Monday, October 30, 2006

Liturgical Slut

I did the thing I said I wouldn't do and cheated on Mags with Smoky Tom's. I promised it was just one Evensong, that it meant nothing to me, that it would never happen again, but somehow there I was at mass this morning. I could try to defend myself and say that it was the Palestrina that did it, but we all know you don't do anything under the influence of Palestrina that you don't secretly want to do otherwise. The liturgy is no better, the acoustic is far worse, it's nothing like as pretty, but for some reason I let myself be drawn back.
The reason may be the lure of twenty more minutes in bed, since St T's is virtually round the corner from my house. To use this excuse on the very day when the clocks go back providing an entire hour longer in bed is, I know, especially pathetic. I can also say that the homily was excellent. Apart from the great advantage of being English and therefore sounding like Home, this morning's preacher suggested, reasonably, that if in 1st Century Judaea Zealots (Simon) and Imperial functionaries (Matthew) could unite under the love of Jesus, then surely the Evos (I don't think he used that term, I'm paraphrasing) and liberals of the present age should be able to manage it. This does rather suppose that the love of Jesus and dogmatic theology are not, after all, one and the same thing, a view so controversial that it is sure to cause consternation wherever it is voiced. Luckily I am so ill-qualified to judge these matters that you are not going to have to listen to my views on the subject. I'm only there for the music, remember.


Last night I went to a gig. This is a word my church music friends use to refer to any professional engagement (I think more to seem drily reductive and offhand about the whole business than in any real attempt to make conducting Vaughan Williams appear hip) so I should clarify that this was not chamber music but a friend's rock band. Initially I was unperturbed by his claim that it was a bit of a distance, but this was foolishly forgetting that I am in Toronto, where two blocks can mean fifteen miles, and "a bit of a distance" means "book a flight." Well, it was sweet of him to ask me, but I'm not awfully good at bestirring myself to this kind of thing, being extremely idle and almost always inappropriately shod, so I settled on a Saturday night at home reading the paper and painting my nails. However, I ended up at an engagement even further out of town (does this city never end? It must have suburbs on the moon), and since by 11pm I was actually in a cab passing the junction where the gig was, I felt it the action of a wilful churl to head straight for the subway.
Unfortunately, since fate had all but delivered me there, I hadn't really considered that I had to get home as well. When I looked at my watch and realised that I had missed the subway, I was of the mind that it was not the end of the world. When I spent 40 minutes ringing three cab companies 600 times each and got no reply, I was somewhat troubled. When I couldn't actually see any cabs, or indeed buses, streetcars or signs of inhabitation in any surrounding buildings, I started to panic, and a sick realisation spread through me that the black leather skirt which had seemed so amusingly off-whack for a suburban dinner party was wont in my current much-altered circumstances to lead to potentially unpleasant misunderstandings about my purposes in walking up and down a badly-lit street at 2 o'clock on a Sunday morning, and that "I'm trying to hail a taxi" was unlikely to sound convincing coming from a heavily made-up and precipitously-heeled lone female hanging about an intersection. Having dropped in to the bloody event for no reason but chumminess with the guitarist, I knew not one single other person there, even supposing they hadn't all left already, which they had. And I wasn't wholly sober.
By the time it was clear that I couldn't get back any other way, the band had packed up and despite having said they couldn't one of them kindly drove me home, no doubt far out of his way, so I felt like a total nuisance and an utter imposition as well as the worst kind of helpless and demanding female, and I don't even know to get hold of him to say thank you. Today I am hungover and tired and grumpy.

The set was quite good though.

Friday, October 27, 2006

You lose concentration for one second...

Isn't it funny how even quite fundamental things about yourself can creep up on you unnoticed until some cataclysm brings them into relief? Take Latin. When I was 14 I had to read bits of Petronius' Satyricon at school, and it was murder. I should have been warned by the kindly inscription from the friend who had given me the book: "To Mel, Love Ewan. PS It's very boring and hard to translate". And so it proved, an agony of incomprehensible clauses and senseless word-order. I couldn't see how I'd ever be able to read it, still less why I would want to.
Well, then Catullus happened to me the next year and I was instantly smitten and the rest is history. But when I was clearing out books to take University I came across the Satyricon and decided to torture myself with a glance at the impossible Latin. I was astonished to find I could read it as easily as the newspaper. You could have knocked me down with - well, I'm no sylph, but certainly with a copy of Petronius. How had that happened? You'd think clues like passing higher exams and being admitted to Oxford to read classics would have given me some notion, but no: until that moment it had never occured to me that whether or not Petronius was fiendishly hard had more to do with me than with Petronius.
So yesterday I found out that the man with whom I fell hopelessly in love at seventeen is getting married. I frankly admit that I had expected to greet this news with howling and for the day of the nuptials themselves, whensoever, to be spent round at my friend James' house in my dressing gown drinking scotch out of the bottle for breakfast and with grubby streaks of last night's mascara tipping down my face. Not a bit of it. I am jolly chipper and even happy for the chap in question, since he is eminently husbandable material and will no doubt make great success of it all. I don't know where this cheer and equilibrium about the whole affair has come from, because I thought getting over him was about as likely as ever being able to read Tacitus, or see the point of Wagner. But as I sit here with my well-worn copy of the Annales at my side listening to a much-cherished recording of Siegfried, I suddenly see that such things can happen when you're busy doing something else.
Of course this process does also work in reverse. It's very easy to learn to do something and then to go round for years with the firmly rooted belief that you are a person who can, say, read the Greek language, only to discover that you aren't. At least in that case Greek is something with which it is possible, not to say pleasurable, to fall in love all over again. Ah, Aeschylus. It's like being seventeen again...

Lenten Entertainment

Rehearsals continue and my part in the play is getting bigger; or, to be more accurate, the number of small pointless roles I have is expanding. I am now playing no fewer than six people, with lines ranging from "Where will you have 'em burn sir?", a long-debated crux of thespian interpretation, to "Here's a letter come from your son, sir," the possibilities of which demand a thought and consideration which tax the amateur. I am also half of a brief dialogue scene in which I facilitate a husband role-playing the seduction of his own wife in the guise of a travelling hunter, and of another dialogue, my half of which consists purely of shouting 'Oh God, sir!" in increasingly hysterical tones. I am sorry to say that in both cases this is a good deal less sordid than it sounds. However, the former scene does involve acting a person who is acting, a remarkably difficult thing to do convincingly, and the latter involves acting someone with no personality, which is no doddle either. There is no denying that finding new and engaging ways to say "It pleases you to say so, sir" would confound the ingenuity of the most experienced and dedicated professionals.
In any case I had forgotten how much I like acting, and not just because of being around all the nice thespy types who tell me how much they like my shoes and say kind things about my accent. I spent a lot of time board-treading as a gel, but have scarcely been in a play since school, when the opening night of my star turn (ahem) as Lady Bracknell was marred by a less-than-word-perfect Jack Worthing. He fluffed my cue line, and thereby created the only performance in the history of The Importance of Being Earnest in which the line "A handbag?" was never in fact delivered. Oh, and there was the time I was roped into a One-Act play festival. Despite staging the worst-rehearsed show in the history of theatre, something about my portrayal of a bumptious uniformed Girl Guide-cum-secret Lesbian frotteuse seemed to appeal to the (old, male) adjudicator. Inexplicable.
Actually, my last foray was not at school but when I featured, rather successfully, in an intercollegiate drama competition in my first term at Oxford. It was definitely one to go out on: it was only a small role, and in a play so forgettable and so briefly and plainly named that I can't even find it on google; but it does make me one of few people who can honestly say they have been awarded a prize for their performance in Bed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Growing Old is Inevitable, Growing up is Optional

I was most glad to have this legend awaiting me on a card when I got home from the library last night, which was at 3.30am. Staying at work till 3am is quite grown up, I suppose. It is certainly ageing. Sitting up half the night talking to someone is not work, however, and is quite the opposite of a grown-up thing to do when you have an exam the next day. But it was highly enjoyable. Coincidentally, a goodish portion of this conversation had been about when and whether one ever becomes a Grown-up. Had I ever indulged the fond fancy that I might be one, it would have been dispelled upon speaking to my brother, who spent the weekend shopping for a cot, pram, changing table and nappies, which he then (and this was the killer blow) took home in the car.
Compared with getting married and having a baby, holding a driving license is not, I know, that huge a marker of Grown-upness, and quite a different matter from the creation and sustenance of human life. But it is yet another eminently achieveable adult goal which I have entirely failed to tick off the list. Inertia is no small part of this. I have been quite happy as a non-driver, for several irresponsible reasons: that I am lazy; that I like to drink; that on train journeys I can sit and read my book; that I have always, extravagantly, insisted on living within easy walking distance of everything; and that I truly love, and get an almost erotic thrill out of, being driven. Naturally there are many valid and conscientious reasons for not having a driving license, but these are surely not they.
In fact, I did try to learn to drive once. I took to it with great enthusiasm, squandering quite a lot of money on lessons and entertaining seductive images of myself in the guise of my terribly glamorous best friend, who used to take me out whizzing round stunning mountain passes in Switzerland in her sexy black two-seater with the roof off and the CD player on loud. Instead the whole enterprise ended in tears somewhere outside Maidenhead last July when I panicked, forgot to steer and wrote off someone else's car by driving it into a hedge. This was clearly a salutary warning that adulthod is best left to adults, who must be miraculously equipped to cope with experiences so stressful, frightening, humiliating and expensive. The best that can be said of the whole sorry episode is that, as ill-omened forays into the world of Grown-upness go, it was at least a motorvehicle that had to be written off and not a baby.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ongoing Moggy

Octavia diced with death yesterday when she had to have surgery, which is not very good for you, especially when you are a 19-and-a-half year old cat. I had nightmare visions of mother ringing me up to tell me the vet had had to do the decent thing and see her off with half a brick (or more medically advanced equivalent). Fortunately she recovered immediately and skipped to her foodbowl very much in the manner of an animal that had not just had half its teeth removed under general anaesthetic.
One does start to wonder if she persists in living, against all probability, only to spite my stepfather, who is not only painfully allergic to her (and to our other two cats) but is also now footing the bill for her treatment. It does seem a bit hard to swallow that one not only has to live with three animals whose every presence makes one physically ill, but also to fork out egregious sums of one's hard-earned to eke out their lives for one's own indefinitely protracted torment. My stepfather says that her operation cost the same as my ticket home and did consider whether I should be offered the choice of Christmas en famille or the cat's life, perhaps not unreasonably. However, I am most grateful for his dedication to making me and my mother happy, though after 45 years of cat-owning my mother also devloped a major allergy to them recently, so I do wonder whether Octavia might now find her herself in the same position as her namesake's brother, under constant threat of being done in from within her own household, able to trust noone nor eat anything but figs straight from the tree. I don't know if cats with no teeth can eat figs from the tree.

Monday, October 23, 2006

How I Learned to Stop Fidgeting and Love the 'Song

For reasons to do with the organisation of my job (I did have one once) and personal life (ditto), over the last few years I have been to a lot of Evensong services. I think your average lay clerk and most clergy have probably not sat through as many Mags and Nuncs as I have done since 2003, or perhaps it just feels that way. I was never much of an enthusiast for these particular offices, to be honest, and could quite often be found sitting in the car outside the church listening to the Archer's Omnibus and reading the Observer Magazine. This is particularly strange given that the music is, for me, What It's All About.
I have just discovered that this aversion is the fault of English churches. It really is no wonder that I was itching to get out of Evensong when they'd have fully three hymns (why?) in addition to the psalm and then ply us with a homily on top of that. And my word, the prayers went on forever, including having the Lord's prayer twice in ten minutes for reasons I could never understand. (Perhaps the weirdo blog commentator who left the message saying "All Masses are the same as each other" - which they aren't - will make himself useful and write and explain.) Stanford in C is all very well but at that level of dilution I used to start reading the hymnbook for something to do. Good stuff in there. Full marks to As Pants The Hart for getting the word "pants" into a church service, and to Gladly My Cross I'd Bear for most vivid and confusing homophone.
Anyway, I went to a cracking Evensong tonight at St Thomas', or "Smoky Tom's" as I heard it called at a dinner party last night. All sung (Murrill in E, Holman "The Strain Upraise", for anyone to whom that might mean anything), prayer book, no mucking about, no preaching, one hymn, devotions and then home, all in sixty minutes and never a dull moment. I noticed with some wist that I'd missed Howells Coll. Reg. at Mass, but I mustn't let the virile Edwardian appeal of St T's repertoire start me cheating on beautiful Mary Mags, which is prettier and their choir is better and sings older and even nicer music. Quite why there should be two screamingly High Anglican churches within a couple of blocks of each other I don't know, but if Oxford doesn't have to justify a concentration that practically provides a chapel each per parishioner then nor does Toronto, I suppose.
Inside the church was toasty and bright and full of incense, and outside it was crisp and dark and there were damp multi-coloured leaves underfoot: very autumnal, very lovely, and it put me in the mood for cello music, which Mr Haydn is now providing. It could only be a Sunday night.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Who Killed the Electric Car?

I am not all that interested in the environment (sorry) or in conspiracy theories, but I saw this film last night, and it's much more entertaining than it sounds. Provides a bit more fuel for any Bush-haters out there (as if it were needed), and it's narrated by Martin Sheen in a clever allusive move.
It was especially appropriate to be watching it at The Bloor, my local independent cinema: no big buisness here. There is one screen, it costs 5 dollars (2.50 GBP) at peak times (less during the day), and they have proper popcorn and late-night screenings and show cool old films and independent films and any sort of films you don't get in the big expensive cinema in the shopping centre. I just don't see how this place could be any cooler, and was remarking same to the handsome Jewish guy serving the popcorn (Q.E.D...), when I walked into the auditorium and heard they were playing my favourite Chet Baker collection. Just. Too. Cool.


I am listening to the Mozart Requiem, or Sussmeyer Requiem as I prefer to think of it. I am particularly fond of this version because I was at the concert where it was recorded and it features numerous friends of mine. The venue was a big church in Chelsea and to protect the acoustic the audience had to wait through some technical reruns of certain sections at the end of the performance. Far from destroying the ambience of the piece, this afforded a wonderful opportunity. For as the conductor ran through a section the mics hadn't caught properly, he suddenly lowered his baton mid-bar; the resonance of the chorus round the magnificent austere building faded into nothing; there followed a single moment of perfect suspended silence; and the conductor turned to the audience and said, "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the point at which Mozart died."

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I am in a play, namely Ben Johnson's Every Man Out of His Humour. It is one of the gems of the renaissance, which is why it has been performed roughly twice in the last four hundred years. You chaps in Blightly will be grieved, I'm sure, to miss my star turn in this searing comedy of manners and mordant social satire, so I have put up a link to the text, where you can peruse at leisure the many over-wrought jokes and long gargling speeches. The humour of the work relies to a great extent on the mere existence of the Latin language, which Johnson seems to find intrinsically hilarious. I suppose his was a more classically literate age, but the etymological gags don't exactly run out to meet the modern ear, so that one is left with a slightly impressionistic sense of a work better suited to page than stage. The range of accents among the cast does nothing to ameliorate this, since each has his or her own well-founded and jealously-guarded beliefs about how Classical Greek, Latin, French, Italian and the English of England in the nascent 17th Century ought to be pronounced, which at least means that audience may be lucky enough to miss some of the lamer gags.
At one point there is a minor character called Cinaedo (I notice the editor of the online version has quaintly uploaded Cindedo, whether out of deliberate prudery or a mere tyopgraphical error one can only guess). That, for all you non-classicists out there, means (with apologies for crudity) arsebandit. Oddly, the character in question is a servant boy, so either Johnson was not completely on top of his material here or else social conventions of activity and passivity were radically different down his way. In the former case I can recommend Jim Adams' excellent book The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. This appeared on my first ever reading list in Oxford, along with my dear tutor's wonderfully dry rider "He manages to make it much less interesting than it sounds". Johnson would empathise.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Almost Two against Thebes. So Far.

It is the dead of night and I really ought to be soundly asleep, but I am restless because this evening I have made two exciting discoveries. One is that if you listen to Radio 3 in the middle of the night they play interesting music with minimal inane drivelling of the kind that pollutes the broadcasts in the daytime. Since British nighttime is evening here then it saves me trawling my iPod for something suitable, or, worse, taking pot luck with Composer of the Week vel sim. Earlier I downloaded what looked like a perfectly reasonable R3 programme, only to hear the presenter making quite unwarranted threats of Bizet in his introduction, which I consider unconscionable in a pre-watershed slot.
The other discovery is Aeschylus. Now I do not wish to rabbit ingenuously on in the manner of those ghastly thirty-something women who are all over the media at the moment with their wide-eyed stories about producing the world's first baby ("I had a baby and, my word, it was jolly sore!"; "I had a baby, and do you know, I didn't get a minute to myself!" etc.) I am fully aware that opining that Aeschylus is marvellous is not newsworthy, and that never having read any Aeschylus till now is a mark of my own ignorance and neglect. Also, there is nothing more embarrassingly personal than other people's tales of conversion, as anyone who has ever been stuck at a party with a gregarious evangelical will know. I will just say that I am smitten.
This effusion of enthusiasm is based purely on the first three hundred lines of the Septem, however, so I do hope that it doesn't turn out to be one of those works like Crime and Punishment that seem ever so convincing and dramatic at first and then taper off hopelessly and get found down the side of the bed six months later with a big crack in the spine about a third of the way in and the rest intact. On the other hand, a great many tales of laying seige to provincial cities by means of garrisons stationed at the ramparts and of navies defeated by structural adaptations made to the prows of enemy triremes stand between me and my new love, compared with which I will doubtless still adore even the roughest work Aeschylus might pull on me. And tragedies are short.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Unattractive Afterthought

This is not going to make me any friends, but as those reading this are already my friends, and I know you are mostly as bad (or perhaps as good) as I am, it may not lose me any either. For starters, are we agreed that a few people one doesn't like much are a fact of life? I do hope so. For twice yesterday I was in a position to notice how exciting it is to discover enemies in common. Positively devilishly fun. Watch me parse this delicious sensation to show that it's an improving reflection and not just further evidence of my oneway ticket to the Inferno. Or possibly the reverse.
Enmity is of course far more personally revealing and risky than amity: the special few to whom this feeling applies push much more intimate buttons than the many nice people to whom it doesn't, so that outing yourself as an X-hater gives a momentary thrill of recognition and then of inner badness exposed. Then there's the exhilirating danger factor: potential blabbers will render you friendless or jobless in two shakes of a lamb's tail. In addition it's a huge relief to realise someone will both gladly unburden you of your long-nurtured bile and allow you an opportunity to showcase any hilarious but vicious rhetoric you may have been storing up (there's no appeal like vanity). Thirdly, it has a scrumptious rarity value, since for all that it is achingly enjoyable not even I, a person with markedly limited reserves of temperantia, find many politic opportunities to indulge in it. Still, one mostly belives one has a good reason for disliking people, and it is most satisfactory to have the impression, as it were, ratified. This process, irrationally but delightfully, makes one believe that the overwhelming disdain or detestation is a verifiable and justifiable observation of fact.
Oh, and of course people's shortcomings are so much more hugely entertaining than their virtues; in which connection I can at least say in my defence that I am far more forthcoming with stories against myself than against anyone else.
Yes, I'm horrible. But not about any of you.

My Cat

I saw a lovely little silver tabby, only six months or so old, on my way home from Mary Mags this morning (Bruckner Locus Iste, Mass by same obscure Torontonian as last time). This reminded me that I have been meaning to post a picture of my cat. I was giving thanks for her miraculous continued existence on Thanksgiving, and it must be said that aged 19-and-a-half she is not as pretty as once she was. She is squinting into the light here, and doesn't look very welcoming. On the other hand, it winningly disguises her left cornea, horribly scarred from a fight she got into after the first of the six house-moves she has survived.

I named her Octavia because I was seven and I didn't know what pretension was or that it needed to be avoided. In fact, it may be possible to date my interest in the ancient world, and therefore the whole chain of events that has led to my utter refusal to get a proper job and support myself, to an infant school project on The Romans. Aged six, I had finished my maths puzzle faster than anyone else (sic transit etc) and got first choice of a Roman Name. I actually chose Livia, but decided by the time the cat appeared that Octavia was much cooler - a choice made purely on the basis of euphony, I should add, since at that time I knew even less than I do now about the differences and similarities between one and another ruthlessly exploited and prematurely-aged broodmare of the early Roman imperial class.
Anyway, here she is, a bit tatty and dandruffy these days and with a strange propensity to start wailing in a manner that exactly resembles a crying baby, usually at about 5am. In October of 1987 she followed me home from a walk and her owners said we could keep her, so I have the great distinction of having been deliberately selected by my cat and not vice versa. At that time she was the size of this morning's silver tabby. And now that she is old and frail, she is about that size again.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I have had a sheltered life, according to the Amercans in the bar last night, and could not be suffered to go another hour without trying something called a "shot". Now, I am not interested in any drink that isn't at least meant to be savoured, and I don't really drink spirits much either. However, not to seem rude, and allowing the maxim that one should try everything once, I drank a shot. If anyone is interested, it was a shot of something called Liquid Cocaine, which consisted of a mixture of Goldschlaf (spelling?) and Jaegermeister and it was thoroughly delicious. All warm and toasty and spicy, like sweets.
So on first meeting the Shot and I appeared to be getting along famously. Warmed by this success, I decided to extend the acquaintance, and had another. Another three, in fact. Rather in the manner of proposing marriage on a first date, I fear that this unguarded zeal has done for any chance of a beautiful friendship, since I knew not whereof I meddled, and found that my new friend had a rather complex and dangerous personality lurking under the seductive and harmless exterior. The descent into drunkenness was as precipitous and shocking as a cliff edge. Never again.
In general, I find social drinking here quite difficult because I don't like beer very much, and it's pretty much all you can get. The spirits are ruinously expensive. Decent wine, even decent local wine, can be got, but the wine in pubs tends to be the worst kind of home-grown gutrot that makes one wonder why Onatrio produces wine at all, unless it is to increase their sales of beer. Thus abandoned by my faithful friends, is it any wonder I get into trouble through casual entanglements with glamorous strangers? Though glamorous wouldn't be the word for how I felt when I woke up this morning. Nor for how I looked by the end of last night.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nothing to Declare Except Other People's Genius

My only piece of post yesterday was an offprint of an article from a scholarly journal. Although it is without doubt the leading journal in the field, it can't be often that that could be said to occasion true excitement, even in someone who receives as little post as I do. However, yesterday it was the cause of much jubilant jumping round the kitchen and firing off of exuberant emails of congratulation. For it was written by one of my Very Best Friends, and I am absolutely unspeakably proud.

She and I have been bosom chums since our days as first year undergrads, when I was having chaotic affairs and drinking cocktails and hanging round the Union, and she was hoovering up every single university prize, while having chaotic affairs, drinking cocktails and hanging round the Union. Her genius having long been recognised, it was especially thrilling to see the hard evidence of it arrive in a slightly rumpled A4 envelope quite unexpectedly. I am now going to make anyone with an incipient academic career out there sick, by pointing out, as an additional swank factor, that this highly impressive material was written in the first year of her doctorate. Now wouldn't you be jumping round the kitchen with pride?

As if this weren't glamorous enough, yet another insanely gifted friend has just had a book published by OUP. If you have a look here you can read all about it, and I dare say purchase your very own copy, too. It tells you how to say words, which no one will deny is a very useful thing to know. The perfect Christmas present, no? And the source of deep delight in my bosom. Hurrah!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Something called the World Series has pushed House off the TV schedule. I am so cross that I will not even deign to google "world series" in order to find out what this barabraic business may involve, but I am fairly sure that it will be some game or other, and that is unlikely to feature a middle-aged Hugh Laurie being cantankerous and objectionable yet strangely attractive.
I should add that I had never seen or even heard of this programe until a couple of months ago, owing to having a life and no telly. Now that this situation has been reversed, I have become something of a fan. The whole set-up is absurd and contrived (brilliant but unapproachable doctor solves intricate medical "mysteries", saving lives and winning hearts passim, etc) and rather hammily acted and painfully implausible, but hey, the nights are long out here. Anyway, I thought I was a fan, because I would watch it if it were on and I were in, and might have half a mind to set it to record if I saw an episode coming up.
It turns out that this is not what being a fan means, however, as you will see if you click on the link above and scroll down a bit. Being a fan would appear to consist of uploading masses of semi-literate material about the similarities between a telly doctor and Cyrano de Bergerac. Even better is a link to the site of a real doctor who has put up pages and pages of explanations of all the medical terms in the show, carefully referenced by individual episode, and also some fascinating analyses of which episodes he finds most and least plausible, including (joy!) marks on an American style GPA for quality of mystery, solution etc. Would you want this person treating you? Okay, maybe if he looked like Hugh Laurie.
Becoming suddenly aware that web-drivellers in glass houses shouldn't throw stones , I think I will go to bed.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Canadian Thanksgiving falls at a different time from American, though there's a "quot homines tot sententiae" issue with why (sorry, just wanted an excuse to use the word quot, one of my favourites). The most persuasive is that it has something to do with Harvest Festival, so we'll go with that. It is a very important festival indeed here and people travel a very long way to be with their families. It is much nicer than Christmas, however, not only because the weather isn't punishing but also because it is almost completely uncommercial. There is nothing in the shops to tell you that it is Thanksgiving (except closed signs). This is perhaps related to the refreshing fact that at Thanksgiving one doesn't give presents, one just gives Thanks.

Today is the day, in any case, and here's (some of ) what I'm giving thanks for, in no particular order - please feel free to add your gratitudes as a comment, I'd love to see them.

-- The excellent dinner I had last night in Wish Bar, a joint much cooler than anywhere I could have tracked down -- the incredibly kind colleague who took me out for said dinner so I wouldn't be all alone on the wrong side of the pond during the country's biggest family festival -- my sole Eurotrash chum here, who is a find, a love and a star: dig those Celts -- The Harbord Bakery, the best Jewish bakery ever: chollah anyone? -- the continued health of my supremely gravid and beloved sister-in-law -- red maple leaves (truly beautiful: if I had a flag I would put this on it) -- brilliant sunshine in October -- the Choir of St Mary Mags -- a smashing little coat I found for cheap in Zara which gives me the appearance of a waist -- my generous and patient housemates -- Skype (get it, all of you) -- the perception and wisdom of Random House Publishing -- true love (you know who you are, you lucky things) -- Marc and Jess's new baby (mazal tov) -- emailable photos -- the single Veronensis MS that preserved the poems of Catullus --the very existence of the city of Oxford and the university I love -- the friendliness of Torontonians -- my enormous and delightful family, scattered as we are -- the fact that my cat Octavia is still alive though I've had her since I was seven -- the pinot noir grape -- my iPod -- the lovely Classics Faculty and students -- the seemingly bottomless kindness of my stepfather -- (more to follow...)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Not one to be beaten by the vagaries of a missal, I hied myself back to Mary Mags this morning. On the downside, I did manage to be late, after turning down the wrong street in my haste and finding myself at the Portugese Seventh Day Adventists a block and half away. On the upside, I was pleased to discover that I could remember the chants, so I wasn't doing my juggling routine. The church was fuller than last week, perhaps because it is Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend (of which more anon), and I noticed that a good third of them knelt for the Sanctus so I felt somewhat vindicated in last week's error (even while I corrected it). No idea what the Mass setting was, but the motet was Tallis If Ye Love Me, which was very heaven.

I tripped home, inspired, to listen to Spem in Alium and do some work. Instead I found that I hadn't put Spem on my iPod and that the dishwasher was broken. Jettisoning my church togs along with any hope of passing the day in intellectual pursuits, I have just spent a goodly proportion of the sabbath on my hands and knees with a monkey wrench trying (and failing) to identify the source of a leak in a copper pipe and striking improbable poses in my attempt to wedge myself into the under-sink cupboard for a better view. Having rather predictably got exactly nowhere with the amateur plumbing, I have put my frock on again and am lying with my ankles crossed enjoying sunshine, Tacitus and Handel (best I could do) until it is time for my dinner date. Sublime, ridiculous, whatever...

You Say Spadina

Look at this: it is October and the sky today was so blue that I didn't see a single cloud all day long. Nor is this because I was sequestered in a library during daylight hours or hunched over my laptop with the blinds down - on the contrary, I took my work outside and lay on a sunlounger in the back garden listening to the trickling of the fish pond. Incidentally, the road you can see here is called Spadina, a word which so obviously ought be pronounced Spadeena that it has taken me weeks to accept and begin to use Spa-dye-na. This must be an irritant for the Torontonians I speak to. More irritating by far, however, is spending an entire month with Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off by George and Ira Gershwin runnning endlessly round one's mind, only with potatoes and tomatoes cast out and lyrics that instead run "You say Spadeena, I say Spa-dye-na...". This is aggravated by the fact that almost nothing rhymes with Spa-dye-na, so I can't get further than the first line without recourse to anatomical references that don't make for family listening.
But for some reason nothing I listen to is ever catchy enough to displace it. Handel operas are all very well (yes, they are) but I admit that for the most part they lack that foot-tapping je ne sais quoi. I had a bash at trying to knock the Gershwin out with some Marvin Gaye but catchy tunes aren't really the bag there. The best I have managed so far is Think About You from Guns n Roses' Appetite for Destruction. This is an album I treasured as a ten year old despite its highly unsuitable lyric content and general inappropriateness, and with which I was reunited some months ago by a similarly unlikely fan, to my lasting delight. Luckily the track in question is quite respectable, and the crippling shame of being caught singing GnR songs is abated by the fact that half my collegaues here are closeted, or not so closeted, fans; indeed, one of them burnt the album for me (possibly only to stop me singing Gershwin). Anyway, it could be a lot worse. It could be Gilbert and Sullivan.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nae as Gid as Embra Castle, Like

Or so says the (Scottish) friend who took this picture of the Colosseum. There is no denying that Edinburgh is very pretty, something I had managed to forget over the years, just because of the tendency of very familiar things to evoke no wonderment whatsoever no matter how richly deserved. Edinburgh is a town that smells of hops and sounds of bagpipes and my auntie lives there: the end. But when I went back over the summer I was very struck with how beautiful it was, and I think not just in a wistful patriotic way (though I was with the Scottish friend, who was a bad benchmark for this, admittedly). Why they call it the Athens of the North I couldn't say, not least because I have never seen Athens. I'd have though Edinburgh's hill-bound location would more obviously earn it the title "The Caledonian Rome" vel sim; but perhaps Rome is indeed really too measly to sustain the comparison...

I Have Not Been Here

While I am dimly aware of the weirdness of posting someone else's holiday snaps, I justify it on the basis that enjoying these is an accurate reflection of What I Have Been Up To (for those who care), and that, not having any shots of my own, it would be nice to decorate the blog with something other than my deathless prose.
This view from a tower in a Tuscan town pleased me especially because a long time ago in a distant land I had a postcard of this very tower on my bedroom wall. It had been sent me by the quasi-inamorato of the moment who was off in Italy living it up, while I stayed in rainy Oxford perusing more portable gems of Mediterranean civilisation. As I recall, it was pinned up next to a rather nice poster of Prague castle lovingly carted home from a trip round Europe the previous summer, a poster I have since lost. This is particularly sad because all our own photos from that month-long tour were mislaid by the developers. This being in the bad old days of non-digital technology (I show my age here), there was nothing for it but teeth-gnashing and resignation to their loss. Though a sorrow at the time, one might say that it had the silver lining of disposing of the evidence of me aged eighteen in combat trousers and walking sandals (this trip pre-dated the rouge et noir revolution and it was Not A Good Look). Meanwhile, the landmarks we photographed are, to the best of my knowledge, still there for anyone who wants to look at them. Win win, I reckon.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I was woken up in the early hours by the most spectacular electric storm. The sky was wildly flashing several different colours and lighting up my room in the manner of the Coven on a Friday night (though less sweaty). I was impelled from bed to gaze out of the window, and did try to take snaps, but lightning is not very easy to photograph so you will have to take my word for how beautiful it was. There was no point trying to sleep anyway, as the thunder sounded like someone driving a four-horse team around in a large tin drum. I do love the sound of battering rain on the windowpanes.
There was a storm of a similar nature yesterday at about the same time, which at first evoked a strange sense of deja vu, and then made me wonder whether this is a message from on high that I should be getting out of bed at 5am and not 8. If so, I am more than equal to it: the interruption meant I overslept by hours, and made the journey to lessons at a cracking sprint while deftly pinning my hair up. Today I am a far less captiviating sight than the storm.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Polyphonic Joy

I thought Christ Church Cathedral, Pusey House and Magdalen Coll., not to mention the chapel of St Mary's Wantage, had given me a fair old training in High Anglican rite, and that those years in Hampstead had drummed the responses in pretty effectively. So I popped along to Mary Mags (Cambridge spelling, I'm afraid) in the full expectation of slotting right in. Oh no. Witness if you will the unique embarrassment that is pratting your way through a (n otherwise beautiful) mass.

To begin with, I couldn't find the hymn, owing to the multiplicity of volumes I'd been given; a short and fairly discreet hunt turned it up in none of these but in a hymnal residing in the pew. The service was now underway, but I was frantically flipping through various sections of the ringbound folder to track down the liturgy (also different from home). I had just caught up when it became clear that the entire service was sung and I didn't know the chant. By this time blushing with shame and with whole tranches of the mass passing me by, I delved back into my various tomes, but was so bent on finding something that looked like notation in the book that I couldn't follow the words and therefore had no idea what I was looking for anyway. I had by now given up my attempts to improvise the chant and was dumbly scanning page after incomprehensible page. Sensing my rising despair, a kindly parishoner intervened in a true advertisment for Christian charity. The chant turned out to be in a section of the service booklet without page numbers, cross-referenced from a separate service sheet covered in cryptic markings. This was one of three additional sheets, the remaining two of which I now regarded with fear and dread, as it was clear that at some point I was going to have to incorporate them into papier mache mountain on the pew beside me. One was just readings, and mercifully straightforward, but all was tainted by the lingering awareness that when the sermon stopped I would be at the mercy of the paper Everest again. I was also flummoxed by innovations such as which way to turn for the gospel (read from the front), or for the collects (said from the aisle), or when to stand, sit or kneel (I no longer know what on earth I am meant to be doing during the Sanctus). I felt an utter twit, especially for sitting in an empty pew so that I couldn't even follow the person next to me.

So much for a morning of soothingly familiar liturgy. But there was lots of fabby incense and friendly congregation and nice clergy who gave me a little tour through their service book. Even if they had driven me from the door with staves, it would have been more than worth going for the music: upliftingly lovely Palestrina and Lassus, and well performed. Plus, unlike almost every college chapel, the acoustic was super-clear, so you really got the transcendental effect of the counterpoint. Gorgeous. Highlight of my week. Now I just have to master the missal and I might get to listen to it properly.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Bit of a disaster this morning. Not feeling my stunning best, I emerged from my lair something later than my wont, my garland a little askew. On staggering to the bathroom, the bedroom door slammed shut behind me, which at first seemed nothing worse than jarringly noisy. However, the the doorhandle on the hall side was working loose and despite my most determined grappling and intemperate turns of phrase (tempora noctis eunt; excute poste seram!) it gained no purchase on the catch whatsoever. There was clearly no way of engaging the catch (and therefore of opening the door) without taking the whole doorhandle off from inside the room (a prerequisite of which was, of course, opening the door). Bit of a bind, and one not easily wrestled down by a slightly delicate-feeling young woman arrayed in nothing but an indecently short slip and the remains of the previous night's eyemakeup. Nor, having yet to bathe, was I fit to be among human beings, and I think no swine or beasts of burden would have welcomed me wholeheartedly either, so I wasn't relishing the prospect of calling on the household for help. Luckily my (fully dressed) landlady came to the rescue with a ladder and a multi-headed screwdriver, gaining entry via a fortuitously opened window, a rich irony, since a breeze from same had been the cause of the calamity in the first place. I, of no possible use in the break-and-enter, listened to proceedings from my bath and hoped that the cries of consternation were prompted by the gradient of the ladder and not by any shaming detritus of my fitful night.
At present moment, my normal means of ensuring personal privacy represent a danger of permanent incarceration. My room therefore stands open night and day until someone at Canadian Tyre can find a way to restore doorhandle and dignity. Against the obvious symbolism, this in fact perfectly guarantees my solitude and chastity. I can't even dress toute seule. omnes clamant: ianua, culpa tua est!