From Hull, Hell and Halifax, good Lord, deliver us.
Quoted by Daniel Defoe, see The Guardian 13.9.1984.

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; but when a beginning is made - when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt - it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.
Jane Austen, Emma

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
Douglas Adams

Many years ago I pointed out that deadlines are cowardly: they don't stride out alone. They run in packs, and leap out at you all at once.
Neil Gaiman Journal 30.07.2002

It's not pining - it's passed on! This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late parrot! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace - if you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies! It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!
John Cleese and Graham Chapman, for Monty Python's Flying Circus

It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.
Woody Allen, Death: (A Play)

Terry Pratchett, Mort

The husband, then, is to be allowed to discard his wife when he is tired of her, and the wife the husband when another man strikes her fancy? One must answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative; for if we are to deny every proposition that can be stated in offensive terms by its opponents, we shall never be able to affirm anything at all.
George Bernard Shaw, Preface to Getting Married

Scorn in plenty has been poured out upon the medieval passion for hair-splitting: but when we look at the shameless abuse made, in print and on the platform, of controversial expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations, we may feel it in our hearts to wish that every reader and hearer had been so defensively armoured by his education as to be able to cry: Distinguo.
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction

  • The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  • All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  • No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  • No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  • The detective himself must not commit the crime.
  • The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  • The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
Ronald Knox, 1929

The months in Berlin made me a lifelong communist, or at least a man whose life would lose its nature and its significance without the political project to which he committed himself as a schoolboy, even though that project has demonstrably failed, and, as I now know, was bound to fail. The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me, as deleted texts are still waiting to be recovered by experts, somewhere on the hard disks of computers. I have abandoned, nay, rejected it, but it has not been obliterated. To this day I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and a tenderness which I do not feel towards communist China, because I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world, as China never did. The Soviet Union's hammer and sickle symbolised it.
Eric Hobsbawm, Interesting Times (Little Brown, 2002)
quoted, The Guardian, 1.10.2012

First rule of politics; never believe anything until it's officially denied.
Anthony Jay & Jonathan Lynn, Yes, Minister (Party Games)

"...I notice that you have a penchant for the solecism known as active-for-passive."
"'Fraid so, sir."
"That is because you do not feel the activity of the active mood, the passivity of the passive, let alone the pregnant indeterminacy inherent in deponent verbs. You will now sit and think for five minutes about the verb sequi. At the end of that time you will tell me what kind of a mind the Roman must have had to believe that to follow was in some sense to have something done to him, rather than to be doing something."
Peter Dickinson, Hindsight

Despair is a black leather jacket that everyone looks good in. Hope is a frilly pink dress that exposes your knees.
Rebecca Solnit, quoted in The Guardian, 17.08.2009

"Yezidis," said George. "They're an Iraqi sect. Strictly speaking, they're devil-propitiators, not devil-worshippers. They call Lucifer 'Malik Tawus', the Peacock Angel, and offer sacrifices to keep him happy. They believe Lucifer, the Devil, has been forgiven by God and reinstated as Chief Angel, supervising the day-to-day running of the wor[l]d's affairs."
William Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain

Y'know ... a kiss on the hand may be quite continental, man, ... but tactical thermonuclear weaponry is a guy's best friend!
Alan Moore, D.R. & Quinch Go Girl Crazy

That fine English poet, John Donne,
Was wont to admonish the Sunne:
"You busie old foole
Lie low and stay coole
For I am in bed having funne."
Wendy Cope, runner up in Ceefax limerick contest

John Donne, the noted poet an' corpse.
Maurice Dodd, The Perishers strip W272, collected in Playtime with the Perishers

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditations XVII

This notion ties in neatly with the claim that a dream is the repacking of the day's experiences in the memory. New facts are matched with old expectations; old beliefs are somewhat modified; the current world-picture is appropriately updated. The discarded data, and the intermediate "working" from this process, are not overwritten but pushed right back into the sensory region of the brain, where the data first came from, and are there sensed as a dream.
And this, says Daedalus, is why dreams - to the dismay of the psychiatric profession - are usually such nonsense. They are the rejects on the cutting-room floor of the brain, the discards of the night's editing.
Daedalus, The Guardian 5.7.1988.

Edward worried about his drinking. Would there be enough gin? Enough ice?
Donald Barthelme, Edward and Pia, published in The New Yorker, 25.09.1965.

Drugs are a one-man birthday party. You don't get any presents you didn't bring...
...To really enjoy drugs, you've got to want to get out of where you are. But there are some wheres that are harder to get out of than others. This is the drug-taking problem for adults. Teenage Weltschmertz is easy to escape. But what drug will get a grown-up out of, for instance, debt?
P.J. O'Rourke, Tune In, Turn On, Go to the Office late on Monday

In conclusion, a word of caution to all those youngsters who look to me as a role model.
Stay off the hard stuff! Unless you know what you're doing, it can only come to grief! There is no room in the drug culture for amateurs!
G. B. Trudeau, Doonesbury

Alienation from the collective is always a duty.
W.H. Auden, quoted in The Financial Times 14.10.1995.


I tend to believe something that my old elocution teacher, Miss Webster, used to say, whenever I'd done what I considered a particularly interesting reading of something, which was, "Neil dear, please remember that before you can be properly eccentric, you must know where the circle is."
Neil Gaiman, Journal 05.07.2004

But the main argument on which they rely is that of economy; for they know that they will sooner gain their end by appealing to men's pockets, in which they have something of their own, than to their heads, which contain for the most part little but borrowed or stolen property.
Samuel Butler, Erewhon

Je n'ai fait plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
Blaise Pascal, Lettres provinciales XVI

(Something I learned ages ago. When people tell you there's something wrong with a story, they're almost always right. When they tell what it is that's wrong and how it can be fixed, they're almost always wrong.)
Neil Gaiman, American Gods Blog 19.03.2001

When suddenly facing the realities of 22 pages a month, chunks of plot get thrown out of the window like fridges.
Neil Gaiman, in conversation with Jonathan Ross, broadcast 15.11.2003

Unless a socialist leader has been in prison his education has been neglected.
Tom Mann to Emmanuel Shinwell, quoted in The Guardian 18.10.1984.

Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin
Guillaume Apollinaire, Zone

Le peuple anglais pense être libre: il se trompe fort, il ne l'est que durant l'élection des membres du parlement; sitôt qu'ils sont élus, il est esclave, il n'est rien. Dans les courts moments de sa liberté, l'usage qu'il en fait mérite bien qu'il la perde.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat social III XV

Rich is the country that has plenty of poor.
In periods when prosperity is general, the value of the impoverished to that country increases, and nations not rich in poor must import indigents for the labor now considered degrading for citizens of repute to perform.
The bidding sometimes goes high.
It is fortunate for the progress of civilization that there are always plenty of poor.
Joseph Heller, Picture This

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.
James D. Nicoll, rec.arts.sf-lovers

Tut chiet, tut moert, tut trait a fin;
Tur funt, mur chiet, rose flaistrist,
Cheual trebuche, drap uiescist,
Huem moert, fer use, fust purrist.
Wace, Roman de Rou III 132-5, I 66-9

- Mornin', madam - You could be the first lucky lady on the block to purchase a packet of 'Socko - the Muscular Washin' Powder' (now enriched with enzymes)
- Enzymes?
- Yes, enzymes, those tiny little organisms which devour dirt. Turn these little devils loose an' watch 'em go - swarmin' through your washin', eatin' dirt like fightin' fools.
- D'you think for one moment that I'm goin' to get them things playin' organs an' noshin' all over my smalls?
- Oh, madam - I sense your trepidation - indeed I do. But have no fears. These are very courageous enzymes.
Maurice Dodd, The Perishers strip B282, collected in The Perishers Spring Collection

And don't forget the divine intervention.

If you don't have a divine intervention, you can make do by having your characters watch as an elaborately symbolic masque is enacted. Or you can put in a big fight with a big monster. Or an intricate court case. Or a really bloody scene where someone slaughters their in-laws.

I'm sure I'm forgetting a few.

You get extra points if you work in more than one of them. You lose a point every time one character turns to another, says the medieval equivalent of "As you know, Bob," and rattles off a numbered categorical list.

If it doesn't have any really cool scenes, you're probably reading La Chanson de Roland, Western literature's first full-length piece of liebestod slash fic.

If it becomes apparent that the major characters are going to die violently together before the last page is turned, and this realization perks them right up, the story was originally written in Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon.

If something completely inscrutable happens, and one or more major characters conclude as a result that they're going to die before the last page is turned, the original story was Irish.

If the fight scenes average one or more spear-brasting per stanza, the story is French.

If you find yourself in a medieval epic, never agree to a one-on-one fight, on horseback, against an unidentified person who is wearing a closed helmet. If they're not your own true love, your true king, your long-lost twin brother, or a son you didn't know you had, they're some BNK fighting in disguise. No matter which one it is, you're guaranteed to wish you hadn't fought them.
Theresa Nielsen Hayden, Making Light, comments on entry for 1.07.2003

I want "epic" to be rehabilitated as a word. If people mean "this is a book you could use to bludgeon burglars, and the characters spend more time on the road than Jack Kerouac," then that's what they should say.
Sarah Monette, comment on LiveJournal entry for 23.02.2003

An Epicurean Ode

Since that this thing we call the world
By chance on atoms is begot,
Which though in daily motions hurled
Yet weary not,
How doth it prove
Thou art so fair, and I in love?

Since that the soul doth only lie
Immersed in matter, chained in sense,
How can, Romira, thou and I
With both dispense,
And thus ascend
In higher flights than wings can lend?

Since man's but pasted up of earth,
And ne'er was cradled in the skies,
What terra lemnia gave thee birth?
What diamond, eyes?
Or thou alone,
To tell what others were, came down?

John Hall, 1627 - 1656

The defence rests.
Suggested by John Mortimer Q.C. as his epitaph.

In Japan, they have replaced the impersonal and unhelpful Microsoft error messages with their own Japanese Haiku poetry, each only 17 syllables, five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third...

Your file was that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

The Web site you seek
Can not be located but
Countless more exist.

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.

Aborted effort:
Close all that you have worked on.
You ask far too much.

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.

First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
So beautifully.

With searching comes loss
And the presence of absence:
My Novel? not found.

The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao until
You bring fresh toner.

Stay the patient course.
Of little worth is your ire.
The network is down.

A crash reduces
Your expensive computer
To a simple stone.

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

You step in the stream,
But the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.

Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.

Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

Dealing with Microsoft products requires deep peace of mind. I wish that their marketing department had it.
Bob Everett

Expecting an argument
Unix error message

When we did come home Sylvie would certainly be home, too, enjoying the evening, for so she described her habit of sitting in the dark. Evening was her special time of day. She gave the word three syllables, and indeed I think she liked it so well for its tendency to smooth, to soften. She seemed to dislike the disequilibrium of counterpoising a roomful of light against a worldful of darkness. Sylvie in a house was more or less like a mermaid in a ship's cabin. She preferred it sunk in the very element it was meant to exclude.
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping


That nighty time begin chop-chop,
One young man walkey - no can stop,
Maskee snow! Maskee ice!
He carry flag wid chop so nice -

He too muchey sorry, one piecey eye
Look-see sharp-so - all same my.
Him talkey largey - talkey strong,
Too muchey curio - all same gong,

Inside that house he look-see light,
And every room got fire all right,
Him look-see plenty ice more high,
Inside he mouth he plenty cry -

Ole man talkey "no can walk!
By'mby rain come - welly dark,
Have got water, welly wide,
Maskee! My wantchey go topside,"

"Man man!" one girley talkey he;
"What for you go topside look-see?"
And one time more he plenty cry,
But all time walkey plenty high.

"Take care that spoil'um, tree, young man,
Take care that ice! He want man-man!"
That coolie chin-chin he good night.
He talkey "My can go all right."

Joss-pidgin man he soon begin,
Morning-time that joss chin-chin;
He no man see - he plenty fear,
Cos some man talkey - he can hear

That young man die, one large dog see,
Too much bobbery findey he;
He hand belong colo - all same ice,
Have got that flag, with chop so nice,

Attributed to "an anonymous author" by Lady Susan Townley in My Chinese Note Book


Author's Note

This book will prove the following ten facts:
  1. A Goon is a being who melts into the foreground and sticks there.
  2. Pigs have wings, making them hard to catch.
  3. All power corrupts, but we need electricity.
  4. When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, the result is a family fight.
  5. Music does not always soothe the savage breast.
  6. An Englishman's home is his castle.
  7. The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
  8. One black eye deserves another.
  9. Space is the final frontier, and so is the sewage farm.
  10. It pays to increase your word power.
Diana Wynne Jones, Archer's Goon

Rule 73 in the ‘Dodgy Prose Guide’, which one day I will write, states that the phrase 'in fact' generally prefixes the statement of a tendentious opinion.
Colin Burrow, Frog's Knickers, London Review of Books, 26.09.2013

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

She knows there's no success like failure
And that failure's no success at all.
Bob Dylan, Love Minus Zero / No Limit

When I say fairyland, I mean the antique fairyland. Make no mistake about that. I mean a green, an old-established, an incalculable place... I mean a haunted, lovely, formidable place in which man is always an intruder, never a patron. I mean a place which is the very opposite of unearthly, seeing that it had all the qualities of the earth before it came to be exploited by us.
Peter Fleming, Brazilian Adventure

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
G.K. Chesterton, The Red Angel, quoted by Neil Gaiman, Coraline

I stopped for a breakfast falafel sandwich at a storefront Lebanese restaurant at Halstead and Wrightwood and ate it at the red lights the rest of the way up Halstead. The decimation of Lebanon was showing up in Chicago as a series of restaurants and little shops, just as the destruction of Vietnam had been visible here a decade earlier. If you never read the news but ate out a lot you should be able to tell who was getting beaten up around the world.
Sara Paretsky, Killing Orders

Tolstoy was so wrong. Dozens, thousands of Finnish families of this era were unhappy in precisely this way: father drinks and everyone is miserable; father stops drinking awhile and everyone is miserable; father starts drinking again and everyone is miserable. Death of one of the children. Additionally, typhus.
Marissa Lingen, LiveJournal review of Jean Sibelius by Guy Rickards, 16.02.2014

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute..
Rebecca West, Mr. Chesterton in hysterics, in The Clarion 14.11.1913

It [feminism] encourages women to leave husbands, kill children, practise witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
Pat Robertson, quoted in the Observer 26.12.1999

Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.
G.K. Chesterton, Defendant, 1901

A few years back I did a reading tour of American cities for my novel When I Lived in Modern Times. In Seattle, an elderly woman intercepted me as I arrived; she wanted to talk about our shared experiences in Palestine in the 1940s, where most of the novel was set. But I wasn't alive in the 1940s, I pointed out, smiling. She gave me a stare, at first appraising, then bewildered, then accusing. "You're too young!" she cried. "You couldn't have written that book - you weren't there." It was true, I was not in Palestine in the last days of the British Mandate. "Then none of this happened to you?" she said. "Nothing. I made it all up. It's fiction." I knew that I had let her down; she had come a long way on a cold night to exchange memories of the past with one who had been there with her. Instead, she found herself confronted with a professional liar.
Linda Grant, The Guardian, 03.04.2008

...at one level we're basically meat and at another level we're basically fiction - human beings are storytelling machines, and the self is a story...
Paul Broks, interviewed in The Guardian 10.6.2003

Je suis fidèle comme un dogue
Au maître le lierre au tronc
Et les Cosaques Zaporogues
Ivrognes pieux et larrons
Aux steppes et au decalogue.
Guillaume Apollinaire, Le Chanson du mal-aimé

Wong Islands

We confess to some linguistic licence in the last edition of our Great Gaelic Blockbuster Movies competition by including Conan the Orcadian and Yell Freedom. Katie Ferguson from Orkney points out that because of the presence of Chinese restaurants in Kirkwall and Lerwick, more people in the northern isles speak Cantonese than they do Gaelic.

Katie also sends in a couple of fillum ideas, to whit Rebel Without a Croft and Where Seagulls Dare.
The Murdo movies continue unabated with Murdo Most Foul (I. Black, Maryhill), Murdo She Wrote (David Steel, Crosshill) and Murdo and His Amazing Technicolour Tweed Jacket (the Parkers, Sleat, Skye).
John Beal of Glasgow's Wild West End keeps the sheep motif going with Single White Cheviot. Jane Mallison, also from Glasgow, has an awfy meritorious collection including The Sword and the Scone, The Cuillin Fields, The Spey Who Came in from the Cold, and The Bodach Snatchers. In a similar vein is K. Morrow of Crosshill, Glasgow, who suggests Invasion of the Bothy Thatchers. But K. makes amends somewhat with Ossian's Eleven, When Barra met Islay and Honey I Shrunk the Kilts. K. also tries to curry favour with our sponsors through that epic Glengoyne with the Wind.
But, unfortunately for all the witty, worthy, but mostly thirsty entrants, there can only be one winner of the great Glengoyne unpeated malt whisky. Come on down Robert McIntyre of Greenock, for Padraig Post Always Rings Twice.
Tom Shields, column in a Scottish newspaper

There's Something About Mary, starring Cameron Diaz, was renamed country by country by 20th Century Fox. In Poland, where blonde jokes are popular, it became "For the Love of a Blonde." In France, it was "Mary at All Costs". According to Scott Neeson, in charge of foreign distribution at Fox, Asians prefer literal titles. So in Thailand it became "My True Love Will Stand All Outrageous Events". In Hong Kong it was called "Enjoy Yourself in the Game of Love".
Leaving Las Vegas, when taken to Hong Kong, gained a Cantonese title that translated as "I'm Drunk and You're a Prostitute." Field of Dreams in Hong Kong became "Imaginary Dead Baseball Players Live in My Cornfield." And The Crying Game? "Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis!"
There's no arguing with the Chinese take on Babe: that became "The Happy Dumpling-To-Be Who Talks and Solves Agricultural Problems". Or My Best Friend's Wedding: "Help! My Pretend Boyfriend is Gay". Or George of the Jungle: "Big Dumb Monkey Man Keeps Whacking Tree With Genitals". Or even Batman and Robin: "Come to My Cave and Wear this Rubber Codpiece, Cute Boy". And the Pamela Anderson Lee vehicle, originally called Barb Wire? The Chinese saw it as "Delicate Orbs of Womanhood Bigger that your Head Can Hurt You".
James Sterngold, in the New York Times 15.11.199?

The Danish pirates invaded the Lutetia of the Parisians, and there they devastated with the sword everything which they had not destroyed in fire.
Annales de saint Bertin, (Paris, 1964 p. 41) translated by Andrew Hussey in Paris: A Secret History, p. 36

...Helvetica, the official typeface of purgatory. Helvetica isn't designed to make you feel anything good, to promise adventure or gladden the heart. Helvetica is for telling you that profits are down, that the photocopier needs servicing and by the way, you've been fired.
Michael Marshall [Smith], The Straw Men

Met E.M. Forster in his old school muffler at the corner of St. James Square. I said should one write novels? He said yes, if there was anything one wanted to write, but he didn't. Was kind and woolly as usual.
Naomi Mitchison, Diary for 12.2.1942, in Among You Taking Notes

On ne peut rassembler les français que sous le coup de la peur. On ne peut pas rassembler à froid un pays qui compte 265 spécialités de fromage.
Charles de Gaulle, in a speech in 1951

Ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live? Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest and sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.
Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography

("What do you think of the Frankfurt Bookfair?" asked another interviewer.

"I think if I am a very evil man while I live, when I die I will be sent to a Frankfurt Bookfair that will go on forever in every direction, and will never end, and the interviews will never stop," I told him, honestly. I don't think that a multiple choice exam of possible correct answers to give journalists in answer to that question would have had that one listed.)
Neil Gaiman, Journal, 12.10.2003

[The languages, after the fall of the Tower of Babel...]

...De quelque part que l'en les prange
Tuit sunt et divers et estrange
Fors que li linguages franchois;
C'est cil que Deus entent anchois
K'il lo fist et bel et legier.
Everard, Genesis: published by Paul Meyer, Anciens Textes p. 339

L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social Ii

Renoncer à sa liberté, c'est renoncer à sa qualité d'homme, aux droits de l'humanité, même à ses devoirs. Il n'y a nul dédommagement possible pour quiconque renonce à tout.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social Iiv

Si on me presse de dire pourquoy je l'aymois, je sens que cela ne se peut exprimer, qu'en respondant: Par ce que c'estoit luy; par ce que c'estoit moy.
Michel de Montaigne, Essais I 28: De l'Amitié

I never knew such an uncertain Christmas. Most people in Britain ate and drank, gave and received, laughed, dozed, sang, even in some cases prayed, all as usual. But at the margins, there was a striking amount of self-questioning.
None of the questions was new, but they had become a little louder. There were the self-reproaches about materialism - we can indulge ourselves, but there is starvation in Africa and comfortless poverty even in our own land. There were the complaints that Christmas had become a commercial orgy which turned nice children into screaming parcel-plunderers. There was renewed argument, between hung-over adults in paper crowns, about whether Christmas was a Victorian invention or a genuine tradition reaching back into time out of mind. Christmas, it's clear, is to do with a giving of thanks for love, human or divine or both. But was this the right way to give them?
Love is an elusive substance. "But only of this monster Love we doubt / Whose craft course no cunning can find out," as Alexander Montgomerie wrote. Fraternity is a lot easier to identify and to honour, and fraternity (brotherhood and sisterhood together) is what the New Year celebrations are about.
One of the Hogmanay dances in Scotland is the Reel of the Fifty-First. It's a happy reel, set to good airs and not complicated to step. But I like it specially because it was devised by prisoners.
After much of the 51st Highland Division fell into German hands at St-Valéry-en-Caux, in 1940, its officers and men passed almost five years in captivity. In some remote Oflag in Germany, a group of them - I don't know their names - decided to compose a reel.
Perhaps they did it to preserve their own sanity. Perhaps they felt that by inventing a dance - the purest expression of human delight in human company - they would find it easier to put up with each other's eccentricities.
If they devised their reel as therapy, I cannot say whether it worked. Everyone who has spent five years behind the wire comes back a little mad, and some remain so. But I would certainly like to imagine that one of them, last Thursday night, wandered out of the house where his grandchildren were dancing, looked at the stars and felt very cheerful indeed. All over Scotland, and not only Scotland, people he would never know were linking arms in his pattern, turning in his circles. When chapped fingers took the pencil-stub and began to draw circles, squares and arrows, he didn't imagine that it's given to few to give so much. When he dies, the reel will continue to turn. He and his comrades had invented a constellation.
This New Year thing we call fraternity, in our sexist way, is best drawn in circles. I thought of this recently in Moscow, visiting friends of a friend on a frosty night. Russians love to talk vastly and vaguely about what Russia gives to humanity. This usually turns out to lie in the future; as Alexander Herzen put it over a century ago, while the poles have their relics of the past, we Russians have only empty cradles.
But the Russian people have already given to the human race something not often recognised but infinitely valuable: a lesson in how to live. I mean the idea of the circle of friends. Many Russians I know start from the assumption that friendship, not love, is the most important and enduring relationship in life. Love, that "monster", imperiously and unpredictably comes and goes. Only a fool, in dangerous times, would build his or her life on the premise that love is lasting, although it sometimes is.
So there arise these circles of friends. They comprise men and women, though my impression is that women predominate. They can be quite institutionalised: meeting one evening a week in the apartment of one member, in an informal rotation. There is gossip and good talk, cakes and tea and - even in the temperance years of Gorbachov, where a bottle of spirits can cost a third of a week's wages and two hours in the queue - vodka or Georgian brandy.
And the obligations of such a circle are awesome. Here, you will speak the truth and will never inform on what is spoken; here, you take an unspoken engagement to do all in your power to help your friends in whatever their troubles may be. Only a few decades ago, that meant that when they were taken away in the small hours of the night, you would decide which of you would bring up their children.
Into this circle, a member will anxiously introduce a lover, a spouse, even a visiting foreign friend. They are made welcome, but many do not stay the course. That matters, of course; there may be tears and temporary ruptures. But it is allowed for.
Like so many aspects of Russia, this is a tradition older than the Revolution but given a new intensity and sacredness by the tears of terror. It challenges the whole development of Western society, moving steadily towards the isolated nuclear marriage, the 'little boxes' way of life, the relentless insistence on the sexually-based bond between two individuals as the basic particle of human existence. Churches, advertising agencies, architects, car dealers, popular newspapers and Ministers of the Crown have come to stake all their propaganda on the supremacy of two-person love.
And what would happen to them all if we were converted by the Russians, and came to believe that friendships carried the load of normal life, while love was a longer or shorter holiday? That would be a comedy. The Churches would grow apostolic again. Advertisers would reclassify diamonds as for now, not forever. The Sun would expose Prince Charming for cheating on his friends.
The State and its ministers would be at their wits' end. For they would be obliged to praise fraternity, and do something about it. No modern State fancies that, and not even the Soviet Union. Every government, of whatever complexion, prefers to rule a people who have been broken down, stage by stage, from tribes to clans and then to couples, from independent trade unions through factory councils to pairs of consumers in a council house.
In a different sense, fraternity and its brother equality (liberty, in spite of the slogan, is a friend but not a relation) are one of the worst problems that Gorbachov faces. He would like Russian workers to be competitive, to exult in high pay for skilled work. The trouble is that what is sniffily called 'primitive Communism' has always had a moral appeal for Russian workers. The idea of everyone earning much the same appeals to their sense of equality and fraternity. This attitude is much scolded as the sin of uravnilovka - Utopian levelling. Many Russians, all the same, continue to suspect that a man who gets far higher wages than his mates is a disloyal jerk.
In Britain, 1988 promises to be a trying year. The rich will rise higher over the poor; London's power and wealth will cast an even longer shadow; the State will extend its command of life. Although there is more uravnilovka lurking in the British heart than many suppose, it will be a bad year for fraternity. Some pompous commemorations - the Armada, the Glorious Revolution - will pretend otherwise. Meanwhile, my wish for Observer readers is: loyal friends.
Neal Ascherson, The Observer 3.1.1988

We get together at funerals and weddings. I've started to even find funerals quite pleasant experiences. That seems a bit odd, but you get to see a lot of people that you’ve not seen since the last funeral, and you find you're having a good time seeing everyone again. It connects up the family fabric, in a way which is probably necessary after part of it has suddenly become missing.
Alan Moore, interview, 2.11.2014

The future is worse than the ocean - there is nothing there. It will be what men and circumstances make it.
Ascribed to Alexander Herzen by Neal Ascherson, The Independent on Sunday 17.2.1991; from Herzen's From the Other Shore?

In the 20th century we have the Future in a very big way, and I don't think we have that in the 21st century, we just have the lower case indeterminate ever going forward future. In the 20th century, the '21st century' was a very dynamic term and was used a great deal - in the 21st century we never mention the 22nd century, and culturally that's very significant.
William Gibson, Guardian webchat, 24.11,2013

The Erinyes (Furies) or Eumenides (soothed ones):

  • Alecto: the Unceasing
  • Megaera: the Grudging
  • Tisiphone: the Avenging

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