What’s Inside

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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.
Aloud – John Skelton – To Mistress Margaret Hussey – A poem with beautiful rhythms read aloud
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.
Arise! An Imaginary Film Scene – A good scene to put into a film

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Missions to the Moon – Ariosto and Calvino

moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the age when the world was as yet new
when early humans lacked experience,
without the shrewdness of the present day,
beneath a lofty mountain, with a peak
that seemed to touch the sky, a people, whose
name I do not know, lived on the valley floor
who watching oftentimes the changing moon,
now full now hollow, with or without horns,
travel her natural course across the skies,
thinking that from the summit of the mount
it would be possible for them to reach
her and discover how she waxed and waned,
began, some carrying baskets, others sacks,
to scurry up the mountain slopes racing
each other in their urge to have her first.
Then, seeing she remained forever far,
exhausted they collapsed upon the ground,
wishing in vain they had remained below.
Those on the lower hills, viewing them so high,
believing they could see them touching her,
went chasing after them with hurried strides.
This mountain is the wheel of Fortune
on top of which, the unenlightened crowd
believe that all is peace, and yet there’s none.

Translation Phillip Hill 2017

Listen here: 

This is a section of the 3rd Satire by Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533), which is generally known as “The Fable of the Moon”. (For the original Italian click here) Anybody who knows something about Ariosto, hearing a mention of the moon, will probably think of his wonderful and very funny epic poem, L’Orlando Furioso, where the moon is presented as the place where all lost things end up. (It would have been wonderful if the Apollo missions had come across a cache of odd socks). When the eponymous hero Orlando goes mad for love, another knight called Astolfo flies to the moon to recover Orlando’s lost wits.

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Halfpenny thoughts no.3 – ROW: the new ratio we all need

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I earn my living as a conference interpreter, which means that I spend a lot of my time having words enter my ears through earphones and words in another language coming out of my mouth, in the constant hope that there will be some relationship between the two flows.
Often, while engaged in this activity, I have been struck by how many different styles of public speaking there are. And once, at a meeting where people kept on referring to business ratios such as: ROA, return on assets: ROE, return on equity: ROI, return on investment (there are several more), it occurred to me that there was another one we needed – ROW return on words.
ROW by the way is pronounced the same way as what you do with oars to propel a boat.
I haven’t quite worked out the mathematics yet, but this is basically the formula:

ROW =\frac{WORDS}{MEANING}

Just to give you an example, here is a sentence which I have heard about a thousand times at the opening of a conference:

 

We have been able to organise everything splendidly except, unfortunately, for the weather.

This has a ROW of 1/13 or 0.077.

Whereas a more succinct phrasing of the meaning:

It is raining.

scores you an impressive 0.333 ROW.

 

It would be useful I think for public speakers to be listed with their ROW next to their name, like a batting average, that way you could tell how carefully you need to listen to someone even before they open their mouth.

Some people have an ROW which is amazingly close to zero. Repeating the same concept over and over again is one way to achieve that. At times, when I have been exposed to this kind of speaking, I have thought that it might be a good idea to put a price on words, so that the more you use the more you would have to pay. One drawback is that this would mean that the rich would have a near monopoly on expression.

As an alternative,  about a day – every month or even just once a year – on which words are rationed? You would  be allocated a fixed number for a twenty-four hour period. It would be interesting because each of us would have to choose what we felt were the most important to say. And this would probably give us some appreciation of what the most important things in our lives are.

What about you? Are you high-ROW or low-ROW? Get your ROW checked today.

Airport security in 2041

hedge

A frisker-bush hedge

(Listen to the poem here)

 

The bottle collectors,
the metal detectors,
the boarding pass checks,
the ID inspection.

Past the scanners, the guards,
through the frisker-bush hedges
The trackers, the scopers,
the seven-armed gropers.

Then the dumbstunner pistols
which
make
all your
electronics
electroffics
for the duration of your flight.

The tattoo inferencer,
the Rorschach blot sequencer.
The flocks of pecker pigeons,
and the crazed sniffer-dog packs

which howl at the scent of imaginary moons.
Then the accent locator,
the who-are-you-reelies,
the get-down-and-kneelies,

the just-calm-down-misters,
the testicle twisters.
The yardsticks, the metrics,
the inchers, the ouchers,

The enhanced question-session
when you’re spun centrifugal,
plus the 9-Richter quaker
and the upside-down shaker.

Then the emoji-faced probot
whose five eyes are bloodshot,
but whose smiley gets brighter
the deeper it probes you.

Last, the 50 ml syringe
which puts you to sleep,
(when you checked in you chose from six classes of dream).
Then you’re into
your casket,
the hopper,
the loader,
and your slot in the bunk.

And click, whirr …

Ding …

Ding …

Ding …

Ding …

Ding-ding

(here’s the lock)

CLUNK!

 

Phillip Hill 2017

More often not

(Listen to the poem here)

 

 

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The day comes every day.
It brightly knocks upon your door
Sometimes you answer and
sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes you leave a message
to say that you’re not in for life
right now.

The night comes every night.
It sits upon the ground
and everywhere
it plays its silent flute.
Sometimes you listen
and sometimes you won’t.

The hours come every hour
upon the hour.
They bubble up and.
jostle at your window
looking in.
They’re always there.
And you –
more often not.

 

Phillip Hill – 2014

Stovepipe with a quick legover – Bill Bryson on cricket

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In his book on Australia, Down Under, (entitled In a Sunburned Country in the USA and Canada), there is a moment when Bill Bryson is trying to find something to listen to on the radio while driving towards, if I recall properly, Adelaide. Nothing seems to be on the air. But, eventually, he comes across coverage of a cricket match. This gives him an opportunity to unleash a hilarious parody of cricket terminology and commentary styles. If you don’t know anything about cricket and can’t tell a square leg from a silly point or a third slip, have a look at the map of real fielding positions above, which may help you to understand what he is making fun of.

 

Eventually the radio dial presented only an uninterrupted cat’s hiss of static but for one clear spot near the end of the dial. At first I thought that’s all it was — just an empty clear spot — but then I realized I could hear the faint shiftings and stirrings of seated people, and after quite a pause, a voice, calm and reflective, said:

“Pilchard begins his long run in from short stump. He bowls and . . . oh, he’s out! Yes, he’s got him. Longwilley is caught legbefore in middle slops by Grattan. Well, now what do you make of that, Neville?”

“That’s definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don’t think I’ve seen offside medium-slow fast-pace bowling to match it since Badel-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948.”

I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.
 

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An artesian reform of the French numbering system

Artecartes

Descartes artésien

Twice in my life, I have been at a meeting where a French person has stood up and said very seriously that it is obvious that French should be the global form of communication since French is the most logical of all languages.
To this, I have a number of replies, but one will suffice:

 

97


Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of French (as spoken in France) will be aware of the fact that in order to say ninety-seven one has to crawl through mathematical hoops and phrase it as “four-twenty-seventeen” (quatre-vingt-dix-sept). I could in fact have picked any number from eighty to ninety-nine to make the same point. The sequence goes from four-twenties (80) through four-twenty-six (86) and four-twenty-eleven (91) all the way to four-twenty nineteen (99). Actually, this whole business starts even earlier, in the seventies, which start with sixty-ten (70) and end with sixty-nineteen (79).
Now, this doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you would want in a country which glories in being “Cartesian”, even though Descartes himself entangled himself in many intractable problems; “Descartes et des échecs” (cards and chess or Descartes and failures) as the once-famous but now almost forgotten 18th Century philosophe Jean-Jacques Klaxx once quipped. This bizarre numbering system would fit in much better with the many oddities the English are proudly afflicted with (except that if this had happened in English they would also have made sure that the spelling and/or the pronunciation would be inconsistent too. For example, Four-twenty (80), Fourenty-one (81), Frenty-twoo (82) and so on.  Read more…

Memories of Pyongyang

North_korea_bannerIn the 1990’s, when the grandfather of the current Kim was North Korea’s Great Leader, I spent a week in Pyongyang working as an interpreter for the Italian delegation at a huge conference which was attended by most of the world’s nations. I have decided to note down what I remember now, before the place becomes a major tourist destination. (Not likely, I suppose, but more improbable things have happened recently.)

At the time, the only places from which you could fly to Pyongyang were Beijing, Moscow and Tirana. We got to Pyongyang via Beijing. There were so many more people travelling to Pyongyang than usual that Air Koryo, the North Korean airline was flying a shuttle service from Beijing to Pyongyang, which meant that all time-tables had been abolished. Whenever a plane arrived from Pyongyang, the people nearest the front of the huge huddle managed to leave.

The first thing I noticed on boarding the plane was that the stewardesses were stowing real crockery on the shelves in the kitchen area. This was very impressive. The second thing which became apparent was that some of the seats were stuck in a reclining position and several of the tray tables could not be folded back in place. The plane, however, promptly began to race down the runway and as it took off two loud sounds were heard. One was the crockery falling to the floor, and the second was a blast of muscular martial music streaming out of the loudspeakers. The music never let up, all the way to Pyongyang.

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Interjected intervals

If any of you have ever done ear training you have almost certainly encountered the method for recognising intervals which is based on memorising the first couple of notes from songs you know.

For example, first two notes of:

Isn’t She Lovely – Minor 2nd
Frères Jacques- Major 2nd
Greensleeves – Minor 3rd
Oh, when the Saints – Major 3rd
Here comes the Bride – 4th
Maria – tritone
Twinkle, Twinkle – 5th
Go down Moses – Minor 6th
My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean – Major 6th
Somewhere- Minor 7th
Superman Theme – Major 7th
Singin’ in the Rain- Octave

If you don’t know all of those, here’s a list with several alternatives.

But there are also songs which specify the intervals sung in the lyrics. Here, for example, is The Interval Song by Django Bates, which I think everyone should know.

Here’s another one, which changes the words to the Christmas Song to sing about various elements of musical theory:

 

Finally, slightly different, but a lot of fun, this is Bobby McFerrin literally jumping around the pentatonic scale and claiming that it is written into everyone’s mind.

Eastern Wisdom vs. Tennis

tennis_03When the British assembled their empire, they took their games and sports and moustaches with them, even to the hottest places. Some people were bemused, as in this anecdote, relayed by Jan Morris in her book Hong Kong, when discussing the early days of the colony.

An old tale tells of the Chinese gentleman who, watching a pair of Englishmen sweating away at a game of tennis, inquired why they did not hire coolies to play it for them.

We do not know whether they took heed of this pearl of Eastern wisdom, but it would certainly have been more reasonable to sit calmly in the shade or else, if they were really incapable of sitting still, to equip themselves with something like the following admirable device:

vigor

Perhaps this is Dr. Watson trying out the contraption. After all, he was just down the road at 221B Baker St.

The Horse-Action Saddle was also available for ladies:

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It is interesting to note that the saddle does not seem to have the same effect on gentlemen and ladies. Only in the case of ladies is it noted that the saddle provides a “complete cure for … HYSTERIA…”.

Also interesting, at the top of the ad, is the plug from the Countess of Aberdeen (who was never taught the difference between direct and reported speech):

Her Excellency the Countess of Aberdeen writes: “That the saddle has given her complete satisfaction.”

Stop beating around the mulberry bush and do the needful- Indian complaints

Dear Sir, It is with great agony that I wish to bring to your kind notice the callousness shown by some employee of your deptt.

What a way to begin a complaint! It certainly grabs my attention. This is a letter on the Indian Consumers Complaint Forum addressed to the passport office in Jaipur. And what is this callousness which caused the writer so much agony?

 In my passport they have changed my surname spelling.but i filled surname spelling correct in my forum.currently In the passport surname is ..AR… but it should be …RA… my passport no is … and file no is …

It is difficult to belive that such thing should have happened under your efficient control.please get the needful done at the earlist.

The ending is as accomplished as the beginning: “It is difficult to believe that such a thing could have happened under your efficient control.”

I am a great admirer of Indian English. I believe they will be the last country to continue to speak what I consider to be real English, which separates nouns, adverbs, adjectives and verbs into orderly clauses, something which is increasingly slipping away in Britain and America. In a hundred years’ time when everyone else will be conjugating the verb to be, as follows:

I mlike You rlike He/She/It zlike We rlike You rlike They rlike

Indians will still be using am, are and is.

It is true that they use phrases which are slightly different from what I am used to. I once used to translate at a committee which was chaired by an Indian gentleman who  used to say things like:

We are beating around the mulberry bush

We are sweeping everything under the carpet and the carpet itself is getting bloated.

I see Norway with his flag up, impedimenting progress as usual.

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