Talks & Lectures

Gail-Nina Anderson outlined the situation:

... And perhaps then we can seriously get back to thinking about lectures and courses, which I know have started to loom large in our minds. I have been looking into this, I promise, but everything depends on the ever-changing rules, the specific facilities at the institutions where I hire teaching rooms and audience expectations about comfort and safety. A lecture which could not include coffee or socialising, seated a maximum of 30 and involved the wearing of masks throughout might not really fit the bill. There has been some talk of delivering talks via Zoom but my technical expertise and equipment are both sadly lacking in this area and this doesn't seem like the best time to consider upgrading my computer or finding the necessary assistance to help me with new skills and systems. Personally I don't hugely enjoy watching Zoomed talks on screen and I positively loathe looking at my own face, but I have been discussing matters with the Lit & Phil and will let you know as soon as I have any feasible suggestions for you to consider.

In the meanwhile:

Gail-Nina writes ...

Spring: Saturday Evening Post cover, 1928, by J.C. Leyendecker

Last time I intuited the coming of spring from the occasional burst of blossom and intermittent patches of blue sky (enough, as Enid Blyton was wont to say, to make a sailor a pair of trousers - though sometimes that would have to be rather a small sailor and if he's got the legs for it, shorts might honestly be a better idea).

But hey - now I know spring has arrived because yesterday I sat in peaceful contemplation on St. George's church green while something between snow and hail drooped gently from the sky, and I felt sufficiently at one with the season not to move until it started going down the back of my neck and melting uncomfortably somewhere around the top of my jeans. Spring is variability, is the coming of an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess, is the sudden appearance not just of daffs but also of fritillaries, Dame Nature's little checkerboards. (The delightful unlikeliness of which flowers prompts me to add here Charles Rennie Mackintosh's watercolour of same. After all, you really do deserve to see the occasional art work in these letters.)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh fritillaries

Spring's progress can also be counted by the fact that Tesco is full of half-price mini chocolate Easter eggs, including some filled with a sweet peanut butter concoction that must challenge the capacity of the human system to withstand a sugar rush of epic proportions. I bought a few examples of these seasonal sweetmeats, but incline to think they will last me until Christmas. 2023. At least. Still this does all mean that we need no longer fear any unheralded visits from the terrifying Easter Bunny:

Adult in rabbit costume holding two unhappy children. Caption aays 'Easter Bunny bringing joy to children, 1955'

Instead of said Bunny, I was visited by the far more welcome, not to say magically idiosyncratic, gingerbread Frida Kahlo. What a delight - though she suddenly vanished quite soon after her arrival. Many thanks to Helen for seizing the moment.

Gingerbread figure

No news here in Jesmond - by which I mean no news beyond a delightful atmosphere of peace and quiet as the students have disappeared for the moment. We haven't even had an invasion of rogue rheas (thanks to Sue for bringing such a phenomenon to my notice.) A height of excitement came with the arrival of a letter announcing my annual royalties payment of 22p. This comes on account of a short story that got published in an anthology of comic fantasy tales which continues to sell, I suspect, because one of the other contributors was Terry Pratchett. This is the only work of mine that has ever been translated into Russian - a shame really, as the humour depends entirely on word-play that I very much doubt survived the process. Still, I have come to rely on the yearly promise of payment (they don't send you a cheque until the total is up to £2.50. That's my retirement sorted.) Also, so calm is life that I did my 20-21 tax return on April 6th, somewhat after the example of Ned Flanders (that's the obligatory Simpsons reference out of the way.)


And this letter now provides an excellent example of not tempting fate - time has passed since I began writing, it is now Wednesday 14th and lo - instead of blissful peace, today I have had a couple of blokes sent round by the letting agency which owns the flat below to look for rats (evidence of which has appeared downstairs.) Mercifully I have only once enjoyed a rat encounter since I've lived here, when I found a dead one in my back yard a couple of years ago. I can still recall the joyous moment of realising that the responsibility of getting rid of its furry little cadaver rested entirely with me, and me alone. Friends were happy to proffer advice but oddly enough, no-one rushed round with a tiny body-bag and a shovel. But now rat activity is suspected in connection with the drains, the convolutions of which were discussed at length with rather a nice chap who resembled Paul Hollywood, the TV baker. I suspect the trouble stems from the fact that during various landlords' alterations to make the flat downstairs suitable for student rental, the disposition of rooms has been changed, the bathroom has been moved, drainage has been extended over a longer distance and so I suspect stuff is piling up somewhere to attract Mr. Rat and his clan. This story could run and run... but in the meantime my look-alike Mr. Hollywood did sluice lots of water through the drain in my back yard to clear it out, which I shall count as an incidental bonus. Otherwise, it really was too much excitement all at once, and afterwards I had to have a Tunnock's teacake to calm me down.

And the alert amongst you will have realised that, as we are now past the Glorious Twelfth, I have enjoyed the freshly rekindled thrill of doing inessential shopping - yay! Not that I've done much - a trip into the town centre (mostly to go to my bank) yielded two charity-shop blouses, some earring fitments, a fresh loaf, a chunk of cheddar and a Cornish Pasty. Yesterday I tried Jesmond's Oxfam bookshop, sure that the price of all those Christmas cards they had been on the very verge of reducing when January's lock-down descended, and which have been visible in piles through the window ever since, would now be slashed to mere token amounts. Alas, the shop had been thoughtfully rearranged and all signs of Christmas cards completely expunged. I bought no more than a handful of second-hand postcards, though I'm still hovering over a biography of Tamara de Lempicka.

In town it was interesting to note the number of people happily loaded down with multiple Primark carrier bags - and there seemed to be queues outside all the sportswear shops selling trainers. Interesting how we all differ in our interpretation of essential inessential shopping. (The Cornish pasty was very good, by the way - from the bread stall on the Grainger Market.)

What I have purchased recently (online) is the enormously fat book that accompanied the interrupted Van Eyck exhibition in Ghent early last year. You all know what this portends in respect of my little art-historical obsessions - you have been warned! Did you know that The Ghent Altarpiece is reputedly the most stolen art work in the world? Of course, the fact that it comes in several pieces does facilitate this, but one day - one day - I shall doubtless tell you more. Van Eyck is just the gift that keeps on giving...

Now to everyone's surprise I'm going to add a link to a piece of music and a cover version that isn't a send-up - anything but. Someone asked me to select a favourite song or aria and I went for "Dido's Lament" from Purcell's proto-opera "Dido and Aeneas" (1688). If you don't know it, there are several very good versions available on YouTube - this is the one I chose:

Looking for it, however, I found a modern cover version, giving a slightly different and even sadder spin to the words, by the wonderful Annie Lennox - highly recommended, if only because hearing a different reading can reawaken one's awareness of the original:

Of course, my enthusiasm was heightened by the fond memories this brought back of making a pilgrimage to the V&A with my dear friend Annie (not Ms. Lennox, but a great fan) to see their Annie Lennox exhibition. Alas, the subject of the show was not there in person, although she was rumoured to turn up on occasion and sit quietly writing in a sort of play-house that was part of the show. A wonderful, memorable day and quite possibly the most fun you can have in a gallery without seeing a van Eyck.

Otherwise I think I may have succumbed to Covid-think, for my days seem characterised by minutiae, misinterpretations and irrelevancies. For example, I very carefully set myself to search out and use up every one of those tea-bags that they leave in your hotel room but which somehow find their way into your luggage. Why, all of a sudden? Did I think that the tea-bag police were finally onto my case? As to misinterpretations, I misread the title of an article as "How to get the most out of your colander" and got really quite excited. Alas, it was "calendar", something of which I've had very little need this year. And you can't wear a calendar on your head to protect you from alien radiation. (Well you could, but I doubt it would really deflect it properly.)

Bin appears to levitate. Caption: If you see this bin floating you have been inside for too long. It's just a wet spot on the pavement.

Thank you to those several readers who proffered advice (some of it really very sensible) on what to do with my current Worzel Gummidge hair-style. Having a natural tendency towards wild risk-taking I was quite tempted by the idea of attacking the back of my own head with a pair of specialist scissors purchased for the purpose (thanks to Ros for the suggestion, only to be fair, she didn't actually use the word "attack" and earns kudos for learning how to cut her own hair without disaster or serious injury) but then my hairdresser rang to offer me a priority appointment as I'd had to miss the one scheduled for January. This is coming up very soon, so I think I'll just wait it out and let an expert deal with it. Possibly a wiser option, all things considered.

Oh and I have finally, against all the odds, finished reviewing "The Werewolf in the Ancient World", an Oxford University Press volume of such densely packed classical erudition that I had to read the whole thing twice before I could even start to assess it. As I've said in the review, this is probably the best book that will ever be written on the subject - but it's not exactly a page-turner. I'm promised that the next book I'll be sent to review will be about... oh - werewolves. After that there should be one on vampires, but if I'm very good I might get the new one on dragons coming out in September. Do you think I'm somehow working in a niche area?

Which area might very loosely relate to this cartoon thoughtfully sent by Heather. It may take a moment...

'Vincent van Goth' at easel

And now I shall close with an image from a French Gothic illuminated manuscript of circa 1316. The ostensible subject involves the shortish chap on the left killing the knight who lies in a crumpled heap in the right foreground. Quite incidentally, however, it also depicts the Best Mediaeval Horse Ever. Another viewer who is clearly a Thomas Hardy fan made this pertinent observation: "A rare example of a horse suffering from sheep bloat, with the knight about to channel Gabriel Oak, using his lance as a trocar."

Manuscript illumination as described in text

And on that note...
Stay well
Gail-Nina xx