John Banville, Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir

“Dinner” would have been a bowl of beige soup, followed by an off-white plate on to which had been slung two or three thick slabs of grey-brown beef, accompanied by formerly green vegetables boiled to within an inch of their lives, then something with custard on it, the whole thing rounded off–or “driven home” as George Orwell would say–with more cups of tea the colour of tree trunks sunk for centuries in swamp-water.


Hemingway’s masterpiece–one of the best things he ever wrote: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”


An Italian writer: “I have realized that alcohol is for the Irish what sunshine is for the Latin peoples of the south.”


Of trees in the Great Palm House of the Botanic Gardens:”Dominant and hugely helpless, can they ever have been small–can they ever have been saplings? They are not disproportionate to us: no, it is we who are disproportionate to them, a pair of Lilliputians confronted by a crowd of Gullivers, planted there in the sand with their hairy thick old socks around their ankles.



From Don’t Point that Thing at Me, by Kyril Bonfiglioli

On worrying whether someone is an American spy

private-detectiveWhy, after all, should anyone want to plant such a man on me? What could I get up to on the journey? What, if it came to that, could he get up to on the journey? Extract a confession from me? Prevent me seizing command of the aircraft or overthrowing the Constitution of the United States?. . . No; clearly, he must be what he seemed, an indifferent-honest executive, perhaps one of that super research firm which sells the State Department advice on where to start its next minor war.

He quotes Bertrand Russell about America

Curiously, I was afraid again. I felt obscurely that this land–‘where law and custom alike are based on the dreams of spinsters’–was nevertheless a land where I might well get hurt if I were not careful–or even if I were careful.

steaming-supper-leon-zernitskyA Difficult Dinner

All I remember is the old Countess opposite me, cramming the groceries into her frail body like one who provisions a yacht for a long journey. “Cur quis non prandeat, hoc est?’* seemed to be her attitude.

*=is this a reason why one should not dine? From the Satires of A. Persius Flaccus

From Auntie Poldie, by Mario Giordano

On Coffee

coffeeCoffee drinking in Italy is nothing like the activity portrayed by television commercials. It has nothing to do with coffee as a beverage, only with sugar. Coffee is merely a hot, aromatic, caffeinated liquid designed to dissolve sugar, so you don’t need much of it. It can be small as long as it’s strong, but sweetness is paramount. That’s why many baristas mix coffee and sugar in the filter itself. There’s nothing more bizarre to a Sicilian than drinking an espresso without sugar…

bellaFiguraBella Figura

For this is the worst thing that can happen to any Italian male, especially a Sicilian. Economic crises, volcanic eruptions, corrupt politicians, emigrations, the Mafia, uncollected rubbish and overfishing of the Mediterranean–he can endure anything with fatalism and a bella figura. The main thing is never to present a brutta figura, a figuraccia. Bella figura is the Italian credo. . . .


On being on time

Like any private undertaking in Sicily, the playlet began with a delay of two hours or more. Sicilians can be as punctual as Prussians in the professional sphere, but personal arrangements are subject to an elastic expansion of the concept of time. It’s as if those hours must be sacrificed to a demanding god who measures his subjects’ lifetime by the extent to which they waste the lifetimes of others. Besides, every sensible Sicilian allows a margin of at least two hours where private assignations are concerned…

venchiOn Pistachio Chocolate Gelato

Innocent though that sounds, it is a typically Sicilian confection as baroque and magnificent as the whole of Sicily’s cuisine. A cuisine like the whole island, a superabundance of aromas, marvels, sensations. A spectacular odyssey for the palate, even in a dish as commonplace as Pasta alla Norma, in which the sweetness of the tomato sauce blends with the salty ricotta and the slightly bitter note of the grilled aubergines. Sweet, salt, bitter, piquant–Sicilian cuisine is all-embracing and pleasurably involves all the senses in a single dish. A gelato must also be like this. Sweet as a whispered promise, the pistachio ice cream salty as sea air, the chocolate ice cream faintly bitter and a little tart like a lover’s goodbye the next morning.

What a splendid TV show this would make! Except there’s only the one translated into English. More on the way, I hope! And reading it was a logical follow on from McCall Smith’s My Italian Bulldozer, also with lots of food and romantic entanglements–no murder though.

From Dunbar, by Edward St Aubyn



Dr. Bob was of course relieved that Meg did not require his attention, and was naturally contemptuous of his noisy, knuckle-headed replacement, but he was rather surprised to find how jealous he felt as well. Both sisters belonged to him. He couldn’t stand either of them, indeed he was about to betray both of them, but that was no reason for them to stop desiring him or stop depending on him. There was no satisfaction in betraying people who had already defected. Like the demented sheepdog in Far from the Madding Crowd, he was planning to drive his little flock over the edge of a cliff, but however twisted his purpose he still took pride in his basic skill and could not complacently allow one of his victims to wander off on her own.


When they converged for Christmas, or Easter, or for a week at Home Lake in the summer, they showed the same practiced ennui as the representatives of enemy countries listening to translations of each other’s speeches in the United Nations General Assembly Hall.

The_Mayflower_Compact_1620One of Mark’s ancestors (the first Mark Rush) had been a Puritan dissenter who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. How could he have known, as he lurched from side to side on that creaking deck, in his dreary black clothes, muttering prayers and scolding his family, that he was on board one of the most fashionable ships in all of history, one that would leave Cleopatra’s barge languishing in the perfumed air as an exotic irrelevance?

From Bone Hunters, by Steven Erikson

BraventoothAnd there, seated alone at a table, was a monstrosity of a man. Hunched over, tiny black eyes glittering beneath the shadow of a jutting brow. Hairy beyond reason. Twisted snarls exploding out from both ears, the ebon-hued curls wending down to merge with the vast gull’s nest that was his beard, which in turn engulfed his neck and continued downward, unabated, to what was visible of the man’s bulging chest; and, too, climbed upward to fur his cheeks – conjoining on the way with the twin juts of nostril hairs, as if the man had thrust tiny uprooted trees up his nose – only to then merge uninterrupted with the sprung hemp ropes that were the man’s eyebrows, which in turn blended neatly into the appallingly low hairline that thoroughly disguised what had to be a meagre, sloping forehead. And, despite the man’s absurd age – rumoured age, actually, since no one knew for certain – that mass of hair was dyed squid-ink black.


From The Bertie Project, by Alexander McCall Smith

Nicola comforts her grandson Bertie

As Nicola looked out from her embrace, out beyond Bertie’s shoulder on which her hand rested, she found herself staring straight into the eyes of one of the passengers on the bus, a womhqdefaultan of about her own age. The woman was looking back at her, and seemed to know, in an instant what she was witnessing. Only a pane of glass lay between them, and that is too little to suppress fellow feeling—as when we see a person who weeps on one side of a barrier while we are on another. Human barriers are permeable to tears—and always have been.


About the deity the liberal western religions, the Supreme Being was seen as distinctly emollient, as cuddly even, possibly looking a bit like Liberace, and behaving in like manner, a bit given to displaystickman_struck_by_lightning_by_cici1993-d42hbr2s of candelabra and glitz. Though one became too familiar the Supreme Being at one’s peril, thought Domenica, remembering Auden’s tale of the denizen of Fire Island who, hearing thunder, said “There’s Miss God up to her tricks again” only to be immediately struck by lightning. Supreme beings, perhaps, disapprove of archness,
however much they may have liberalized in other respects.

Scottish History

James stabbed his guest twenty-six times when Douglas refused to decouple himself from an alliance that would have challenged royal authority. He then defenestrated him, much to the delight of his secretariat, who joined in the fun, removing the Earl’s brain with an axe.

These were colorful times in Scottish history, and we must be careful not to judge by contemporary standards. Everyone of any significance in Scotland, we may assume, had either got to where they were through violence, or kept their position by the same means. But this sort of thing did set an unfortunate precedent for Scottish hospitality—a reputation that was to be reinforced by the behavior of the Campbells towards their Macdonald guests at that fateful dinner party in Glencoe. The Massacre of Glencoe, as that incident used to be called, is now more politely referred to as the Misunderstanding of Glencoe, although there are those who continue to harp on about not murdering one’s dinner guests.


Terry Pratchett

Soul Music

Rock-legends-screenshots“This was music that had not only escaped but had robbed a bank on the way out, It was music with its sleeves rolled up and its top button undone, raising its hat and grinning and stealing the silver.
It was music that went down to the feet by way of the pelvis without paying a call on Mr. Brain. ”
“It made you want to kick down walls and ascend the sky on steps of fire. It made you want to pull all the switches and throw all the levers and stick your fingers in the electric socket of the Universe to see what happened next. It made you want to paint your bedroom wall black and cover it with posters.”



Unseen Academicals

musicHallAbout City Government

A third proposition, that the city be governed by a choice of respectable members of the community who would promise not to give themselves airs or betray the public trust at every turn, was instantly the subject of music-hall jokes all over the city.

About the shorts worn by the team:

‘How short?’ said the Chair of Indefinite Studies, urgency in his voice.
‘About mid-knee, I believe, said Ponder. ‘Is this likely to be a problem?’
‘Yes it is. The knees should be covered. It is a well-known fact that a glimpse of the male knee can drive women into a frenzy of libidinousness.”

NOT AVAILABLE FOR GREETINGS CARDS A line up for a knobbly knees competition

About the orc’s nature

‘Tactical thinking and combat analysis is part of the orc make-up’, said Nutt.
‘See! No one who uses make-up is going to tear your head off, right?’
‘Didn’t you meet my ex-wife?’ said the baker.

Mr. Nutt explaining soccer to the lady reporterMr.Nutt

‘And there we have the existential puzzle that confronts the striker, for he is both striker
and struck. As the ball flies, all possibilities are inexorably linked, as Herr Frugal said in Das Nichts des Wissens, “Ich kann mich nicht genau erinnern, aber es war so etwas wie eine Vanillehaltige süsse Nachspeisenbeigabe,”: although I believe he was on some medication at the time.

The Watch clears the way into the arena

By the time Lance-Constable Bluejohn of the Watch and two other trolls had forcibly prised open the gates against the pressure of bodies, the noise was just one great hammer of sound. The troll officers opened a path for them with the forethought and delicacy that has made police crowd control such a byword.

AnkhMorporkSinging the Ankh-Morpork Anthem before the game

The Archchancellor was one of those gentlemen who will sing it beautifully, correctly enunciated and very, very loudly.

‘ “When dragons belch and hippos flee, my thoughts, Ankh-Morpork, are of thee,” he began.

“Let others boast of martial dash, for we have boldly fought with cash,” roared the crowd at various pitches and speeds.

Witches Abroad

Granny Weatherwax and Foreign Food

I mean, take that stuff we had for lunch. I’m not saying it wasn’t nice,” said Granny graciously. “In a foreign kind of way, of course. But they called it Cwuissessses dee Grenolly, and who knows what that means?”
“Frogs’ legs,” translated Nanny, without thinking.

The silence was filled with Granny Weatherwax taking a deep breath and a pale green color creeping across Magrat’s face. Nanny Ogg now thought quicker than she had done for a very long time. “Not actual frogs’ legs,” she said hurriedly. “It’s like Toad-in-the-Hole is really only sausage and batter puddin’. It’s just a joke name.”
“It doesn’t sound very funny to me,” said Granny. She turned to glare at the pancakes. “At least they can’t muck up a decent pancake,” she said. “What’d they call them here?”
“Crap suzette,I think”, said Nanny.
Granny forebore to comment. But she watched with grim satisfaction as the owner finished the dish and gave her a hopeful smile.
“Oh, now he expects us to eat them,” she said. “He only goes and sets fire to them, and then he still expects us to eat them!”

Nanny Ogg’s Postcard Home

“funny thing, all the money is different. You have to change it for other money which is all different shapes and is not proper money at all in my opnion. WNannyAndGreeboe generally let Esme sort that out, she gets a very good rate of exchange, it is amazing. Magrat says she will wright a book called Traveling on One Dollar a Day, and it’s always the same dollar. Esme is getting to act just like a foreigner, yesterday she took her shawl off, next thing it will be dancing on tables.”