Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Byebye Telly

My television has just broken down. More precisely, Cybermen killed my telly. (There's a headline. Perhaps the equal of 'Freddie Starr ate my hamster' but even harder to prove.)

The TV expired just as the first part of a Doctor Who two-parter was finishing and I expected to see a 'To be Continued' message appear following the disappearance of my picture down to a dot. But the dot faded away and no amount of slapping (percussive therapy) brought it back.

I wonder how much I'll miss it. Far less if I stop browsing the Radio Times television pages, that's for sure.

Bloody David Tennant...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Leaving Brighton...again

For the first time in ages I sat on Brighton beach and listened to the waves. It was a cool but sunny day and various fully-clad people were sitting around by themselves and doing much the same as me. It reminded me of splendid March days when whole shopping parties were using the beach like a public park to take a break and the place was full of families in coats and hats sitting out like you'd do in a town square in another shape of town. (As I say, Brighton is too full of memories.) Then I withdrew to not thinking and just enjoying the quiet lapping.

Turning back to go home, the town behind me seemed brash and overbearing. But the pebbles and the sea are the bit of Brighton that will endure longer than the terraces of Regency buildings, self-confident as towns abruptly founded and encouraged by a roue prince may be, and packed together in a delicious but overwhelming claustrophobia. (Try living in St Michael's Place, one of several hundred flats in identical blocks of elegant rooms with windows open and the album of that summer playing loudly into the street.) And Brighton has returned to its roots. I had a sudden moment of empathy for the fishing community that watched the first incursions from the court and realised that something lucrative but sharp and exclusive was coming.

The day of the pebbles was the day after I'd had an offer on a house in Oxford accepted. I don't think this at all coincidental - not even in a fun way. I sat remembering what I love about Brighton as I let go of it. And how little that is now. Some of my best friends live in the city. But the places I loved, the shops I valued (mostly secondhand clothes shops that closed in the early 80s), the cafes and pubs I knew, the air of eccentricity - gone. What is left is the brashness. I used to find that endearing, especially when it was tired and crumbled and all that was left of a seaside holiday heyday of the 50s. But it's tidied up its act and I don't get on with the personality under the new paint.

I had already said goodbye a few weeks earlier, when I was trying to empty old files at the university. I'd not used anything for a couple of years anyway, but it was interesting that being on campus emptying files was a poignant experience. I must have looked it, because one of my colleagues hugged me as I left.

And then I am down to see a show with a friend and the next morning I make the time to go to the sea. I'd not done that nearly as often as I intended in the last years I lived there. I'd shoot past the beach. But years ago, when I was wrestling with the meaning of the world and early love affairs gone sour, I used to take myself down to the beach all the time, especially in the early evening, and enjoy the splashing of the waves. It was so much bigger than the problems I brought.

Pleasingly, it still is. The great thing about saying goodbye is that once you leave, you can come back and it's not yours any more. And the waves are waiting, just as they were on day trips when I was only young.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Avebury Rocks

A friend, with whom I did much entirely materialistic shopping (though without any significant, or even meaningless and nihilistically inspired, buying) in Winchester the other day, is game for a trip to the Avebury big ones.

She tells me it is a very exciting place, probably made so mostly in her mind by the occupancy of Julian Cope, who recently played in her neck of the woods in a mad, heavy and passionate way that looked set to go on all night. She took herself off after a decent show had elapsed. Julian Cope, respect...

Anyway, the plan is to go and spend the night there. This will require a BnB, as we are not so intrepid as to haunt the stones as the moon lights up strange thornbushes and the sound of preternatural wolves can be heard in an echo of medieval rites and passages.

And now that I've abandoned any concern for the direction of causality in my pursuit of coincidences (which arguably removes the coincidental quality, but heyho), this could count as the third mention of the Avebury Stones. Especially as Julian Cope could have been a story she told me incidentally - it just wasn't.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

At last, a Palimpsest

I remember a friend attempting to explain to me what a palimpsest was, at a time when I was secretly convinced that it had something to do with palindromes.

Let me clear that up immediately:

Palimpsest: a manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible.

Palindrome: a word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. For example: ABBA, a plan, a canal, Panama!

Both interesting words, you'll agree, but not that interchangeable.

Now I have occasion to think of something as a palimpsest and I realise that I have finally moved the word from the scary place that I keep terms I don't really have control over (for instance, "Hermeneutics" was there for a very long time, but then I realised it's what I do, so I got over that one too...) to somewhere more useful. Palimpsest now sits resplendent in my active vocabulary.

The occasion of my linguistic triumph over terminology was when I used it of Brighton: I was trying to explain that even though I wanted to leave London for an exciting smaller town and Brighton is the obvious place given that I have a bundle of dear friends down there, the city is too much a palimpsest, with memories overlaying each other like partly obscured stories. From city centre lampposts to the seats outside pubs, to the corners that follow each other in a winding tale from arts blocks and to the library on campus, to the Angel that faces the sea at Boundary Beach regardless of sun and rain - it's a tablet that's been written on too many times for the lightness I now need. When I need richness, I'll know where to turn.

Brighton, palimpsest of the south...

However, I did get 'punter' and 'pundit' muddled up the other day when talking to the Arch Materialist, so just because I know the difference between words doesn't guarantee that I'll pull out the right one in a crisis. A crisis? Well, we went to hear a creationist talk so that we could roundly condemn his piffle. It was very interesting. The logic was special to someone who believes that the Bible is a text handed down in its entirety by God and not open to interpretation. How very different from Talmudic hermeneutical examination of the Torah, or even the argumentation of more prescriptive traditions, such as this branch of Catholicism which tells us that:

Usage has restricted the meaning of hermeneutics to the science of Biblical exegesis, that is, to the collection of rules which govern the right interpretation of Sacred Scripture.

At least that is to acknowledge the risk of wrong interpretation; surely a nod to some cognitive and cultural processing, even if the goal is a notional consensus.

So, here is a man (Vance Nelson) who argues that a fossil can only be interpreted from the present, since we cannot know exactly what it was in the past, but that a book carries its incontrovertible meaning forward through time unhampered. Even I spotted the inconsistencies with that one. And he was talking about fossils because his mission was to show that time on Earth extends only a few thousand years. So mad it's cool to hear it - once. Now shut him up.

As I write this I realise that hermeneutics has also suffered for its similarity to another word. Hermetic. Tupperware is hermetically sealed (I believe...) and some texts are similarly resistant to being exposed to the air. But that is where this conflation ends.