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Archive for the month “December, 2012”

New – Year’s – Eve

New – Year’s – Eve‘, sung to the same rhythm as ‘Five – Gold – Rings’ [though today is of course actually Seven swans a-swimming].

To mind comes the Brian O’Nolan work [writing under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien] At Swim Two Birds [the other five presumably having swanned off today] one of the most sophisticated examples of metafiction ever written? I love the simple graphic design of the 1939 first edition cover.

The Greek phrase found in the front-matter of the novel ἐξίσταται γὰρ πάντ’ ἀπ’ ἀλλήλων δίχα [Trans. “for all things change, making way for each other”] seems a fitting way to end the year’s blogging.


The rest of the verses to The Twelve Days of Xmas are suddenly non-birdy:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me Twelve drummers drumming, Eleven pipers piping, Ten lords a-leaping, Nine ladies dancing, Eight maids a-milking,

so will be dropped until twelfth night. Tomorrow the necessary list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2013 …

Happy Hogmanay


Six geese a-laying

Couldn’t help but think today of those other ‘famous’ nursery geese: Goosey Loosey and Goosey goosey gander. The usual personification [Disney especially] of geese seems to be as gossipy, slightly dim goody two-shoes?

Somewhere in my head is the plot device used in some kitschy 60s film [perhaps the Grant/Hepburn vehicle Charade?] of ‘chatting’ geese being confused for a crowd of people by some blindfolded captured ‘spy’ in the back of a car [later used to locate the baddies].


Best of all though is the 1978 movie Wild Geese [one of the few merc films popular around the early 80s, Cuba, The Dogs of War, Uncommon Valour, to have any depth beyond this typically shoot-em-up big-bangs genre] featuring an ensemble cast of veteran actors. I love the way graphic designers tweak extant artwork to get extra mileage ‘on the cheap’. A sad day when ‘painted’ film poster art totally disappears. Apparently the rather strange title for this story is based on historical fact. ‘Wild Geese’ was the name given to Irish soldiers who left to serve as mercenaries in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Nursery geese to comedy spy movies to mercenaries now there’s a geese-a-laying trail of thought.

Five gold rings

So why a birdy start then a switch to Gold Rings? It obviously helps with the sudden change in song metre [a most unusual song] but apparently originally the verse might have been Five Ring-Necked Pheasants. Either that or the 5 gold rings are meant for Olympic synchronised dolphin tricks? Polygamous marriages? The neck hoops [idzila were made of copper or bronze] of  South African Ndebele women? The ‘you’ve been hired’ telephone call that goes with the ‘golden handshake’?

bird calls

A thought from yesterday about what a Calling Bird might be? If Gun dogs, Lap dogs, Pointers, Retrievers are named after the job/function they perform, might not a ‘calling bird’ be a bird that can imitate other birds; like a set of bird calls. In other words a live decoy mimicking the prey being hunted. Ravens and Jackdaws [being black birds that are able to ‘speak’] would then fit the category.

Four calling birds

So what exactly is a Calling Bird? Shouldn’t it be a Colly Bird? Which is apparently any Black [black – coal] Bird, but originally a Blackbird as in the nursery rhyme Sing A-song-sixpence with its four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie [a common source of food in Medieval times, for the well off at least].

Even a Raven or Crow is technically a Colly bird. Both of which have very rich mythological and wider cultural associations.


Gustave Dore engraving, The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe [1884].

Three French hens

A Limited Edition Original Work of Chicken Art by Jax Hamlin of Nonesuch

A Limited Edition Original Work of Chicken Art
by Jax Hamlin of Nonesuch

Two turtle doves

Many ancients believed the world was flat. The phrase ‘Turtles all the way down’, attempts to explain the infinite regress problem in cosmology, posed by the ‘unmoved mover’ paradox [no cause and effect].

cosmic turtle

THE DOVE [first draft]

Is the bubble the violet
A breast ot quiet lightning
A thunder of softness, care
And endearment, plundered by gods

Arched wings
A gateway of watchfulness
Where the world plays
With a child

When they plucked her
The stars floated off, and became unending [?].
They roasted her
Then they disembowelled her
Their mouths smoked.
Her liver became an oracle.

Her flesh still [?]
[?] cave of slaughter.
Her heart spoke,
An oracle
Of loving words

Her heart became his tongue.

He stood, drenched in her blood
And hardening in the light.

Still her words were his strength

A very interesting article by critic Keith Sagar on how the Ted Hughes’ [that great modern myth maker] poem The Dove was written [not as we so often assume; arriving complete and unbidden]. Hardly anything of this first draft survived to the final version.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Gustav Klimt - Pear Tree, 1903

Pear Tree, Gustav Klimt, 1903

It’s snowing angels

It’s snowing angels, on my front porch
Take a broom and sweep one in
I’m such a lucky guy, such a lucky guy
Even though my shoes have broken
I can’t deny my toes
The right to fresh air
And the joy of poking through
It’s snowing angels
Hope I’ll catch me one

The Fuzzy Warbles Collection: Volume 2, Andy Partridge, 2002

Advent XXIII

Behind window 23: Maps.

What I find particularly interesting about maps is how the data represented on them changes over time [with more accurate cartography]. A most fascinating aspect of this is features that prove to be imaginary.

sandy Is

A remarkable recent story concerned the ‘undiscovery’ of the Pacific Sandy Island, which had made its way onto navigational charts and even Google Earth. Last week a group announced they had sailed to the spot where Sandy Island is supposed to be, only to discover it wasn’t there.

A librarian at Auckland Museum in New Zealand has identified the source of the original error: a 19th-century whaling ship which first ‘spotted’ the island in 1876. Although the captain was not entirely convinced of his findings the island’s existence continued unchallenged until now.

One of the scientists who ‘undiscovered’ the island said her team of scientists had been puzzled by the discrepancy between Google Earth and navigational charts. “It’s on Google Earth and other maps so we went to check and there was no island.”

Probably the thing I like most about these cartographic anomalies is that they put supposed real world [though actually ‘phantom’] places on a par with entirely fictional places: Black Island [Tintin], Blefuscu [Gulliver’s Travels], Myst [Computer Game], The Island of Dr. Moreau [H.G. Wells Novel], etc

Advent XXII

Behind window 22: Foley


Blow Out, Brian De Palma, 1981

There is nothing more unnatural than sound in movies. What we all to readily bypass is easily proven to be fake if the soundtrack and the visuals fall out of sync. The cinematic experience of sound is a complex one. The synthetic  often appears more real than the real [especially for those aural instances we experience on the screen but not in everyday life]. For instance with real explosions, as light and sound travel at different speeds, there is no concurrent effect as there is in the movies. Fist fights rarely sound as chop-socky as the filmic version [actually punches mostly sound rather ‘dull’ ]. And what we hear is more often than not nothing unique. For instance the so-called Wilhelm scream – a sound effect first used in 1951 for the film Distant Drums – is Hollywood’s go-to shriek. It’s a cinematic sound cliché which has been used in well over 200 movies.

Great movies about Foley include The Conversation [Coppola, 1974], and Blow Out [De Palma, 1981].

Advent XXI

Behind window 21: Chocolate.

What would we do without choccies!? Especially without those interesting centres.

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Running the entire tube network to raise money for Alzheimer's Research UK and War Child


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A curated glimpse into a world of infinite beauty and creativity.

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