Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Doesn't this sound like the coolest wedding ever?
"Oxford registr office for the Civil Partnership, with a few friends and family (less than 30) - then a restaurant lunch for them all. Then - phase two - off to a barn 'n' bar place in deepest rural oxfordshire, with a bit of river, woodland, lawn etc for champagne and nibbles for EVERYONE, followed by a druid wedding in a circle under the trees filled with golden candles and red geraniums, with incense and someone singing hildegarde of bingen and conducted by Justine in something utterly gorgeous. Then back to the barn for stand-up organic fish and chips with wooden forks, a free bar and a bloody great disco."

So, you will glean that I recently had the delightful news that one of my best friends is getting married and that I am sick with excitement about it. He has been with his boyfriend for ages, and they are hopelessly happy together in a really straightforward way. I have always particularly envied is their excellent ability to take one another's foibles with breezy good humour and patience. This may, after all, be what one really needs in life. Sex etc. are all very nice, but someone whose exact brand of calm is the seamless counterpoint to your particular variety of mania, or whatever, is a rare and fine thing indeed, and, crucially someone with whom you can live. Not to mention the burst of love and gratitude you feel when somebody who knows you perfectly identifies your terrible failings to your face and makes you laugh out loud at them. It needn't be an inamorato, of course, but how delicious the thrill of recognition when it is. Congratulations, B and M: be happy and dig the garden.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


The long-awaited winter has finally come, and we have snowfall. It's hard to believe that snow is a good sign because it means a rise in the temperature. But so it proves: the -22 degrees in which I walked to work this morning had shot up by all of ten or fifteen degrees by the time I was walking home. The price to pay is that you get damp as well as just freezing, your bag goes soggy, the "sidewalk" is treacherous and the roads are instantaneously full of murky slush with which the ankles of the unwary are deluged by passing cars. I will say, though, that it is otherwise picturesque in the extreme: when the snow began I was in a large-windowed room, and the gentle drop and whirl of the white flakes ouside was quite mesmerising.
Not picturesque, however, is my get-up. Naturally I refuse to make any concession in style. In order, therefore, to avoid hypothermia and death, I am obliged to supplement my little dresses and skirty outfits with: two pairs of tights, a vest, a petticoat, an additional cardigan, trousers over the tights, a big coat, woolly socks, moonboots, a hat, one or two scarves, and gloves. (Actually, strike the gloves: it is too cold for them. If you wear gloves your fingers start to go numb starting with your pinkies, and the only way I could get home without frostbite tonight was to ball my fingers up in the palm bit of the glove as if they were mittens. Easier just to wear mittens, really.) So I spend the first ten minutes of the working day alarming other users of the department by my frantic disrobing. The wearying prospect of having to put it all back on to pop out to the bank and then strip it all off again on my return is (mirabile dictu) actually enough to keep me at my desk working all day; equally remarkable is how dramatically the urgent need for confectionery wanes when you have to change your shoes to go and get it. Just as well I'm not at university in Tahiti.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I have been unusually quiet since I got back to Toronto, which is a good sign, because it means I am too well-occupied to hang about online honing my deathless prose. Last term spending two hours blogging I regularly considered preferable to the alternative, i.e. two hours spent on Polybius; and who will disagree? This term I am being kept off the internet by the fact that it is my delicious duty to read the best poem ever composed by man (at least in any of the four and a half languages I read, which I concede may not be the final word there. However.) I have been in seventh heaven, not a description usually associated with a routine that involves rising at 6am, but this is a positive pleasure for the sake of starting my day with a few more lines of Homer before breakfast. To say that The Iliad is brilliant would be like saying that Miles Davis can play the trumpet. On the other hand, I don't know if I could say anything about quite why The Iliad is so marvellous that wouldn't sound ingenuous and affected. Answers on a postcard.
The dismal thing is that my terrible didactic streak and offensive glee make me desperate to get everyone else to read it and see what I mean. But I don't know if it's any good in English. It probably doesn't come off the worst of any classical work in translation (the Aeneid surely takes that laurel), but I do think that the limpid beauty and deceptive simplicity of the Greek do a lot to make, say, the battle scenes palatable. Not to mention that scenes of any emotion come over crushingly flat once you translate them. I'm told there's a similar problem with Pushkin. Then you have the issue that people won't render certain phrases the way you think they ought, so that the greatest half-line in all of Homer (Iliad 1.47) should, as far as I'm concerned, be "and his coming was like the night" and I get quite cross with translators insufficiently telepathic to anticipate my disgust at their ineptitudes.
Anyway, I doubt I could do better in any sustained way, so I will spare you translations of my personally compiled florilegia (really, what's wrong with me?) and just say that if you can read Greek you must go to the OCT and read the last 200 lines of Iliad VI this very minute; and if you can't read Greek then be grateful that by the end of term I will be back to gnashing my teeth over things I don't understand. And blogging furiously...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Contact Sport

I have recently become a wearer of contact lenses, and suddenly I too can see what I actually look like. This is not as vain a comment as it sounds - I have been wearing glasses since I was fifteen, so the thrill of discovering that trees actually have individual leaves and branches and are not just an undifferentiated mass of green is some time in the past. The discovery of of how I appear with correctly focused eyesight and without glasses all over my face is, however, a revelation. It's quite extraordinary: I get up in the morning looking fine, poke myself in the eye a couple of times, and bam! when I look in the mirror again I have big bags under my eyes. I suppose it might have been better to start this contact lense carry on before there were actually any wrinkles or grey hair to see, but never mind - now I can keep a good careful track of them.
When I first got contacts about a fortnight ago I thought I'd never be able to use the blasted things without spending twenty agonizing minutes grimacing goggle-eyed and scrunch-faced into a magnifying shaving mirror every morning and twice as long at night. Now I whack the things in with no difficulty and, I am proud to report, a minimum of clothing fluff adherents. I still didn't like taking the out much, until I discovered the trick at about midnight last night. Now, why opticians give you all this tosh about how contacts aren't suitable for people whose "lifestyle" puts them at a high risk of reeling home guttered after 16 hours and dropping into bed with their poor dehydrated corneas encased in clingfilm I don't know. These are exactly the people for whom they are perfect, because the easy way to trouble-free contact lense removal, I can conclusively state, is to be drunk. No better time to poke yourself in the eye than when your reactions are so slow that someone could offer to pluck them out altogether and you'd be one eye down and one to go before you had the presence of mind to wonder whether it was a good idea.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


This is my niece Alessandra, born last Saturday in Milan. She is four days old here, and being held by her daddy (my brother). I don't know what else to say about her, really: either you have had the transfiguring experience of holding a tiny newborn for the first time and falling hopelessly, irrevocably in love, in which case you've no need of my descriptions; or else you haven't, in which case you're probably not interested in hearing me go on about it. She is the coolest and loveliest thing I have ever seen.