Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A nice bit o' cheese, Grommit

Today has been a day off. You just need one from time to time :-) Two more chapters of my thesis went off yesterday to my supervisor who is perhaps even now smudging the ink of the first page with his tears of despair.

A friend last night voiced the opinion that the French were manic workers but very good at holidays and days off. Though I am reluctant to admit it, this is actually true. I moan about the French too much, so much in fact that a colleague and I recently felt obliged to make a WNPT, i.e. a Whining Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, my French friend is right: the French do know how to relax. Savoir vivre is not dead in Frogland, though something somewhere is not quite right; not long ago it was said that the French were the biggest consummers of Prozac in Europe. Does that maybe show they also work too much?

The bit about manic workers was certainly once true. I'm no communist, but I cannot take any credit away from Paul Lafargue - son-in-law of Marx himself - who was so upset by the busy, busy bees in French society that he famously composed his manifesto 'Droit à la paresse' - The Right to Laziness. Is this why the French transport system tends to go on strike every Monday morning? I think we should be told.

Still, if you have a day off, France is as good a place to spend it as any (not that I really have the choice; this is a bit like a prisoner warmly recommending a trot around the exercise yard, but bear with me). And, for me, there's nothing that finishes off a day spent resting from quotidian travails than a plate of smelly cheese and a bold, melodious, full-bodied red wine (a what????).

And so that is where I'm going now, muttering, as I leave, the following lines which, though they speak of an English cheese, celebrate smelly cheeses everywhere.


Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I--
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.

Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.
G.K. Chesterton.

No more Brando mumbles or Mingus eyes

Welcome, Blogreader!

Yes, you are indeed welcome. If there is anything worse than a blog with lots of readers, it must surely be a blog with no readers! As the great Hilaire Belloc might have put it:

When I die,
I hope it might be said,
His sins were scarlet,
But his blog was read.

My friends have long known that I need little provocation to voice my opinion, and have long regretted the fact. And now, in 2007, with their patience wearing down to mere nanometres, and surrounded here in France by people who neither understand nor care what I say, I feel there is no alternative but to clamber on a cyber soapbox, and join the virtual cacophony of Blogspot.

How long will it last? A year? A month? Who knows? If you're lucky, it might only last a week or a day. Like a date that flops after the first drink, the wheels might simply come off the old blog brain, and The Bur Under the Saddle fade from the memory like the forgotten pain of a dental abscess.

But let's hope not. While there are words still to be misused, infinitives to be split, and participles to be lynched, my keyboard will not be still.

But under whose saddle do I intend to be a bur?

Nobody's actually. I rarely aim to upset people. A gentleman, as somebody has wisely observed, is defined as a man who is only rude deliberately. But it is my experience that as I walk (trundle/stumble/crawl - delete as appropriate) through this postmodern world of ours, I cannot help offending people. Liberals, frozen by relativistic tremblings into catatonic intolerance, nod politely at me and flee for their sanity's sake. Traditionalist Catholics unjustly accuse me of grievous heresy for questioning the debatable nostrums of minor theologians. The Americans, idealists that they are, hate me because I'm not more like an American. The French, more realistically, hate me because I'm English.

It's hard knowing what to do. Like Bernard in that long-gone TV programme "Yes, Minister", I've tried 'taking the long view', 'seeing things in the round', and 'weighing up matters for and against'. It is all to no avail. Likewise, I've tried the 'Brando mumbles, Mingus eyes' approach, hoping to blend in with the scenery of a world too cool to be controversial beyond the third term of its second year at university, or too brutish to pick up any mental tool beyond threadbare cliché.

But, none of it works. As Richard Thompson sings:

What a fool I was,
What a thin disguise!
(Brando mumbles, etc.)

The Bur Under the Saddle is then my next strategy.

So, what can you read about here?

In short, whatever I happen to be thinking about on any particular day. Recent samples would include:
  • France and its drawbacks
  • Catholicism and its controversies
  • How to play guitar like Richard Thompson
  • Food
  • Why I'm single and broke
  • Why G.K. Chesterton's works should be read aloud to fellow passengers on the metro

There, that will do for now, reader dear. You were just beginning to drift anyway! I saw it.

And I have to confess that I was too, dear reader, mon semblable, mon frère!