Baudelaire said this:
Quel est celui de nous qui n'a pas, dans ses jours d'ambition, rêvé le miracle d'une prose poétique, musicale sans rythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s'adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l'âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience ?
And an unacknowledged hand translates it thus:
Who among us has not, in his ambitious moments, dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without meter or rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of the psyche, the jolts of consciousness?
There's a line to go to bed with. So I shall.
Posted by Chaz at 11:25 PM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Why is writing so much easier, so much more fun when there's no prospect of being paid for it?
Actually, I suppose the answers are obvious: there's no pressure, and it's an opportunity to revisit that happy land we used to inhabit, where writing was a thing we did for pleasure and 'work' was something else. But it's intensely frustrating. I've spent the last week writing this cod-M R James story, and it's been pure frolic all the way, seven thousand words of lubricated joy. I've put books down, I've turned the television off, I've come in from playing in the yard, I've even cut shopping-trips short in order to come home and write. When did that last happen?
Actually, I can answer that one too: when I first started writing Outremer. Volume one was bliss, once I'd got it started. I was spending the mornings in the Lit & Phil, researching; coming home at lunchtime and working all afternoon and all evening, often late into the night. I felt young and free and vigorous (he sighed, in a middle-aged kind of way), and it took me a while to work out why but what it was, it was like being seventeen again. I'd spent my later schooldays doing almost exactly this, working in the school library in the mornings and then writing fantasy till bedtime. When I was seventeen, I finally accumulated a little critical acumen and noticed that what I was writing was derivative crap; and I swore a great oath, to write no more fantasy until I had an original idea. Took me twenty years to find it, but now I had, and I was straight back into happy country, land that had lain entirely fallow since those teenage years. So of course I felt it, I was living inside my own fantasy, inhabiting my teenage self but with my dreams realised, being the professional fantasy writer I had ached to be.
Didn't last, of course. The realities of the adult world wormed their way in, as they do. But vol one was a happy book, and The Begging-Bowl (I have yielded to my own pressure and James', over that title; he was right, sometimes compact is best) is a happy story. I don't think it's a very good story, and it's got to be over-long - but hey, who cares? It ain't for publication. I'll read it to the group, share it around some friends, maybe stick it on the website but generally put it away for my heirs and graces to publish once I'm gone.
Posted by Chaz at 09:44 PM GMT [Link]
Sunday, May 18, 2003
So it's Sunday, and I have this entirely happy day mapped out, I could practically write the diary entry first thing this morning: I would put the houseplants out into the backyard for their annual bath (I like to give them a day out in the rain, come springtime; it washes the dust off, drenches their roots, encourages fresh leafing and just thoroughly perks them up), I would watch Ferrari regain their rightful position at the top of Formula One (huge F1 fan, me, and even I can't understand it: I don't drive, I detest car culture generally, I come over all green & furious at the mention of petrochemicals - and yet, the sight and sound of twenty absurdly unecologically-friendly racing cars driving in circles for a couple of hundred miles can stir me to a passion, especially if by some mischance the two in front aren't wearing Ferrari red, which ought to be a law of nature) and I would work on and very possibly finish my M R James pastiche before I brought my soggy plants back indoors.
So what actually happens? I haul the plants outside - and they're getting remarkably heavy, some of 'em, and I have this knackered shoulder - and the rain resolutely doesn't do its job of falling. The more the teletext promises rain, the more the damn sun shines, so that in the end I have to go out there and hose 'em down myself, which is really not the idea; even Newcastle rain has got to be healthier than N'cle tapwater.
And Kimi Raikkonen does me the disservice of not crashing and not breaking down and not making some terrible error on the racetrack, so that he splits the Ferraris and comes in second, which means that he still leads the championship, although Michael Schumacher burst into flames in the pits and still won the race, which is the kind of, er, coolness under fire that we expect these days but which can still make us blink when it happens.
And when I nestled down into the ghost story, it was one of those 'hullo, didn't I change that? And actually I thought I'd taken it on a bit further than this; and damn, I know I put something new in there, and - oh, fuck, I don't believe it...' sessions, where I realise slowly that all of yesterday's work has disappeared. Or put it another way, rather, I had failed to save it. I used to be utterly reliable about this, in the Windows days when the system might crash without warning: the WP saved automatically every five minutes, I printed out every page as I completed it, and I copied everything onto a floppy at the end of every work-session, now matter how short or how unproductive.
But now I work in Linux, and the fear of crashing has fled my mind, and so I have become a little careless about back-ups and such, and I'm no longer so neurotic about hard copy, and I've chopped and changed so much between one word processor and another that I must have forgotten to set the auto-save feature on this one; and one of the disadvantages of using Linux is that because it's such a patchwork of separate packages, it won't double-check that you've saved everything in every running program before it shuts the system down. So because the thing is such a rare event, it becomes possible to lose work in Linux, where it was almost impossible in Windows because the risk of it was such a commonplace. I think that might be irony.
So I spent much of the day trying to recover what I'd lost, which is the worst job in the writing universe; and I will never love the story as I ought to, as I used to, because there will always be that thought in the back of my head, 'Ah, but you should have seen the original version, the lost version, that was so much better...'
And talking of things lost, Jean has sent me an e-mail claiming that the Poles have nine different words for the stages of cathood, ranked by cuteness; but the list she attaches details only eight. There is a lost age out there, which Misha thinks ought properly to be filled by middle-aged cats who still cling with all claws to an arthritic idiocy, a dream of kittenhood. And I think she's probably right.
Posted by Chaz at 10:52 PM GMT [Link]
Thursday, May 15, 2003
I'm currently on a strict pharmaceutical regime, have to eat before I can get drugged up and I'm supposed to do it regularly, three times a day. This leads to difficulties, like breakfast time (don't eat breakfast; what am I to do? What I do at the moment is take a handful of grapes and pretend that's food) and sometimes evenings too. I made this curry that I meant to eat tonight, lamb simmered in an almond cream with lots of sweet spices but absolutely no chilli at all, shock horror; so I knocked up a chilli relish to go with, a couple of Scotch Bonnets with a couple of red peppers, an onion, some garlic, that's about it, all whizzed up together. Fierce, and fun. But I got home too late to be faffing around heating stuff up and cooking rice or bread or whatever, when I needed to catch up with my medication; so I threw an omelette together, a couple of softened shallots and a spoonful of this relish in a pair of really good eggs, hot pan, lump of butter, there you go. With a handful of cherry tomatoes, taste and texture and nourishment too, doubtless a vitamin or two, all put together in five minutes and what more do you want?
I was late back because I spent the evening in Sunderland, and if God had meant us to go to Sunderland he would never have given us the Metro. I swear the journey used to take twenty minutes on the train; tonight I slipped away from the event at half-past eight and still didn't get home till ten.
I seem to be telling this story backwards, but sometimes that's just the way it goes. I was in Sunderland to see a play, Flight Paths by Kathleen McCreery. Political, exhortatory, issue-driven drama about racism and asylum seekers: the sort of thing I used to lap up when I was younger (loved Brecht, loved polemic: strip the stage, strip the issue and nail your colours to the bare mast) but have tended to avoid in recent years. I guess I'm growing comfortable in my middle age, I know where I stand and I'm happy there and I don't want to be challenged any more. Tonight might have changed my mind, I'm not sure yet; at the least it was a reminder of what I used to love and why, the strengths and potency of the form.
It also helped me sort something out in my head, on the interminable journey back. It's become a commonplace these days to advertise dramas, particularly on TV, as "based on a true story" or words to that effect. Clearly, this is supposed to attract viewers; on me it has the opposite effect, it's an immediate reason not to watch. Just as I don't watch "docu-dramas", and I try to avoid straight documentaries if they feature "reconstructions", which generally means amateur enthusiasts in home-made costumes (much cheaper than actors professionally dressed) waving weapons around in smoke and trying to look authentic. That avoidance has become almost impossible, even the science programmes these days will have a fake Galileo or whoever rather than a straightforward talking head, so I just watch with half an eye and read a book during the longueurs; but I think what it is, I'm anti-entropic, I like categories and I resent this general blurring towards an indeterminate mid-point where a thing is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring (as witness my insistence on good organic free-range eggs, with yolks bright as childhood; there is no reason for an egg to taste of fishmeal). I like my documentaries to be factual, and I like my fiction to be imaginative. Of course there's a need for contemporary drama, as well-researched as you like; but what I like is flights of fancy, metaphor riding invention, talking about this world in terms of something other. There's a novel called Sabriel by Garth Nix, just out in paperback, a fine novel, I'd recommend it to anyone - but it's got a puff from Philip Pullman, who calls it "a fantasy that reads like realism". Excuse me, that's supposed to be a compliment? When I write a fantasy, however much it speaks of the world as is, I still want it to read like I made it up.
Which - as we are in retrograde motion here - brings me to yesterday, and the good news. The nice people at Ace Books in the US want to commission my next fantasy, a two-book series called Selling Water by the River. It's been, I don't know, how long, five or six years since a publisher actually said yes to a new proposal; this is kind of like discovering that I do still have a career after all, and the relief is mighty.
Posted by Chaz at 11:11 PM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Ah, ah, ah, alliteration. The poet's enemy, but the novelist's friend; I love it. And so, of course, I overuse it. Shamelessly, in the normal course of events. Rhyme is wretched in a piece of prose, but alliteration is like rhyme in reverse, doing the same job without the same dull echoes, the heavy thud of repetition. (In fact, I just this moment looked it up, and alliteration has been called 'head-rhyme' - I didn't know that, and am feeling very clever for my own analysis).
Frankly, I blame the computer. For the over-use, that is. As with so many of my stylistic quirks, it's all down to ease of use. I tend to be on a roll when the sweet phrases come, practically taking dictation; and I love them for their rhythm, for their liquidity in my head and through my fingers, and when the smoke-alarm goes off, whoops, there's another alliteration, and isn't four successive words perhaps a little excessive? - well, I just ignore it on the perfectly reasonable grounds that it's virtual text, I can come back and change it any time, better to have it down now and take it out later than leave it out and want it when I can't remember how it went. Never used to be like that in the old days, when I typed onto paper and every alteration meant at least one sheet's retyping. In those days I'd work over every sentence again and again before ever it got written down. Not no more. And of course when I go back and edit, sometimes I miss the alliteration because I'm reading in a different voice and I'm looking for different things; and sometimes I let it pass when I know I shouldn't, just because I like it and a man's allowed a little slack; and so - although it is, I say again, the novelist's friend - there is, I confess, too much alliteration in my work.
Sometimes, though, even I will balk. Today I started writing a Jamesian ghost story (it's homework, honestly, for this course I'm doing; first time in three decades I've been asked to write a story for my homework). Serious fun, I'm having such a good time with it; but the title is an embarrassment. Can't get away from it, it simply does have to be called The Brass Benares Begging-Bowl. Which brings into that dangerous four-instances area, and it is too many, and there is nothing to be done. Indeed, I've already compromised on this one; it ought properly to be called The Bonze's Brass Benares Begging-Bowl, but that was going altogether too far. I suppose in fact that James would simply have called it The Begging-Bowl, he had a penchant for the plain title; but while this is an exercise in pastiche, it is also a genuine story and mine own and so demands my own voice in counterpoint, and so shall have it.
By the way, in case you were wondering, the novelist's enemy is the adverb. An insidious little beast, keeps creeping in where it really isn't wanted.
Posted by Chaz at 10:14 PM GMT [Link]
Monday, May 12, 2003
Everything is weird, but some things are more weird than others. One reason - one of the many, many reasons - why I've always regarded with deep suspicion the rural life and those who choose to live it is that whole early-to-bed, early-to-rise philosophy, farmers who drag themselves out of bed at dawn for first milking and are knackered by sunset. What is that all about? Nobody should willingly do that to themselves. When I was at my most creative, in my twenties, I was entirely nocturnal: work or party all night long, bed at five or six or seven in the morning and don't bother to get up till three next afternoon. It was my friends and their new jobs that forced a compromise, if I wanted a social life I had to adjust to fit; but my natural inclination has always been towards the darkness, and as ever I am deeply distrustful of people who don't want to live the way that I live. I mean, they've got to be pretending, haven't they...?
Except that the more I get into this gardening lark, the more stuff I set to grow, the more in fact that I ape a rural lifestyle in my little city fastness, the earlier I wake up and the sooner I want to go to bed. This morning I was wide awake by seven, and I've been struggling tonight to stay up till midnight. Where is the life that late I led, où sont les neiges d'antan? (Actually I've always intended to write a story called Ici les Neiges d'antan, but that's a divagation). This horticulture thing, it's insidious, roots get in your brain. (Ick - scary image, or what? I remember a picture from the long-late, long-lamented Science Fiction Monthly, a screaming man with grass growing in his mouth; I hated it then, and it haunts me still. And all those films where plants are malicious, those are deeply troubling to me. Still haven't seen Little Shop of Horrors, and I'm a man who loves musicals...) It's sapping my will to resist. I already have earth under my fingernails; soon I'll develop a strange yen to follow foxes. Easy done, these days; the urban fox is a fine animal, and a sign that evolution is not dead.
These oddly curtailed nights did at least not stop me going to the jazz on Saturday. David Restivo was playing at my favourite N'cle venue, Live Theatre. He's a Canadian pianist, for those of you who don't know, tho' his mother lives in Sunderland and is friends with friends of mine. David is fabulous. There are more pyrotechnic keyboardists, and more avant-garde, but those excite more technical interest than emotional engagement; David's is the kind of music that I come home to, to touch base, to say that this is where jazz resides. He was playing with a couple of local musicians, a drummer and a bassist, whose names I confess to having half-forgotten, on account of not having seen them written down; but they led me down paths of fascinated admiration even outside the music, because I don't understand how they can do that, play so comfortably with someone new after what must have been minimal rehearsal. Some of the repertoire was classic, Cole Porter to Charlie Parker, but some was David's own compositions, and how the hell do you learn to play a new piece, with only late and limited access to its originator? If you're a drummer, and the whole pulse of the piece is percussive (the piano, let us never forget, is a percussive instrument), and you sound like you've been there since the beginning, like no one but you has ever played it with him, like it could never be played any way but this...?
I love music, but I really don't get how it happens. Weird stuff. But the world is full of weird, and for the most part that's okay. If I wasn't bewildered all the time, I'd have no reason to write. We tell each other stories to explain the world to ourselves, and a perfect explanation would be the perfect end to fiction, and then I really would have to retire to the country and grow chillies.
Posted by Chaz at 11:14 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, May 9, 2003
E-mail may have changed my life, in so far as I am much more in touch with far more people than ever I used to keep, never having been good at the letter-writing or the telephoning, but it also causes me deep anxiety half a dozen times a day, that interval between asking the machine to fetch it and its actual arrival. Things can go wrong; messages can be lost; I can actually sit here and watch my mail disappear into the maw of undifferentiated white noise. As this afternoon, when my mail client was afflicted with a mild distemper, and contrived to collect nothing from the server, while at the same time ensuring that all mail on the server was deleted. Every time I check my mail, I worry that this will happen; once in a blue moon, it does. And I have no way of knowing what's been lost, only that something certainly has. If you sent me a message this afternoon, send it again...
To make myself feel better, this evening I went into the back yard and harvested; and so cooked fillet of pork with a mustard mash, French beans and a cream and sorrel sauce. If ever I actually go the allotment route, then potatoes and beans too can be home-grown; today it was just the sorrel. Seriously scrummy, though. Fry the pork, deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine (I used an organic Spanish, made from the Airen grape), chuck in a handful of sorrel and sizzle for long enough to season with salt and pepper, then add single cream until gorgeous. The sorrel almost dissolves, but the lemony richness of it lingers. Alas, that was my sorrel harvest; I'm waiting for a potload of seeds to germinate, but I seem to have been waiting for a while.
Posted by Chaz at 09:41 PM GMT [Link]
Wednesday, May 7, 2003
In Chinese class this evening, we were looking at a translation of the beatitudes; and maybe it was the jazz band rehearsing in the next room that led us into the ways of temptation, but the conversation slid away from the text, via the way that Protestant and Catholic missionaries had adopted completely different Chinese words for God - 'Emperor Above' for the Protestants, and 'Heavenly Master' for the Catholics, both of them entirely avoiding the actual Chinese word for a god, presumably on the grounds that it was tainted by association, or else that its use would make their god indistinguishable (I actually typed 'indeistinguishable' there, which is neat, I think) from the local pantheon - and so to a broad discussion of the Vulgate and Greek originals, and how the French Catholics used to call God 'Vous' while the Protestants would always tutoyer, and there was just something about it that made me very happy to be there and sharing. Languages and theology will always punch my buttons, I suppose, and I'm always impressed by other people's knowledge; there's a part of me that still pines for the life of academe. That Peter Wimsey thing about restoring a lost iota subscript. I never had the patience or the integrity to be a scholar, I like things quick and cheap, but that doesn't stop me pining.
Posted by Chaz at 11:14 PM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, May 6, 2003
Disappointment of the day: long years ago, when I was a hopeless schoolboy, my head teacher taught us that the word 'sincere' derives from the Latin sine cero, 'without wax'. Reason being, he said, that in Roman days bad sculptors would disguise bad marble by rubbing wax into the stone of their statues to conceal the flaws. Good sculptors responded by advertising that all their statues were sine cero, a guarantee of honesty, and hence our English word.
I've been meaning to check that out for thirty years. Today, being in the Lit & Phil and nose-deep in the OED (sorry - jargon - the Oxford English Dictionary), I did check it. Oxford says there is 'no probability' in the story, which is a pleasant way of saying, with absolute authority, that it is bullshit. Aw, shucks.
Still, compensation of the day: I took delivery this morning of the first copies of The Devil in the Dust, vol 1 of the US edition of Outremer. There is no feeling quite like the feeling of ripping open a Jiffy bag and seeing a book slide out with your own name on the cover. I've done it a few dozen times now, and it's still a thrill.
Posted by Chaz at 03:54 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, May 2, 2003
[One chapter later...]
Hah! They're trying to make me conform to that bizarre American habit of using a capital letter after a colon, treating the second part almost as a separate sentence, and I will not do it. A colon does not imply that strong a break. Fowler says that it delivers the goods that have been invoiced in the preceding words; that is sweet. I don't know whether it supports my position exactly, but who cares?
Oh, and à propos of nothing much, Emerson says that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. An ideal fall-back position for someone locked in mental conflict with a copy-edit.
Posted by Chaz at 04:46 PM GMT [Link]
Yesterday I had to go back to the vet, to pay Sophie's final bill and return some old medicines she hadn't used. Not the best way to start the day; the receptionists were sweet to me, which only made me the more miserable.
Spent the rest of the day in and out of the back yard, painting and planting and potting up and such. Gardening is reputed to be therapeutic (an old friend of mine once wrote a poem in which he 'plunged his hands into the good earth' when a fighter jet screamed overhead; ever after, when he wrote anything particularly righteous, there was a mild chorus of 'bit of a plunger, that one, Nigel'). I'm unconvinced of any special benefits myself, but it uses up time nicely, and there will be lots of greeny growy stuff at the end of it. Eaty stuff too, largely. My physiotherapist has been trying to tempt me away from herbs & salads, with talk of jasmine and such (that 'such' to indicate other climbing things, whose names I do not now remember). She may even succeed; already I have a few herbs (feverfew, tansy) that are not really for eating. Though people used to make tansy-cake for Easter, apparently. Damn, just too late...
And yesterday evening the Val McDermid roadshow was in town - on her own, but Val is a roadshow sui generis and by herself. Technically she was launching a book, but she does a fairly good job of cheering up Chaz en passant.
Today is too rainy for painting (well, you try suggesting to the weather that the day is too painty for raining. I'll tell you where that gets you: exactly wet). I have shopped at the farmers' market, and come home with goats' kidneys, which I devilled for lunch but may not do again, as I found them unexciting; lambs' are better, richer, more textured in flavour. The devilment, though, was spot on: just cream, cayenne, grainy mustard and Worcestershire sauce, nothing more needed. And then I was wondering what on earth to do with the afternoon when the nice man from UPS delivered the final Outremer copy-edit from the US. I shall drift back into town and settle down in a nice warm pub with a nice warm pint and devote the rest of the day to hating copy-editors. This particular one seems to have a hatred for hyphens and what's-the-proper-word-for-triple-dots...? Unless that's Ace house style, of course. I always find copy-edits embarrassing, just because I go through them reinstating 90% of what they've changed; I usually end up letting some alterations pass just because I don't want to look like one of those authors who won't listen to any voice but their own. That's not true of me, I swear it's not; just that I do know my own style better than anyone else, I do know how and why I phrase and punctuate as I do, and I do give it more thought than any copy-editor has time to do. Which means, nine times out of ten, that I'm right and they're wrong. End of argument, and another stet written in the margin. They probably hate me as much as I hate them.
Posted by Chaz at 01:39 PM GMT [Link]
© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.