Friday, April 21, 2017

Want of Dexterity

When I was blogging more frequently, all those joyous years ago, my not-so-subtle (and no-so-secret, and not-at-all-unique) plan was get a grunch (new word) of posts together with a similarity of theme and tone that I could put into a coherent order, so that I'd have less of the discontinuous non-narrative that blogs inevitably are - rants, pseudo-essays, and shady stories all over the place - and with a little bit of fiddling and tweaking and filling in of gaps, I'd create a readable, unitary, written/typed object - aka a book.



Still on about The Trip TV show... In the second series, in Italy, Rob Bryden is forever chasing "Byron slept (well, he went to bed) here", and "Shelley punched someone out here" landmarks for him to be photographed at, and I was wondering where he found his information on this their last, epic Grand Tour (which included Lausanne, as mentioned in the previous post).

So I searched for a book about those rapscallion poets on the loose.

The book that Rob had most likely read was Edward John Trelawny's 1858 first hand account, Recollections From The Last Days Of Shelley And Byron. There is a NYRB edition out, but they don't have it, or any other edition, in stock in Singapore at the moment*. I was thinking to pick it up this weekend, before I fly off again: Tokyo this time (I'm currently in KL). I searched for an eBook to hold me over, but none is available.

It is not on Gutenberg Press either.

But there is a scanned copy at Scribd, the on-line eBook library, but that requires a subsription to read off-line or on a mobile app.

ANYWAY, point of story...

One the first page of the preface I found this:

"I wrote what is now printed, not systematically, but just as the incidents occurred to me, thinking that with the rough draft before me it would be an easy, if not agreeable, task to re-write the whole in a connected form; but my plan is marred by my idleness or want of literary dexterity."


Idle and wanting literary dexterity. So it's not just


* This is the sort of book you'd be rummaging for ceaselessly in dusty second-hand bookstores, and loving every minute of it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Gimme One Reason...

Here's a line from the TV series, The Trip, with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Series 2, Italy), which works well for expats in Asia. As it does for comedians in Italy, I guess:

- She only wants to sleep with you because you're rich.
- I only want to sleep with her because she is young and beautiful.

Steve throws arms up in air... implying one reason is as good as another.


(Don't have a clip of this, but they are hilarious.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Savoyard - ambiguation

Interesting. Not ironic, merely coincidental. Merely an example of Littlewood's Law, roughly: "A person can expect what appears to be a "miracle", that is, something with odds of around a million to one, to happen to them about once a month."

What is this rare, nay, semi-miraculous proto-religico/mathematico occurrence, you ask. What has brought once prolific and popular blogger E@L back from the brink, yea, from staring into the blind, echoless abyss of not writing much these days?

E@L has come across the word "Savoyard" twice in as many weeks. It was a new one on him, as are most references to cultural things.

Wow! hey?


In his semi-autobiographical 1964 novel My Brother Jack, the Australian writer George Johnston* has his proto-self, proto-agonist David Meredith, working at an elite printing firm in Melbourne (as did Johnston). The printers were more than mere craftsmen: they were also artists, designing and etching the posters and advertisements themselves, as commissioned.

But they had other, dare I say cultural** interests:

"... because every one of them was a fanatical Savoyard, and at any hour of the working day would be as likely as not to burst into a chorus from HMS Pinafore or Yeomen of the Guard or Pirates of Penzance, then everyone would join and the whole studio would rock to Gilbert and Sullivan airs..."
(approx location 1210 of 6276 on Kindle)

Savoyard: 2: a person enthusiastic about or connected with Gilbert and Sullivan operas: so called from the Savoy Theater in London, where the operas were first presented. (


In her most-amusing 2004 novel (and aren't they all?) The Finishing School", Muriel Spark arranges it so that the students of College Sunrise in Ouchy, a lakeside town just out of Lausanne, leave their laptops and knapsacks behind and head off on a ferry down Lake Geneva to the Chateau of Chillon.

It was while he was in Ouchy itself, in 1816, that Lord Byron, who was with Shelley on holidays [i.e. fucking whomever they could catch], wrote an allegedly well-know poem [not to E@L] about a certain prisoner who was kept in a dungeon there (Chillon) for six years. François Bonivard, the Prisoner of Chillon, was imprisoned (with his two brothers, according to Byron) in an underground cell because of his radical political views, espousing the independence of the Genevese area from The Duchy of Savoy. The Duchy at the time of Bonivard's incarceration [1530's or so] included a chunk of what is now eastern Switzerland: all the shores of Lake Geneva, from Geneva around to Lausanne, and then to Montreux. Chambery, in what is now France (Savoie or Haute-Savoie, can't be fucked looking it up - E@L is 6hrs into this post already) was then the capital, but Savoy included the Piedmontese area around Turin, and down to the Mediterranean at Nice. Lots of geo-politics going on as you would imagine. But of that, more later.

OK, so the students are told to ponder on Byron's poem while they were at the Chillon chateau.

What next befell me then and there
I know not well—I never knew—
First came the loss of light, and air,
And then of darkness too:
I had no thought, no feeling—none—
Among the stones I stood a stone,
And was, scarce conscious what I wist,
As shrubless crags within the mist;
For all was blank, and bleak, and grey;
It was not night—it was not day;
It was not even the dungeon-light,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness—without a place;
There were no stars, no earth, no time,
No check, no change, no good, no crime
But silence, and a stirless breath
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!...

Listen: Chris, one of the more precocious students is writing a novel about Mary Queen of Scots, the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, and the assassination of her recently repositioned personal seckertary and alleged boy-toy, David Rizzio, formerly of, wait for it, the Duchy of Savoy - he was born near Turin. When Rizzio was stabbed 56 times in 1566, Lord Darnley was then estranged from Mary, an 'orrible 'usband [marry in haste, repent in hell not long after] who had been buggering none other than Rizzio for many a moon previously. He feared most murderously that his (Rizzio's) ascendancy in her (Mary's) eyes threatened him (Darnley) both politically and romantically. [E@L is toying most flagrantly with history here, having only half-remembered pieces of the story from a recent Melvyn Bragg podcast, and less-than-half-read Googled snippets to go on]. After Rizzio's body is disposed of, Darnley, King of Scotland, gets, naturally enough for those days, back with his once-hated and conspired-against Queen. But he is murdered himself next year by the Earl of Bothwell, who marries MQoS after raping her [rape in haste, marry and murder at leisure], and the rest is history. But Chris's "excitingly written" twist on the story is that Darnley was in fact murdered by assassins sent from Savoy by Rizzio's family of diplomats (aka spies). Whoof.

Anyway, [are you still with me?] Chris, the aforesaid precocious student and inchoate novelist at the Swiss finishing school of the novel's (Spark's) title, was on the ferry, thinking of Bonivard and Rizzio, who were, #foreheadslap, roughly contemporaries:

"They might have met. They lived in different worlds yet it was not impossible that the lordly Savoyard should encounter the young Piedmontese diplomat who won his way into the courts of Europe." (Pg 23.)

Savoyard: 1: a native or inhabitant of Savoy. (


But of course, checking the maps of the region, although it was difficult to pin down exactly the gerrymandering going on over the centuries with Google and not a proper historical atlas, E@L has discovered a possible misfiring in Spark's research/reasoning.

Turin was, as mentioned, in the Duchy of Savoy during the 16th century, and became the capital in 1563. It had been part of Savoy for six centuries and would remain so for two or more, um, more. Rizzio would have considered himself as much a Savoyard as Bonivard, rather than just a Piedmontese. [Perhaps, but for the sake of spectacularly iconoclastic blogging, let's say, Yes]. And, more controversially, Bonivard, imprisoned as a Genovese secessionist, might justly bristle at being called a Savoyard, when he most devoutly wished to be anything but one.

The history of the area is complex, to say the least at this time of night. Lausanne and Geneva did not remain in Savoy much longer. Those of the House Savoy became, firstly, the Kings of Sardinia (which included a state of Savoy that commenced below Lake Geneva, and had Piemonte as a separate state), and then the Kings of Italy, reigning from Turin, after the unification (also once called the "Piedmontisation") of Italy.


As another aside, while Muriel was writing this, her last novel, in a little village in Tuscany (about 60km from where E@L experienced the infamous "angina incident" of 2012), a political group in Savoie and Haute Savoie, the areas of France around Chambery (former capital of the Duchy, remember?), The Savoyan League, were calling for the unification and independence of the French speaking regions of l'ancien duché de Savoie. They gained 5.39% of the vote in the area in 1998, but failed to turn up at the 2004 elections.


Fascinating. Maybe not in your opinion, certainly in the opinion of



* E@L is reading My Brother Jack (he should have done so many years ago) because George Johnston is mentioned, photographed even, with his wife Charmian Clift, in
So Long, Marianne: A Love Story, the bio-story of the muse of Leonard Cohen's classic song, which E@L found in Kinokuniya and still hasn't started reading because: see above.

This had prompted E@L to pull out his almost as unread copy of Garry Kinnane's wonderfully titled 1986 biography of George Johnston, George Johnston: A Biography. Inside of which, E@L found four mysterious pressed flowers.

After some Facebook sleuthing, it turns out that it was the Ex who had placed the flowers there when she was reading the book back in the day - we are talking nearly 30 years ago.

** "Culture" and "Gilbert and Sullivan" - uncomfortable bedfellows, some snobs might say.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Soon. Surely.

I'm just gonna haveta start writing up here again. Not writing is stopping me from writing.

Not tonight though, I have a bastard behind the eyes.

Siderses blott up and a sort trote.


Watch this spot.


And that one.


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

That In Aleppo Once or Twice...

E@L's father was a damn good cricketer. E@L's No1 son is a damn good cricketer when his back and his knee don't take him down. E@L was a damned cricketer, and a laughing stock on occasion (wrong shoes for turf, slipped over when delivering the first ball, etc...).

For the 1952-53 season, E@L's dad won the batting averages for the PMG (Post-Master General, now split into Australia Post and Telecom) cricket team in a town in country Victoria. No doubt a social level competition. But hey. E@L's son has more information on his cricketing prowess. On one particularly splendid day he bowled out the other team almost single-handedly, and then won the match with his batting - 106 not out!

They gave a him book, called Dust On My Shoes, by Peter Pinney. It was published in 1948 by the great Australian house of Angus and Robertson (still going on) and purchased at a salubrious bookstore named Cowans Newsagent in the lakeside town of Colac. (Where E@L was born.) The story is of a young Australian man, something of a rake E@L gathers, making his way, single-handed, across the Middle East and South Asia, from Greece to Burma just after the end of WWII. E@L hasn't read the book, though as a child he always wondered at in his mother's small library (the remnants of his father's, he presumes, plus some childhood books for E@L's sister) and was particularly entranced by the photos. His late father-in-law had read it, and given it the thumbs up. How it got to his place is unknown. No1 son?)

Opposite the title page of his dad's prize copy is a photograph of Pinney looking from a window in the Great Citadel of Aleppo, in Syria, a view that show a minaret, the large dome of a mosque, five smaller domes on the structure next to it, and the city in the distance. It looks dusty, and E@L bets it was.


Interestingly, the photograph of Pinney in the window has been reversed, presumably for symmetry's sake. The actual view from a vantage similar to that window is this:


Aleppo is having the crap bombed out of it during the current Syrian civil[sic] war. E@L thought the view might be different now, for obvious reasons so he did the G thing,(search "Aleppo bombing" - there's no need for E@L to show them here). He saw photos of destroyed houses, dead babies, men screaming, rubble on the streets from smashed houses, terrified children running, massive bursts of earth, fire, and stone from bombs caught at the instant of exploding, grieving fathers holding their dead children on their laps, blood-stained cobbled streets, burnt-out vehicles, exhausted refugees squatting with stacks of their belongings at the side of the road. Humans in the midst of a modern tragedy, the weapons of mass and individual destruction built and supplied by our countries of course. Horrifying, heart-breaking, unnecessary, and completely avoidable. We are a fucked species.


Anyway, he found this:

Wondering if this is indeed the same mosque - those smaller domes smashed, the minaret luckily intact - and thinking he should read that book is



I used to love sitting here, settled in my comfy home-office-chair, banging away, letting the words flow as my ideas, like the soft inflated things they are, bounced off walls and down along strange dark pathways I might once have had the wisdom to not take. Before blogging.

Now, there never seems to be the time to blog. Hours have evaporated as I've distracted myself with FB and disgraced myself with porn and ended up lost in a labyrinth of click-on and click-backs, and I am eye-fuzzy and brain-glazed, yet fighting valiantly/foolishly against the call of the sleep faeries and a very very comfortable bed. And a very quiet CPAP machine.

Has the therapeutic catharsis which maybe fuelled them, departed from those confessions and musings? Let's see.


When I am back in Australia, I try to follow my regime of, every other day at least, taking my cardiologist's strong recommendation for a one hour, or longer, walk. I go in the morning there (everyone else is still asleep, even if I set off at 9). Despite listening to podcasts or music, my mind looks for observations and reflections that might make me feel like I am not brain dead, that might sound good in, say, a blog. Walserian note-taking: of the way roses on a bush wilt here, yet bloom there, the way a large black dog tugs on the leash and pulls its small female walker to one side of the path and her scarf billows up.

I question myself, but on trivial things these days. Where will I end up? Where will I retire, should I live that long? The brooding navel-gazing of the man who nearly died three years ago has lightened somewhat - the soundtrack of my blog would no longer be Bjork's Anchor Song. Or would it?


In the time when I used to set off from my mother's house, I would take part of the route that brought me home from my primary school (imagine letting an 8 year old walk 2 miles home by themselves these days). And I walk up past the town's main cemetery and the stone-masons, and look for name I recognise in their windows. The past, in those paddocks (now low-rent housing estates - Commission Homes) where a friend saw a stallion with an erection and wouldn't stop talking about it for weeks. The past, in these houses nearer to school which are weatherboard, tiny, with knee-height steel bar and mesh fences, houses that never will be worthy of gentrification, house where school-friends, enemies, and bullies, liars, cheats and other genuinely bad people - both children and adults - once lived, perhaps still do, tragically trapped in small minds and small rooms. The past, now at the war-memorial in the middle of the roundabout, where up float thoughts of my father, a soldier in WWII, who served in Borneo, who died 58 years ago, allegedly from war-related malarial heart damage. I follow my shadow to the breakfast cafe, shut on Sundays, and enjoy toast and coffee when I can. That was a more sentimental journey.


Instead, now that mum's house has been sold, she and I stay in my sister's house in slightly a more rural environment (still there are paddocks of massive penises in nearby agistment properties), and my walks have no memories attached - I avoid the street where an ex-girlfriend lived. I pluck at one or two stiff leaves from various types of native trees that loom over the footpaths and snap them horizontally at small intervals. I smell them absently. I order a flat white from the cafe near the Coles supermarket, where two pleasant ladies serve me and we joke a bit, or from the McDonalds McCafe, where I am just a number to the busy, underpaid young girls who don't know that a Medium flat white is the same size as a Venti (and does not contain 20oz), if the other is closed.

I walk past the fading white fences of the horse farms and past the For Sale sign on a fire engine, mysteriously in an otherwise empty paddock, sipping away. Others are out walking. Many are overweight, some as big as me. They might have "heart conditions", too. They might be walking their dogs. They might be wearing annotated jerseys and be on bikes. I wonder at how many paces distant will the other morning walkers lift their head and greet me - a nod, a grimace-like smile, a barely audible "'Ning", or "'Day". FYI, it measures out fairly consistently at ten paces. Twelve paces seems like you're looking at them too observantly for comfort. Eight paces, and it's like you were thinking of ignoring them, or vice versa, with a sudden decision to recognise their humanity at the last minute.

Many other thoughts. Many other observations. Wind, clouds, trees, dogs, bitumen snakes that writhe in repaired cracks of the asphalt walking path that is the old Queenscliff railway cutting. Life, death, and other minor distractions. I buy the newspaper at the Chinese-run small supermarket - I'm almost back home now. We all read different papers - local, right-wing, left-wing. 谢谢, I try to say, but the owner never seems to hear or understand.

Eighteen years living in Chinese-speaking Asian countries and I can't even say "thank you."



Thursday, December 10, 2015


I picked this book up recently in Kinokuniya, the second book about war refugees I bought that day.

I just tried to start reading it tonight but I haven't been able able to get past the cover without sobbing like a, well I would say child, but here is this seven year old Japanese girl, separated from her family during the American storming of Okinawa...

From what I gather from the cover blurb, she had to survive alone on the island, to hide out from the battling troops during the invasion, and here she is on the cover, having made such a momentous decision on her own - my god what thoughts were in her head - to make and carry a white flag of surrender over her shoulder... Don't shoot me just because I am Japanese. I'm just a child.

She makes a mockery of our privileged lives.

Oh the things we warring adults do to children, the resilience of these children, the growing up they do in the heart-beats between bombs and bullets...

What's is going on in Syria, Africa, everywhere?


I'm still crying. I don't think I can stop until wars stop.

I have no idea if the book is any good, or indeed if it justifies these emotions, but does it matter?


Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I wasn't sure what to do, or whether I was hungry or thirsty, sad or happy. I was tired from walking the streets of Lisbon on a warm, unpleasantly sunny day, for I had lost my hat in the train from Sintra and the fragile skin on my bare skull was broiling steadily. The crowd in the Museu de Cerveja looked to be straight off that floating city in port. I looked at the empty chairs in the place next door, older, hardly gentrified yet. Perfectly indicative of the struggle of Portugal to move slowly forward. So I finally settled on a table and chair that were the least unattractive to me, except that the table was unsteady after all, and I looked down at the restaurant menu, by the corner of the square. I turned the meagre menu (fish, more fish, fish) this way and that, but the food seemed to offer nothing but nausea and a repulsive end-product. I glanced at a sign on the wall. It was a line drawing of a thin-faced man with a moustache and those round glasses of old Europeans, and below this paltry representation were a few lines of self-deprecrating poetry. How he must feel on the wall. Like a fly, only unable to crawl, or indeed, to fly. Fernando Pessoa.

I opened my Kindle in a mood of resignation, for although I was unsatisfied with everything, I also felt the need to make a gesture, hopefully one that would take me away from my gloomy thoughts. Let me run my retinae over this array of pixels. Let someone else put the vibrations in my brain. I tossed the menu aside made the waiter (who had been hovering, and then had eventually moved away after observing my sour uncertainty and inability to commit) bring me a maio de liete and a quejada de villa francecso de campo, for that perfect cake would ruin my mood even further when I considered that it would not only not be fresh (flown in from the Azores who knows when) but my last one ever.

I read several pages of my book...

I had forgotten - it was uncanny, yet coincidences rarely excites me. I was reading The Book of Disquiet at that time. Short pieces, almost epigrams, paragraphs, a few pages. Everyone one of them ironic, bitter and dissatisfied, yet it was amazing - uplifting at the same time. It is so sad and negative, it is immensely enjoyable. The phrases are poems, not a cliche touches the paper for him.

And so my poor (transcribed above) blackness of the world lifted from my shoulders and a much BETTER blackness of the world settled instead. A black joy. Pessoa's perennial mood. I was elated at his contrariness and the refusal to enjoy life in evidence. Fernando Pessoa told me exactly and with unparalleled clarity how I felt, at that exact time. The word for my mood was "disquiet".

In short, with The Book Of Disquiet is perfect for those times when you are sitting in the restaurant where Pessoa himself used to sit and write (as he got drunk), and you feel happy to be feeling grumpy, which is 90% of the time for me, so I'm rating it 5 stars!

And I gave the waiter a 50c tip for his surly service!


Goodreads Review. No-one has liked it yet. I am expecting a lot of crap to be brought down on me.


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