Friday, 30 December 2011

Sunshine Nonsense

Preserve us from Thy Wrath, O Ye Mighty, we prayed to the Celtic Gods of Thunder and Rain, as we booked our train tickets for Edinburgh. ’Tis fated that in December the Northerly and Tempestuous Land of Alba shalt be Cold and Blustery, but spare us from the Rain, for verily doth it Interfere with Sightseeing.

And the rain gods must have heard us, for indeed we had very little rain in our three days in Edinburgh.

But our quota of fair weather ran out on the bus trip to Loch Ness. Scarcely had we crossed Dunblane, when the clouds blotted out the sun and the rain came down in sheets. “Aye, that’s more like proper Scottish weather, that is,” cried our bus driver. “None o’yer silly sunshine nonsense.” And he pressed down on the accelerator and swerved to avoid a minivan.

Initially the rain seemed like a bit of a dampener. But I came round to the view that the Highlands are at their most awe-inspiring

under brooding skies

in falling rain

when the trees are bare

and the waters of the loch are storm-tossed and steely black.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

My Brush with Vaishnavism

A Hare Krishna devotee waylaid me on Oxford Street the other day.
He had a stack of books with the title Bhagavad Gita. I was looking at these in passing and wondering how come they were so thick (the Bhagavad Gita is a slim volume), and this proved to be my undoing. Because he caught me eyeing the books, and before I knew it, I was in his power.
The conversation was a short one, for I prefer to give religious recruiters a wide berth.
Hare Krishna devotee: Can I ask you one question?
Me: Please excuse me. I am in a bit of a rush.
And I melted away into the crowd of shoppers.
I need not have said, “I am in a bit of a rush,” and in fact I wasn’t in any rush at all. Nevertheless, I thought if I’m rebuffing him out of hand, the least I should do is give him a reason to feel superior.
But for three days now I’ve been wondering what his one question was. The revenge of the Hare Krishna is truly insidious.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Three Languages


It was my supervisor who told me about a Thai tongue-twister which, when transliterated, reads mai mai mai mai mai, but which in fact consists of five distinct words pronounced in different tones. Apparently it means ‘New wood doesn’t burn, does it?’

And this naturally led us to consider the possibility of an entire language consisting of a single syllable spoken in an infinitude of tones and registers.

I think our conclusion was that whatever other attractions such a language may have, we wouldn’t fancy using it to draft an intercreditor agreement.


I read a novel recently, with the improbable title of A New Finnish Grammar. I will now proceed to quote from it liberally, because it is not everyday that you find an author who writes so passionately about language.

On the noun:

In the Finnish language the noun is hard to lay hands on, hidden as it is behind the endless declensions of its fifteen cases and only rarely caught unawares in the nominative.
On memorising words:
With some difficulty, one by one, I was taking in Koskela’s words. In the pauses between them, I heard them die away. I watched them floating down into the landscape of the city around us, so as to note where they fell, so that I could go and collect them later: a belltower would remind me of a verb, I wasted a whole ship on an adjective and entrusted the all-important subject to a tram. The pastor’s thought was scattered throughout Helsinki, and I could reread it every time I pleased.
On obsessive practice:
I would shut myself in the sacristy and study every word I’d put down in the notebook, declining it in all possible cases, conjugating each verb in every voice I knew, down to the most tortuous forms of the passive, the conditional, even the past potential. [...] Those syntactical digests were my defence against an enemy who was attacking me from behind. I had no tanks, no bombardiers, and each day surprised me on a different front, drawing me into the open, far from reason’s hiding-places, towards a chasm of gloomy, giddy thoughts. It was then that I needed all fifteen Finnish grammatical cases, the four forms of the infinitive, not to mention the negative pluperfect to keep my mind engaged, to drag it clear of that carpet bombing.

Beautiful, no?


I learnt the word naruhodo on a snorkelling trip in Japan.

I had taken an underwater photo of a senior colleague, and I was quite pleased with the result. Back on the beach I showed her the photo. She said, “Naruhodo.”

Now at the time I did not know what the expression meant, and I was too proud to ask her. But I assumed it meant, “This photograph overwhelms me. Your talent makes me go weak in the knees, and I love you with a passion that is inextinguishable.” For it really was a pretty good photo.

When I went home, I checked. Naruhodo means ‘I see.’

Saturday, 10 December 2011


A long time ago, I had resolved that when I had my own flat, I would name the furniture.

For the last 16 months, I have had my own flat – or, to be more accurate, a shared flat, my own flat and a shared house, in that order – but I haven’t put my plan into action.

I could start with the windowsill, which I am rather fond of.

Will the Sill sounds somewhat uninspiring; considering the windowsill is my little corner of Japan, maybe I should call it Yūdai the Madodai.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Thanks for all the makeover suggestions and sorry for having disappeared without warning – I briefly went private while I was tweaking the new look. “Like a changing room, curtains drawn,” as a friend put it. And what with one thing and another, this took longer than I anticipated.

v3.0 is not as minimalist as initially planned: I figured there were some page elements I like too much to get rid of. Moving some of it to a static page was an option, but that is just hiding clutter, not getting rid of it. And mysteriously, I can’t get the dice (a random post generator link) to work on v3.0, but I will try my best to fix this.

Hopefully you will like the new look. But if you don’t, feel free to stare wistfully at this.

Edit, 8 January 2012: The dice are now back.