Meanwhile, thanks to Poppy Nisbet for drawing to my attention this snap encountered somewhere on Het Internet. She asks : “ Isn’t this someone from your landscape?”
What a pleasure it was to watch the men’s final at Wimbledon contested with a minimum of grunting, exclaiming and gesticulation. Romans would have approved.
It was well known that athletes and those taking exercise had a tendency to grunt. Seneca the Younger (c. 4 bc–ad 65), multi-millionaire Stoic philosopher and adviser to Nero, described his unfortunate lodgings over the baths, which made him abhor his ears: quite apart from people hawking their wares, depilators making their victims shriek, bathers singing out loud and splashing about, ‘those working out with weights — whether actually working out or just faking it — grunt away; when they let out their breath, they emit shrill wheezes’. The satirist Juvenal mocks the way female gladiators, taught by their trainers to prepare for the real thing, ‘grunt while they practise thrusts at a tree-stump (and then reach for the potty)’.The assumption is that the grunting associated with exercise was largely a matter of showing-off: it sent out the message ‘look what a heroic effort we are putting into all this’. In a philosophical dialogue, Cicero shines a different light on the matter. Discussing mastery of pain, he sees an analogy between bracing the soul in order to keep a stiff upper lip and bracing the body to sustain a supreme physical effort. In both cases, a groan or grunt may help. He cites athletes in training, especially ‘boxers who, unleashing a blow on their opponent, emit a grunt… in order to tense up the body and so increase the force of the hit’. To that extent, Cicero goes on, a man in pain may release a groan — but nothing feeble or piteous — if by bringing a degree of relief it will strengthen his will for the battle against it.
The two Wimbledon finalists provided an admirable example of skill, determination, self-control and minimal, functional grunting. Perhaps the professional grunters and ranters might mend their ways if crowds grunted and ranted back at them in mocking unison.
I feel inspired by this to write a fat and comprehensive World History Of Grunts And Grunting. Watch this space.
I am much looking forward to the Joseph Cornell exhibition which opened at the Royal Academy at the weekend. Meanwhile, reviewing the show in The Spectator, Martin Gayford tells us:
Cornell … was one of the few ever to ruffle [Marcel] Duchamp’s philosophical cool. At their first meeting, or so the story goes, they discussed the topography of central Paris in enormous detail, building by building – and in French – Cornell mentioning casually only afterwards that he had never visited the city. Duchamp was lost for words.
Cornell spent his entire life on Utopia Parkway in New York, and never travelled further than Maine.
I have never given serious thought to the idea of reincarnation, and it is about time I did so. After all, we are serious people, are we not?, and we should think seriously about everything, absolutely everything, as it falls within our purview. There will be many subjects deserving of only our fleeting attention, but even those we should consider with all due seriousness. In that spirit, and in the full knowledge that the concept of reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls, is almost certainly arrant poppycock, let us see if we can winkle from it anything of significance.
In some versions of the theory, the transmigrating soul flits from species to species. This would suggest that, immediately before the glorious event that was the arrival upon earth of Mr Key, I might have been, say, a bat or a prawn or a tulip. This is a perfect example of something so foolish that our fleeting attention can fly away from it tout suite, with nary a backward glance. Like the collected written outpourings of Will Self, it can be safely tucked away and forgotten about. We gave it our serious attention, for a moment or two, and then moved on, sensibly, as sensible and serious persons do.
Of more interest is the idea that, as the spark of life is extinguished in one human corporeal being, at the very moment when life passes it makes a leap into a brand new host. Though as preposterous as the idea that I was once a tulip, this at least has a certain tidiness about it. If, for a while, we entertain the possibility of it being true, the urgent question then thumps inside our heads – who were you, Mr Key, before you were Mr Key?
I am minded to date the dawn of my existence not to the date of birth, but to the moment of conception in my mother’s womb. Unless one’s father is a precise and punctilious Walter Shandy figure, that moment is well nigh impossible to pinpoint, so the best we can do is to use informed guesswork. Counting backwards from the date of my (premature) birth, it is likely that I was conceived in the dying days of May in the Year of Our Lord MCMLVIII, or, as modern barbarians would prefer, 1958. So who shuffled off this mortal coil around that time, apart from several bats or prawns or tulips?
Three candidates present themselves – the Romanian aviator Constantin Cantacuzino, the Spanish writer Juan Ramón Jiménez, and – skipping forward slightly to the beginning of June – the American oceanographer Townsend Cromwell. The next stage of my serious research will be to immerse myself in the lives of this trio, finding out all I can, perhaps entering a fugue state. Without leaping ahead of myself, I have to say that my favourite of the three, at this stage, is the Spaniard, not so much on account of his Nobel Prize for Literature (1956), but because, judging by this photograph, his wife is wearing exactly the sort of hat I can imagine Pansy Cradledew sporting atop her lovely head.
I will keep you informed of my findings.
Pansy Cradledew recently spent three days in rural Denmark. Upon her return, she presented me with some small gifts of Danish stationery. Among these was a pencil, along the barrel of which the following phrases are stamped:
GRAKS AGANAK PIKIPOF
AUTOMOLOK TITA TITO
PLOKS GUGANAGA PLIP
I suspect this is probably gobbledegook rather than Danish, although there is a distinct possibility it might be Real Orghast. If any reader can tell me what it means, please do so in the Comments.
Evidence has come to light that Tiny Enid, the plucky club-footed tot of this parish, may have had more in common with H. P. Lovecraft than a fondness for fascism. I am grateful to OutaSpaceman for bringing to my attention this snap, originally found on something called the “Flickr account” of one Lawrence Jones:
Dear Mr. Key,, writes Poppy Nisbet from her fastness in North America, There was an offer on Freecycle this morning for a “disabled rooster”. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. It read: “Offer: disabled rooster”.
Likewise, on the bird front, I found a wonderful 17th century engraving of two standing desert ostriches blowing on their eggs. After dogged persistence Google finally produced a translation of the accompanying Latin text and I learned that ostriches were believed to leave their eggs to hatch in the care of the sun and the sand. The parent birds blew “nourishing breathe” onto their offspring before, er, deserting them.
The translation given for ostrich was “Sparrow-camel”.
The other day I mentioned Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. I feel it only right that you should be told Tender Buttons is also the name of a magnificent button shop in New York City. Last year it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Should you find yourself in that fair city I wholeheartedly recommend you pay it a visit and buy some buttons. I did.