“It is useless to describe the astonishing performances of the acrobats and gymnasts. The turning on ladders, poles, balls, barrels, &c., was executed with wonderful precision. But the principal attraction was the exhibition of the Long Noses, a show to which Europe is as yet a stranger. These noses were made of bamboo, and were five, six, and even ten feet long, some straight, others curved, some ribboned, and some having imitation warts upon them. It was upon these appendages, fixed tightly on their real noses, that they performed their gymnastic exercises.”
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Coated and scarfed, we trooped across the common, crunching leaves under foot. The almost-full moon brightened the autumn sky. Circusy-music drifted towards us on the breeze, promising high-wire tension and hilarity.
Some 35 years ago I’m sure I must have run, towing one of my parents behind me, across the entire dusty field to the circus entrance, a similar pink ticket stub in my small hand. White horses with plumes, the smell of damp straw, animal cages, waistcoated monkeys and hotdogs – the Boswell Wilkie Circus! Continue reading Send in the Clowns
Chutzpa, chutspa, chutzpadik – Pronounced KHOOTS-PAH; rattle that kh around with fervour; rhymes with ‘Foot spa’. Do not pronounce the ch as in ‘choo-choo’ or ‘Chippewa’, but as the German ch in Ach! or the Scottish in ‘loch’. Hebrew: ‘insolence’, ‘audacity’. Gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts’; presumption-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language can do justice to.
The Joys of Yiddish By Leo Rosten
On Sunday morning I lead prayers at church. It had been an emotionally charged week in London. I dreaded standing in front of the congregation. Over 70 people had recently died in the Grenfell Tower fire not far from where I live, fires raged in Portugal and the news was still full of recent terror attacks.
I now dread my 7am wake-up with BBC Radio 4.
In May I’d readily volunteered to do prayers, but as my turn drew near, I wondered if I really had it in me. What would I say? How would I create the right balance between silence and words? Continue reading Building Castles in the Sky
“Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also the being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”
On family road trips when I was small (smaller), I wrestled with a physics question. Why did the fly which had flown into the open window continue to buzz around against the back windscreen? Why hadn’t it, with the speed of the vehicle, found itself SPLAT on the glass? Kilometres were spent agonising over this problem. Continue reading Finding answers
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Oh, Shakespeare! You had me at tomorrow.
You’ve heard me say your first draft has permission to suck. That’s still true even though our first draft of 2017 has been unexpectedly fractious and gruelling. Call it seasonal affective disorder, call it one problem after another, call it what you like. So far, 2017 is not the post-2016-solve-all that it promised to be (promised as in the promise communicated to me over a glass of Champagne on New Years Eve). Continue reading Plodding along
“He read the words again, holding his candle close to the frame, to light them. Then he went to the table, opened his bottle of ink, turned to a clean page in his journal, dipped his pen and wrote: ‘January 27th 1898: At St Matthias Mission there is an odd sense of predestination …’ He looked up and gazed a moment at the text on the wall, returned to the page and added, ‘It is strange how strongly I feel it. What it is I do not know, but I shall leave before it takes me in. I shall leave before I am its victim.”
Shades by Marguerite Poland
So the story goes, a family worked in Asia as missionaries for OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship). They lived and served among the Asian people in a small community, becoming quite close to many of them. One day a woman they knew well and had spent much time with, turned on them in an angry tirade. She said things that were untrue and hurtful and their relationship with her seemed to be broken.
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone,” said Gandalf. “I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins.
‘A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.’ And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory, Lying down in the melting snow. There were times we regretted The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, And the silken girls bringing sherbet.