Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Descent of Man

   As a child at school back in the sixties I remember being taken into a room, physically examined by an elderly medic and hearing him apply to me a big word I didn't understand, but whose tone and context told me was important, and possibly shameful, so I memorised it. It was before I knew how to use a dictionary. At the time the chief clues to word meanings were hung on the classroom walls. I remember the picture of an axe and being mystified by the spelling of the accompanying word – why the E at the end?

   The presence of an E at the end of AXE remained a mystery but the meaning of my big word didn't. After a while I learned that “underdeveloped” was every bit as shameful as I'd suspected.

   It's odd to think that I remember a particular word being said when memories of my early school days are normally so hazy, but then the handling of ones genitals without invitation by a towering stranger lends itself to recall. It's also odd to think that this manipulation was considered normal practice. Maybe it still is. Or perhaps nowadays the examiner uses some sort of electronic soup ladle (or teaspoon in cases like mine).

   I have long had a mental picture of my father being present at this institutional groping, I can see him slumping in resignation upon learning that his son was never going to be a caber tosser and was destined instead to lead a life of unalloyed milksoppery. I now suspect I added my dad to the scenario at a later date just to confirm the ritual humiliation of it all. The real interlocutor was probably a secretary with a clipboard, fountain pen poised to mark me down for life, stockinged legs scissored, strained lab coat threatening to catapult buttons-

   Anyway, sometime during the following years my genitals must have put on a metaphorical spurt as I remember engaging, as a cocky nineteen year old, in frenetic and seemingly concatenate bouts of copulation for months on end with an obliging girlfriend. I couldn't believe my luck and was far too hyperactive to worry about underdevelopment, that was until she referred to me as being “immature” a term that had uncomfortable echos of the U word. It came as a tremendous relief when she patiently spelt out to me, in what turned out to be our final conversation, that she was referring to my morbid jealousy, snide comments and all-round superficiality.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Swings and Roundabouts

In Belarus a child counters the force of a bucketing merry-go-round, the cold steel warmed by his dissident grip.
One more revolution and the ride will be over. Time for the ghost train.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Of Hooves and Hats

I found this in a junk shop recently;

   It's a Hoof Fungus (Formes formentarius). It grows on various hardwood trees and, occasionally, conifers. The one I found is mounted on chipboard the formica veneer of which is peeling, an unattractive backing not worthy of the magnificent fungus. With my customary insight into these matters I deduced that someone had attached the fungus to a plaque that had originally been used in a perfumery as it is there that a word such as “Amadouvier” surely belongs.

   It turns out that “Amadouvier” is French for Hoof Fungus. It's somehow typical that the French word sounds suited to a perfume and that the English version is reminiscent of athelete's foot.
   Both its English and French names refer to physical characteristics, the English one is obvious, but the French term reveals a hidden and more sensual aspect – many say that it is ultimately derived from the Latin ad manum dulce, “soft to the touch”.

   “Amadouvier” is linguistically derived from “Amadou” which is physically derived from Amadouvier. Amadou is the “soft to the touch” spongy material found within the fungus. When amadou is dried after soaking in a solution of saltpetre the desiccated result is very easy to ignite with a spark from, for instance, a flint - some French sources claim that “amadou” is from a Provençal word meaning amoureux/loving (“because it ignites so quickly”...). Such tinder was among the possessions of “Ötzi the Iceman” who was murdered 5,300 years ago and found, mummified by icy conditions, in 1991 in the Ötzal Alps (the mountains between Austria and Italy).

   The less spongy form of amadou (that nearer the surface) is used by dry-fly fishermen to dry their flies. It is prepared by cutting it into slices and boiling them for a few hours or soaking them for a week in washing soda or urine. The dried end product (below) is one of the most naturally absorbent materials known.

   Amadou can also be worked like leather or processed like felt (whose processing also traditionally involved steeping in urine). These crafts are still practiced in eastern Europe, various items are made including table mats, handbags and headgear;

Mycologist Paul Stamets sporting an amadou trilby. Very natty.

I find something disturbing about this assembly of amadouvian creations; a sort of nightmare in fawn dreamt up by Joseph Beuys.