Archive for November, 2003


November 30, 2003

I did say there would be a next time — maybe I’ll make it weekly, we’ll see. In any case, here’s another book quiz. Same procedure as last time.


“‘Now,’ said X cheerily, ‘you are not particularly nice, nor particularly clever, and you’re not at all good-looking. Still, you’ve saved my life — oh, when I think of that man and his pail of water! — so I’ll tell you all I know. At least, of course I can’t do that, because I know far too much. But I’ll tell you all I know about this red thing.’

‘Do! Do! Do! Do!’ said everyone.”


“‘I’m glad Father is feeling so much better,’ I said again eventually. ‘Now really, I’d best be getting back. As I say, the situation is rather volatile.’

He went on looking at his hands for a moment. Then he said slowly: ‘I hope I’ve been a good father to you.’

I laughed a little and said: ‘I’m so glad you’re feeling better now.’

‘I’m proud of you. A good son. I hope I’ve been a good father to you. I suppose I haven’t.’

‘I’m afraid we’re extremely busy now, but we can talk again in the morning.’

My father was still looking at his hands as though he were faintly irritated by them.

‘I’m so glad you’re feeling better now,’ I said again and took my leave.”


“Upstairs, the typewriters were quarreling over our stunned silence. We regarded Susie the bear—a smart bear, indeed; and a Seeing Eye bear, too. Knowing she was not a real bear suddenly made her appear larger; she took on new power before us. She was more than Freud’s eyes, we thought; she might be his heart and mind, too.”


“The water was going out again at last. Newly washed shores and valleys were slowly creeping up in the sunshine again. The trees were the first to rise over the water. They waved their dazed tops in the air and stretched their branches carefully to feel if they were safe and sound after the disaster. Those that had broken off hurriedly put out new sprouts. The birds found their old sleeping-places again, and higher up on the slopes, where the water had already disappeared, people began spreading out sheets and clothes to dry on th ground.

As soon as the water began falling everybody started for home. People rowed or sailed, night and day, and when the water disappeared they continued afoot to the places where they had lived before.

Possibly some of them had found new and much nicer places during the time the valley was turned into a lake, but still they liked the old places better.”


November 29, 2003

Er. Yes. I got an email from a colleague pointing out that I put words in the after-dinner-speaker-of-last-night’s mouth — what she actually said was that 1991 there were 580% fewer people than last night. Which, unlike the statement that 680 is 580% more than 100, is incorrect.

Sorry about that — if I’d been more dishonest I’d have changed the previous posting 🙂


November 29, 2003

Last night was the yearly staff party for Uppsala University, held at the castle. It was fun; good food, good entertainment and an after-dinner speaker who told us that in 1991, there were about 100 guests at the dinner, and in 2003 there were 680 of us – so the staff must now be 580% more enthusiastic. Since the numbers had increased by 580%.

Each department was placed together along the tables. It was easy to see where the dept of mathematics and statistics sat. Fortunately, we were seated out of sight from the speaker so we didn’t need to restrain our general mirth.

It was also easy to see which departments treated their staff to the party. Our dept does, and so there were quite many of us there, including many PhD students. From some other departments there were only a few people, mostly professors. Pity, that. But I suppose that sponsoring the staff party is one of the first things to go when a department badly needs to save. . .


November 28, 2003

Things That Have Happened in Helsinki. Quite splendid things, too.


November 27, 2003

We went to watch Master and Commander tonight — probably the first time we went to the cinema this year though I might misremember — and it was good entertainment, a good movie and a much better adaptation than I’d have thought. That is, the people were almost completely different from those described by Patrick O’Brian (except Preserved Killick! He was spot on) and the plot was rather an odd concoction of the plots of several of the novels — not just those two whose titles gave the movie its name. And the charm of the books was almost entirely missing, for that lies in O’Brian’s style and the wonderful dialogue, and in the characterisations, which as I mentioned were altered. The Jack Aubrey of the movie lacked both the innocence and the cleverness of the book’s Jack, whereas the actor who played Stephen was almost good-looking and had rather an agreeable voice… and was very much a less important figure than Jack. All of which is completely wrong if you look at the novels.

And yet, I liked the movie. It had little to do with the books, but much more to do with the life it depicts. The next time I read an Aubrey-Maturin book I’ll be able to visualise the scenes better, know what a rigged grating or a dish of toasted cheese looks like and how the bosun’s pipe sounds. The other thing about the movie is that although the plot confuses half a dozen of the novels it’s adapted from, it is still not a badly plotted movie, if you follow my meaning. And some of the important events from the novels were there, and very well portrayed.

It made me want to reread the books.


November 25, 2003

Solution to the book quiz in the comments to this posting. I haven’t heard from anybody who knew all four — Nat and Stina both scored three points.


November 22, 2003

Hans started it — in Lyskom — and several people followed his example and I thought it was a really fun idea so this is me being a lemming.


Below are four short excerpts from books. They may be translations (not by myself) or original English works. Can you identify them? (Caveat: I really have no idea how difficult these are to guess! Perhaps all of them are ridiculously simple, in which case I’ll try to make it more difficult next time.)


“‘Christ,’ he said at last. ‘Another day.’ With this his face grew more composed. He stood up, beat the white dust from his breeches and took off his coat to shake it. With intense mortification he saw that the piece of meat he had hidden at yesterday’s dinner had oozed grease through his handkerchief and his pocket. ‘How wonderfully strange,’ he thought, ‘to be upset by this trifle; yet I am upset.’ He sat down and ate the piece of meat (the eye of a mutton chop); and for a moment his mind dwelt on the theory of counter-irritants, Paracelsus, Cardan, Rhazes. He was sitting in the ruined apse of St Damian’s chapel high above Port Mahon on the north side, looking down upon the great winding inlet of the harbour and far out beyond it over a vast expanse of sea, a variegated blue with wandering lanes; the flawless sun, a hand’s breadth high, rising from the side of Africa. He had taken refuge there some days before, as soon as his landlord began to grow a shade uncivil; he had not waited for a scene, for he was too emotionally worn out to put up with any such thing.”


“‘After the test starts,’ he read, ‘a score of “1” will result each time you press the lefthand button except as otherwise provided here below. Press the lefthand button whenever the red light appears provided the green light is not lighted as well except that no button should be pressed when the righthand gate is open unless all lights are out. If the righthand gate is open and the lefthand gate is closed, no score will result from pressing any button, but the lefthand button must nevertheless be pressed under these circumstances if all other conditions permit a button to be pressed pbefore any score may be made in succeeding phases of the test. To put out the green light, press the righthand button. If the lefthand gate is not closed, no button may be pressed. if the lefthand gate is closed while the red light is lighted, do not press the lefthand button if the green light is out unless the righthand gate is open. To start the test move the starting lever from neutral all the way to the right. The test runs for two minutes, from the time you move the starting lever to the right. Study these instructions, then select your own time for commencing the test. You are not permitted to ask questions of the examiner, so be sure that you understand the instructions. Make as high a score as possible.’

‘Whew!’ said Matt.”



this is not pepys’ diary, this is some busybody editor’s miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys’ diary may he rot.

i could just spit.

where is jan. 12, 1668, where his wife chased him out of bed and round the bedroom with a red-hot poker?

where is sir w. pen’s son that was giving everybody so much trouble with his Quaker notions? ONE mention does he get in this whole pseudo-book. and me from philadelphia.

i enclose two limp singles, i will make do with this thing until you find me a real pepys. THEN i will rip up this ersatz book, page by page, AND WRAP THINGS IN IT.”


“Punctual to five o’clock came the stranger, and shortly afterwards the dinner. He had divested himself of his brown paper parcel, but had made no alteration in his attire; and was, if possible, more loquacious than ever.

‘What’s that?’ he inquired, as the waiter removed one of the covers.

‘Soles, sir.’

‘Soles—ah!—capital fish—all come from London—stage-coach proprietors get up political dinners—carriage of soles—dozens of baskets—cunning fellows. Glass of wine, sir.'”