Monday, 9 December 2013
Last night I went to see the pantomime at the Hackney Empire: a tragic and moving story of a puss and his boots. But I couldn't help wondering (when I wasn't warning of the dangers behind the hero) where pantomime came from.
Once upon a time, in Ancient Greece, it was observed that actors were mimics (mimos) of everything (pan, as in a panacea or cure-all). Thus an actor was a pantomimos. This was taken into Latin as pantomimus. Some sense of the original meaning survived, as you can see from these lines from 1615:
No question but he'll prove true Pantomime,
To imitate all forms, shapes, habits, 'tires
Suiting the Court.
There seems to have been a sense that the pantomime actor mimicked things in clumsy gestures. Anyway, the pantomime then became a kind of play, usually rather sneered at. And in the C19th became the Christmas thingyummyjig we British know and love.
Now turn around from your computer screen.
It's behind you.
I'm giving a talk in Blackwells in Oxford tonight at seven, if any one wants to come along. Tomorrow is Steyning and Wednesday is historic, thelyphthoric Warwick.
Thursday, 5 December 2013
I'll be signing at Waterstones Piccadilly in London tonight from 6:30.
My apologies. I've been bouncing around like a pinball and neglecting to blog. In case you've been wondering what I'm up to here's me on Channel 4 on Sunday (at about the half hour mark). And here's me interviewed by Natalie Laurence. And I'll be on Monocle Radio at noon on Sunday. And on the Graeme Hill show in New Zealand. And on Final Draft on 2SR in Australia. And radio Scotland this morning. And...
I'm terribly tired, you know.
But I shall get back to blogging.
Monday, 2 December 2013
Barter Books. One of the many etymologies I'd never noticed before is that of neighbour. It comes from neah-gebur, which means, essentially, nearby farmer. Neah as in modern English nigh or near, and gebur, which was Old English for farmer, or dweller. In its Dutch form, that's the origin of the Boers - the farmers in South Africa - and also of boor and boorish, which is the way that peasants behave.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
Just a brief post as I'm running round the country giving talks (Booka Books in Oswestry tonight). I met a German-speaking lady in Edinburgh who told me about the lovely compound word:
That's pronounced roughly I-er-lay-gend-er-vol-milk-sow, and it means egg-laying-wool-milk-pig. The idea of this fabulous animal is that it is perfect. It provides eggs, wool, milk and, finally, bacon. It is therefore the German term for a jack of all trades. Something, or someone, who can do absolutely everything.
There's even a Wikipedia page on this best of beasts, but it's in German.
And if that's not enough for you, you can have a look at my article in yesterday's New York Times.
Monday, 25 November 2013
Here's a little article that I wrote for The Spectator. So you get a thousand words instead of the usual measly hundred.
I'm off touring around Britain this week. If you would like to come along, the new dates are:
Barter Books in Alnwick today
The Edinburgh Bookshop on 26th of November
Rossiter Books in Ross-on-Wye on the 27th of November
Booka Bookshop in Oswestry on 28th of November
Winstones of Sherborne on 4th of December
Waterstones Piccadilly on 5th of December (no talk, just signing and mulled wine)
Blackwells Oxford on 9th of December
Steyning Bookshop in West Sussex on 10th of December
Warwick Books on 11th of December
The Idler Academy in West London on 12th of December.
Friday, 22 November 2013
Today is Benjamin Britten's one-hundredth birthday, which is much more important than words. Mind you, Britten was a very poetical composer. I even have an anthology (did you know that anthology means bouquet of flowers in Greek?) purely of poems that Britten set to music.
When Britten was sixteen he was ill at school and therefore confined to the sickroom. He took with him a copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse, that he had won as a school prize. They wouldn't allow him anything musical as that would only encourage him. So he ruled out staves on a sheet of blank paper and set a medieval poem to music.
In his diary he wrote "Write... "Hymn to the Virgin" & a set of variations (1/4 of it) for organ, which are rather rubbish - I rather like the hymn tho'."
They played it at his funeral.
Later on Britten got together with Auden and they wrote an advertising jingle together for the new-fangled telephone (the monopoly on which was owned by the Post Office). Here is what happens when two of the greatest geniuses of the C20th get into catchy advertising.
I love the rhyme of "Moscow" with "Phone kiosk-o".