So there I am in Zadar, Croatia on a nice family school holiday with my grandson and his parents. We’ve done the sea organ (twice), we’ve done a fair bit of lunching, we’ve enjoyed some sunshine, and Tuesday it starts off rainy, though that’s not why I have to leave. Marion’s friend and his taxi come for me at 1030, and off I go to the airport. After the obligatory small talk, I hear a bit more about what happened to Zadar during the 1991 war when the old town was seriously bombed, though you wouldn’t think so to look at it now : ok, it was clearly knocked about a bit by the Turks in the 18th century, but it’s easy to forget that quite a lot of the ancient rubble now repurposed as building materials is of more recent making. We drive through Crno, a little village which was the front line at the time, then abruptly take a very bumpy short cut through Babindub along a 200 metre stretch of what my driver calls “war road” as a further reminder. Then I spend far far too long sitting around waiting for a plane at the nice modern airport. There’s an outside terrace for smokers, which on the plus side is in the sunshine, but on the minus is throbbing with rubbish pop music. I plug in my headphones and listen to some Strauss (R.) for an hour or so. The Ryanair flight from Dublin arrives, eventually, and air borne by 1342; as ordered, I relax, sit back, and (try to) enjoy the flight. No, no hot food, no beverages, no duty free bargains, no Ryanair scratch card thank you. I wonder how long it can be before the lingua franca of Europe becomes a faintly Irish-inflected form of English. We land at Charleroi airport (no discernible features) at 1533, and I have time to get a 4 euro sandwich before tracking down the bus to Charleroi railway station (5 euros). The bus leaves at 1606 precisely, drives through lots of industrial wasteland and eventually arrives at the railway station (a traditional design rather spoiled by being entirely made of reinforced concrete) just in time for me to catch the 1637 departure to Brussels Midi instead of the 1707. The train is very long and very empty, but it trundles along in a bored Belgian kind of way, stopping at various places I have never heard of, and disdaining to do so at many others (including — unless I dreamed this — Waterloo). I arrive in the huge concourse of Brussels Midi about 1730, just in the nick of time to catch the 1755 Eurostar
to London instead of the 1856 one, hoorah. Would I have done better to get the bus from Charleroi to Lille and catch the Eurostar there? Quite possibly, but in the absence of any wifi it’s hard to tell. Anyway they are bringing some snacking and maybe I will be in London in time to go out for a decent dinner after all.
I detrain at St Pancras at 1905, join the throng being subjected to an additional passport check (sigh), and proceed to the Piccadilly line, even though this is subject to “severe delays” today. Also and not coincidentally severe congestion. But I get a seat on a train which promises to get me to Heathrow without waiting for much longer, and read quite a lot of the Evening Standard before it slows down severely somewhere in the wild west of London (Acton Town I think). The Old Codger sitting next to me engages me in conversation for the rest of my rather staccato journey; he starts by bemoaning the state of the nation in general, and TfL in particular, before moving on to the legal profession and the state of his health. He’s a retired minicab driver. And eventually we arrive at Hatton Cross tube station at 2030 or therebouts. And so to Jurys Inn, heaven help me, where I refuse to pay 10 quid for internet, but manage to blag a free hour’s wifi all the same, enough to check in for my flight tomorrow. Then I consume a beer and a burger in anticipation of tomorrow’s likely dinner. And so to bed. Next morning, I am up before 8 and out of there, noticing that on the other side of the eight lane highway leading me back to Hatton Cross there is a misty field containing what appear to be real horses, real cows, and a genuine picturesque old farm building, which seems as incongruous as the notice labelling this stretch of highway “Dick Turpin Way”. A tube train trundles me and my bags underground to Terminal 5 and 21st century realities. Lifts, escalators and transits, lots of stainless steel and glass, lots of people and luggage, lots of queuing for arcane security procedures : the usual airport dystopia. One gets through. And by 0930, here I am ordering, and consuming a proper English breakfast at one end of the terminal.
By 1010 I have a gate to go to, and by 1030 I am meeting up with James and Sebastian at it. Flight BA 2012 to Boston takes off on time at 1120, and follows its appointed route without incident. I watched an old Dr Who episode and an amusing film about Hitchcock with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. I did not do much work. At Logan airport the frontier guards have all been on a special course to learn how to be nice to people, which is a pleasant surprise. We locate the free “silver line” bus to South Station, and I take the Amtrak train to Providence, after a pizza and some tea. Comfy train. New England scenery flashes by : clapperboard houses, alternating with woody wasteland, and even yes a little genteel industrial wasteland too. And so eventually to the entirely splendid Biltmore Hotel and the TEI Council meeting…
This fine teapot comes from a teahouse in Vilnius, Lithuania, to which I was introduced by Matthew Driscoll and Tatiana Timcenko many years ago.
Sadly, they don’t make them (the teapots) any more, and I haven’t found anything like it elsewhere. Which is strange, since the design is as effective as it is remarkable.
Tea is served from the pot holding it this way up.
Of course, before the tea can be poured, it must be brewed. This is done with the pot rotated through 90 degrees as shown here. Tea leaves go into the compartment next to the handle, under the lid, followed by the boiling water. The pot then sits in the horizontal “brew” position for as long as you see fit. When ready, the pot is rotated to the “pour” position, and the tealeaves are kept separate from the tea by the ceramic strainer you can see in the photo below.
Update: Thanks to Lorraine’s comment below, I now know that this is actually a British invention “The concept of the SYP, or Simple Yet Perfect, teapot was the brainchild of Sir Douglas Baillie Hamilton Cochrane, the 12th Earl of Dundonald. His first design for the SYP teapot was patented in 1901, and the second and “improved” teapot came four months later – this was the version which was manufactured by Wedgwood’s Etruria factory between 1905 and 1919 as well as several other potters”. Thanks to Mr Google I see you can buy them on eBay, but I haven’t found anyone still manufacturing them yet.
In mid November 2012, we abandoned our house in Victoria Road to the builders and set off on an itinerary involving frequent returns to Nottingham, and extended stays in many major European cities with names beginning with B. Suitcases were trundled to and from buses, trains, and planes; hotels and other forms of temporary accomodation were sampled; tooth brushes, slippers, phone chargers and other first world necessities were accidentally mislaid across Europe. This blog entry summarizes the unrolling of this sequence of displacements …
On November 14 at 14h precisely and accompanied by rumbling suitcases containing a week’s as yet unbesmirched washing we walk down Victoria Road to the bus stop; take the bus into town; walk to the station; train to Paddington; tube to St Pancras; Eurostar to Paris Nord departing 1501; RER to Cite Universitaire; walk around the edge of Parc Monceau to 8 rue Amiral mouchez, arriving at 19h in time to receive the keys from the charming Hari, an AirBNB user who is renting her flat to us.
The flat is warm, has a nice little kitchen, functional wifi, a comfy real bed and a grand piano. Large amounts of book and other personal effects are hidden behind curtains and there is a pleasing air of chaos barely controlled. The next ten days are a kind of experiment to see how we cope with living in Paris together, with me working and Lilette being the angel in the house. I think moderately well : at any rate I got to the office in rue Lhomonde a couple of times, where I mostly agonized over the preparation of a new(ish) TEI training course, but also collected a few personal remnants such as a towel and a coffee pot, on the understanding that a definitive end to my time with the TGE was fast approaching, and Lilette discovered the pleasure of having a real butcher and a real baker within walking distance. We went out for an excellent Mauritian dinner together before L succumbed to a nasty cold and had to stay in bed for a few days, recovering eventually well enough to visit the Bazar d’Hotel de Ville for some desultory christmas shopping,
and for a walk to the Marais for some interesting Jewish dinner. Monday to Thursday I gave the aforesaid new(ish) TEI Training course for the Cahier consortium at the Institut Linguistique de France, conveniently located down the road from the flat: on which I have reported in another blog.
Saturday 24th November we tidy up the flat, collect some cheese and other goodies from the local shops, and head back to London on the 13h13 Eurostar, arriving eventually to find 111 Victoria Road is dark and cold, eviscerated, and barely habitable. Some degree of panic ensues as we wonder where to spend the weekend, with a phone battery failing, and no room at any local hotel. Fortunately we are invited to dinner at the Rahtzes this evening. They are kind enough to offer us a room in their basement, and access to wifi to sort myself out. Sunday, we check into the Royal Oxford Hotel down by the station, where there is heating, clean towels, wifi, and a comfy bed to be had, and I plot our next move. We have grandparenting duties in the East Midlands at the start of the week, but how better to spend the rest of it than on an impromptu visit to Barcelona? Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I book some accomodation and several train tickets, before going out for a well earned brunch at the Old Jam Factory, whence we trundle our suitcases onto the train for Nottingham.
We’re parachuting in to help on the occasion of Little Louis’ visit to hospital on the 27th November for some long overdue maintenance work on his navel. Not much seems to be required other than reassuring noises, cleaning the kitchen floor, etc, and the navel procedure went well. So we repack our bags, and set off bright and early on the morning of the 28th to take the 0936 train from Nottingham to St Pancras, the 1225 Eurostar from there to Paris Nord, the metro to Paris Austerlitz, and the 1857 Elipsos sleeper train from there to Barcelona, in that order, with ample time for a little stroll through le Jardin des Plantes, a cup of tea, and some sandwiches in between. The Elipsos when we got on it was as comfortable as you might suppose, with a proper dinner in a proper dining car and an obsequious cabin attendant.
The sun was shining in Barcelona, and the apartment I’d booked turned out to be really rather nice: modern furniture and fittings in an art deco apartment block. We collapsed into its huge comfy bed and snoozed some more, before later sallying forth to find shops and restaurants and enjoy our first genuine Spanish paella in a long time. Ah, Barcelona! A beautiful city, and I have only one little chore to complete before I can really enjoy it: I have promised Laurent a draft of an article for the 1st December and no longer have any excuse for postponing its completion. So I spend the first few mornings and evenings banging away on my keyboard till that is done and we can concentrate exclusively on exploring the entirely delightful markets and museums of this splendid city, with its intriguing architecture, its spectacular hills and monuments, and its confusing metro system. We spent quite a lot of time gawping at the Museum of Catalan Art which is an extraordinary work in itself but also full of gawp-worthy paintings and sculptures; quite a lot padding around the Joan Miro museum which was showing an interesting exhibit on the successors of Jackson Pollock; and not nearly enough at the Parc Guell, where Gaudi lived and played his pianola. We got sore feet, behaving touristically, enjoyed chocolate and churros, and eat several more paellas. See Flickr pages for some more photos.
This touristic idyll came to an end on 5 Dec. We took the bus to Barcelona Airport, and then a Ryanair fly, of which the least said the better, to Stansted. From whence, by train to Liverpool Street, across London by tube to Marylebone, to Dorridge — a godforsaken spot whence Chiltern Trains refuse to proceed — and eventually to Olton, where we are to be accomodated by Lila’s other grandparents. An interesting journey, but maybe only if you are interested in the ongoing dire effects of privatisation on British rail services. Never mind, we have arrived in good time for another nice dinner and another comfy bed.
Next day is a day for taking Lila and Sarah out for a bit of shopping, notably to buy Lila a new buggy. We visited Birmingham’s famous German market, thus inaugurating a series of such experiences. gluhwein, scarves, gloves, gingerbread, sweets, wooden toys, health-giving crystals, mechanical toys… get em all here at knock down prices. Lunch was vaguely Mexican, but none the worse for that, and in the evening we treated Richard and June, our fellow grandparents, to dinner at a local curry house, which seemed to go down well.
On the 7th and 8th Dec we are supposed to be babysitting Little Louis again, to facilitate another Aistagusha gig, so off we go on the 1030 departure from Olton, via Moor St, and New St to Nottingham once more. More christmas shopping must have taken place, but we seem unaccountably to have missed the opportunity of visiting the Nottingham German market.
On the 9th December I celebrate my 66th birthday by not celebrating it at all; I’m on a train going from Nottingham to Oxford via Derby for most of it. Back in Oxford, we assess the state of 111 Victoria Rd which is now much more habitable, if you don’t mind the absence of a floor in the kitchen and the lack of space to sit down in the dining room, which is full of all the things taken out of the kitchen. But the heating works, and it’s possible to cook, and wash clothes so we camp out there for a couple of days, doing laundry, repacking for the next phase, and having discussions with our builder.
The 12 December we’re on another train, this time headed for Gatwick airport, where we have a plane to catch for Bordeaux. Why? Because I agreed months ago to give a talk at a corpus linguistics conference there (appeals to my ego never fail). The talk’s nearly ready — it’s a slightly updated version of one I gave ages ago, so delivering it is more of a logistical than an intellectual effort. We arrive in time for a nice dinner with the conference organizers and I dutifully spend Friday at the Goethe Institute listening to various varyingly interesting linguisticky presentations. Thomas Schmidt is present and agrees with me that we really ought to be doing something more on the TEI/ISO activity front, real soon now. Things run late at the conference, as they usually do, and I excuse myself (and her) from the formal conference dinner on the grounds that Lilette is not feeling well and I need an early night. Then we go out for a nice quiet rice-based diner à deux down the rue St Catherine which (it transpires) is as significant in Bordeaux as its synonym in Montreal, i.e. it’s full of restaurants and bars. There’s a bar called Lou and a bit further on a cafe featuring art nouveau advertising for Lillet.
The next day (14 December) was a long one. It began with me dutifully taking the tram out to the University Bordeaux III campus, which is of course, miles from anywhere, and almost entirely deserted. It continued more or less as follows:
- 09-10 : search for conference, try to get projector working, find coffee etc.
- 10-11 : give talk;
- 11-12 : sneak out of conference, return to hotel, collect luggage and wife;
- 12-13 : walk across town with luggage taking in amusing trompe l’oeuil effects;
- 13-14 : catch tram to station; fail to get lunch but enjoy sunshine;
- 14-17 : TGV from Bordeaux to Paris Montparnasse;
- 17-18 : bus from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon;
- 18-19 : wait for Thello to get itself organised, following the demise of the only first class sleeper carriage on its night train to Bologna;
- 19-20 : watch a small drama on board said train occasioned by some of the other would-be first class passengers being accidentally left behind on the platform;
- 20-21 : dine on dubious lasagne and plenty of wine in largely deserted restaurant car;
- 21-06 : manage to sleep somehow in a third class couchette, my dear.
In Bologna, as the day breaks, Daniella drove us to her flat from the station (at 0630!) and let us sleep some more, before taking us up to the Ospedale Maggiore to visit the unfortunate professore Aston, confined to a ward on the 12th floor, with a magnificent view over the railway station which alas he cannot see, since as a result of an accident at the weekend he cannot even roll over in bed; the prognostication is somewhat gloomy but we do our best to cheer him up. It seems he will walk again, though not for many months. Thanks to Daniella, we also learn how to use the Bolognese bus system, how delicious tortellini in brodo can be, and generally reacquaint ourselves with the charms of that walled city.
Why are we in Bologna? aside from the obvious reasons, I am here to sit on the jury before which a thesis on computerization in epigraphy is to be defended, at the request of the candidate. I have managed to read quite a lot of the thesis and also poked experimentally at some of the websites it references, so this shouldn’t be too hard, even in French. The Franco-Italian PhD thesis defence ritual is to take place on Monday 17th in the afternoon, and there will be cake. There is also quite a nice lunch for the jury beforehand; the candidate acquits herself well, and there is a splendid dinner for all concerned afterwards, at a classy Bolognese restaurant, paid for by the candidate’s long suffering but proud parents.
Job done, we are free to do as much more Christmas shopping as our suitcases can bear (tortellini, salame, parmigiano, panforte…) before regretfully taking an Easyjet flight back to Gatwick on the 20th, and thence by train to Oxford, since the house is habitable enough at last for us to offer Elizabeth and Al a bed for the night, as well as ourselves. There is still no proper floor in the kitchen, but at least it’s possible to sit at the dining table and dine, which we do.
On the 22nd we set out for Nottingham through the flooded Midlands and get as far as Derby, at which point it seems that an exceptionally large puddle near Beeston has caused suspension of all train traffic between Nottingham and Derby. This is annoying, though not as annoying as the confusion it causes at Derby station where none of the harassed staff seems to know what is going on for the next hour or two. We join a flock of disgruntled travellers in pursuit of trains that are announced and then cancelled and buses that are promised but do not appear, as the night grows darker and the drizzle continues. Careful attention to announcements pays off, and we are amongst the first members of the flock aboard a replacement bus which does eventually materialise, fill up, and depart.
We are relieving pressure on space at Belinda’s house by staying at the Westminster Hotel, famous for its huge rooms, comfy beds, hot showers, and bizarre internal architecture featuring too many stairs. Belinda and James, to say nothing of little Louis, cope admirably with the bedlam as the massed Burnard-Walkers and hangers on assemble for yuletide jollity, peaking at 14 people and a dog for Xmas lunch. Foresight has provided us with a rota to decide who is responsible for washing up, cooking, and entertaining on each day, so no-one has any excuse for feeling sad, and no-one does. The 23rd, being our ruby wedding anniversary, Lilette and I are agreeably surprised by a red cake made by Sarah, and a pomegranate tree; see my photos (or Belinda’s, or Elizabeth’s) . And the 27th, after the traditional huge lunch at Walker Seniors, we zip back to Oxford for another couple of days repacking and plotting the next phase: an escape to the west country in the new year.
On the 30th, we set off to Bristol Temple Meads, and from there to Pam and Philip’s elegant and comfortable house in Kingsdown, where we put an end to our wanderings for the year, watching fireworks and Chinese lanterns explode all over the cityscape and drinking lots of prosecco. In 2013, we plan to proceed further West, but that’s unquestionably enough for the present.
Barcelona 2012, a set on Flickr.
Choice photos from an unpremeditated spot of tourism in Catalunya
Encouraged by friendly email from the distinguished author of Bullies, Beaks and Flannelled Fools: An Annotated Bibliography of Boys’ School Fiction 1742-2000, I have been doing a little more investigation of the Molesworthian avant-texte, in particular the first appearances of some of the texts we now regard as canonical. Following the success of the books Down with skool (1953), and How to be topp (1954), it would appear that Willans was requested to contribute to Young Elizabethan (“The magazine to grow up with”) on a regular basis, starting in January 1955. Like the books, each of his contributions was illustrated by the late great Ronald Searle, who just happened to be married to YE’s editor Kaye Webbe. As far as I can tell almost all of these pieces were subsequently republished in book form, some in Wizz For Attoms (1956), and the rest in the posthumous collection Back in the Jug Agane (1958).
I spent a happy hour or two this afternoon in the Lower Reading Room of the Bodleian Library looking through Young Elizabethan for 1955 to 1957, in order to prepare the table at the end of this article, and also in the rather forlorn hope of discovering some more lost Molesworthiana. I found some mildly interesting letters from readers of YE either disparaging (“I am sure that quite a number of readers will agree with me about The Curse of St Custards! This month’s report is particularly stupid”, wrote Diana Herbert from Johannesburg in June 1955) or defending the Goriller of 3B (“Nigel is a true representation in a humorous way of an English form of activity which is unknown and hence unappreciated in South Africa” wrote Jill Asquith from Upminster in the next issue). I also found a couple of non-Molesworth-related pieces from Willans, one reporting an interview with the (unnamed) “head of the Rocket Research Department of a famous aircraft manufacturing firm” confidently predicting that “within fifty years man will move into space”; another a set of book of reviews. But the most enjoyable piece I found was called Molesworth the Inside Story. This appeared in April 1957 and has not, so far as I know, been reprinted. It explains how “the doings, musing, and ‘obiter dicta’ (lat.) of this gifted schoolboy are recorded at Molesworth House in the City.”
“The great boy drives up in his Rolls Royce at ten in the morning, sucking an acid drop. The chauffeur (an ex-master) opens the door of the car; the doorman (M.A. Cantab.) salutes, the liftman (who once taught fr. and P.T.) touches his cap. Molesworth reaches his office. It is a simple place, nor more than a hundred yards long, decorated with the skulls of several headmasters…”
But the most interesting part of this article is the following in which Willans waxes historical:
“Of course I can say with all due modesty, that I am Molesworth’s oldest slave and he might find it difficult to do without me. It was as long ago as 1936 that I was by his side when he first jotted down the note: ‘You have been Warned book on beastly schools’ : I was with him on that famous day in 1939 when his first original diary appeared in ‘Punch’: it was I who was his main support during the production of ‘Down With Skool’ and, whenever we came to a particularly difficult part we would write a caption and leave a large space for Ronald Searle to do a drawing.
After all this time there is nothing much I do not know about Molesworth. Originally the first of his books was to have been produced during the war illustrated by a very brilliant ‘Punch’ artist, called ‘Pont.’ But ‘Pont’ died very young while M. and I were together in a corvette in the Mediterranean — so nothing came of it. I shared his disappointment at that time. But we kept on and many of his diaries were written in my cabin — a very different sort of
place from his luxurious office today. “
It is an interesting speculation as to how we would think of Molesworth today had he been illustrated by Pont, that great observer of the British character. Would he perhaps have resembled the small boy in this famous cartoon?
Willans’ contributions to Young Elizabethan, 1955-1957
|1955-01||pp 28-29||Introducing Molesworth (Elizabethan)|
|1955-02||p 31||Guide to Gurls|
|1955-03||p 23||Tee Hee for Tee Vee|
|1955-04||p 9||Boo to tinies|
|1955-05||p 22||Who will be Wot?|
|1955-06||pp 16-17||Six-Gun Molesworth|
|1955-07||pp 24-25||Oeufs are Oafs…|
|1955-08||pp 14-15||Ho For The Hols!|
|1955-09||pp 8-9||A Grim Subjekt|
|1955-10||pp 14-15||Produktivity in Skool|
|1955-11||pp 11-12||Moon News|
|1955-11||pp 16-17||More about Masters introducing
Sir Petrovitch and Sir Hickenhopper
|1955-12||pp 34-35||A Few Tips from the Coarse|
|1956-01||pp 38-39||A Teacher’s World (O horor, horor!)|
|1956-02||pp 31-32||Attoms v Culture|
|1956-03||pp 12-13||Goodby to Skool (for a bit)|
|1956-05||pp 16-17||Learning About Life (also
traktors, aggriculture, ect.)
|1956-06||pp 22-23||Taking Wings!|
|1956-07||pp 25-26||The Flying Molesman|
|1956-09||p 21||here we go agane!|
|1956-10||p 10||So Far So Good|
|1956-11||p 25||Secret of Success [Book reviews]|
|1957-02||p 11||the karakter kup|
|1957-03||p 30||the grate master trap|
|1957-04||p 15||Molesworth — The Inside Story|
|1957-05||pp 16-17||molesworth cleens up dodge city|
|1957-06||p 13||kno yore ennemy!|
|1957-10||pp 16-17||back in the jug agane, (hem hem)|
|1957-12||pp 12-13||a few rools for xmas|
I see that Mel Terras is collecting stats for something which the young people of today apparently call “an infographic” about Digital Humanities activities. This leads me to excavate a report I produced back in the day tabulating usage of the Humanist list in its first six months or so between August 1987 and January 1988. I leave it to the reader to determine whether anything much has changed.
What happened on HUMANIST?
This necessarily brief and partisan report attempts to review about six months of strenuous activity within the Humanist discussion group sponsored by the ACH, the ALLC and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Computing in the Humanities. At the time of writing, participants in this electronic discusion group numbered nearly 180 spread across 11 countries (see table 1), largely, but by no means exclusively, in North American academic computing centres. Table 2 shows that less than half of these participants actually create the messages that all, perforce, are assumed to read; out of over 600 messages during the last six months, nearly 500 were sent by just eight people, and out of 180 subscribers, 107 have never sent a message. In this, as in some other respects, HUMANIST resembles quite closely the sort of forum with which most of its members may be presumed to be most familiar: the academic committee. Personality traits familiar from that arena – the aggressive expert, the diffident enquirer, the unsuppressable bore – are equally well suited to this new medium: both young turks and old fogies are also to be found.
Some of the rhetorical tricks and turn-taking rules appropriate to the oral medium find a new lease of life in the electronic one; indeed it is clear that this medium approximates more closely to orature than to literature. Its set phrases and jargon often betray an obsession with informal speech, and a desire to mimic it more *directly*, re-inventing typographic conventions for the purpose. As in conversation too, some topics will be seized upon while others, apparently equally promising, sink like stones at their first appearance; the wise Humanist, like the good conversationalist, learns to spot the right lull into which to launch a new topic. Perhaps because the interactions in an electronic dialogue are necessarily fewer and more spaced out (no pun intended) than those in face to face speech, misunderstanding and subsequent clarifications seem to occur more often than one might expect. However, the detailed functional analysis of electronic speech acts is an interesting but immense task, which I regretfully leave to discourse analysts better qualified than myself. (Needless to say, Humanist itself reported at least two such studies of “electronic paralanguage” during the period under review).
For the purposes of this survey I identified four broad categories of message. In category A (for Administrative) go test messages, apologies for electronic disasters, announcements -but not discussion- of policy and a few related and oversized items such as the Humanist Notes for Beginners and the invaluable “Biographies”. These totalled 57 messages, 18% of all messages, or 25% by bulk.
In category C (for Conference) go announcements of all other kinds – calls for papers, job advertisements, conference reports, publicity for new software or facilities etc. The figures here totalled 39 messages, 12% of all messages, 20% of all lineage. As might be expected, categories A and C are disproportionately lengthy and not particulary frequent. I do not discuss them much further.
In category Q (for query) go requests for information on specified topics, public answers to, and summaries of such responses. These amounted to 20% of all messages but (again unsurprisingly) only 10% of all lines. I have been unable, as yet, to gather any statistics concerning the extent of private discussions occurring outside the main Humanist forum, though it is clear from those cases which are subsequently summarised that such discussions not only occur but are often very fruitful. What proportion of queries fall on stony ground is also hard, as yet, to determine.
In category D (for discussion) I place those messages perhaps most typical of Humanist: general polemic, argument and disputation. Overall, these messages account for nearly 50% of the whole, (44% by line) and thus clearly dominate the network. With the curious exception of November, the proportion of D category messages remains more or less constant within each month. As table 5 shows, the relative proportions of other types of message are by no means constant over time.
Of course, assigning a particular message to some category is not always a clear cut matter. Correspondents occasionally combine a number of topics – or kinds of topic – in a single message. Moreover, the medium itself is still somewhat unreliable. Internal evidence shows that not all messages always get through to all recipients, nor do they always arrive in the order in which they were despatched or (presumably) composed. This report is based only on the messages which actually reached me here in Oxford; concerning the rest I remain (on sound Wittgensteinian principles) silent. I am equally silent on messages in categories A and C above, which are of purely transient interest.
Space precludes anything more than a simple indication of the range of topics on which Humanists have sought (and often obtained) guidance. In category Q over the last six months I found messages asking for information on typesetters with a PostScript interface, on scanners capable of dealing with microform, about all sorts of different machine readable texts and about software for ESL teaching, for library cataloguing, for checking spelling, for browsing foreign language texts, and for word processing in Sanskrit. Humanists asked for electronic mail addresses in Greece and in Australia, for concordance packages for the Macintosh and the Amiga ST, for address lists and bibliographies; they wondered who had used the programming language Icon and whether image processing techniques might be used to analyse corrupt manuscripts; they asked for details of the organisational structure of humanities computing centres and of the standards for cataloguing of computer media.
Above all however, Humanists argue. Back in August 1987 HUMANIST was only a few months old, yet many issues which have since become familiar to its readership were already on the agenda. Where exactly are the humanities as a discipline? what is their relation to science and technology? Correspondents referred to the infamous “Two cultures” debate of the late fifties, somehow now more relevant to the kind of “cross-disciplinary soup we are cooking”, but rather than re-flaying that particular dead horse, moved rapidly to another recurrent worry: did the introduction of computers change humanistic scholarship quantitatively or qualitatively? Does electronic mail differ only in scale and effectiveness from the runner with the cleft stick? Do computers merely provide better tools to do tasks we have always wanted to do? The opinion of one correspondent (“if computers weren’t around, I doubt very much if many of the ways we think about texts would have come to be”) provoked another into demanding (reasonably enough) evidence. Such evidence as was forthcoming however did concede the point that “it could all be done without computers in some theoretical sense, but certainly not as quickly”. Reference was made to a forthcoming collection of essays which might settle whether or not it was chimerical to hope that computers will somehow assist not just in marshalling the evidence but in providing interpretations of it.
A second leitmotiv of Humanist discussions was first heard towards the end of August, when an enquiry about the availability of some texts in machine readable form provoked an assertion of the moral responsibility the preparers of such texts should accept for making their existence well known and preferably for depositing them in a Text Archive for the benefit of all. A note of caution concerning copyright was also first sounded here, and it was suggested that those responsible for new editions should always attempt to retain control over the rights to electronic distribution of their material.
With the start of the new academic year, HUMANIST became more dominated by specific enquiries, and a comparatively low key wrangle about whether or not product announcements, software reviews and the like should be allowed to sully its airspace. Characteristically, this also provided the occasion for some Humanists to engage in an amusing socio-linguistic discussion of the phenomenon known as “flaming”, while others plaintively asked for “less chatter about the computer which is only a tool and more about what we are using it for”. It appeared that some far flung Humanists actually have to pay money proportionate to the size of the mailings they accept, recalling an earlier remark about the uniquely privileged nature of the bulk of those enjoying the delights of this new time-waster, which was (as one European put it) “surely *founded* for chatter”.
In mid October, a fairly pedestrian discussion about the general lack of recognition for computational activities amd publications suddenly took off with the re-emergence of the copyright problems referred to above. If electronic publication was on a par with paper publication, surely the same principles of ownership and due regard for scholarly labours applied to it? But did this not mitigate against the current easy camaraderie with which articles, gossip and notes are transferred from one medium to another? as indeed are those more substantial fruits of electronic labours, such as machine readable texts? For one correspondent such activities, without explicit permission, were “a measure of the anesthetizing effect of the xerox machine on our moral sense”. For another, however “asking concedes the other party’s right to refuse”
In mid-November, after a particularly rebarbative electronic foul up, minimal editorial supervision of all Humanist submissions was initiated. Other than some discussion of the “conversational style” appropriate to the network, this appears to have had little or no inhibitory effect on either the scale or the manner of subsequent contributions.
An enquiry about the availability of some Akkadian texts led to a repeated assertion of the importance to scholarship of reliable machine readable texts. Conventional publishers were widely castigated for their short-sighted unwillingness to make such materials available (being compared on one occasion to mediaeval monks using manuscripts for candles, and on another to renaissance printers throwing away Carolingian manuscripts once they had been set in type). Humanists were exhorted to exert peer pressure on publishers, to pool their expertise in the definition of standards, to work together for the establishment of a consortium of centres which could offer archival facilities and define standards. More realistically perhaps, some humanists remarked that publishers were unlikely to respond to idealistic pressures and that a network of libraries and data archives already existed which could do all of the required tasks and more were it sufficiently motivated and directed. At present, said one, all we have is “a poor man’s archive” dependent on voluntary support. Others were more optimistic about the possibility of founding a “North American text Archive and Service Center” and less optimistic about the wisdom of leaving such affairs to the laws of the marketplace. One intriguing proposal was that a national or international Archive might be managed as a giant distributed database.
Following the highly successful Vassar conference on text encoding standards in mid-November, a long series of contributions addressed the issue of how texts should be encoded for deposit in (or issue from) such an archive. No one seems to have seriously dissented from the view that descriptive rather than procedural markup was desirable, nor to have proposed any method to describe such markup other than SGML, so that it is a little hard to see quite what all the fuss was about – unless it was necessary to combat the apathy of long established practise.
One controversy which did emerge concerned the desirability (or feasibility) of enforcing a minimal encoding system, and the extent to which this was a fit role for an archive to take on. “Trying to save the past is just going to retard development” argued one, while another lone voice asserted a “rage for chaos” and praised “polymorphic encoding” on the grounds that all encoding systems were inherently subjective (“Every decoding is another encoding” to quote Morris Zapp). Anxiety was expressed about the dangers of bureacracy. Both views were, to the middle ground at least, equally misconceived. In the first case, no-one was proposing that past errors should dictate future standards, but only that safeguarding what had been achieved was a different activity from proposing what should be done in the future. In the second case, no-one wished to fetter (or to “Prussianize”) scholarly ingenuity, only to define a common language for its expression.
There was also much support for the common sense view that conversion of an existing text to an adequate level of markup was generally much less work than starting from scratch. Clearly however, a lot depends on what is meant by “generally” and by “adequate”: for one humanist an adequate markup was one from which the “original form of a document” could be re-created, thus rather begging the question of how that “original form” was to be defined. To insist on such a distinction between “objective text” and “subjective commentary” is “to miss the point of literary criticism altogether” as another put it.
One technical problem with SGML which was identified, though not much discussed, was its awkwardness at handling multiply hierarchic structures within a single document; one straw man repeatedly shot down was the apparent verbosity of most current implementations based on it. However, as one correspondent pointed out, the SGML standard existed and was not going to disappear. It was up to Humanists to make the best use of it by proposing tag sets appropriate to their needs, perhaps using some sort of data dictionary to help in this task.
At the end of 1987 it seemed that “text markup and encoding have turned out to be THE issue for humanists to get productively excited about”. Yet the new year saw an entirely new topic sweep all others aside. A discussion on the styles of software most appropriate for humanistic research soon focussed on an energetic debate about the potentials of hypertext sustems. It was clear to some that the text analysis features of most existing software systems were primitive and the tasks they facilitated “critically naive”. Would hypertext systems, in which discrete units of text, graphics etc. are tightly coupled to form an arbitrarily complex network, offer any improvement on sequential searching, database construction, concordancing visible tokens and so forth? Participations in this discussion ranged more widely than usual between the evangelical and the ill-informed, so that rather more heat than light was generated on the topic of what was distinctively new about hypertext, but several useful points and an excellent bibliography did emerge.
A hypertext system, it was agreed, did extend the range of what was possible with a computer (provided you could find one powerful enough to run it), though whether or not its facilities were fundamentally new remained a moot (and familiar) point. It also seemed (to this reader at least) that the fundamental notion of hypertext derived from a somewhat primitive view of the way human reasoning proceeds. The hypertext paradigm does not regard as primitive such mental activities as aggregation or categorisation (this X is a sort of Y) or semantic relationships (all Xs are potentially Yd to that Z), which lie at the root of the way most current database systems are designed. Nevertheless it clearly offers exciting possibilities – certainly more exciting (in one humanist’s memorable phrase) than “the discovery of the dung beetle entering my apartment”.
Considerations about the absence of software for analysing the place of individual texts within a larger cultural context, lead some humanists to ponder the rules determining the existence of software of any particular type. Was there perhaps some necessary connexion between the facilities offered by current software systems and current critical dogma? One respondent favoured a simpler explanation: “Straightforward concordance programs are trivial in comparison to dbms and I think that explains the situation much better than does the theory of predominant literary schools”. It seems as if humanists get not just “the archives they deserve” but the software that’s easiest to write.
-----------Tables for the Humanist Digest------------------------ Table 1 : Humanist Subscribers by Country |country |nsubs | |--------------------------| |? | 2| |Belgium | 3| |Canada | 54| |Eire | 1| |France | 1| |Israel | 4| |Italy | 1| |Netherlands | 1| |Norway | 3| |UK | 37| |USA | 73| |--------------------------| Total 180 Table 1a. Subscribers per node |nusers |nsuch | |---------------------------| | 1| 70| | 2| 17| | 3| 11| | 4| 2| | 5| 1| | 7| 1| | 8| 1| | 13| 1| |---------------------------- Table 2. Messages sent per subscriber |n_mess_sent |number_such |messages | |-----------------------------------------| | 0| 107| 0| | 1| 31| 31| | 2| 10| 20| | 3| 9| 27| | 4| 3| 12| | 5| 2| 10| | 6| 3| 18| | 7| 3| 21| | 8| 2| 16| | 10| 1| 10| | 12| 1| 12| | 14| 1| 14| | 17| 1| 17| | 18| 1| 18| | 20| 1| 20| | 71| 1| 71| |-----------------------------------------| Totals 177| 316| ------------------------------------------- Table 3 Messages by origin |country |Total message| |--------------------------| |? | 8| |Canada | 130| |Israel | 6| |UK | 40| |USA | 132| |--------------------------| Table 4: Messages by type |tag |messages |% messages|linecount |%lines | |--------------------------------------------------------| |A | 57| 17.981| 3867| 25.306| |C | 39| 12.303| 3078| 20.143| |D | 156| 49.211| 6707| 43.891| |Q | 64| 20.189| 1616| 10.575| |--------------------------------------------------------| Table 5: Messages by type within each month |type |messages |% in month|lines |% in month| ---------------------------------------------------------------| AUG87 |A | 10| 23.256| 1230| 32.031| SEP87 |A | 7| 17.500| 105| 9.722| OCT87 |A | 9| 30.000| 428| 36.992| NOV87 |A | 16| 34.783| 863| 48.840| DEC87 |A | 10| 11.494| 1178| 25.732| JAN88 |A | 2| 4.000| 5| 0.256| AUG87 |C | 3| 6.977| 1712| 44.583| SEP87 |C | 6| 15.000| 208| 19.259| OCT87 |C | 1| 3.333| 93| 8.038| NOV87 |C | 13| 28.261| 526| 29.768| DEC87 |C | 6| 6.897| 218| 4.762| JAN88 |C | 6| 12.000| 112| 5.744| AUG87 |D | 22| 51.163| 694| 18.073| SEP87 |D | 17| 42.500| 577| 53.426| OCT87 |D | 13| 43.333| 518| 44.771| NOV87 |D | 4| 8.696| 131| 7.414| DEC87 |D | 52| 59.770| 2649| 57.864| JAN88 |D | 37| 74.000| 1678| 86.051| AUG87 |Q | 8| 18.605| 204| 5.313| SEP87 |Q | 10| 25.000| 190| 17.593| OCT87 |Q | 7| 23.333| 118| 10.199| NOV87 |Q | 13| 28.261| 247| 13.978| DEC87 |Q | 18| 20.690| 520| 11.359| JAN88 |Q | 5| 10.000| 155| 7.949| ---------------------------------------------------------------|
How do you get from Heathrow Airport to St Pancras International, using public transport, but avoiding Paddington? This may not be a question that has ever entered your head, dear reader, but that doesn’t make it entirely uninteresting. My personal answer (thanks to Travelines Southeast) was to take the Heathrow Connect Service from the subterranean vault at Heathrow all the way to Ealing Broadway, take a bus from there to one edge of Acton, a vigorous walk across same to Acton Central station on the fabled London Overground line, and thus skirt the Northern frontiers of the Great Wen by rail as far as Camden Road station, from which it was really quite a nice sunny stroll along the Grand Union canal to Camley Street, enabling me to sneak up on St Pancras from behind. Nice gasometer too.
And so off to Paris, as usual. Arriving a bit late to get anything nice for dinner, as usual. Checking in to the Hotel Diana, and falling asleep immediately, as usual. But there were two unexpected letters waiting for me when I rolled into the office at the TGE Adonis next morning: one contained my Passe Navigo; the other an invitation to something called a vernissage at the Salon des Livres, courtesy of the Bibliotheque Literaire Jacques Doucet.
No varnish was involved, just large amounts of cheap champagne, lots and lots of very expensive books, manuscripts, and prints. It took place in a bit of Paris I rarely frequent, specifically a rather kitsch building off the Champs Elysees called the Grand Palais. On this occasion it was full of mostly very very rich people engaged in the buying and selling of beautiful old books and manuscripts, plus quite a lot of the latter, and (as afore said) quite a lot of champagne. Then I high tailed it across town to meet up with Guy and Nathalie for a rather late dinner at the Zygotheque.
Next day being Friday, I took the afternoon off for the first of three silvan expeditions. This one, in Guy’s company, necessarily involved a train
from the Gare de Lyon to the RER station at Fontainebleau-Avon, from where we walked for about 20 minutes through the remaining forest of Fontainebleau up to the Palace itself. After a much needed cup of tea by the lake we managed to persuade the man at the desk to give us a personal tour of the Palace’s private rooms, though even he was unable to let us see the Emperor’s library, which was what I had come for. But we saw his (Napoleon’s) toilet, and his bed chamber, and the Empress’s, and the long gallery for impressing visitors, and learned rather more French history than might have been anticipated before returning, with sore feet, to Paris for another nice dinner at le Mauzac.
Next day, being Saturday, I moved out of Paris to Boulogne-Billancourt (thanks Marion) for the weekend. After walking some distance in the wrong direction, I reversed my polarity in order to fulfil a long standing ambition: a visit to the Musee Albert Kahn, bequeathed to the world by an ex-banker who famously was just in time to master-mind the photography of the planet before much of it was radically re-arranged by the first world war.
At a time when people are already theorizing the “fake antiquity” of some Iphone photo apps, it’s pleasing to be able to include here a photo I took of a modern copy of one of Kahn’s images of the triumphal arch at the Porte St Denis , juxtaposed with a photo I took of the same thing in 2009, and also a Google street view I downloaded last week…
When Kahn’s efforts to photograph the planet collapsed along with his business, he retired to his rather nice house in Boulogne, and developed its beautiful Japanese style gardens further. The local authorities have subsequently done a good job of making them into a tasteful tourist attraction, as we see below.
I find these charming faux – Japanese grounds particularly interesting, because they have been carefully reconstructed from the original colour photos taken in the 1920s, which are also available in postcard form. It would probably be a lovely place to wander through alone or in the company of a few discerning monks ; experiencing it along with a full sunny Saturday afternoon crop of families and tourists is a slightly different experience. No matter, in any circumstances, le jardin (as they say) vaut le detour.
Next day, being Sunday, was also the first of May. A good day to stay in bed, a good day to check out the traditional manif — but I decided it was a good day to go for a bike ride in the vastness of the Bois de Boulogne. As indeed it was. Marion’s bike did not collapse under my weight, and I did not get completely lost. Instead I enjoyed myself bumping along the wide open avenues, and bosky little tracks, some of them full of family outings, some with occasional sprinklings of serious sportifs in lycra, as well as some crusty imposters like me. I dutifully respected the tree in which there are stray bullet holes intended for some martyrs of the Resistance.
I even managed to find the Jardin de Shakespeare – a cute little enclosed theatrical lawn affair. Not unlike the theatre in the grounds of Dartington College: maybe possession of such a thing was a sine qua non at some time in the twenties or thirties. Today, the garden was unexpectedly and (to me) implausibly full of jolly ladies in tweeds and gents in kilts, participating (I learned) in the annual outing of the Paris Caledonian society . I was invited to stay and enjoy some highland reels, but made my excuses and left, thus missing the opportunity to meet up with someone I know only as a facebook friend, who (I later learned) was also there.
Monday morning sees me dutifully returned to the Hotel Diana, and thence up the hill to the Pantheon to work. Today I am supposed to be discussing progress on the LEC project with the ladies from the Bibliotheque Jacques Doucet, which turns out to be surprisingly disputatious. I escape to lunch at Perraudin with Richard and some entirely other ladies from a different project entirely; then spend another afternoon catching up with email : voila la vie parisienne. Like the man said: “Paris a mon coeur depuis mon enfance. Je ne suis francais que par cette grande cite, grande surtout et incomparable en variete”