Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish

One of the best parts of spending time with families is hanging out with the kids. This is how I had my first introduction to The Wombles the other day. In addition to being ahead of its time as a high-quality stop motion animation series, this mid-1970s TV show promoted a strong reuse and recycling message. (Although, that said, one of Val’s friends remarked that she thought the show might have also encouraged an entire generation of children to leave ostensibly useful bits of trash behind in the real-life Wimbledon Common burrows- a.k.a. Womble-land — in an attempt to help this fuzzy underclass in their efforts at creative reuse.)

Flash-forward to last night, when every few minutes a government-sponsored advertisement would appear on television asking all families in the UK to reduce both energy consumption and waste by 20%. I couldn’t imagine something like this playing in the red states of America. As a socialist country, the UK (and most of Europe) is used to taking lifestyle cues from government. And as a nation ravaged by World War II, Britons are used to getting behind rationing and other forms of conservation. Their survival depended on it. In fact, even as rationing was seen as a heroic war effort, a greener-than-thou attitude has sprung up as a seemingly ubiquitous attitude in the UK, with green services galore, not to mention this two-seat electric car.
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Back in London and the Polish-English Interchange

Had a great trip down to the South coast, the highlight being a sword fight with a four-year-old on the bowling green of Carisbrooke Castle. We crossed the Solent in the kind of gale that threatened the Fastnet Race. Unfortunately, that meant we couldn’t take the hovercraft — but the fast catamaran only pitched and rolled during the slow going in and out of port. Good thing, too — Val and I were stuffed on two enormous portions (“Those are the mediums?!”) of fish & chips as well as tea and Turkish delight.

I have been reading Zbigniew Herbert on the train, trying to get past the translation. Apart from stunning poems like “Five Men” and “The Pebble,” most of the poems I have read so far smack of romantic Slavic intillectualism and an out-of-tune surrealism. I wonder if his work focuses more on language and lyric device to make what seem like generalizations come alive in new (linguistic) ways. In any case, it is a far cry from Adam Zagajewski, whose poems in Mysticism For Beginners are tight and self-contained — a kind of Eastern European Ted Koozer with a deeper connection to history and a more philosophical bent. Still, I’m ploughing through Herbert poems by the hundreds, hoping to get more inside this poet, hoping to read beyond the language barrier and into the mind of the man that has written poems that make my jaw drop open with their fierce, unflinching gaze.

Meanwhile, it is evident that since I was here three years ago, Polish people have immigrated to the UK in great numbers. There are now Polish grocers and restaurants just down the street. On the tube today, young Poles were poring over a glossy Polish-language magazine sporting the latest PC gaming equipment and games. According to Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish that contemporary poets employ is only nominally different from its medieval counterpart — making their poetic tradition vastly more accessible and vibrant than our own. (Imagine if Chaucer and Shakespeare wrote in English-as-we-know-it.)
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Settling in

This was probably our easiest intercontinental flight yet, thanks in part to the inadvertently educational in-flight entertainment system. We caught the tube all the way up to Golders Green (no apostrophe there, for historical reasons — this excuse covers a multitude of sins in England) — to spend some quality time with Val’s delightful musician friends, their lovable elderly golden retriever, and two cats. We took Gilly (the dog) for a brief walk in the park after a nearly-fatal nap, ordered in some Chinese food, and began setting the world to rights.

Today we are resting (I’ve been reading Robert Hass and an essay by Richard Jackson on imitation that will fold nicely into my upcoming talk), adjusting to the new time, and getting ready to head down to Portsmouth tomorrow to visit Val’s oldest school friend. The following day we’ll catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight, then back to Golders Green on Wednesday. I hope to bring back some photos of the lovely South coast, and to get some more reading done on the train there and back.

I have set up a Flickr map (thanks, Nathan) and plan to add pictures as we go.

Linux Not on Board

Our Air New Zealand Boeing 747 came with an in-flight entertainment system, including movies-on-demand and arcade games. A few rounds into Tetris, I managed to crash the system, complete with the classic Windows “application has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down” message.

I switched to chess, and beat the system on its “difficult” setting in about twenty moves. Apart from its opening book, the system was pathetic — it couldn’t spot a simple fork or think more than a few moves ahead. During the rematch, I got it into a somewhat complex situation, likely a forced checkmate in about ten moves. It hung there with an hourglass for a good twenty minutes, then coughed up a dialog box asking me which part of the system it ought to shut down in order to conserve memory. Honestly, some are incapable of accepting defeat.

After I selected the default option, the entire operating system crashed hard into a black screen and began rebooting. Not surprisingly, the boot screen proudly proclaimed Windows CE circa 2004, then began loading up files using the ancient Xmodem serial protocol. Finally, it booted itself back into friendly pictures of New Zealand coastline. I spent the rest of the flight hoping Microsoft hadn’t won the bid on the flight controls.

Off to London

Valerie and I are flying to London tomorrow for a much-needed holiday/vacation. We plan to see friends and family, visit a few galleries, spend an evening at the proms, and otherwise take in this wonderful city. We’ll also plan to head up to Cambridge and down to the Isle of Wight — all within two weeks’ time. Of course, I will be taking my MFA homework with me as well. I’m not totally sure what kind of internet access we’ll have, but we are taking the digital camera and I intend to post updates on our adventures here when I can.