Monday, 7 June 2010


I know, I know. It's been a while. I wish that after such a hiatus this post could actually contain something riveting and amusing. Sadly my days seem to be full of tea, biscuits and trying to write some sort of linear, erudite and interesting narrative about medieval saints' reliquaries of Zadar. Yes, it's writing up time for the thesis and there's not much humour in that, let me tell you. If you ever wanted to instantly crush any instance of imagination or creativity - never mind comedy - just unleash a footnote that looks something like this...

Hartvic, Bishop, 'Legenda S. Stephani regis maior et minor, atque legenda ab Hartvico episcopo conscripta', in Scriptore Rerum Hungaricarum Tempore Ducum Regumque Stirpis Arpadianae Gestarum, ed. by Bartoniek, Emma (Budapest: Typograhiae Reg. Universitatis Litter. Hung. Sumptibus, 1938), pp. 363-440.

... and feel that metaphorical tumbleweed of boredom trundle through your soul.

Yea gods. I need a proper job at some point.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Hackney and the 2012 Olympics

So this whole redevelopment of the East End of London will not only bring with it the many social fruits associated with such massive urban regeneration projects, but also the promise of a generation of brighter, smarter and fitter kids. Apparently.
The logic is that all this hullaballoo of the Olympic variety, with the added catalyst of various government-funded local initiatives, will encourage hoards from the disenfranchised youth of the area to grab a hockey stick or bathing costume, or maybe a pair of spikes and baton, and rush with glee to one of the many soon-to-be-developed sporting arenas. Much sporty participation will ensue as well as team playing and increased social cohesiveness. Fitness, brightness, fabulousness and any range of -nesses whose absence have been the cause of a couple of generations' worth of social malaise will improve.
All well, good, noble and so forth, but where on earth do all these bright young things (and a not so bright, nor quite so young Medievalist) go to actually buy the sports kit in order to participate in such a utopian programme? Not Hackney Central, that's for sure. If you're looking for anything other than "sports fashion" - which I take to mean combinations of polyester football shirts, pale pink tracksuit bottoms and black hoodies - Hackney Central, one of the more accessible high streets in the borough, is not where one should go. Thank you, JD Sports, purveyor of flammable mediocrity and Third World-exploiting rags.
Thus for 2012, bare feet and a hockey sticks made of MacDonald straws will have to do instead for the youth of the borough. But as MacDonalds are one of the sponsors, that probably will all work out rather nicely...

Monday, 12 October 2009

Berlusconi Invades Britain!

Well, not quite. But it might be the only hope I have of ever speaking Italian properly. Today has been a day of linguistic tragedy, a complete mental block when it comes to reading the swathes of Italian that had, until today, been pretty commonplace since undergraduate days. Maybe it’s a bit like riding a bicycle. Once you start thinking about the mechanics and forces of physics that keep you upright, going in a straight line at speed along a tarmac road, it all goes horribly wrong and you fall off, with only a couple of scraped, bloody kneecaps full of grit to show for your intellectual musings.

And so I fear this has happened to my reading of Italian. I’ve been thinking about it too much, creating cases and passive tenses where really there are none. Reams of printed word rendered into incomprehensible gobbledygook. But surely this is a simple language by comparison with German or Latin (ablative absolute, anyone?), a musical means of communicating where an abundance of gesticulation, a poetic grasp of rhythm and an avoidance of the full stop at all costs is to be admired, nay, revered. Just going with the flow should be the order of the day. But it’s all gone wrong. Too much Anglo-Saxon cogitation, or maybe a desire for Teutonic efficiency and noun endings has sounded the death knell on the afternoon’s proceedings. I shall shelve away my translation of the eleventh-century Giovanni Diacono’s Istoria Veneticorum for another day, have a cup of tea and ponder the slapstick comedy potential of Berlusconi actually trying to invade Britain. 
Photo from

To help you on your way, I add a link (with Italian subtitles) to a recent ribbing of Signor Berlusconi at the hands of British comedians on the BBC’s Mock the Week. Enjoy! 

Friday, 11 September 2009

To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question

On the off chance anyone out there is procrastinating their life / PhD / job away more than I seem to be at the moment, I am now on Twitter. Yes, a couple of inconsequential microblogs a day, often of complete, febrile drivel, are spewed forth from my keyboard and unleashed into an unsuspecting, uncaring world.
Micro rants of late seem to revolve around Argos, HSBC, voids on library books shelves and Venetian moneys of account from the 14th C.
Oh, and swing dancing. But that is another story, for another day.

Friday, 7 August 2009


How do they do it? The combination of tired tracksuit bottoms, hoody, Adidas trainers and cigarette would scream grot, chav or sociopath on any man born north of the Alps. Put an insouciant Italian male into this ensemble and with the addition of a dandyish pastel green scarf about his neck you have the sort of virility that induces a contemplative, breathy silence in women, with a possible touch of pink about the cheeks that wasn’t there a moment ago.

I think the enforced wearing of frock coats on all non-Mediterranean males is the only sartorial hope there is to restore some sort of a level playing field on the “phwoar” front.

Political Concerns from the BNP to the Archers

I do wish that I could pop up a post chock full of insightful and witty commentary on daily life in East London or regale you with some sort of amusing anecdote found whilst trawling through the reams of wills over enthusiastically photographed whilst in Zadar. Unfortunately, it's all quiet on the Western Front, so to speak. So it might just be the right time to voice a small twinge of concern about Britain today...

So, on Radio 4 last week, I could have sworn I heard a government spokesman talk about foreigners who come and exploit our generous benegits system to the detriment of the indigenous population.


Is anybody out there at all absolutely aghast at the rather potent combination of foreigner, exploitation of OUR generous benefits system and indigenous in a public pronouncement by a government spokesman? Does this not sound horribly redolent of the sort of vernacular adopted by the British National Party and other fascists?

It's when anthropological terms start getting used in a political sense - particularly when it comes to migration policy during a recession - that the alaraum bells start ringing. Indigenous?! For crying out loud, this a nation of mongrels and good couple of thousand years worth of immigration from all over Europe and then later the Empire. Deal with it. If you want to find the truly indigenous go and seek out a grumpy Welshman in Snowdonia whose family, around the time of the Vikings, or Saxons or whatever Scandinavian warrior race kicked the biggest arse, were bullied into that soggy corner and never emerged again.

Methinks the government, in a desperate bid to avoid a shallacking in next year's general election, are trying to seduce the apparently alienated group of white Brits who are ignorant enough to vote for bigoted, fascist meatheads like Nick Griffith. When mainstream political parties are trying to seduce this section of society with similar tactics to the BNP then this nation is screwed. To give the impression that a tsunami of Johnny Foreigners are coming over - not even taking our jobs but going straight for our benefits - is a dangerous, desperate and divisive step to take. I truly hope this madness will stop soon but I worry that such ill-thought and incendiary comments and ideas will become the norm for this, a government in its death throes. A Pandora's box is being opened, which shall not be closed again for a long while. Today, it's only words but I fear what tomorrow will bring...

Or maybe I just misheard an episode of the Archers whilst in the kitchen and in fact all is well with this nation and its astute and competent political class. Maybe, just maybe.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Contemporary art, parsnips and the Hayward Gallery.

Occasionally, after days upon days of 14th C wills or 15th C property contracts from Zadar, I step out blinking into the light of what is apparently the 21st C and gingerly embrace some of what it has on offer. The other day, I felt a spot of contemporary art might be a good thing to complement the medieval metalwork and panel paintings that seem to litter my particular academic path. So off I pootled with a chum to the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank where they have a rather spiffing show on at the moment called Walking in my Mind. 10 artists have interpreted through various media (painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video etc) their take on the creative and imaginative processes that go into producing their own art. A rather self-reflective - and some uncharitable types might argue self-absorbed exercise - but the results would surely prove a thought-provoking way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even if those thoughts ranged in emotion from expletive-peppered outrage to genuine admiration.

The prizes go to:

Joint favourite

Charles Avery, a Scotsman and accomplished draftsman, fashions flora and fauna, landscape and people that populate his epic and fantastical project, The Islanders. His sculptures and drawings imbue the seemingly commonplace with the bizarre yet without the bombast of Matthew Barney and his Cremaster Cycle, another magnum opus that made manifest - in glorious Technicolor - the rather mad and complex world within the artist’s mind. Although both artists are technically superb, Barney in film and Avery particularly in his drawings, strangely the Scotsman’s understatement and simplicity are what give his work a grandeur that Barney seemed to try too hard to achieve. In human terms, it’s a beauty competition between a tanned, beach bunny blonde Californian in a day glo bikini versus a milk-skinned, wind-swept, auburn haired bonnie Scottish lass in a sensible jumper. Choose what you will but my ideal of beauty lies with the latter.

Most use of packing tape

My chum is now a fan of Thomas Hirschhorn and his cavern-esque installation Cavemanman. Constructed almost entirely of cardboard and packing tape, this would have taken quite a while to put together. For myself, I have now discovered a mild propensity for claustrophobia as a result of my participation in this piece.

Best artist for the wee ones

Yayoi Kusama. I have never seen an 18 month-old child look so gobsmacked before. Possibly the potent combination of giant inflatable spheroid things and white polka dots on a red background. Lots of polka dots.

Best comedy value moment

Pipilotti Rist, Extremities (smooth, smooth). This is a video piece where you wander into a darkened room and sit on a circular bench in the middle. Stars seems to fill room and projectors, well, project, various bits of body on to sheets of diaphanous fabric thus giving the impression that they are floating. Oh, and a voice occasionally announces some piffle about being “butterflowers”. But on this particular afternoon the scene is enhanced by two rather special protagonists:

(Mother and three-year old in the room, admiring floating limbs. Child is thrilled by the "spaceman". Mother just about to depart with child when ginormous floating breast and nipple appears).
Child (loudly): Mummy, mummy, what's that?
Mother (with aplomb): It's a planet, dear. (cleverly keeping with spaceman theme)
Child: Which planet, mummy?
Mother (still with aplomb): It's Venus, dear. (Attempts to drag child out of room. Other visitors in the room starting to giggle)
(Cue ginormous floating phallus).
Child (very loudly): MUMMY, MUMMY! What's that?
(Outright guffaws amongst other viewers)
Mother (aplomb starting to slip): It's a carrot, dear. (spaceman theme starting to slip as well)
Child: Are you sure?
Mother (mortification finally setting in): Ermmm... maybe it's a parsnip. Yes, a parsnip. Come. On. We. Are. Going. NOW!
(Other viewers in gales of laughter).


And after that interlude, it’s back to the wills.