So much time is spent bemoaning the tiny things that irritate or depress that I suspect far too little is spent celebrating those tiny things that increase joy by a quantum.
Downstairs, in the main room, there are four ceiling height bookcases, all down one wall. This is the first pleasure.
The end ones were already here upon arrival. I fabricated the middle two to match, though I fear not from the same riotously expensive old wood. They look, however, about right.
On each bookcase sits one of those pebblish lights from Habitat. This is very much the second pleasure.
In fact, the lights are what Habitat called ‘Pebbles’, and are just the sort of off-round that invites an appreciative stroke of the hand. Habitat, in their wisdom, replaced ‘Pebbles’, with ‘Eggs’ a couple of years ago: taller and clearly ovoid, the new shape exudes a slightly pointy unapproachability for reasons I can’t really pin down.
Thus, the awareness that the pebbles are not eggs, coupled with the wrongness of the decision to replace one with the other, invests the former with all the additional qualities lacking in the latter. This is, if we’re counting, pleasure 2 b).
The third pleaure, however, is simultaneously the smallest, and the one we’re gathered here to discuss.
One of the pebble lights is cunningly set up to light up at the gentlest nudge of a book. This childish joy is no doubt the product of too many childhood hours reading stories of espionage, or watching venerable horror films in which creaking bookcases open onto vistas of wonder.
The cataloguing of the tiny delights is nearly complete, but the alert among you will have already leapt ahead to the final joy, the ever-important Pleasure No. 3 b).
The identity of the book.
The initial set-up was, of course, accidental, and I took an appropriately incidental pleasure that the volume involved at that stage was The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing. This foursquare acknowledgement of the effect’s proper place gently amused me for a few months. Finally, a wholesale rearrangement of the bookcases was required, resulting in the shelf in question housing slightly smaller books.
This left an interesting question. Where, thematically, to go from here? I quickly ruled out the most obvious candidates: anything about the Enlightenment, the Bible (forcing the internal pantomime of “fiat lux” every single bloody time).
The second round of choices were far more interesting.
First up, I spotted my copy of Harry Houdini’s fraud-busting Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, which appealed for its Wizard of Oz implications, but slipped by because the book itself featues intemperate expositions of fraudsters long since forgotten.
Then, I looked to see what blind chance had provided, as I had stacked along the shelf books that were simply of the right size. The historically inevitable consequence was that Collected Writings of Karl Marx had control of the means of illumination. Hm. Workable, and useful for winding up the neighbours, but otherwise dubious. In fact, anything political, up to and including Blair’s Wars is just not a good long-term bet.
Swiftly, the ground seemed to open up. What about Carl Sagan’s The Demon-haunted World for its spotlight on flannel? Leprohon’s The Italian Cinema because cinema is all about shining a light into the darkness? What about sheer illumination: Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (I swiftly discovered that I had no Hume). Darwin’s On the Origin of Species? Gibbon, Plato, Randi or Popper? Borges, Sciascia, DeLillo or Nairn? Science or art? Ancient or modern? A work of philosophy or one of Alan Moore’s comics?
A decision had to be made, not least because it was becoming increasigly difficult to explain why, with piles of books almost if not literally everywhere on the floor, I was dithering endlessly over the precise position of one. Ultimately, I plumped for the book which seemed to fulfil the demands of thematic aptness while being the least immediately obvious choice to hand.
I chose John Man’s Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection, because Genghis is a lazy byword for the bringing of darkness, when he was more like the Alexander or Napoleon of his time, the builder of an empire nearly twice the size of Rome’s. I also chose it because I have a primitive joy in the way the very name Genghis Khan is recolonising the Mongolian lands: as families forcibly dispossessed of their tribal names three or four generations ago are encouraged to pick them up again, where they simply can’t remember they almost inevitably decide that they must be Khans. The equivalent is every Arthur in Britain deciding that his surname should be “Pendragon”.
Finally, because the book is the right size, and let no man ever deny the progress of a good book when it is made to be the right size.
Picture me pushing Genghis Khan’s nose every evening, and smile as I smile.
The Today programme has form for producing bruising interviews. I reported one notable performance by John Reid in stunned almost-admiration some time ago.
Only rarely are the bruises self-inflicted, so a rousing cheer please for the hapless current Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard, for his sparkling intervention this morning on the subject of multiculturalism and integration (link liable to disappear quickly).
Howard was busy suggesting that there was no reason why communities of all types could not retain their cultural identity while at the same time fully partaking of the cultural identity of Britishness (implying that this would be possible if only they showed the true British values of not moaning about it, knuckling down and getting on with it). Those that failed accommodate the core values of Britishness could then be gently and courteously invited to go somewhere else.
The interviewer at this point, to pick a topical metaphor, bowled her flipper, reading out a listener’s email enquiring whether this meant that British-born republicans would be expelled.
No, beamed Howard, he didn’t see any reason why republicans couldn’t be “loyal British subjects”.
And so, the week after we buried one of the few genuine political intellects of our age, we prepare to push into retirement another one of its also-rans.
Yesterday, of all days, was not a good one in which to lose internet access. Without having a radio rather antisocially tuned to TMS, office users rely on the ball-by-ball coverage at Cricinfo or The Guardian’s infamous over-by-over coverage. With that gone, it was down to rumour, careful examination of the flight of birds, and the wicket alert email.
So, thanks to cricket-watching posse of Andy, Ben and Nick for the delightful experience of having three emails drop into my inbox almost simultaneously. “Got ‘im!” “Wickettt!” You get the idea. It kept me going long enough to get home and watch the end of it all.
It was not to be another close win against the Aussies, but a draw had the requisite moral correctness.
Speaking of moral correctness in cricket.
Via Mags, the League of Lost Languages has to be one of the strangest little enthusiasms going.
And finally, for a burst of poetic justice so beloved of subeditors everywhere it’s hard to beat Psychic’s crystal ball burns down his flat in unforeseen blaze.
One of the most appealing of logical fallacies is to suppose that two closely sequential events are somehow related. I think I’m falling for it.
The level of anxiety on the tube network has measurably fallen this week. The polices are visibly relaxed, fewer shoulders tense at the mere sight of a backpack, the normal atmosphere of mildly exasperated boredom has crept back in at the corners like the vile but somehow reassuring malodourousness of the local farm.
On Monday, we were all reading about how Freddie Flintoff had almost single-handedly rescued the second Ashes Test for England, prompting a famous (and squeakingly close) win. On Tuesday morning, the front page of the non-cricket-loving Sun had the earth-shaking news that Freddie was swearing off the beers in order to win us the Ashes. (As Andy pointed out last night, this amounts to laying off the lash for a whole four days between back to back Tests, a heroic feat clearly worthy of the front-page screamer ‘From Beero to Hero’.)
This morning, as those of us at work prepare to monitor the score as best we can, even grotty freesheet The Metro was offering a full-page explaining cricket to its many new followers.
The day before the bombs on 7th July, London was partying because it had unexpectedly won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. It’s crass, I know, but it does feel almost as though the wholly welcome distraction of the cricket has returned us, to some extent, to the unconcerned joy of 6th July.
A piece of paper can be held upright if slightly curled in the hand. If too straight, it collapses: it has no backbone. There is no real backbone here either, but we simulate it well enough, even through something as silly as winning a game of cricket.
I don’t know how you thought I could let the day pass without mentioning the most thrilling Test match of recent times. There is a very simple check for this, by the way. If the cricket makes the back page headline of the tabloids, it was a great game. If it makes the front page headline, as today, it was immense.
On Sunday morning, as England’s firebrand pace attack set about the allegedly simple mopping up operation of the last two Australian wickets, I reluctantly turned off the TV coverage and headed off to the park for the regular Sunday morning football. It must have made a peculiar sight. What appeared to be an egregious act of goalhanging was instead the opposition striker loitering around our goal so that he could listen in to the score on a portable radio. Every time one of the Aussie tailenders thumped or scraped a boundary, the gasp from our goal would bring play to a halt, much to the bemusement of the several Turkish brothers who turn out regularly for the Peckham Rye Commoners.
Communications were hampered by the general fuzziness of the reception, meaning that we were clear when something was happening (a four, a dropped catch, a wicket?) but not exactly what it was. Matters came to a head when, the Aussies having heroically reduced the deficit to a mere 15, Lee was dropped on the boundary by Jones, S. On hearing the initial flurry of exclamation from the commentator, our goalie leapt for joy (carrying a knee injury, very ill-advised). By the time we had made ground to hear for ourselves, he was head-in-hand disconsolate.
After hearing the deficit tick down from over 100 to 15, it crept agonisingly down again, as it became horribly, inescapably clear that the Australian tailenders had pulled off one of the greatest tail-wags in history. Defeat, demoralising defeat, was nearly upon us. The football continued distractedly. Players stopped asking the score. The familiar feeling of impotent fury at sporting defeat welled up, choking every throat (except, of course, the Turkish brothers, who were wound up by the whole thing for entirely different reasons).
Finally, when the last optimist in the park had finally fallen silent, bowed to the inevitable, Harmison mopped up that last wicket with a typically brutish bouncer (drifting leg-side, also typically). The radio hummed out an incoherent blast of white noise. The keeper was leaping. Defender and striker were hugging. Lions were laying down with lambs. I, fetching the ball back from a hoofed clearance into touch, was running onto the pitch throwing it into the air like a well-celebrated catch. Down the pitch, there was some muttering in Turkish to the effect that now, please, might they get their striker back?
Of course I wish I’d been there. There was something rather wonderful, though, about the not-there where I happened to be.
As usual, the redesign is actually a side-effect of upgrading to take advantage of better spam protection. One thing to note here: by default your comment will be held in a moderation queue unless you have previously had a comment approved, starting from last week. In common parlance, this means that your first comment probably won’t appear until I have authorised it as being from a genuine or near-genuine human being. Please don’t be put off.
To leaven an otherwise dull piece of administrivia, please enjoy the gayest pictures of Hadrian’s Wall imaginable, currently on display at News from Beyond the North Wind.
I finally found the half-hour requisite to upgrade to the newest version of Wordpress, mainly to add more weaponry in the ever-escalating battle against the spammers, and partly because I noted that Andy has had the interior designers in, with impressive results.
I say half an hour. I mean ten minutes backing up, two further minutes to upgrade, a further minute to locate this unfairly beautiful theme by Becca Wei, called Ocadia. And time left at the end for a round of applause to the always-free Wordpress.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, the Scottish football season has just begun, and the English season officially begins this weekend with the Charity Shield. So much for the summer (and so much for the Ashes, but there’s a different story for you).
So when I stumbled across Joseph Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (first published 1801), which naturally covers everything from dice to mummery via cricket on horseback, I immediately looked up what he’d put together on the people’s sport:
Sir Thomas Elyot, in his charming little work entitled The Boke named the Governour, first published in 1531, says of football that it “is nothyng but beastely fury and extreme violence, whereof procedeth hurte, and consequently rancour and malice do remayne with thym that be wounded, wherfore it is to be put in perpetuall silence”.
What can Elyot have been thinking?
I have a marginal connection with Strutt. At my school, in Strutt’s home town, by way of aping public school traditions the boys were divided into four houses for the purposes of inspiring an insipid version of manly Victorian competition, more than a century too late to prepare us for the Boer War. My house was named for Strutt, which I had neglected to remember until now.
Before we leave, please also note Elyot’s nicely Carollian book title. The Boke named the Gouvernour is a contradiction in terms, as it is not named the Gouvernour. More confusing than one of Shane Warne’s flippers, if you ask me.