Here endeth May

Grey, dull and unchanging.

What has happened to spring this year? Here we are at the end of May after a month which has largely been characterised by autumnal greyness. In addition to today’s livid sky, we have had smoke from somewhere, which has enveloped the city in a medium dense haze. I don’t know if the peasants are burning stubble, but unlike the usual grey miasma, this can be smelt. Since I started writing this entry, the smoke has got thick enough to start hiding the 红豆 Building, and it’s been raining.

It’s ironic because when I went to Baidu to see what the weather was meant to be doing today, I found that the doodle (an original idea; not copying Google at all) was celebrating, er, No Smoking Day. But it’ll be like those considerate people [Considerate people? Oh, I get it, Sarcasm again. –ed.] in this building who get into a lift with a lit cigarette and think this is sufficient adherence to the prohibition on smoking in lifts. There was probably smoking at the editorial meeting which decided on the doodle.

Your foreign EFL teacher will know or have been told that IELTS and TOEFL classes are boring. They will not be impressed when you complain that the classes are boring. Your foreign EFL teacher may even know that a whole term of such classes is no substitute for learning English, and that exam prep classes are pretty much a complete and utter waste of time anything more than a month ahead of the exam. Your foreign EFL teacher probably suspects that you’re off at New Oriental or English First, where you’re also doing prep for IELTS and TOEFL, and guesses that this is why you treat your classes with a certain degree of disdain.

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Suffering from a terrible rumbling?

Genghis Khan rides again?

Oh dear, more rumblings in the Empire. This time it’s the Монгоλιαns after some fаrмεr was run down by an imperial citizen about three weeks ago.

Not long till Tank Parking Day, either, another date which will have the imperial government shoving its head up its posterior a little further.

It was back to normal class with PAL today, but I still remain in the shadow (rather than dark) about what we’re actually going to be doing with them next year. Probably mostly TOEFL in the first term, and then SATs in the second, but I won’t know the details until August.

While we’re speaking of F1 motor racing [We were? –ed.], is Lewis Hamilton trying to be the F1 world champion plonker? He seems to be trying his best to irritate people with his driving, and he’s now played the race card. (I can only hope he was being ironic, but I get the impression he may not understand the idea.) Next thing you know, he’ll be taking out a superinjunction against the Internet.

Now we are 50

“Well, they’re not getting a card from me,” said the emperor huffily.

It’s Амnэsтy International’s 50th birthday this weekend. I don’t expect the emperor sent them a birthday card. Even if no one’s sure exactly what Martin Niemöller said, we need the likes of Амnэsтy so that there’s someone to speak out and annoy corrupt regimes which are unaccountable and which treat people’s lives as something worthless and disposable. The imperial government cannot, for example, be allowed to hide behind the excuse that huμαn rιghтs αβusэ is an internal matter and not the business of others. It is the business of others when there is no one else to speak out for the abused.

Gmail is being much less temperamental, and is back to loading a little slowly rather than not at all.

The weather is also being less temperamental than it has been, and a little less autumnal.

I suppose I should not be surprised to find that there is a Battle of Maldon website. The battle in AD991 was celebrated in a poem which was, luckily, transcribed before the Cotton Library fire of 1731 destroyed the manuscript. Although the poem is not, by all accounts, great literature, it embodies ideals in Germanic society which predate Byrhtnoþ’s encounter with Anlaf by many centuries. The Saxons may be doomed; their leader may have fallen; but they’ll fight to the bitter end.

But Byrhtnoþ’s ofermod (arrogance, pride, overconfidence) has got his men into trouble:

ða se eorl ongan for his ofermode
alyfan landes to fela laþere ðeode.

(“then because of his overconfidence, the nobleman granted too much of the land to a more hateful people”) Probably, though, Byrhtnoþ knew that the Vikings would go and make nuisances of themselves somewhere else. When things start going wrong, some of the Saxons flee, but the faithful Bryhtwold gets to utter the quotable quote:

“Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenra,
mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað.”

(“Our thoughts will be braver, our hearts fiercer, and our spirits greater as our strength diminishes.”) Inspiring stuff. The Saxons may be going to lose the battle, but they’ll lose heroically. It’s also very secular stuff. The romances of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would probably have had them all praying till their hands were worn away. Here, the human spirit triumphs.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

And possibly again and again.

Last night the Internet got switched off for a time, perhaps to update Paranoia++ software (no truth ever knowingly admitted into the Empire) and, I was hoping, it would see the cessation of deliberate interference with gmail and the Internet in general. Net access did reappear and things seemed to be a little better.

I was commenting on The Guardian’s 190th birthday this morning (mock-up of 1821-style page) when I discovered that although the green light is on on my laptop, which indicates there’s a live connection, there was no Internet access and I’d lost the first draft of this entry.

Apart from the Guardian’s birthday, the other news this morning is that like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning is supposedly not quite playing with a full pack of cards. The Russians are also saying that Gaddafi has to go. Did Medvedev clear that with Czar Vladimir or has he started thinking independently?

I’ve started reading The Mysteries of Udolpho which is supposedly set in 1584, but, as the introduction says, is viewed through the lens of late 18th century sensibilities. M. St Aubert goes round picking flowers and rambling around the countryside where a real-life 16th century French squire would’ve been cutting open live dogs to see what was inside and sticking his finger in their hearts as they died in agony. While Emily might have been taught Latin, she wouldn’t have learnt a word of English or even have cared to learn it.

Radcliffe’s descriptive powers are lush, overwhelming, heady, and rather purple. It’s an ironic style in that for an Age of Nature (you know, those bloody daffodils), it’s artificial and still very Neoclassical. The language may describe nature, but it is divorced from it.

The exams are almost over

Do the headlines get more exciting than this?

The news from the Top Speed website is that someone has managed to capture some shots of the next gen Porsche 911 Turbo (Spy shots: Porsche 911 Turbo Coupe). I see, though I missed the story, that there’s a limited-edition Turbo S to celebrate ten years of Porsche in China. Ten only and each ¥3,488,000 (£325,000; price of a normal Turbo S, £125,865). I’m not exactly excited by the colour, which might charitably be called bronze, but I’m sure it’ll appeal to all those ghastly mine owners and corrupt officials who like to dress in high-fashion matt brown.

The exams are mostly over for the PAL classes. I invigilated the extended Physics paper this afternoon, which was about as interesting as watching dust trying to spontaneously coalesce into celadon ware. (Or should that be celadonware?) The only excitement was the existence of a minor error in the paper and I had to read out a notice of erratum – twice. Next week we resume normal classes, but there will be interruptions for the Dragon Boat Festival and the College Entrance Exam in early June, and probably a bunch of kids will disappear off to Shanghai, Nanjing, wherever to learn proper English (i.e., that weird mixture of 19th century and American English which passes for the English language in the Empire; that weird high style over which students have no control and which makes them sound asinine).

It’s the 60th anniversary of the broadcast of he first Goon Show (The Goon Show must go on – 60 years since its first broadcast) although in those days it was called Those Crazy People. The members of the cast are all dead now, but there are still a few survivors. I’m sure one of those survivors is Eric Sykes, who used to co-write scripts with Spike Milligan. For more about The Goons, follow this link.

I had at least two books of scripts and several albums, listened to them on the radio when I was a teenager (back in the 80s; I’m not that old), and my Dad has just about as many of the broadcasts as you can get. I’d love to play an episode to my little darlings not because they’d understand it (even with a script in front of them), but because it would reveal how slight their competence in English is. A Goon Show as a listening exam. Now there’s an idea.

The Ring of Solomon

By Jonathan Stroud.

After Bartimaeus devours his master, who serves King Solomon, he is summoned back to the material world by another of the king’s wizards, Khaba the Cruel, to be punished, and is set to work building a temple with other recalcitrant djinn – without resorting to magic. But Bartimaeus cannot go five minutes without causing trouble, and his new master, having been less diligent than Solomon desired, is sent alongside him to deal with some bandits who have been harassing merchant caravans.

This leads to an encounter with Asmira, who has been sent by Queen Balkis of Sheba to assassinate King Solomon and take the ring which is the source of his power. Solomon has demanded tribute from Sheba in the form of frankincense, a price which Balkis is unwilling to pay. She finds an ally in Bartimaeus who is confined to a small glass jar just when he thought he was going to be dismissed, and after releasing him, Asmira summons him back.

They manage to sneak through the palace’s defences, but discover the unexpected truth. Solomon not only removes the ring at night, but it is a massive burden to the wearer. He is also unaware of the demand made to Queen Balkis.

Unfortunately, Khaba obtains the ring, which Asmira and Bartimaeus recover and Asmira instructs the djinni to throw it into the sea. He is pursued by Khaba’s marid, Ammet, and there’s only one thing for it: he must use the ring himself even although it affects his essence.

The ring is returned to Solomon, who has Balkis fetched from Sheba, and Asmira finds that the queen was quite happy to send her off on a suicide mission just as she had scant regard for Asmira’s mother when she sacrificed her life to save the queen from assassination.

I suppose Bartimaeus is a bit like William of the Just William stories by Richmal Crompton. He’s basically a naughty schoolboy forever getting into trouble and reaping the consequences of it. The theme of the novel seems to be that you should not trust appearances. Solomon does seem to be a tyrant, but is actually sacrificing his own life by keeping possession of the ring. Asmira cannot see that she is a slave whom Queen Balkis can send on a mission which she cannot possibly accomplish.

Like Nathaniel in the earlier books about Bartimaeus (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate), Asmira isn’t really a likeable character, and lacks the liveliness or charisma which the djinni possesses. On the other hand, I’ve had one or two Bartimaeuses in my classes and although he’s amusing and entertaining, he is rather like an annoying little boy who needs a damned good smack.

Death and the Devil

By Frank Schätzing.

Death and the Devil is a bog-standard thriller set in medieval Cologne. Our hero and underdog is Jacob the Fox, who witnesses the murder of Gerhart Morard, the architect of Cologne cathedral. The villain is Urquhart, a Scottish nobleman who has been psychologically scarred by the atrocities committed at Damietta. The puppet masters are members of the patrician families whose power has been stripped away by Conrad von Hochstaden, the Archbishop of Cologne. There’s also a girl.

There’s a fair amount of humanistic philosophising, which seems to be a nod to 21st century concerns about the pernicious nature of religion. That’s the one place where the story tends to get a little bogged down.

Our hero succeeds; the villains gnash their teeth; and the whole business is quietly hushed up. Yes, the hero also gets the girl.

The story is ready made for the film-of-the-book probably starring Rutger Hauer as Urquhart and Simon Pegg as Jacob.

I don’t know what the tone of the German version of Death and the Devil is like, but the English translation, while avoiding some sort of tortured archaic English which no one ever spoke nor ever wrote outside of the imagination of Sir Walter Scott, is an odd mixture of American and some Anglicisms which were included, I guess, because they are meant to capture the flavour of medieval Europe.

Although Death and the Devil has all the stock elements of a thriller, it’s not a bad read, being the sort of book you borrow from the library or someone else, I think.

Hwan that yonge fresshe May

Was more like autumn al the day.

The weather has been foul. It started on Saturday evening with a few drops of rain as I was heading home from tea and it was unpleasant overnight, but drying up in the morning only to resume being unpleasant later in the day since when it appears not to have stopped.

This morning it couldn’t be seen, but there was drizzle, which has now become rain. This is most vexatious because I only have PAL 3 in the morning and then PAL 2 mid afternoon. I don’t really want to sit around at school all morning, get lunch, and then linger there until mid afternoon. Oh, I know plots will have to be plotted and plans will have to be planned because as the exams are gradually culled, there will be fewer reasons for reading books in class, which is a pity because it’s one time when I have nothing else to distract me. The students are busy doing, er, things, as they do. All I lack is a comfy chair. But at this point in time, it’s just a little soon to be plotting and planning.

Am I the only person who thinks the Aston Martin V12 Zagato concept looks a bit, well, naff? I like Aston Martin cars, but this thing looks like a Mazda RX-8.

The long way home

I’m still here.

I was hoping that by posting an entry here every day I’d remain permanently logged on, but I discovered just now that I’m automatically logged out every two (?) weeks. I found that the direct log-on page is still inaccessible, and one of these days I probably won’t be able to log on at all. It does seem a bit weird that I can still read WordPress blogs, but the log-on page is blocked. The upgrades page is also blocked.

I’m wondering whether this is related to the maltreatment of gmail, which seems to be harassment rather than the outright blocking of the service, the idea apparently being to make people stop using it because it’s “faulty”. That’s not to say that gmail doesn’t have its little tantrums now and then, but if it had really been so unreliable over the past few months, there would’ve been stories about it in The Register and elsewhere by now.

I see I have another three comments, which, I predict, will be more spam from the French or Proles, sorry Poles. Ever since I started posting more frequently, I seem to have acquired some parasites who somehow circumvent the spam filters which block most of the rubbish which gets hurled at me. The comments are sent to the Spam folder, where I delete them. This is my blog, not an advertising agency for vermin from the slimier parts of a cesspool.

Anyway, it’s time to sweep away the filth.

Who is CTB?

And is Google UK keeping it from me?

The whole saga of Twitter vs. Superinjunctions rumbles on with some footballer referred to as CTB is suing Twitter. Unfortunately, because the imperial government is afraid of Twitter, I can’t go nosing there about to find out who this person is. When I try searching for CTB via Google, I merely get links to the Telegraph and the Mail. However, a little perseverance leads me to Kashmir Hill on the Forbes website and an article entitled He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named (In The UK) Sues Twitter Over A User Naming Him.

Our D-list-celeb-boffing footballer is Ryan Giggs, who’s famous enough for me to have heard of him, and footballer enough for me to know next to nothing about him. He may be overpaid, oversexed and over there, but he’s not a Player in my world and thus inconsequential.

Also, these superinjunctions are like the apple in the garden of Eden or alcohol in prohibition America. You may not care who Imogen Thomas’s friend is, but the moment something like this pops up, you just have to know. You feel the itch and have to scratch it, which leaves a large red mark everyone then notices when, if it’d been left alone, no one much would’ve paid attention to it.

Superinjunctions sound a little too extreme and a bit too draconian. They sound like the sort of thing you’d expect here in this authoritarian paradise if the imperial government wasn’t so frightened of free speech. At the same time, I’m no real fan of the papers scrutinising the lives of public figures to expose peccadilloes to increase their circulation even if that comes into conflict with the all-too-human interest in gossip. I’m also not impressed by the implicit belief of papers like The Sun that the public is quite as prudish and prurient as it thinks it is. Perhaps, though, I’m wrong on this point and the public really is this prudish.

Do I need to know that Ryan Giggs was playing hide-the-sausage with Imogen Thomas? Not really. Am I outraged by his behaviour? Not at all. Our semi-evolved simian (as Douglas Adams put it) is doing what some semi-evolved simians do from time to time and ought not to be condemned for being human. His wife, on the other hand, was probably inclined to be judge, jury, and executioner.

Meanwhile, an original Jane Austen manuscript is up for auction according to this article in The Guardian. Apparently Austen liked to cross things out a lot when she was writing and a original manuscript would give some insight into the development of the story. These days, though, with writing being done on computers, there aren’t going to be record like these unless authors save v. 1, v. 2, etc. as separate files or leave secondary evidence.

This entry has subsequently been edited as a consequence of parliamentary privilege.