Forgotten at last…

It must have been difficult enough for those blokes back in 1874 when they were trying to set the type for Bohn’s Classical Library; not only did they have to cope with back-to-front letters, but nearly every page carries a footnote or three, often including Greek script. Did they receive special training in how to understand Greek, or was there an eager brigade of proof-readers ready to inspect the printed sheets and identify any mistakes?

And even the bits that are not Greek seem vaguely foreign; I have forgotten nearly everything I learned at school, but I am absolutely certain that we never encountered the term ‘zeugma’.

Once I think it would have been a vivid green, but all the years have laid grey dust in close-up constellations of the unseen mystery. I bought the book back in 1980 from Treasure Trove, a ramshackle warehouse of old books and plates and ornaments. I recall there seemed to be a lot of hardback novels by Augusta Wilson and Philip Gibbs, along with physical chemistry textbooks.

But the book I decided to purchase was Bohn’s edition of Homer’s Odyssey; I knew nothing about this work other than it was a cornerstone of Western thought, and felt that my life would be improved in some vague manner if I were to own a copy.

When we got home I started browsing through the book, and immediately found it to be hard going – partly because it was a literal translation, designed expressly for scholars with a deep interest in Classics – and also because it had not been fully cut, and several of the pages were still joined together.
Not thinking of the possible damage to the historical value of this volume, I took our mild-steel carving knife and set about opening up the pages. Alas, after this I lost interest and put the book in a shelf where it remained, unread, for years.

I recently picked it up again and came across the brief section in book IX where the crew of Ulysses’ ship arrive at the island of the lotus-eaters and are seduced by the narcotic blooms.
How many layers of meaning lie hidden in this narrative, I wondered? And then I remembered that Tennyson had written a poem all about this episode, where the sailors give voice to their loneliness and fatigue, explaining the appeal of forgetfulness. As well as the hypnotic lotus flowers, Tennyson mentions amaranth and moly, two plants with legendary medicinal properties; the restorative herb moly appears in book X of the Odyssey.

Amaranth refers to a synthetic dyestuff, but the actual pigment contained in the petals of the amaranth flower is usually a betalain, consisting of a glucose unit bonded to a base then via an azo linkage to a betalamic acid derivative. The various different functional groups attached to this structure give rise to yellow, crimson, or violet pigments. These materials are currently being studied for their antioxidant properties.

Tennyson’s sailors end their narrative by resigning to a life of ease and happiness; but in Homer, we find the men dragged back to the ships where they gradually recover their senses and smite the hoary sea with their oars, ready to encounter the Cyclops and the glorious dwelling of Circe.
Curious, then to recall that many of the pages of this book were still sealed when I bought it; for, looking through the chapters I found some ancient handwritten notes. The book had also been owned by Jean Harris, at the University of Birmingham; I wondered if she had bothered reading the book and found the unopened sections, but did not wish to damage the structure.

Covid-19 update, 01 July 2020:
UK: 313 thousand cases, 43,900 deaths
US: 2.74 million cases, 130,000 deaths

Perhaps the vaccine, when it arrives, will allow us to forget the horrors of the past, the long-term respiratory damage and neurological disorders caused by the coronavirus, the induced coma state endured by patients on ventilators and the agony of being transformed into swine during their drug-flavoured nightmares…

Context and future context

Looking through the Bohn edition of Homer’s Odyssey, we find that nearly every page carries footnotes, often to explain the difficulties in translating the original text but sometimes to post a reference to later commentaries; a few of the footnotes compare sections of Paradise Lost with the body of Homer’s work. But this overlooks the fact that Milton would seem like an alien being to the ancient Greeks.

In the same way, perhaps the reported numbers of Covid-19 cases should always carry a contextual note to explain how many infections (and fatalities) have been measured per head of population.
Some people would say that, to aid simplicity, the infection rates should always be reported as numbers per thousand head of population so that we can compare different countries. However, extracting the raw data then becomes a problem and it is not easy to identify the source of any errors in the calculated numbers.

Many years ago, my research project involved measuring the bond strength of adhesive joints, and I reported the results as being failure loads in kN, having already described the joint configuration.

Some colleagues pointed out that this was not consistent with other published reports, since most researchers in this field would quote failure loads in MPa, dividing the failure load by the surface area. This appears to be a sensible idea, since it would allow the results from different project to be compared. However, the standard lap-joint undergoes eccentric loading and differential strain, which means that the stress is highly concentrated at the edges of the bonded area.

Perhaps every research paper should be revisited after five years, to see whether the results have been supported or dismissed by the work of later project teams; my own work would carry footnotes to advise that the primer systems I studied have now been replaced by eco-friendly versions using water-borne emulsions and chlorine-free polymers. And after a few years, other commercial organisations might be able to publish their own private results, demonstrating that they had already been engaged on similar research. This information could be added to the text of the original research paper in the form of a subsequent footnote.

So it is correct that the number of Covid-19 cases needs to be placed in context, by reporting the population from which they are taken; but merging the data would impair our ability to analyse the figures and formulate an effective response.

BLM Protests, UK 2020

This piece by Mathilda Mallinson (Evening Standard, 5 June 2020) perfectly sums up the background to the current situation in the UK:
“Since the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis last week, protests decrying systematic racism have spread across the US and around the globe.

Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minnesota, died after an incident on May 25 in which a police officer was caught on camera kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. He was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Former officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder, while the three other officers involved – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao – have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In disturbing video footage that went viral after his death, Mr Floyd repeatedly said “I can’t breathe.” These three words have now been used in protest graffiti and banners wielded by BlackLivesMatter demonstrators, who began protesting in the US last week.

The unrest has since grown violent, as US riot police fire tear gas canisters and bean-bag rounds at the activists. Looters have joined the crowds, several officers have been disciplined for excessive use of force, and journalists including CNN’s Omar Jimenez have been arrested while attempting to cover events.
The campaign has been picked up around the world, reaching London and the rest of the UK.”

Journal entry, 6 June 2020

Although the country is still under partial lockdown due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, huge crowds gathered in London to demonstrate outside the American Embassy as well as to protest about police brutality in Britain. This behaviour was condemned by some as being likely to hasten the spread of the virus, cases of which have been steadily declining.

Every day we see news footage of the victims of Covid-19, a disease which has an disproportionate impact on members of BAME communities – this is attributed to various factors including housing quality, nutrition, social exclusion policy and being employed in high-risk sectors.

British culture has a background of prevailing whiteness – castaways to the Desert Island on Radio Four’s fantasy music programme are given the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare for literary solace. There must be some individuals for whom these compendia are of marginal significance, and who might prefer a different religious tract; but I have never heard of this idea being raised. Perhaps the format of the show is registered as a legal entity, and permits of no alteration; indeed, by using a uniform structure, it frees the celebrity to discuss their musical choices (and how these reflect their lives and careers) without having to explain everything.

There are numerous instances of police brutality directed against black individuals, as well as the more insidious discrimination: when two senior academics gave on-screen contributions to BBC Question Time, the white male (Hugh Pennington) was afforded the title of Professor. The black female participant was tagged as ‘Donna Kinnair’, overlooking the fact that she is also a Professor. And a Dame of the British Empire. It would have taken the programme researcher about thirty seconds to locate her academic profile and give a more accurate picture of the discussion.
And one caller to Radio 4 pointed out that the umbrella term ‘BAME’ lumps together groups with different racial or cultural origins, thus leaving diminished their individual identities.

Update, 7 June 2020:

Well, fancy that. I was listening to Desert Island Discs – the socially-isolated game show for all the family – featuring popular finance guru Martin Lewis as the castaway.

Near the beginning of the show, he admitted to presenter Lauren Laverne that he didn’t have much interest in music and had never collected records. Oh dear, I thought, this doesn’t promise to be a riveting show. But then he picked Adam and the Ants ‘Stand and Deliver’ which seems remarkably apt for a financial campaigner. And then he related the story of how he interviewed Mick Jagger backstage at Wembley Stadium (before enjoying the show and VIP hospitality afterwards).

And, since he’s Jewish, Laverne asked him what book he would choose: ‘You will get the complete works of Shakespeare and The Bible, or the Torah if you’d prefer’ – which is the first time I have ever heard this kind of concession mentioned.

Journal entry, 9 June 2020:

The coronavirus pandemic drama carries on in the UK. It has now been decided that, contrary to earlier announcements, Primary schools will not be able to open before September. Non-essential retail stores, closed for about twelve weeks, will be allowed to resume trading next week. Leisure facilities such as theme parks and pubs with beer gardens are also expected to get the green light. The virus is in retreat, so we can all relax and start having a normal social life again.

In late May, various regions of the US began lifting their quarantine restrictions and were warned that this risked a flare-up of the virus.

Arizona, North Carolina and California have all reported an increase of over 1000 new cases per day, and these numbers will probably rise sharply over the coming weeks following the mass demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd.

The death toll in the US now stands at 110,000. Meanwhile, in the UK, there have been 40,800 official deaths – but it is generally accepted that the true figure is at least 51,000 based on the excess death count. And in an attempt to protect British citizens, it has been announced that all new arrivals from abroad will have to self-isolate for two weeks – except for travellers from Ireland.

Across the UK, huge protest marches have taken place in support of the Black Lives Matter equality movement; angry demonstrators pulled down the statue of Edward Colston and dumped it in Bristol harbour. Colston was born in 1636 and became enormously wealthy from trading in commodities and slaves, building schools and hospitals and churches. The citizens of Bristol have campaigned for years to have his statue removed or amended with a slightly less fulsome, cloying tribute.

In October 2019, the Evening Standard announced that the University of Bristol had appointed a professor of slavery history to examine its links to colonialism.
Professor Olivette Otele will begin the role in January and will carry out two years of research into Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade.

The university says it will then decide how to acknowledge its past links with colonialism, which could include making a public apology. But the professor seems to have had her thunder stolen by the decisive action of an angry mob. Our prime minister – not the most conspicuous supporter of race equality – eventually broke cover to condemn the protest marches as being ‘subverted by thuggery’. He probably felt a pang of nostalgia, harking back to those halcyon days when the wealthy chaps of Bullingdon could swagger through Oxford, smashing up restaurants and leaving a trail of broken glass in the streets.

Korona-Kolored Katastrophe

25 May 2020: A storm erupted yesterday when it emerged that Dominic Cummings, ruthless political Svengali behind the Conservative party’s election triumph, had ignored government guidelines and travelled from London to Durham whilst suffering from the symptoms of Covid-19. The ‘guidelines’ were generally viewed as commandments rather than suggestions.

At exactly the moment (in March) when Boris was telling the nation that we all had to stay at home, and that people with symptoms should avoid any contact with anybody else, Dom and his wife and child travelled 250 miles to stay near his parents’ house.

Oddly enough, when his wife wrote an article for the Spectator magazine she failed to mention this epic journey, instead telling us all that they had spent a miserable fortnight stuck in the house, eventually setting out to find London eerily deserted like the set of a zombie apocalypse.

The public – along with politicians of all shades – were furious at this revelation, and demanded an explanation. Some people had spotted Dom’s presence up north and alerted the police, who confirmed that they had ‘spoken to an individual’ to confirm the importance of correct social distancing.

The prime minister’s office was having none of this wishy-washy letterbox-tank-top-bumboy nonsense, and went on the offensive, declaring that Cummings was concerned for the welfare of his child and that his actions were completely justified. Oddly enough, they also claimed that he had not been spoken to by the police in County Durham. (This is a bit like saying that ‘I didn’t break the window – I may have thrown the pebble, but it was the pebble that actually broke the window’)

The Prime Minister himself held the daily press briefing (usually chaired by a senior minister or medical officer) and announced that Cummings had behaved in a responsible manner and had not broken any laws, and would not be facing any disciplinary measures.

Cummings is well known as a provocative figure who enjoys radical debate – one of the advisers he recruited (Andrew Sabisky) had to be speedily dismissed after their interest in eugenics became public knowledge. But he understands how to use political messaging to manipulate the opinion of the electorate, and thus deliver shock results in referendums. And he regards everybody else – taxpayers, police officers, MPs on the Select Committee – as being ignorant and worthless.

Today’s Covid statistics – US, 1.67 million cases, 98 thousand deaths.

UK, 260 thousand cases, 36 thousand deaths.

Later: In a remarkable development, Dominic Cummings has given a press conference – this is normally done by cabinet ministers or heads of state, not by unelected advisers. It seems to have been another demonstration of his limitless contempt for convention and authority. Instead of expressing contrition or regret, he cheerfully informed us that yes, he had driven up to Durham (without stopping for fuel) and then decided to go for a drive in Castle Barnard (because he couldn’t see properly) and he considers his behaviour to be entirely reasonable. The story has more plot holes than a Bruce Willis film, but everybody seems quite happy with it. Apart from those individuals who had to stay under lockdown, unable to comfort ill friends or relatives at the very end of their lives.

Broken Ruler

I only did what I considered to be right;
But a faceless man thinks that he alone can charge
Me with committing a sin; don’t you believe
Me? Surely only someone with a heart of stone
Would punish me for being kind, you must be aware
That destiny will always be to me a heavy load.

My mind holds a gun that I’m ready to load
With silver bullets that show I’m on the side of right
While enemies hide in echo-chambers, still aware
That I’ll be waiting for them when they charge
Through the waiting trees with leaves of stone
To strike against the fool who wants them to believe.

You can’t expect the public to believe
These lame excuses, shimmering ideas, a load
Of finely-graduated legalistic puns. They’ll stone
You when they find out just how right
They were, and how many lies the man in charge
Dumped on the state to keep us unaware.

The testament of parallax remains aware
While anxious friends and relatives outside the gate believe
The prisoner is hypnotised, a bold electric charge
Will drive his nerves and heart to overload
Until they crack; although we’re doing what we think is right
The content of the message is defeated by its tone.

He wears his learning like a precious stone
Designed to dazzle and distract the people who might be aware
Of where they are. Galvanised young men demand the right
To climb inside the chambers they believe
Will keep them safe and let each one shed his load
Until at last the catalyst takes charge.

We’ll never understand why he was left in charge
Of all the living circuit-boards and stone
Chrysanthemums that overlapped and magnetised the load
While turning galaxies embraced the pole, aware
That to succeed you only need to make a fool believe
That he who has the power has the right.

Roll away the stone’, the virus said; ‘Let’s get it right!
And so the load, despairing of the man in charge
Became aware that he can never share the tenets we believe.



Of course, the only real cure for novel coronavirus 19 is to be placed in a steel tank under eighteen atmospheres of Hydroxychloroquine vapour and then ignited.

11 April 20: The epidemic of Covid-19 continues to sweep across Europe and the US. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has accused NHS workers of using too much of the protective clothing supplied, which has given rise to a shortage of PPE.

Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick has been criticised for travelling to visit his elderly parents – although he claimed that he was delivering urgent medical supplied.
He also travelled from London to Herefordshire, and told the Daily Mail: “My house in Herefordshire is the place I, my wife and my young children consider to be our family home and my family were there before any restrictions on travel were announced.”
But his children attend school in London, and his website declares that he lives in London and Southwell. Perhaps he is a quantum being, who manages to simultaneously occupy two separate dwellings in order to fulfil his constituency post and also to qualify for mortgage relief on second homes.

This slippery behaviour has enraged social media commentators, who point out that ordinary people would be stopped and fined for driving 40 miles to deliver groceries. We also had the pleasure of watching Home Secretary Priti Patel addressing a press conference and carefully telling reporters that she was sorry if the public felt that there had been failings in the Cabinet’s performance.
Meanwhile, the UK has 78,991 cases of Covid-19 and there have been 9,875 deaths. Fatalities in the US now exceed 20,000.

12 April 2020: Easter Sunday!

Got up this morning and read some Wordsworth, then watched the final scene of ‘Parsifal’ on YouTube.
Outside in the garden the two lonely daffodils have turned brown and dry, the force no longer through the green fuse drives. But the trees are starting to sprout leaves, and the lawn is sprinkled with daisy-points of light. Although society is constrained by the Covid-19 epidemic (no mass gatherings, no pubs, no football games, no race-meetings, no weddings or a funeral) everything is starting to wake up and reach out towards a more hopeful tomorrow.

In the news: another 737 deaths have been reported from the disease, bringing the UK total to 10612. Among the casualties was comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor who kept people laughing wildly during his appearances on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’.

Talking of people not having a clue, the hapless Alok Sharma (Business Secretary) was on Sophy Ridge’s show this morning and he said: “I’m sorry if people feel they have not been able to get the right equipment.” Then he emitted a series of random, robotic platitudes which appeared to have no connection with the question he had just been asked.

Monday 13 April 2020: Bank Holiday Monday. It is a bright cold day in April, and my watch says it is 13:42. Outside, the two lonely daffodils are still brown and withered in the sunshine. The prime minister has been discharged from hospital and is recovering at Chequers.
Fortunately, he will not need to sign on to claim Universal Credit while he is away from work, since UK members of Parliament have just approved a £10,000 increase to their expenses budget in order to help with the costs of working away from Westminster. Every little helps!

Each day we are given an update on the Covid-19 statistics, with a breakdown of how many new cases have been diagnosed and how many people have died. However, the death toll only measures those victims who were in hospital; elderly (and younger) people who died in the community or in care homes will not be included, unless they had conspicuous symptoms or were later diagnosed with the virus.

To keep myself amused I go online to wallow in Die Frau Ohne Schatten. Why did Hofmannsthal decide to make Barak a dyer? (And why did Claus Guth decide that he could change this to a tanner, in the 2014 London production of the work?)

Perhaps the alchemy of the dyeing process was what enchanted the librettist, the mysterious reaction between two or three white powders that become transformed into a shocking elixir of red or violet. The blank innocence of white cotton could become something bold and urgent, a statement of intent or possibility.

During the musical sequences for Barak, I imagine long coloured skeins emerging from a vat and then billowing out on stage to reveal a huge curtain decorated with the atom tree scaffolding of quinacridone or imidazole dyes. Of course, as every opera-lover knows, the chemicals that go to produce dyestuffs and pigments are also used in the preparation of antibiotics and drugs.

‘When the white eagle meets the red falcon, will their dance be weak or strong?’

I wrote that in a notebook in 1987, about seven years before I travelled to Rome and witnessed a kestrel hovering above the Coliseum, calling out in high-pitched urgency.

Today’s death toll for Covid-19 is 717, bringing the UK total to 11329. Each day we hear the numbers, abstract points on a chart reaching gradually onwards and upwards; but these are not just figures, they are people. Many of the victims are nursing staff – they are the people we can least afford to lose.

Two weeks ago it was announced that Tottenham Hotspur, one of the UK’s wealthiest football clubs (which is saying something) indicated that they were planning to use taxpayer-funded subsidy to replace their wage bill for non-playing staff. This provoked a storm of protest, and the club relented. After the dust settles in a few months’ time, we will start to look at the absurd rules governing the UK tax system – after all, there is no point in allowing somebody to claim tax relief on their income if they have an eight-figure bank balance.

Where are we?
It’s 6 May – on Friday it will be my third anniversary of starting work, and normally we would all head off to the pub for a drink and a snack to celebrate. But because the nation is in a state of lockdown, all the pubs are closed, people are banned from taking unnecessary journeys by road, and most of us have been told to work from home.

In the news: last week the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has announced that the UK had managed to meet their target of 100,000 Covid-19 infection tests per day by the end of April.
A closer scrutiny of these figures shows that the total includes not just lab-processed tests but also testing kits which had been posted out to hospitals and individual households.

In the news: Professor Neil Ferguson, epidemiologist at Imperial College, has stepped down from his role as government advisor. His department formulated the models, based on which, Boris told the UK to stop going out and stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
However, the Prof is currently engaged in a secret romantic liaison with a married woman who was spotted visiting him at home. In a way, it is nice to see that high-ranking scientists are real human beings and not just cold, rational droids; but this was a bit too much and he had to go.

Latest official corona fatalities: UK, 29500      US, 71000

7 May: normally we would be given the first Monday in May as a Bank Holiday, but since it is the 75th anniversary of the end of the second World War, the holiday has been shifted to Friday 8 May, to commemorate the exact date of VE day.

Last year the government website announced this amendment, adding that it would provide an opportunity for street parties and special events in thousands of pubs and restaurants round the UK. Alas, there may be a few sparse gatherings in parks; but all pubs are firmly shut and no mass celebrations will be allowed.

A couple of weeks back it was announced that a large consignment of surgical gowns, masks and other items of PPE was being sent to the UK from Turkey (healthcare workers have complained about shortages of equipment). The delivery was postponed, so the RAF sent a plane to retrieve the goods. They arrived today and on inspection were found to be below the required safety and quality standards.

Latest official corona fatalities: UK, 30076         US, 74581





Corona Citadel Gazette


Ambient Coronaphobia

And at this point the integral converged; a thousand flames
Had faded out, the darkness sweeping carefully
Towards the cells where we’d been told to hide. Give us

This day our daily bleach, the sun will echo off the rocks
And keep us in the quarry. I don’t believe the virus
Knew how much it hurt, how many lives destroyed

It took away the ones we loved, but left the bodies –
Too many men to burn or bury, with sleeping smiles
And frozen gestures lying on the walls of stone

Beneath the relics of a dying sun.

Pages from the Corona Citadel Gazette

4 April 2020: The official death toll in the UK from Covid-19 is now 4313, 31 days after the first death was reported. However, it is likely that this figure will be revised upwards as further details emerge of infected people who died outside the health system and thus went unrecorded.

Around the UK, a new telecoms system called 5G – which enables higher-quality data transmission – is being rolled out at various sites, but there are rumours circulating on t’internet that these mast antennae are actually causing the symptoms of Covid-19 infection. Accordingly, disgruntled citizens are setting fire to them.

Today was scheduled to be the Grand National at Aintree, the premier event in the UK racing calendar. Like all major sporting events, the race was cancelled; however, a ‘virtual race’ has been created using performance algorithms to predict the speed and endurance of a field of top-flight horses.

The Eurovision Song Contest has also been cancelled, although it might be worth proceeding with a ‘blind’ version of this event. Each country could be invited to submit their song entry anonymously. The judging panel would then be spared the embarrassing ritual of awarding twelve points to their political allies, and instead could rate each performance on its artistic merit.

In autumn 2019, a BBC thriller called The Capture, by Ben Chanan, depicted a corrupt police system where artificial video footage is created to link villains to their actual crimes. This was explained as being a correction – the persons involved did actually commit the crimes, but the evidence was obtained by unlawful means and so not admissible.

Now that the world seems to be reliant on remote technology, we might expect a host of fictitious encounters to be concocted and broadcast. We have already seen the Prime Minister at the Cenotaph, his clumsy behaviour replaced by archive footage showing him being distinguished and statesmanlike.

Emily. Sometimes at work I have a customer who declares her name to be ‘Emily’. I am always tempted to ask ‘Floyd or Zombies?’ but most people under the age of forty would struggle to understand.

5 April 2020: To deal with the huge numbers of expected casualties from the Covid-19 pandemic, a field hospital has been assembled in the Excel exhibition centre down in London. Like much of the capital, this massive trade fair space is owned by a Middle-Eastern organisation (in this case, Abu Dhabi exhibitions) and the NHS is paying millions of pounds each month in rent.

Back in 1988, I explored the characteristics of abraded polyprop. We had two grades available for study; a rubber-toughened black plastic, and a slightly harder ethylene-propylene copolymer. Each of these was abraded in a uniform manner using a range of silicon-carbide papers, ranging from 120 mesh to 1200 mesh. The micro-roughness of each surface was then measured using a ‘Talysurf’ motorised stylus. The roughness profile (average peak height) was plotted against 1/(mesh size), and we ended up with two gentle curves which crossed over.

Perhaps the intersection was a point of optimum roughness; we found that wet abrasion (through a layer of primer solution) always gave better adhesive bonds than dry abraded plastic, regardless of the roughness. Because of this, we concluded that some aspect of the process was completely overriding the physical roughness effect.

f'(y,t) = (x+ai)(y+bi) – (x^0.372+mi)(y^0.372+ni)

Where y is the average roughness profile, a and b are the hardness values of the polymers, and m and n are the solubility parameters of the two polymers.

The centre of Manchester has fallen quiet, as pubs and restaurants and cinemas are all closed by order of HM Government. In Canal Street, some of the venues have boarded up their windows to prevent opportunist thieves. I recall seeing a picture in Via which looked exquisitely clever, and which I would love to steal if I thought I could get away with it…

The picture shows a neatly stylised face, photographed in B-and-W, with elegant shadows. Parts of this face have been amended by including round stencils which carry sections of the same photo, with volume parameters governed by the equation:

f’(r,θ) = (g+ai)(h+bi) – (g^0.815+pi)(h^0.815+qi)

Where r is the average grey scale density, g and h are the horizontal and vertical coordinates, and p and q are the length of curved lines between regions of high contrast. The image has been constructed using overlapping regions of metallic pigment film, giving an illusion of depth and shifting texture,

Holy water is the supreme vaccine? Religion is vitally important nowadays: passing your exams will get you a well-paid job, but Holy Communion will get you entry to Paradise.

DUP councillor John Carson, from Ballymena, County Antrim claimed that the coronavirus outbreak is God’s punishment on the UK government for allowing gay marriage and abortion to be legalised.

Conservative Tennessee preacher Perry Stone made exactly the same arguments, as did Iraqi Shia political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. And in Russia, huge crowds of believers queued for hours to kiss the relics of St John at St Petersburg, firmly convinced that viral diseases are unable to harm anyone inside a consecrated building.
In another story from a few years back, we heard how a primary school headteacher has been mocked on Twitter after claiming that evolution was “a theory” and there was “more evidence that the Bible is true”.

Christina Wilkinson, of St Andrew’s Church of England school in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, made the remarks in a tweet responding to London headteacher Tom Sherrington, who urged teachers to stick to science when teaching the origins of life.

“Evolution is not a fact. That’s why it’s called a theory! There’s more evidence that the Bible is true.” Christina Wilkinson, Headmistress of St Andrew’s C-of-E Primary School, Ostwaldwhistle.

Evidence? What evidence? Kids LOVE dinosaurs – and this woman wants to deprive them of the drama and excitement of the early archaeologists, and the fantasies of Jurassic Park, and the splendid treasures in the Natural History Museum…

Amid criticism and calls for her to resign on Twitter, Wilkinson issued a statement saying: “I’d like to make it clear that we teach the full national curriculum in school and that our pupils receive a fully rounded education.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, the warm weather has lured sun-worshippers to parks around the country, prompting the health secretary to threaten that outdoor exercise of any kind would be banned if people carried on flouting the rules.

‘Vanishing Lung Syndrome’ by Miroslav Holub

(Text copied from ‘poetic orphanage’ on the snarkattack-gracenotes blog: poem published by Faber and Faber, 1990)

Once in a while somebody fights for breath.
He stops, getting in everyone’s way.
The crowd flows around, muttering
about the flow of crowds,
but he just fights for breath.

Inside there may be growing
a sea monster within a sea monster,
a black, talking bird,
a raven Nevermore that
can’t find a bust of Athena
to perch on and so just grows
like a bullous emphysema with cyst development,
fibrous masses and lung hypertension.

Inside there may be growing
a huge muteness of fairy tales,
the wood-block baby that gobbles up everything,
father, mother, flock of sheep,
dead-end road among fields,
screeching wagon and horse,
I’ve eaten them all and now I’ll eat you,
while scintigraphy shows
a disappearance of perfusion, and angiography
shows remnants of arterial branches
without the capillary phase.

Inside there may be growing
an abandoned room,
bare walls, pale squares where pictures hung,
a disconnected phone,
feathers settling on the floor
the encyclopaedists have moved out and
Dostoevsky never found the place,

lost in the landscape
where only surgeons
write poems.

Translated from Czech by David Young and Dana Habova

5 April 2020: Today’s figures reveal that a further 621 people have died from coronavirus in the past 24 hours. And the Scottish chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, has been fiercely warning members of the public not to make any unnecessary journeys or go out in public without good reason.

Meanwhile, Calderwood decided to drive over to check on her second home in Fife, and has been warned by police against such conduct. Oddly enough, les gendarmes didn’t slap her with a sixty-quid fine like they would with anybody else caught doing the same thing.

Corona City Chronicles

Corona city Chronicles

An angry mob descends upon
The supermarket; it’s every woman for herself
Eager to collect
She pulls the packets and the tins
That represent security, until at last
The powder-coated shelf begins to yawn
With unaccustomed emptiness.

With elegant restraint, this parasite
Brings into play the polished enzyme fangs
That fill with dryness each infected cell
Until at last the shelves are bare
And membranes find there’s nothing left to sell.

The supermarket keeps a chart of
Throbbing coloured lines and numbered boxes
On the wall; the manager is quietly assured
That competition will not be allowed
To interfere. We must proceed, organic growth
And structured desecration of the host
Until the angry mob obeys the call.

Dennison Arkwell, ‘Unseen Words’

The three works by Arkwell which make up this show were created in 2016-17 for the Hamburg Science Festival, and take as their theme the aesthetic possibilities of microbiology.

Agar nutrient plates were prepared by depositing a pattern of selective preservative compounds before seeding them with dust collected from historical printed volumes. The books were picked at random from the repair catalogue at Rylands library, and a vacuum-brush with pleated polyester filter units to retain the particles of forgotten organic material.

In the piece ‘System Nine’ we find seven icons arranged about the three petri dishes – a portrait of the explorer, enlarged pictures of the cultivated microbes harvested from his books, a DNA sequence slide and some FTIR and NMR spectra for the biocidal preservatives.

‘Voices’ is a series of narratives created by schoolchildren. They were given pictures of the petri dish assemblies and invited to speculate on what the images might actually represent. Proposed identities ranged from remote planets and moons, to impact sites and the eggs of exotic insects.

‘Floating Sundials’ depicts an artificial lily-pond with petri dishes floating on the water; an extended spine juts from each one, its shadow giving a dishonest and untrustworthy measure of time.

Under the Counter Culture immersive art installation opens its doors

Corona City Chronicles
21 March 2020: It’s Saturday morning – normally I would be waking up in Andy’s spare room ready to walk across Manchester (we are required to carry out one Saturday shift from 8.00 to 4.00 every fourth week).
But today am at home, because the world is in the grip of Covid-19, a coronavirus first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The outbreak turned into an epidemic, Chinese authorities banned travel and shut down industry and leisure facilities.
Then cases began appearing in Europe and the UK, people started panic-buying groceries and leaving supermarket shelves completely bare.
This virus is severe towards anybody with underlying health problems – and since I was diagnosed five years ago with emphysema, following a chest x-ray, I have been allowed to work from home using a Surface Pro laptop to conduct webchat enquiries.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (!) has been relentlessly cheerful and optimistic but last night he caved in and ordered the closure of pubs, cinemas, nightclubs and restaurants in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Normally I would wake up at Andy’s, make us each a cup of tea and watch the news before going out to work. The city was always so peaceful in the early morning light. The news programme we watched would include a film review by Mark Kermode, which Andy hated (‘What gives him the right to tell us whether a film is good or not?’) so the nationwide closure of picture houses has one good effect, at least.

Outside, it’s a dull grey morning – the daffodils came up in the garden about three weeks ago, but only two of them have flowered. Very odd. Usually we have four bunches, each with five or six blooms. Last year I photographed them, and noticed that the flowers had appeared four weeks earlier than the same plants the previous year.
Back in July 2018, I went with Paul down to South Wales to visit Malcolm, who I hadn’t seen for about sixteen years. We spent a very enjoyable weekend visiting the beach, St David’s, and the Dylan Thomas boathouse in Laugharne.
But nowadays, to cheer us all up in this state of quarantine, the BBC ended the news broadcast with a clip of Cerys Matthews reading from ‘Under Milk Wood’.
Malcolm passed away in May 2019, so this audio clip brought bittersweet memories.
And today is World Poetry Day, an event that has been pushed into the background by the unfolding global drama. On his wordpress blog, Peter Coles posted Byron’s verse about Solitude.

22 March 2020: Mothering Sunday – normally you would treat your mum to a meal out at a restaurant and buy her some flowers and a big box of chocolates.
However, since the UK is now in a state of virus lockdown, socialising is prohibited. Pubs are closed and some restaurants are trying to survive on take-away business. And a real gesture of affection would be to give your mother some toilet rolls and liquid soap, since these items have been stripped from the shelves during the panic.
Yesterday I spent about eight hours working from home. Around me were a few small shelves, loaded with the books I have collected over the years and not touched for a long time…Women in Love, Nancy Cunard, Howard’s End, Iron John, Paradise Lost, The Secret History etc.

Two weeks ago, everything in the UK was fairly relaxed. So what if other countries in Europe were closing schools and cancelling sporting fixtures? We don’t need to panic – Johnny Foreigner might overreact when a few elderly folk succumb to the flu, but we are made of sterner stuff.
So Boris decided to announce that schools and universities would remain open, and major sporting occasions would go ahead as planned. The Cheltenham Racing Festival attracted huge crowds, and the St Patrick’s Day parade in Manchester was allowed to take place, despite nearly every other city in the world agreeing to suspend celebrations.
But now, everything is quiet.
During the past thirty years I’ve had several spells of unemployment when I have been forced to remain indoors, unable to socialise due to lack of funds.
And I wonder if that experience has prepared me to cope with this programme of isolation that we’re all having to endure?
The latest advice from the government is now that people should avoid socialising – don’t go out, don’t go to the park, don’t go shopping.
I very rarely make use of my Spiriva inhaler, but now that we are all in lockdown I have requested some capsules – the active ingredient, tiotropium bromide, is 86p per dose in the UK but 13 dollars in the US.

23 March 2020: Yesterday, we tidied the spare bedroom for me to use as an office when working from home. I moved the bookcase and noticed a 10p piece, so I picked it up, then carried on vacuuming.
Later on I went out for a walk, keeping a safe two metres between me and the couple who were out walking their dogs. Lovely sunny evening, birdsong, vast open fields of the Chat Moss where the local council is planning to permit the building of 1600 new homes.
I took the coin from my pocket and found it was actually Icelandic kroner, left over from Paul’s trip to Canada four years ago.
Thirty-five years ago on March 23 I went to a concert in London; walking up the hill towards the tube station I bumped into my housemate Richard. ‘Here’ he said, offering me his one-day travelcard.
At the QEH I saw the Orpheus Chamber Choir performing Schubert 5 and the Szymanowski Stabat Mater. And then I went for a drink and bumped into Ray at the King’s Arms.

24 March 2020: Yesterday I was on a webchat with an irate customer. Throughout the UK people are being hospitalised, there are businesses closing down and workers losing their jobs. But my irate customer was annoyed because his pensions were being wrongly taxed – he had an income of fifty-three thousand pounds a year from pensions.
Meanwhile my boss rang me to ask if everything was okay. ‘Are you living with your elderly mother?’ he asked.
No, I said: my mother died many years ago. I wonder if my personnel file at work contains any other outlandish rumours?

26 March 2020: Hurrah! I’m on holiday! When I booked this time off a few months ago I was planning to go to Cornwall. But now the UK is in lockdown – Boris has ordered people to remain indoors at all times except when shopping for essentials, or exercising or travelling to work in the care industries.
While tidying the spare bedroom I came across some long-forgotten items, including my tape cassette of Strauss.
Back in 1990 I travelled to a technical meeting at an institute in Melton, and I listened to the Rosenkavalier Suite about five times during the three train journeys.
The journey home didn’t look too promising – according to the timetable, I was facing a wait of forty minutes at one station and one hour at the other. However, it turned out that most of the trains were running late, so in the end I had to wait only five minutes at each.

“I’ve danced with a boy, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales.”
But not too recently, one hopes – for it was announced on the news that Prince Charles has been diagnosed with Coronavirus. This nanoscopic organism has wrought havoc across the world.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until next year; Glastonbury has been cancelled; decisions are awaited on the Proms and Wimbledon.
Huge numbers of people have been hospitalised due to the virus, and many if them need to be hooked up to a ventilator to support breathing. Because there is now a nationwide shortage of these units, Boris has announced that Dyson (celebrated designer of vacuum-cleaners and hairdryers) will be awarded a contract to supply thousands of ventilators.
However, the government has snubbed offers from existing manufacturers of the units, who could increase production to help save lives.

28 March 2002: On Thursday evening it was announced that PM Boris has tested positive for Covid-19 and is now self-isolating in Downing Street. Bojo is famous for his enthusiastic support for Brexit.
Meanwhile the hated EU has apparently sent an e-mail message to all member states – including the UK – inviting them to join a procurement scheme for medical supplies including the ventilator units.
‘I see no ships.’
The UK claimed that we had never received this message, although the EU said that UK officials had been present at many of the planning meetings where this scheme was discussed.
This morning I shall exercise by trying a few kata (wonder if I can remember the moves?) and listening to Prokoviev Quartet no.2, filled with Baltic folk tunes and middle-Eastern atmosphere.
Outside I can see the two lonely daffodil blooms among their green shoots, which have now been out for five weeks. Very strange. But these are strange times, with the world being overrun by an exotic virus which may (or may not) have originated in a snake which swallowed an infected bat (or the other way round) before ending up in a tasty street-food casserole somewhere in a market in Wuhan.
Chinese authorities responded by blaming the doctors and accusing them of spreading false news, before eventually placing everybody under house arrest and closing down factories (great for air quality readings).
Meanwhile in the UK we have been ‘advised’ to avoid unnecessary travel , but the Brits have never enjoyed being told what to do, and we find people still having parties, playing football and going out for a family barbecue on the moors. A huge moorland blaze near Belmont led to Lancashire and Manchester fire crews being called out. So much for following advice…

29 March 2020: This morning on the Andrew Marr show we had Matt Lucas telling us about a project to supply food directly to NHS key workers, since nurses find the supermarket shelves empty when they finish their shifts. I recall seeing Matt L onstage in ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ at the Lowry several years ago.
And on Russian TV a studio journalist interviewed the Coronavirus itself – a person wearing a huge Residents-type fake head. Which I thought at first was their Eurovision Song Contest entry.
And when it was announced that Boris had been tested positive for Covid, we saw news footage of Dominic Cummings – mad scientist and ruthless political puppeteer – scurrying clumsily away from Downing Street. A few weeks ago Cummings gave a policy briefing and explained the ‘herd immunity’ theory that he claimed would safeguard the UK economy.
Shocked attendees reported later that his speech carried the message that ‘…if some pensioners die, too bad.’
Although the UK is still paralysed by the Coronavirus, we are still viewing and hearing media output based on a world where everybody is still free to travel, meet and mingle without any restrictions.
Popular TV serials like Corrie and Emmerdale routinely feature scenes in pubs and cafes with close gatherings. And talent show programmes have become a bit grim and lifeless now that they no longer have a studio audience to provide hysterical applause to the performers; so they have started broadcasting old episodes under the guise of ‘best of’ compilations.
One show where solitude is perfectly normal is ‘Desert Island Discs’ which today featured Brian Cox (the actor, not the scientist). When he introduced one of his choices as being by ‘the original rock chick’ I was expecting him to play Suzi Quatro, but it turned out to be Chrissie Hynde, performing ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’.
And I remembered when I lived in a children’s home, and on my little transistor radio we heard Kid Jensen telling us about an amazing new band called the Pretenders and their hit single ‘Brass in Pocket’.
If I could have turned to my housemates and told them that forty years from now, this group’s music will be on Radio Four they would have howled with laughter.

Tropical Paradise, Deansgate


homeless poster

Tropical Paradise, Deansgate, June 2017

The seven-twelve to Manchester is always late. I stand among
The other passengers, some of whom I recognise. We board the train and
Sit in silence, reading Patrick White or Susan Hill.

Shot through with defects,
The carriage window brings the passing scenery
Alive with seismic energy.

Meanwhile I arrive in town and make my way to work, passing
Underneath a bridge; a poster advertising beer
Depicts a perfect Caribbean beach where turquoise waves
Deposit their reluctant foam while palm trees elegantly interrupt
The blue horizon.

In bold white letters four feet high
The ad proclaims that “This is Living.” Beneath the poster
Lies a homeless man; we have to wonder how he ended up
Like this, with just a sleeping bag, a barrow
Full of random stuff

And a dog for company. For once he must have been
A boy, whose parents watched him grow and heard him laugh and
Dreamed about the path his life would take. But here
He lies beneath an endless artificial sky; perhaps his career
Included a number of small wrong turns, or maybe
Fell victim to a single bold mistake that cost him
All the happiness that lay in store.

The Virus-Coloured Journey, April 2020

The seven-twelve to Manchester no longer runs; instead
There may or may not arrive a train of length k,
Designed to carry n citizen-units
Distributed randomly between (2n plus 5) carriage seats
To maintain a social antisocial distance p between themselves.

Passengers with nervous gloves decide to prod the carriage doors awake;
We step on board. That’s it, we’re trapped. I try
Not to breathe, or even catch a stranger’s glance, ‘cos everybody knows
Eye contact helps to spread this vile disease.

And, looking down between the trees
We witness empty roads, deserted schools,
The pulsing stream of wagons just a memory. Perhaps

The lack of daily airborne diesel fumes
Allows the silver cannons, as they greet the climbing sun
To sharpen up the sky they hold in place.


From my Journal, Dec 2003

Journal Entry, Monday 15 Dec 2003:
During my lunchbreaks at work I amuse myself by reading tatty secondhand paperbacks. One of these is a 1975 printing (in English) of Gide’s ‘Counterfeiters’.

Now back in ’75 I don’t think I had ever heard of André Gide; if I saw his name in print I would probably have not known how it was pronounced. Just as in 1975, I started attending Thomas Telford High School and found myself working on a ‘Maths Card’ (a set of instructions and questions which kept a class busy without the teacher having to do any work).
Card number 1 was the Sieve of Eratosthenes (which I took to rhyme with ‘greens’, not knowing better). Now how much more enjoyable would maths have been if we were given tutorial sessions which included biography of Eratosthenes and a discussion of Alexandria and the use of prime numbers.

And of course the library at Alexandria was a good deal more impressive than mine at work: a 1934 edition of the Smithsonian Physical Tables, one of Steve Rose’s biochemistry books, and this 28-year old copy of ‘The Counterfeiters’.

Back in 1934 I’m sure the editors of the Physical Tables imagined themselves to be compiling a Grand Encyclopaedia of Science which would stand for three or four centuries with no significant new discoveries being made. (They do mention ‘Pluto’ as being a theoretical, but so far unseen, member of the Solar System.) It has huge charts of melting and boiling points, pressure tables, logarithms and geometric factors all connected with science and engineering.

In March 2014, the Smithsonian Magazine carried an article by Joseph Stromberg about some virus materials recovered from Siberian permafrost which was estimated to be 34 thousand years old. The newly discovered Pithovirus Sibericum works by infecting amoebae, and so is no threat to humans. It would be interesting to slip a short note into the pages of the Physical Tables and send it back to the thirties so that people would be aware of the titanic developments in science that were going to unfold in the next hundred years.
In March 2020, the world is in the grip of a coronavirus pandemic which began in Wuhan, China, before spreading to Europe and America – schools, leisure facilities and many retail outlets have been closed and sporting events cancelled.

Journal Entry, 7 Oct 2016

Well, today I was on the number 67 bus, reading my second-hand paperback copy of ‘The Counterfeiters’ and listening to Dame Janet Baker (Ravel and Berlioz) on my Hitachi MP3 player.

I had forgotten how cynical and rude that book is. It wasn’t a popular popular novel – in the way that the Three Musketeers is.  Dumas’ output was eagerly consumed by British schoolboys, and so had to be sanitised in the English translations. But Gide was free to let rip, with lurid innuendo, dissecting the oyster-bed slime of human nature and pulling out the gory strands of lust and shame.
Behind me on the bus, a bevy of teenagers were holding a vulgar conversation. ‘Oi, grandad!’ they yelled at an elderly gentleman who was sweeping the gravel from the centre of the road.

I was travelling to Antz Junction, a charity which provided career and personal guidance to long-term unemployed. The agency was housed in the old Chloride factory at Clifton, once a titanic warehouse at the heart of the electrical storage industry.
Our sessions at the charity centre involved detailed emotional discussion and role play exercises to identify our personality types and learning styles. I enjoyed the basic remedial maths lessons, and simple verbal reasoning tests that were going to help me decide which role I was going to fill in the shimmering world of corporate hospitality.

When I bought the copy of Gide’s novel I was employed as a paint technician, conjuring the viscosity and permeability of organic coatings.. Now I work as a jobseeker, an unemployed benefit scrounger, a worthless parasite who provides guidance to elderly folk enabling them to use personal computers to surf the web.

The web didn’t exist in 1975 when the book was printed; nothing existed in 1975. We had no CD players, no domestic VCR machines, no Take That or Culture Club or Frankie Goes to Hollywood; DNA had been discovered back in ‘fifty-nine but the idea of using it to identify the guilty (or innocent) parties in a crime case was some years away. We also had no gay people in 1975; there were a few isolated specimens on television, mainly to supply a strand of embarrassing comedy that could be woven into every drama, ripe for derision, so very limp and ineffectual.

A Chinese doctor who was among the first to blow the whistle on the new coronavirus has died from the disease, the hospital treating him said on social media early Friday local time.
Li Wenliang, 34, an ophthalmologist based in Wuhan, was reprimanded in early January by local police authorities for “publishing falsehoods” after he mentioned in a WeChat group seven cases of a virus similar to SARS from a seafood market.

News of Li’s death has triggered millions of reactions on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. Most posts mourned him, called him a hero and commented with candle emojis, some with mourning poems. When Li was in critical condition late Thursday and early Friday local time, millions of people flocked to a livestream operated by local media outside the hospital, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Li tried to warn fellow doctors in the early days of the outbreak, posting a message alerting them to a mystery new disease at his hospital in late December. Seven people were in quarantine, the symptoms were similar to Sars, and doctors should consider wearing protective equipment to prevent infection, he said.

Security forces came to his house four days after he sent that public health warning and accused him of “making false comments” and acting illegally to disturb social order. He signed a statement agreeing not to discuss the disease further.

Corona Collision and the Orthodox Vacuum

Wed Nes Day 08 04 20
Q is for Quarantine
Today I shall be mostly
Shave off the bushy beard

Watch some calculus videos on YouTube
Read a couple of chapters from old Business Studies books
Work from home

But I will not be able to
Drink jasmine tea at the Whitworth
Relax at the Turkish baths at Harrogate
Travel into town to photograph
The half-finished office and apartment blocks

You wore a tie like Richard Gere

If you don’t believe in the virus it can’t infect you
It can’t infect you infect you infect you
Q is for psychopath!
It can’t infect you if I eat you it will
Keep me safe if I eat you it will keep me safe

While twisted protein corridors
Impale the sleeping lipid walls