What’s Inside


A-E  F-L  M-O  P-S  T-Z  All

Africa, slowly from the sky – An American photographer’s pictures taken from a motorised paraglider.
Aguaxima – The best encyclopaedia definition ever.
Airports – A poem about how airports should really be named
Angelic Landings – I don’t think anyone else has organised a gymnastics competition for angels. See some of the top contenders in action. Don’t forget to enlarge the pictures so as to be able to give your own scores.
Approximating Breakfast – The need for audio-guides to hotel breakfast layouts and to people as well.
Read more…

My Accidental Greek Wedding

manuel conv 2I have an irrational passion for phrase- books. Whenever  I go to a country where I don’t know the  language I take along a phrasebook. I often take one with me even when I go to a country where I do speak the language. Sometimes in a foreign country I suddenly stop in the middle of the road. People walk into me, but I don’t notice because my mind is wholly taken up by the question: why? What are phrasebooks for?

The first surprising fact about phrasebooks is that you hardly ever find what you want to say in them. Of course if you read them from cover to cover you will be able to note down some expressions which will be very useful in many situations. Two I have just noticed in the last few seconds while writing this are I am not used to this and Is this a local or a national custom? These are both the kind of thing you can want to say about a dozen times a day when travelling. But phrasebooks suggest the idea that when you find yourself in a situation you will be able to turn to them and find a way to deal with it. This, I think I can say safely, never happens. Read more…

“I’ve shot hares.” Patrick Leigh Fermor


After a moment, I heard Baron Pips laugh quietly and asked why. He said : ” You sound just like Count Sternberg.” He was ancient and rather simple-minded Austrian nobleman, he explained. When he was on his death-bed his confessor said the time had come to make a general confession. The Count, after racking his brains for a while, said he couldn’t remember anything to confess. “Come, come, Count!” the priest said, “you must have committed some sins in your life. Do think again.” After a long and bewildered silence, the Count said, rather reluctantly, “Habe Hasen geschossen”—”I’ve shot hares”—and expired.


from A Time of Gifts – Patrick Leigh-Fermor

The Poetry of Google Translate

And the long road ahead, I go to bed
And the long road ahead, I go to bed

Google Translate is amazing when it works. Unfortunately, it only works about half of the time. Even more unfortunately, unless you already know the languages you are trying to translate, there is no way of knowing when it is accurate and when it is serving you up something non-sensical, inaccurate or downright offensive.

On the other hand, it is a wonderful machine for playing Chinese Whispers. I have already translated a Turkish menu into English, with what I think are fascinating results. Now, the time has come to see how well Google Translate can generate its own poetry.

Read more…

Aloud – John Skelton – To Mistress Margaret Hussey

Pourbus_lady_pomander (1)

Lady with pomander

Whenever I open an anthology of English poetry this is always one of the first poems I turn to. I love its rhythms. I also think that, although we know nothing about Mistress Margaret Hussey, thousands of people down the centuries after having read this poem have thought they would have liked to meet her.

(listen to the poem here)

Merry Margaret,
As midsummer flower:
Gentle as falcon
Or hawk of the tower:
Read more…

Disparitions Mystérieuses des Civilisations Méso-Américaines

(Listen to the poem here)



Après le repas à Oaxtepec

le patron du restaurant

nous dit d’un air de satisfaction agaçant

que toute sa viande

vient du Texas.

Je trouve que ce n’est pas normal

de manger tellement hormonal.

Au Mexique on trouve

partout des traces

olmèques, toltèques,

aztèques, mixtèques,

mais qu’en est-il

des Bixtèques?


Phillip Hill 2008



(After the meal in Oaxtepec/the owner of the restaurant/tells us with an/ irritating manner/that all his meat/is from Texas./I find that all this hormonality/is somewhat an abnormality./In Mexico everywhere/one finds traces of/Olmecs, Toltecs,/Aztecs, Mixtecs,/but whatever happened to/your Beefxstecs?)



(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

Looking at the water

Point your camera at a reflection in a canal or a river, flip the image around and see what a liquid world looks like. Trees try to float up into the sky, lamp-posts become Chaplinesque, railings grope around corners, fish pass by windows and houses breathe in and out.

The Sting in Heine’s Tail

Here’s a literal translation of a very short poem by Heinrich Heine followed by the German original. The first two verses are predictable enough but …

I don’t believe in Heaven,
of which the little priest speaks;
I only believe in your eyes,
they are my heavenly light.

I don’t believe in the Lord God,
of whom the little priest speaks;
I only believe in your heart,
I have no other god.

I don’t believe in the Evil One,
in Hell and the torments of Hell;
I only believe in your eyes,
and in your evil heart Read more…

Zen and the Art of Taxation

Various shapes of “tax” to meditate on

Zen Buddhism has a number of koans, the most famous of which is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Reflect long enough upon riddles like these and you may reach enlightenment, it is suggested.

I would think that the same effect could be attained by meditating on section 509 (a) of the US Tax Code, which reads:

For purposes of paragraph (3), an organization described in paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6) which would be described in paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in section 501(c)(3).

If this is the kind of thing they have to think about it is surprising that more tax consultants aren’t Zen monks. Read more…


(Listen to the poem here)

tope.gifThe sticker on the window tells us YAUTEPEC

although the rope-haired lad

who is jutting from

the bus’s door into the foaming crowd,

much like a figurehead in stormy seas,

is shouting, “Yaute, Yaute,

Yaute, Yaute.” Read more…

Countdown to Ig Night


An armadillo having an impact on archeology

Forget your Emmies, your Tonies, your Grammies. Your Hammies, your Spammies, your Phishies, your Phonies. September is the month of the best awards of all. I’m talking about he Ig Nobel Prizes. I think they are even more interesting than the Nobels themselves. Read more…

If Beethoven had been Mozart

Wolfwig Beethart (1770-1806), famous for his 3rd Symphony

Like many people who love Mozart’s music I have often wondered what he would have given us if he had not died before he was 36. Even if he had lived just one more year, there is no telling what he might have produced, given that his last three symphonies – 39,40 and 41 – were composed in the space of three months.

And, since none of us has Mozart’s genius, it is completely impossible to know what he would have gone on to do ten or twenty years later if his life had been of a normal length.

One way of getting some idea of the scope of what he might have produced, I think, is to look at someone equivalent, Beethoven say, and see what they would not have composed if they had died at 36. Read more…