Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Our skin ochered
With past actions,
Our hearts bathed
In oils that never dry,
We stand in the lee of walls
And think about the wind.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Nomen est omen

“If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a golden slipper on a gouty foot”, John Bunyan (1628-1688)

Bunyan?  There's something afoot...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Wrong label

Decades ago, in a Dublin bar, I met a woman who thought that I, an Englishman, was Danish; I like to think it was due to my height or my flaxen tuft, but I have a feeling it was in reaction to my elided words (it had been a long evening).
A still more disturbing misidentification was that of the unfortunate “Ringerl”, pictured above. Ringerl was a female Olinguito wrongly classified as an Olingo, (Olinguitos were identified as a species only this year). Between 1967 and 1976, in an effort to get her to breed, Ringerl was paired to male Olingos in five zoos across the United States. Not surprisingly nothing happened. It would be the equivalent of expecting a woman to couple with a chimpanzee or even a fair-haired beanpole who's enthusing about “fayltaksidermi”.

Friday, 6 December 2013

More of my gaff...

All photographs by Valérie Thion.

Rocking microtome

Further evidence of droopiness chez moi

South America called them, but did they go?

Monday, 2 December 2013

My gaff...

... as seen through the lens of talented photographer Valérie Thion;

Dirty windows and fake jellyfish

Penguin's feet and starfish

(proving that a smile can crack your face)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

And so on

Just as some colours are our colours,
Remember the pink of Cadiz...
There will be colours for others
To continue what isn't that is.


Thursday, 29 August 2013

With apologies to Flann O'Brien

Keats and Chapman were driving through France endeavoring to enjoy the scenery and customs afforded by that historic country. Unfortunately the friends' chronic lack of funds made their travel arrangements less than satisfactory, especially for Keats who criticized Chapman's purchase of a clapped out Citroën Acadiane, “We would have been better off with an ass and cart; this frightful jalopy is bound to break down.”
Chapman reproached his companion's lack of faith in French engineering. At which point the gear-box fell out.
A dépanneur eventually arrived to take the defunct vehicle away. As the two ex-tourists watched their van being loaded on to a trailer Keats turned to Chapman and pointedly observed, “What we have here is a fourgon conclusion.”


Monday, 5 August 2013

Double dactyl poem

(Nessie fans, generally)
Like to point out

That what we thought we saw
Was not a duck, but a
Splashing about.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Medusan Infusion

I recently saw a film starring Will Smith, he was on some kind of mission, possibly redemptive. It was an unremittingly sententious spectacle, but worth watching because of the jellyfish that fascinated our hero;

W. Smith is not alone in having jellyfish in a jar.

My jellyfish are made of rubber, they're aquarium decorations I bought in a pet shop. My initial idea was to have them in my fish tank -

    - but the flourescent lights highlighted the fishing line that anchored the bouyant jellyfish; the line isn't so apparent in their present setting.

The body of the specimen jar is a vase bought in IKEA. The base is made up of a couple of ash trays. An inverted biscuit tin forms the lid whose glass apex is the top from a candy jar. The lid and base are sprayed black. The jellyfish are tethered to lumps of lava and Salvinia natans floats on the surface. I'm hoping that the water will be turned green by the sunlight and give the display an ethereal feel as well as hiding the fishing line.

In the days since I wrote that last sentence (so laden with a prescience born of vast experience and astute observation) the water has stayed clear as that of a mountain stream and the jellyfish have turned green;  


Monday, 24 June 2013

Bordeaux Mixture

There mark what Ills the Scholar's Life assail
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret and the Jail.
See Nations slowly wise and meanly just,
To buried Merit raise the tardy Bust.

From Samuel Johnson's 'The Vanity of Human Wishes'

There's a statue in Bordeaux's Jardin Public that commemorates the life of Alexis Millardet (1838-1902). On the dais teeters a naked young woman proffering a bunch of grapes. The grapes are dangled because Millardet was a professor who specialized in viticulture in the University of Bordeaux's science faculty. Along with Ulysse Gayon (1845-1929), the oenological chemist, he developed the anti-mildew 'Bordeaux Mixture' that's so widely used today.  

The monument was erected in 1914. The original bust was in bronze and was the work of Gaston Leroux (1854-1942). It was melted down during the German occupation.

Photograph taken by W.R. Fisher in 1936

The stone replacement bust was carved by Alexis Callède in 1953. I don't know who made the young woman. I presume she is naked because she's a muse, or a nymph, or a maniac, although I like to think of her as an absent-minded lab assistant. Despite the interesting alternatives it's most probable she's a muse, or a nymph, as the prof is wearing a toga or some such so as to place the work in a lofty, classical setting and thus render it anodyne viewing for families strolling in the park. Unfortunately it doesn't make it anodyne viewing for me.

It's the layers of artifice I find disturbing. Of course the whole thing is artifice, ceci n'est pas une lab assistant and so forth, but it's not just that, it's doubly that. It's not a sculpture of Millardet, it's a sculpture of a bust of Millardet, I know this because he (i.e. the sculpture of the bust of Millardet) is not acknowledging the kind, or possibly disingenuous, offer of grapes, in fact it would be very weird if he did so as he has no hands to receive them, no stomach to digest them and, incidentally, no loins to be stirred by the bunch’s bearer. Or perhaps he's staring stoically ahead precisely because he has none of these attributes. Or perhaps he's ignoring her because she is a lab assistant and he, as her superior in the work place, doesn't want to be accused of exploiting his supposed droit du seigneur. Not that he could anyway.

Or maybe he's looking away in a fit of pique because the focal point of the ensemble is clearly not his head, but the eye-level haunches of his callipygous minion.

 'Callipygous'; it has the affected air of a Victorian nonce word, the hard 'g' seems out of place in a term for 'fair-buttocked'. 'Fair-buttocked' sounds even worse. The contemporary 'bootylicious' is so much better, it evokes fun and desire; pity I can't bring myself to say it, I'd sound ridiculous if I did, pervy even. I can say 'callipygous', I can hide behind its mock learning, but with 'bootylicious' I'd be all too easily understood.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


Wash the dishes, pull the plug,
Want to break his precious mug.

The swirling bubbles gather pace
And sink toward a better place

Exposing proof of waters plunged;
A yellow ring to be expunged.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

We chonk, they chirp

I recently came across this description, in Wikipedia, of the Pin-striped tit-babbler;

The species has a distinctive yellowish supercilium and rufous crown. The throat is yellowish with brown streaks. Call is a loud repeated chonk-chonk-chonk-chonk-chonk somewhat reminiscent of a Common Tailorbird.”

This similarity of calls must be a source of constant irritation to the Pin-striped tit-babbler as there is clearly a pronounced class difference between it and the Common Tailorbird.

Pin-striped tit-babbler – note the discreet flecking, the aloof expression

Common Tailorbird – cocky stance, garish décor

On the rare occasions the two interbreed an interesting hybrid occurs;

Pin-striped Tailorbird – he's never sure whether the milk goes in before or after the tea

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

School for Born Leaders

Enrique Peña Nieto, just one of our many alumni

Day one; we add mania to your stare.
Day two; we teach you how to blow hot air
(For the promotion of din and despair).
Day three; doesn't matter, you won't be there.


Friday, 17 May 2013

Game not without risk

A maven in vernal Israel
Once ate a migratory quail,
Laid low by the bird,
He studied the word
“Coturnism” to help him prevail.

When the Common Quail performs its Spring migration north through the Holy Land it consumes en route toxic seeds (probably those of a Woundwort – Stachys annua) that are harmless to the bird, but regularly poison those who, shortly afterwards, dine on the migrant.

A keen ladies' man from Israel
Once ate a migratory quail,
Half dead from the bird,
He employed the word
“Coturnism” to impress a female.

People have been aware of this phenomenon (the poisoning) for millennia; the Old Testament blamed God's wrath (Numbers 11: 31-34). The resulting medical condition, coturnism, has its etymological roots in coturnix, Latin for quail.

There was a gourmand from Israel
Who had eaten a cow and a quail
His abdominal grief
Wasn't caused by the beef
But the galliform in his entrail.

I think I've developed limerickism.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Influence of Desire

The momentary touch that leaves a doubt,
An incitation that may not have been,
It's the paint our reason tries to throw out
That colours our vision of worlds unseen.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Poulpe Fiction

Simon Warmer

None who was in the Dog and Mollusc that night will forget Cephalo Pod's emotive instrumental. Like all octopuses Pod had three hearts, we saw them, they were worn on a variety of his sleeves as he squeezed from his lap Charles Trenet's haunting ditty;

There wasn't a dry eye in the Dog when Ceph mumbled his farewells. Shouts of “Encore!” echoed in his statocyst as he waved multiple goodbyes and left via a crack in the wainscotting.

Monday, 29 April 2013

In Lipogram Land

Vowl was unusually fraught
So Gadsby said “Both of us ought
To stop this Oulipian fad,
It's driving us thoroughly mad”,
To which Vowl said, “Why d'you think that?
Indigo platypus drowning a cat”.


Friday, 26 April 2013

Beyond the call of duty

What is “beyond the call of duty”?

I imagine clean air, hard stone and silence,
A climbing path that never ends
And the will to take it.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Gold Clock

“Well, George,” announced the young man
“I'd like to take this opportunity to say”
And then he said. And George listened
To talk of duty, thanks, token of recognition
“for twenty-five years' loyal-”
What? Twenty-five? It was forty-four!
Would have been forty-eight if it wasn't for the war.
George looked up, but his tightening throat
Censored protestation.
Someone else intervened,
The young man apologised and explained
How he had got his retirees mixed up
And George saw what had happened,
Saw everything that had ever happened,
And reassured the young man
That it can happen to anyone.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Full lives and hollow talk

The following clip shows Errol Fuller (1947- ), painter, sparring partner of “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon and author of such works as “Extinct Birds” and “The Lost Birds of Paradise”, both of which I highly recommend, talking about his collection of old taxidermy. He has some wonderful pieces; I'm particularly envious of his Shoebill stork (now known, through DNA testing, to be more closely related to pelicans than storks). It is revealing that four minutes seven seconds into the film Fuller baulks at using the word “stuffed” when describing the taxidermy of Charles Waterton and chooses instead to say “done”.

Fuller's hesitation when referring to Waterton's work is due to his awareness that Waterton was unique among taxidermists in not using a structure on which to position the pelt. His creations were hollow, he never “stuffed”; from an etymological perspective he remains the only pure practitioner of taxidermy (from Greek taxis “arrangement”, from tassein “arrange”, + derma “skin”) in that he eschewed all artifice other than moulding and stiffening the skin.

The above painting of Waterton is the work of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) who started life as a saddle-maker before becoming a portrait artist. He also created, in Philadelphia, one of the world's first natural history museums.

A self-portrait of Peale in his museum.
Three of Peale's ten children, Raphaelle, Rembrandt and Rubens, followed in his footsteps and became accomplished artists. Raphaelle worked for a while as a taxidermist in his father's museum where the arsenic he absorbed when mounting specimens contributed to his early death.

John Bull and the National Debt”, a satirical piece by Charles Waterton

Waterton (1782-1865) had a large estate in Wakefield, Yorkshire, it was here that he created the world's first nature reserve. He used to invite patients from a local mental asylum to come to his house and use his telescope to watch the waterfowl on his lake as a form of relaxation therapy. By doing such things Waterton became known as an eccentric. Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), herself no slouch when it came to eccentricity, had this to say about him;
He was an eccentric only as all great gentlemen are eccentric, by which I mean that their gestures are not born to fit the conventions or the cowardice of the crowd. His biographer, Father J. Wood, says, very rightly: 'It was perhaps eccentric to have a strong religious faith, and act up to it. It was eccentric, as Thackeray said, to "dine on a crust, live as cheaply as a hermit, and give his all to the poor." It was eccentric to come into a large estate as a young man, and to have come to extreme old age without having wasted an hour or a shilling. It was eccentric to give bountifully and never allow his name to appear in a subscription list. It was eccentric to be saturated with the love of nature. It might be eccentric never to give dinner-parties, preferring to keep an open house for his friends, but it was a very agreeable kind of eccentricity. It was eccentric to be childlike, but never childish. We might multiply instances of his eccentricity to any extent, and we may safely say that the world would be much better than it is if such eccentricity were more common."

Charles Waterton Capturing a Cayman”
by Edward Jones

Thursday, 28 February 2013

So much in common

I came across the following photograph on the Internets recently and was impressed by the harmony of its content.

Photo by Douglas Friedman

It is similar to my own living room, except that it's more expensively appointed. It is also considerably cleaner, but the general thrust is the same, shades of green studded with taxidermy. I think the placement of two large aquatic birds (Mute swans) in the window alcove is the pièce de résistance, I have only the one (a Pink-backed pelican).

Photo by Neil McCulloch

It transpires that the room I discovered is that of Dita von Teese, a strip-tease artist of some repute (she was once married to a pop singer who looked a little like a zombie).

I think the arrangement on the bear-skin rug must be a temporary measure put there to balance the tableau (otherwise Ms. Von Teese would risk scorching her striking hanuman).

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Buccal banter

A lingual frenulum goes into a bar, and the barman says, “Why so down in the mouth?”