fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
Friends are among the most precious things we have, and I have let mine pass by much too often. My new year's day resolution is to treat my friends, near and far, better.

An example: this year I sent NO Christmas cards. To anyone. In spite of that, I got three lovely ones from friends of mine, including a long and sweet letter about my recent loss, which managed to say all the right things and hit every nail on the head. You people know who you are, and you are wonderful. Thank you for existing.
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...someone has come up with an icon that says so much to me that I just had to adopt it as a second personal user pic. Ladies and gentlemen, for your amusement and delectation.... THE CREDIBLE HULK!!

(Well, I try!)
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Well, since everyone else is doing it...

In 2011 I am living in a first floor flat in a residential area of Ruislip, on the very edge of London.

IN 2001 I was living in a shared house (my last, thank God) in an estate in Hackney/Shoreditch. I also worked as a census taker that year, with many interesting results, one of which is that I have no confidence whatever in the results of the census.

In 1991 I was living in a shared house in Leyton, recovering from my catastrophic time at SOAS, and trying to find a path into professional comics.

In 1981 I was lodging with a family in Summertown, north Oxford, while studying for my A-levels.

In 1971 I lived in a pleasant flat in what was then a quiet residential area of near-central Milan (Corso Sempione quarter - we used to go to the Castello Sforzesco park for recreation).

Late in 1961 I first took residence in my mother's womb. This was in Rome.
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A person I particularly liked has stopped and closed her Livejournal. And although I understand that she is having personal problems that go well beyond anything any of us could have done to her, I still feel I did not behave as well as she deserved. Well, [personal profile] camillofan, you'll be missed, that's all I can say. You'll be missed a lot.
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The problem with LJ: We all think we are so close, but really we know nothing about one another. So I want you to ask me something you think you should know about me. Something that should be obvious, but you have no idea about. Ask away.

Then post this in your LJ and find out what people don't know about you.


Aug. 5th, 2008 03:45 pm
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I have been advised to tag all my entries with as many tags as I can, to make them easier to find by people who might be interested. Sure, good idea. Only, I have about four years' worth of writing, most of which untagged... This is apt to take some time.


Jul. 30th, 2008 03:15 pm
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So, last Friday and Saturday I went to Oxford. I would like to post a long elaborate essay on everything I did, but I have a feeling I would not manage to see the end of it. I visited places - especially in the Jericho/Walton Manor area - that I had not seen since I was eighteen and studying for my A-levels (and learning a much more important and painful lesson at the wholly unconscious and innocent hands of a girl called Kathy Sales). I spent the evening and night at the house of my old professor, now retired but still immensely active, discussing my research (on which he was encouraging) and my girth (on which he was legitimately concerned). And on Saturday I got to know both [personal profile] chthonya and [personal profile] kennahijja, who are two charming people. (In this kind of company, I always have a sneaking fear that I may be offensive or boring. I hope they had as good a time as they gave me.) We toured the centre of Oxford and visited the pub where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien used to meet with a few other friends every Tuesday and discuss such trifles as Lewis' science-fiction trilogy and Tolkien's Hobbit and various mythological efforts. Well, [personal profile] kennahijja is indubitably a genius, [personal profile] chthonya is at the very least brilliant, and I hope I can hold up my end even in such company; so I dare say we were not so out of place in such historical surroundings as we might sound. Besides, the pub is just across the road from the college where I spent my Oxford year, St.John's, and a favourite of Johnnies, so I had another excuse to be there. (I always did wonder why Lewis, who was at Magdalen, and Tolkien, who was at Merton, would want to meet there. It is at the other end of Oxford city centre from both colleges. I suspect that that was its real attraction - no danger of running into a college member and get caught up in college business.)

It was a wonderful couple of days, though as exhausting as anything I have ever done. Almost at the start of my first day, I stumbled upon a lot of ultra-cheap second-hand books, and could not see my way not to buy any less than ten; so I spent much of Friday dragging along this extra weight, and I'll let you imagine what the cumulative effect was. But for the place and the company, I would do it again.
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...except that as of now, I do have a hundred friends. And we are doing something fun more or less every evening. Many thanks to all my online friends.

And no, I still don't have a pony. Or (my version) a Harley Davidson. Ah well.
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Write your answers on your blogs & replace any question that you dislike with a new question formulated by yourself. I don't do the tagging thing for fear of angry f-listers with pitchforks, but if you want to take, take :).

Read more... )
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My five-questions meme has resulted in several people asking me questions. And since you lot do not know each other and you may all be curious about me (I'm so vain), here are a few, with my answers.
Read more... )More as they come.
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What were you doing five years ago?
Treading water in a house-share in Shoreditch, the last I ever had; preparing to move to Ilford and my first single flat.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
Finish a translation job
Complete a rather grim essay I just might post here, titled Things I learned the hard way, which is all about debt and money and time management, inspired by the news this morning that millions of Britons are suffering from debt.
Go to Mass
Wash the dishes.
Make a start on a document that a public authority requires.

What are five snacks you enjoy?
Ice cream
Tramezzino (impossibly caloric Rome snack sandwich, heavy on the mayo)
Corn chips
cashew nuts
pretzels and similar salty snack buscuits

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
Buy annuities for myself, my relations and select friends.
Track down Debbie and see how she is, and make sure that she has anything she needs.
Set up a household so I can work on my comics and my research full-time (a nice house with a live-in servant or two - not for show, but to avoid having to do all the household chores myself)
Set up a comics publisher intended to publish all the dozens of brilliant people who currently get less than their fair chance.
Help anyone I know who needs help.

What are five of your bad habits?
(what, you mean that's only two? You have no idea how many ways one can be stupidly angry or lazy)

What are five places where you have lived?

What are five jobs you’ve had?
Macdonald's crew member (pretty much the same)
Teaching assistant

What five people do you want to tag?
[profile] penguinity, [personal profile] sartorias, [profile] johncwright, [profile] jamesenge, [profile] hobsonphile


Apr. 10th, 2007 09:27 pm
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So I had some cabbage left over from making stuffed cabbage a while back; a lot of onions; and some leeks that really needed to be used before they wilted. So I decided to try and use all the natural flavours of the stuff. I melted some chopped bacon fat (good for extra flavour) over a very slow fire; added the chopped onions, sliced leeks, and cabbage; cooked it very slowly; then added some chickpeas and vegetable stock and kept it cooking till the moisture had shrunk. I looked forward to a really pleasant main course.

So I placed the first spoonful in my mouth.


I had forgotten to wash the earth out of the leeks.
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Many of you will remember that I am apt to be cracked up by fugitive comments or quotations. One such turned up last October (five months ago, mind you) on the LJ of [profile] atheneglaukopis, a colossally talented young linguist. It proclaimed the coming of THE T-SHIRT OF DOOM. Why? Because said t-shirt bore the blazon: Shakespeare hates your emo poems. I was convulsed, and asked her where I could get one, size XXXXXX-Large.

Five months later, she found out. She went right back to her original entry, and posted the online address for the T-shirts. (For those who want to know, it is: http://www.threadless.com/product/548/Shakespeare_Hates_Your_Emo_Poems.)

I always wondered what it takes to be a great linguist - one talent I would love to have. It seems that one of the features must be a memory like ten steel traps.
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Two weeks ago, after a certain amount of palaver and uncertainty, I managed more or less at the last minute to fly down to Rome for my father's sixty-ninth birthday party. Well, for a start the party itself was very pleasant, with a number of charming and interesting people. Then I went to stay to my mother's place for the night, and just coincidentally - I swear! - came home in time to look at the first complete lunar eclypse for nineteen years, which I would probably not have caught in London.

The next day was a Sunday. I went to mass at Noon - only to find the local parish full and several cameramen hanging around. Now to understand this next bit, you have to realize that each of the Cardinals of the Catholic Church is also the titular parish priest of a Roman parish church. This creates a bond between the city and the world Church, and obeys the legal fiction that the bishop of Rome should be elected by the clergy of Rome. Well, I had happened upon the installation of a new Cardinal in our modest and rather ugly (concrete modern) parish - Cardinal Gaudencio Flores of Manila, Philippines (hi, [profile] purple_mirie!). The Cardinal came in with as imposing a procession as the parish could bring in, and the pride of the parish, a small but excellent choir, sang brilliantly. The Cardinal preached the sermon, in English, Italian and Spanish. I was probably the only person there who could follow it all, although I have to admit that if he had started in Tagalog I might have had a few problems. He was charming and gracious, concluding with an invitation to all parishioners to be his guests if they ever happened in Manila. I doubt whether many will take the opportunity, given the distance, but who knows? I might. (Cardinal Flores has two enormous shoes to fill. His predecessor, Cardinal Jaime Sin, was one of the greatest figures of the world Church and a national hero in his own country. God be with him.)

So, two days, two exceptional events. On Monday, having nothing to do, I set out to complete and publish my sixth "A plague on both your houses" essay. My impression that it turned out rather well seems confirmed by the fact that in the next few days it received a snowfall of almost wholly positive comments, including some from people I had never met before, and that I find that at least half a dozen people have friended me out of the blue. Including someone who calls herself [personal profile] theswordmaiden, and who could not possibly have known that swordmaidens are also a fixation of mine! (cf.http://fpb.livejournal.com/107275.html)

So altogether a remarkable few days. I could do with a few more like these.

P.S.: As if that wasn't enough, there is a long-dreamed-of fulfilment about to take place for all Buffy fans in the world - http://frelling-tralk.livejournal.com/552895.html?mode=reply. I know that this is wholly unsuitable for a forty-four-year-old portly intellectual male, but - SQUEEEEEEEEEE!!!
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With the passing of years, I become more aware of the faults in my character; and especially of that savagery that enters my speech and behaviour every time I face something that is, in my view, really unacceptable. That I become, at such moments, quite offensive, is something of which I am more and more conscious; though I do not grow, unfortunately, more capable of controlling it in any way. And this bad habit of anger has a particularly vicious twist: that as it comes on at times when I really do feel I am in the right in opposing certain things, it leaves me unable to make an apology that would go to the core of the disagreement, for I cannot honestly alter my mind about the issues. In many cases, the likelihood is that some sort of estrangement was inevitable, and that my temper only sped it up; but I do wonder from time to time that I have any friends at all.

[personal profile] rfachir is a friend, she is dear to me, and I have just treated her quite badly. Typically, I feel I am in the right about the issues; indeed, it is sheer astonishment that anyone should not see the point of what I had posted, that led to the abuse. I was astounded that a supposedly Catholic institution of higher learning should hire an atheist, not just as a professor of theology - that would be bad enough - but as subject director; and I was even more astounded that someone could not see the point. My view was, and I have to say that it remains, that [personal profile] rfachir was, in this instance, misled by common but false notions about education. The answer I returned, however, was dismissive and - I suspect - contemptous-sounding; which is entirely wrong. Just because her ideas are common, if they are false I should at least take it on me to discuss them and show why they do not apply to the situation in hand - or to any situation at all.

What [personal profile] rfachir said was this: "Do you expect a college, especially a Jesuit one, to endorse anyone who did not encourage students to question their assumptions?" And I still believe that the primacy of "questioning [one's] assumptions", which this implies, is a mistaken notion. So let me try and show what I mean in a more civil manner; pausing, first, to apologize to [personal profile] rfachir for my lousy temper and bad manners.

When I think of the pleasure and the good that I got out of school and university, I am not conscious that "having my assumptions challenged" played any great part in it. To the contrary, what gave me delight was finding out more and more things; facts; confirmed, established, truthful statements and descriptions. I pored over maps, accounts, descriptions, dates, and images. I sought out textbooks and went through dozens of entries in encyclopedias; I read collections of old magazines; I even collected stamps for the bits of things that they could show me of other countries and times. I absorbed data like a sponge. I still do. From elementary school to middle age, what has never changed for me is that the pleasure of learning is the pleasure of finding things out, and the pleasure of explaining.

What this has to do with the famous quote "the wisest of them all confirmed that he knew only this, that he knew nothing", is that the widest learning, if taken with a sense of proportion, only shows us how little we know. The men who reach furthest in study and investigation only become aware of how much more there is to be still found out - and how much more never can. The human race, for instance, has been on Earth for some 170,000 years, according to estimates I heard not so long ago - yet I know that the earliest traceable history goes back to less than 6,000 years, and that is over a very small territory. The vast majority of human history can never be known; a sufficient demonstration of how permanently small and provisional our knowledge is bound to remain.

Nonetheless, permanently small and provisional though it may be, knowledge is itself the ultimate authority. Reached at the price of enormous efforts from generation upon generation of people whom, if we met, we would rightly kneel to, it is not to be lightly rejected or discarded. The people who are most keen on "challenging assumptions" are cranks - flat earthers, six-day creationists, and the like. Sane minds accept what they cannot prove, on the authority of those who can prove it; they accept the description of the cosmos from scientists, and of the past from historians. If nothing else, they know that they do not have the tools to mount a serious challenge; they know that superior knowledge brings superior authority. Every one of us has some of that in his or her own field. I would not presume to challenge a plumber's knowledge of hydraulics, or an accountant's way around figures, or a mother on child-rearing. On the other hand, I love to hear from them. Have you noticed how, whenever a person is speaking about something s/he is competent and experienced in, their conversation always becomes more animated and interesting?

The sane position, then, is a general expectation that knowledge is provisional, coupled with a specific confidence in those who have specific knowledge. The crazed position is the presumption that we have to "question authority" - that is, ultimately, competence. We are not competent to do so, except in our own fields; and in our own fields, our concern ought to be, if we had any sense, not with any position, but with truth. As a historian, I do not give a damn if the most prestigious scholar disagrees with my interpretation of a text, so long as s/he cannot bring an argument that trumps mine. (I have been proven wrong dozens upon dozens of times; it is a very educational experience.) It is not because of any attitude of "challenging assumptions", but because of a reverence for the ultimate authority of truth - which is what s/he, I and every other historian ought to be devoted to - that I will disagree with anyone, from Dumezil on down, if I feel their interpretation of facts is insufficient or downright misleading. And I will do so with due respect for their knowledge and insight - but... "Athenians, I love you and respect you; but if I have to choose, I will follow the God" (that is, truth) "rather than you."

You are unfortunately all too right in saying that Jesuits teach their students to "question assumptions" - especially those of the Church. That is why that order is declining in numbers and prestige. They have set themselves on a sterile road of worldliness, pandering to modern cliches, and destruction for its own sake; not unaided, so it is said, by a rich appreciation for the pleasures of anal sex. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is about authority - the authority of Jesus Christ, the authority of 2000 years of succession, of generations of debates which came to definite conclusions and excluded one proposition while accepting another. The notion that all doctrines are of equal value, that all may and should with equal propriety be "challenged" - with no reference to their status with respect to truth, or even only to their position with respect to the teachings and life of Jesus - is of all things the least Catholic; as well as the least scientific, the least historical, and the least rational. Knowledge proceeds by exclusion; if you cannot declare one thing false and another true, you do not have knowledge at all, but groundless opinion.
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You Belong in Milan

Stylish and sophisticated, you want to enjoy a truly European life - away from tourists!
Milan fits you perfectly. Great shopping, high quality food, lots of culture... with very little hype.

...since that is where I was born!
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Ten Things I've Done That Others Might Not Have:

1. Stood by C.S.Lewis'grave

2. Dined at Balliol College (Oxford)'s High Table.

3. Been to a number of Hindu temples in Madras and Bangalore, including a spectacular one wholly filled with a huge statue of a black bull.

4. Translated major verse (some of the eleventh yoga of the BhagavadGita, some verses by Taliesin, and the Ode to Aphrodite and other verses by Sappho of Lesbos) from not one, but three languages which I do not know - Sanskrit, Old Welsh and early Classical Greek.

5. Translated a whole interview from Danish without knowing (at the start) a word of Danish.

6. Briefly corresponded with one of the twentieth century's greatest historians - Georges Dumezil - when I had not even started university.

7. Written out some questions for the last interview that Jack Kirby, the greatest comic-book maker of all time, ever gave.

8. Written a 500,000-word study of Dark Age British history (407-597AD) in which I believe I have demonstrated, among other things, the historical existence of King Arthur.

9. Published several comic books.

10. Visited the village of Pratica di Mare, the site of ancient Lavinium, the holy city founded, according to legend, by Aeneas and his bride Lavinia, and from which the Roman nation was said to be born.
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