Monday, 26 August 2013

Leaves in the lines

Despite being designed, conceived and manufactured in Malta, I have a profound physical aversion to extreme heat.  By 'extreme' I mean, of course, anything over 15°c, so to say this Summer has been a challenge is an understatement of subterranean profundity.  I am reminded, in literary terms, of J.G. Ballard's The Burning World and that sequence in Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant cycle where The Despiser has hacked into the planetary weather system so that each season is exaggerated to acquire deadly characteristics.  It is, therefore, with undignified eagerness that I have embraced each slightly cooler day, and am panting for Autumn to begin in earnest.  One of my ambitions this year is to read Louis MacNeice's Autumn Journal, which is one of the many yawning gaps in my literary CV.  A few years ago, giddy with the excitement of having purchased an Acme © Home Poetry Kit, I lobbed a lump of Autumnal words into the Sonnet stencil, cranked the attractively-bright plastic starting-handle and produced the following.  I sincerely hope MacNeices's effort is better.


The sunlight is soft with hospitable mystery;
In August it scorched us, expected and bland.
The pavements are crunchy with Natural History,
Where trees are dismissing their leaves out of hand.
It’s scruffy and vague, this shaggy brown season
Each morning arrives with a mist that depletes
All edges and borders – it was for good reason
That autumn inspired some reasonable Keats.
White winter is death, and all of us harbour
Suspicions of picture-book summers and springs,
A frisson of something amiss in the arbour
Is what this benevolent avalanche brings.
So wrap up in autumn, and heap praise upon it,
Season of almost compulsory sonnet.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Bloggin' the Nog

If all the biographies I have ever read were vertically stacked atop each other, the resulting structure would be far from an impediment to even very low-flying aircraft, or, for that matter, most wasps. This lack of engagement with the genre may be to do with my Reality allergy, or may be the result of a more amorphous blend of aesthetic and intellectual proclivities.  I'm hoping it's the latter. Whatever the reason, I was recently reminded of a book of this class which I had not only read but which also gave me an enormous amount of pleasure, namely Seeing Things, the autobiography of the remarkable Oliver Postgate.

Along with legions of others of all ages, I had been charmed, beguiled and not infrequently disturbed by Postgate's (and his partner Peter Firmin's) menagerie of whistling, knitted aliens, soporific talking cats and, of course, their own characteristic interpretation of Norse history and legend, namely Noggin and the Nogs   Knowing nothing about Postgate the person, the biography was a gradual, warming affirmation of a sensitive, ingenious human being who bore vicissitude with courageous stoicism, espoused all that is admirable in humanity and whose creative energies, sometimes diverted by restrained resources and facilities into wondrously ingenious channels, refused to be stifled.

I was reminded of this book last week as I worked (never was a verb less appropriate) my way through a delicious boxed set of Noggin the Nog books.  These 12 books, beautifully produced and illustrated, are charming fables in which characters and themes recur in a variety of 'Nordic' settings and themes, from The Hot Water Valley to the mechanical Island, from prejudice and fear to the misuse of technology.  There is a great deal of pleasure to be had in Postgate's putting the Vikings through a blender set on 'whimsy' (the foremost warrior, for example, Thor Nogson, is often strongly drawn towards discretion rather than valour), but there are also lovely jokes:

'With a crash and a slop like barrels of water breaking on the roof, the barrels of water on the roof broke asunder'

wonderful imaginary proper nouns, such as Troldeskow and Graculus, and delightful variations on well-known stories and legends.

Without over-egging the Nog, I can't help but think that Olaf, the ingenious court inventor who is constantly threatening the end of civilisation through the development of unpredictable machines, is Postgate wryly observing his own insatiable desire to create brilliant television out of two pipe-cleaners and a reel of Sellotape, while the ever-present Nogbad the Bad, lurking like an unpleasant odour in each tale, is a reminder that evil is never far from even the most innocent-seeming scenario (or even interwoven into it - Nogbad is, after all, Noggin's uncle).  To end on a jollier note, however, why not visit the lovely Dragons' Friendly Society website, and order the books.