Wednesday Word Tangle: Why today is like Jazz and Stephen Fry

Actually a lot more interesting and beautiful than a dreary day in Bristol. Image: Pixabay

Actually a lot more interesting and beautiful than a dreary day in Bristol.
Image: Pixabay

Oh, lor, it’s one of those days.

If you’re a Brit, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s a dismal day, a day when you have to resist the temptation to keep the lights on 24/7 so you can see what you’re doing and don’t end up tripping over the cat / toddler / pile of Lego bricks on the carpet.

Now, if you live in one of those blessed places where the sun shines most of the year, where the light sparkles through an azure sky onto a similarly blinding sapphire sea – allow me to describe what the British weather is like for 52%* of the year.

Imagine.

It’s day time. You know this because your alarm rudely rattled you awake a couple of hours ago and it’s definitely lighter than it was when you got up for a wee at mignight. But the sky is so flat and featureless you can imagine skimming a stone on it. It’s not a flat, cloudless blue, but a flat cloud-filled grey – think of a pair of knickers that have been stuck on an endless ‘delicates’ wash with a new pair of Levi’s and you’ll know what I mean.

On days like these, the house is never quite free of shadows. Every corner could hide a something – invertebrate, mammalian, alien, you don’t know, but you sure as hell don’t want to stick your hand in to find out.

It’s what you’d call (Wednesday Word Tangle coming up)

GLOOMY

I like the word gloomy – maybe it’s that double ‘o’ sound, but it suits the meaning. You sound depressed just saying it.

Its derivation seems unclear, though ‘gloom’ is probably from a Scottish word for ‘sullen look’, which fits a day when even the weather seems to be sulking. Though, it’s not linked to ‘gloaming’, the Scots for twilight, which is a shame. (Think we should have a Gaelic translation of Stephenie Meyer’s books called Gloaming? Quite like that idea.)

The word always reminds me of jazz music and Stephen Fry.

No, I don’t get depressed when listening to either – if I could persuade Stephen Fry to narrate the interior dialogue to my life I would. It’s because it was on QI that I first heard of Billie Holiday’s recording of Gloomy Sunday.

On first listen, it’s no more depressing than say Strange Fruit – a song describing the lynching of African Americans in the Deep South – but Gloomy Sunday has been dubbed the Hungarian Suicide Song.

Well, to be fair the lyrics are sung from the point of view of someone contemplating suicide, there have been several stories of people committing suicide after / whilst listening to the song – and the composer (a Hungarian called Rezső Seress) threw himself from the top of an apartment block in 1968.

So my advice today?

Put the lights on. Make yourself a hot chocolate. 

And avoid jazz.


*I learnt this statistic from a Bill Bailey DVD. I have no idea if it’s correct, but it feels correct 🙂

Thanks, as always to the lovely Kat, the founder of W4W

Books in the Blood #16: Why crime pays – medieval style

A funky, chunky monk. Image: Pixabay

A funky, chunky monk.
Image: Pixabay

Policemen are everywhere, aren’t they?

I mean, not in real life, obviously. Bobbies on the beat went the way of Marathon bars and the not-so-smiley smilodon fatalis (what they called a Sabre Toothed Tiger when I was small).

What I mean is, the one place you’ll always find a copper or many coppers (what is the collective noun for policemen? A morose? A renegade? A doughnut?) is on the nearest screen. Film and TV have built season after season, year after year on Peelers and their careers. From Dragnet and Fabian of the Yard through to countless CSIs and the wonderful True Detective, the police drama is the pillar on which viewing is built.

As far as film and programme makers are concerned, crime really does pay.

Of course, crime in the creative arts did not originate on the screen, but in the leathery embrace of books. Edgar Allan Poe – yes, that cheerful rogue  – is credited with creating the first fictional detective, Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Later came Sherlock Holmes (though of course not actually a policeman) and from there, the genre went from strength to strength.

Now, I confess, I don’t read many crime novels. My most recent, back in the summer, were The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin, and The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson though I bought both largely on the grounds of their historical settings (1930s New Orleans and an 18th century debtors’ prison) rather than the fact they featured mangled corpses. And the Axeman features a young Louis Armstrong playing amateur detective, so how could I resist?

For me, the problem with a lot of crime fiction is the gore. I don’t mind the odd death littering my fiction, the odd imagined corpse to step over. But I don’t really like exuberant death scenarios constructed by hyper intelligent, over educated multiple killers, who spend their time finding excuses to cut people up rather than turning their intelligence to something useful such as finding out why socks disappear inside washing machines and why politicians lose all ethics the moment they’re elected.

Because of this, ‘cosy crime’ has always been an attractive sub-genre for me, focussing on the detectives and their characters rather than a dozen interesting ways to flay the human torso.

Enter today’s Books in the Blood offering,

The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters.

I read a lot of these when I was a teen and loved them.

The books are set in a monastery in medieval Shrewsbury – a town on the English / Welsh border – and one of the big draws is Cadfael himself. A kindly Welshman, he came late to the religious life, having been a soldier, sailor, lover and amateur student of herbalism. His skills with medicines are superlative, he has a romantic streak in him a mile wide, a profound sense of justice and a seaman’s rolling gait.

He has his own garden, where he grows plants for his many remedies and a herbarium, chockablock with sticky bottles and leaky animal skin flasks and bunches of aromatic herbs drying from the beams – a place I was often happy to imagine myself.

The stories are set during the Anarchy – a 12th century English civil war when the crown was disputed by King Stephen and his cousin the Empress Matilda. Peters throws a good dose of real history into the mix, so the books are filled with sieges and battles. Violence is never far away.

In truth, the Cadfael character is a bit too modern to be of his time.

He studied with Arab scholars – no racist then. He loves and respects women. His sense of justice is twentieth century, not medieval – no ducking stools and trial by ordeal for Cadfael, but fair judgements by honest men. He’s practical and devoid of superstition, save the religious beliefs you’d expect from a Benedictine monk – pretty rare I’d imagine, in an age when sin was thought to cause illness and dog-headed men supposedly inhabited the far flung reaches of the world.

I confess, I found Peters’ habit of shoehorning a pair of star-crossed young lovers into every story a little wearing after a few books, but it’s a small complaint really.

I loved the tales for their setting, their atmosphere and for the salty old seadog Cadfael. Finer company you will not find this side of the 12th century.

Confessions of a Superhero’s Mum

heroes-152707_1280

Just over eleven years ago I gave birth to Iron Man.

I didn’t realise it at the time of course. When the midwife handed him to me, she didn’t say ‘Congratulations. It’s a Superhero’. He didn’t have a mini Arc Reactor protruding from his tiny ribcage and he didn’t shoot laser beams from his chubby little fists whenever he was hungry or tired. That would be silly.

So, I here you cry ‒ and will you please stop doing that because it’s very distracting – if my son isn’t called Stark, and wasn’t left on the doorstep with a red and gold helmet tucked in his blanket and a note saying ‘Please look after this Avenger’, then how do I know he’s destined to  assume Tony’s mantle?

I’ll tell you.

What I should make clear from the start is that he’s an apprentice Iron Man, for when the present one chooses to hang up his hover boots and give up his second day job as mechanised saviour of the free world.

My first piece of evidence is the Arc Reactor tee-shirt my son wears, in preparation for having pieces of shrapnel embedded in his chest, needing the Reactor’s electromagnetic forces to stop the metal penetrating his heart (for those of you who haven’t a clue what I’m going on about, I refer you to the franchise.)

But this is not the only evidence I have that my boy will one day save the universe.

My second and main reason for this belief is the training films. Hours and hours of them, seemingly on repeat, a continuous loop of lasers, bomb blasts and nifty flying exercises, all snappily edited and usually accompanied by a pumping heavy metal sound track, like some testosterone-packed corporate video for weapons dealers.

And showing astounding dedication to his future career, it’s not just Iron Man he studies.

There are other training films which include: a muscle-bound blond guy with a stilted English accent wielding his ‘magic’ hammer (yeah, all right, he-man, we get the symbolism)*: a teenage newspaper photographer who fires stringy mucus from his hands and thinks he’s an arachnid (you really should see a specialist about that, Peter)**: a doctor who is really lovely – mostly – if a bit downbeat and introspective (‘You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’? Yeah, well, you haven’t seen me when someone leaves the toilet seat up, sister)***.

There’s a ton of other egomaniacs being angsty and fighting other egomaniacs – many of them wear cloaks, which seems impractical in a battle situation.

Anyway, I try and be a supportive, liberal parent. I want to nurture, not crush my son’s fledgling ambitions, even if they don’t fit into my pre-conceived ideas of a sensible career path. After all, I did tell him if he worked really hard he could achieve anything ‒ though I confess I was thinking more along the lines of piano lessons rather than arms manufacturing. Anyway, not wishing to dampen his enthusiasm, I let him watch and re-watch his training videos – time and time and time again.

But quite honestly, I can’t face seeing another over-pumped caveman bash another one to smithereens before standing atop a mountain/ skyscraper/ the Golden Gate Bridge or other such iconic landmark, brooding over how sad and lonely it is to be an over-pumped caveman … so I read.

The volume from the TV blares (because, despite my protestations, it is apparently impossible to watch without the sound being loud enough to cause involuntary fracking along the Severn Estuary), but I wriggle into the cushions, push back the recliner, tuck up my toes and read.

At the moment it’s The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin (very good, if you’re wondering) but another day it’ll be whatever I’m reading at the time.

My flow’s sometimes interrupted as a city explodes or a baddy monologues, but generally, I can concentrate enough to be at least semi-lost in my book.

And all with the knowledge I’m playing my small part in the future saving of the world – probably.


Can and do you read while the TV’s on? Or do you need peace, quiet and chocolate biscuits to concentrate?

*Thor, of course.

**Your friendly, neighbourhood Spiderman.

***King of angst, David Banner – aka The Hulk