Archive for 2011


21.12.11 § 0 commentarii

Christmas can suck my balls.

Roll on January.

Cena Trimalchionis

2.12.11 § 2 commentarii

One of the most significant results of civilisation, in my opinion, is the phenomenon of eating out. Note that I don’t call it a by-product. Eating out- that is the very existence of places which exist solely to provide meals to other human beings, from Alain Ducasse Plaza Athenée in Paris to a Harvester in Barnstaple (and I use “meal” in its loosest sense there, of course)- is not a by-product of civilisation, but an integral and necessary result of the rise of civilisation. From a purely practical point of view, should one consider “civilisation” to be inextricably connected to the rise of urbanism, it’s a simple fact of urban planning that in pre-modern times, population density can only grow so high without open ovens in every Roman insula or Mohenjo-Daro block becoming hazardous. As such, when they wanted a hot meal, residents of ancient Roman blocks of flats would repair to the local caupona or popina[1], rather than subjecting the city to Neronian-scale fires every other week by cooking their dormice in domestic ovens.

Civilisation is ultimately what’s responsible for elevating the prototypical mealtime of Homo sapiens from squatting around a campfire gnawing on a haunch of wooly mammoth to sitting around a mahogany table with a bewildering array of cutlery. With this civilisation of eating, it ceased to be simply an act of providing the body with fuel but instead became a complex socio-cultural performance which we Anglophones refer to as dining. Now, here in the barbaric northwestern fringe of Europe, it’s really only a performance that we’ve engaged in for the past few centuries. In evolutionary terms, that’s no time at all. Far from long enough for it to become a matter of genetic instinct. Indeed, eating out is fraught with pitfalls of etiquette and the potential for social and interpersonal humiliation. The successful negotiation of this complex nexus of social conventions is what makes dining in a restaurant or pub a joy: it improves the flavour of the food. It makes you a better human, an urbane individual of taste and distinction, in the eyes of your companions and those who have the privilege to serve you.

Which is why I feel it is a public service to offer these few small words of advice to those who decide to eat out, in the earnest hope that they might avoid some of the graver embarrassments which might befall the unwary potential gourmand:

1) Your waiter has given you a menu for a reason. Contrary to expectations, behind those swinging doors there is not some Aladdin’s Cave of ingredients, with which the chef might knock you up absolutely anything you want, from Thai Green Curry with Pak Choi and Midgets to Flautist’s Liver with Fava Beans and Chianti. On the contrary, in the kitchen are those ingredients necessary to cook those dishes on the menu. And nothing more. It is utterly astonishing (to me, at least) how few people realise this. What’s on the menu is what we can cook for you. That’s why it’s on the frigging menu. Not only that, the menu also represents the totality of what chef is willing to cook for you. Exactly as it is described on the menu. We don’t just knock these things up in a spare five minutes. We actually research them, calculate the cost of each dish, from which supplier we’re getting the produce and how much of it we’ll need. So, for the love of every god in the sky, never go off-menu. If there’s something you don’t like on the menu, don’t fucking ask if chef is willing to replace the cheese for bacon, the beans for peas, the bread for pancakes etc. Pick something else. Something you will eat. If there’s absolutely nothing you want on the menu: go somewhere else.

It’s not just because it fucks up my GP (gross profit, what we’re all targetted on). And it’s certainly not just because I’m an awkward shitbag. Far from it: if you’re a vegetarian, I’m more than willing to make you up some vegetarian gravy, to leave off the bacon etc. On the other hand, if you’re a vegan, you shouldn’t be eating in public. Seriously. I respect your lifestyle choice, just don’t ask me to cook for you. And if you have allergies, I will do my utmost that you can eat my food without dying of anaphylactic shock. On the other hand (this is something of a pet peeve of mine) if you’re not allergic to something, but just really don’t like whatever it is, don’t tell the waiter that you have allergies. If you really don’t like tomatoes, I won’t put them on your burger. Don’t tell me you’re allergic to the damn things, or I’ll have to change the whole of your dish.

No. The real reason is that chefs are machines. We know every dish on the menu, and we can cook them on auto-pilot. Special requests make us stop and have to think about what we’re doing, and that just slows down the whole of service. It fucks us over entirely: I’ve made Diane sauce to exactly the same recipe throughout my career; some thirteen years. Some twatbag asks for it with wholegrain rather than dijon mustard and I essentially have to relearn something that I could otherwise do without thinking, and thus taking time from what would otherwise be spent on other meals. You are making your whole table’s food late, and everyone else who’s ordered after you.

And, while I’m on the subject, if there is a separate daytime and evening menu, never try to order something off the daytime menu in the evening. It’s eight o’clock and the rest of your table has ordered steaks, fresh fish, mussels. Great dishes, proper restaurant food. And you want a cheese sandwich on brown. I’m sorry my friend, but you are a grade-A cunt. If all you want is a cheese sandwich, fucking stay at home. Or go to Subway (they’re about as likely to make you a plain cheese sandwich on brown as I am.) I’m just not going to do it, and you should be ashamed for even asking.

2) Which, with the special requests, brings me to my next point. Don’t ask for the sauce on the side. It annoys the hell out of me. Have you ever tried pouring à la minute peppercorn sauce from a frying pan into a milk jug with an opening less than an inch across? It’s just sodding awkward. “Sauce on side” diners are generally those who order well-done steak (don’t). They’re generally the ones who only eat “plain food”. I do not work in a Berni Inn. If you want plain chicken and chips, either fuck yourself and re-educate your tastebuds or go somewhere else. This isn’t the eighties, we don’t serve food in baskets anymore. People who are only willing to eat “plain food” should not eat out unless they’re going to a sodding McDonalds. Such people are to be shunned.

(I’m serious about not ordering well-done steak. Just don’t. Particularly not if it’s fillet: you’ll break the chef’s heart. No chef wants to serve boot leather. If you don’t like bloody meat, don’t order steak.)

3) Chef is never willing to make you an omelette. If he were, it’d be on the sodding menu.

4) While still on the subject of special requests, recall that you are not dining at a hospice. This is not Care in the Community. So don’t ask for utterly retarded things: I cannot make a low-protein spaghetti carbonara.

5) Tip. Not tipping does make you a bad person. Seriously. The Dalai Lama tips, while Hitler made a point of never doing so. Who would you rather emulate? Obviously (and thank any god you care to mention), I don’t work in America, where tips are essential to the staff’s livelihood. Nevertheless, even here in the UK, tipping is important. Not only is it just polite, it’s also where my drinks at the end of the shift come from. Don’t come between me and my booze.

Don’t think that you can get away with not tipping if the service or food was shitty. The only justifiable reason for not tipping (short of your waiter being egregiously rude to you, of course. If he hits on your girlfriend, spills beer into your crotch or calls you a “cheapo shitebag without the manners or finesse of a rutting donkey” (that was a damn good shift), then you’re perfectly justified in not leaving a tip. Complain to his manager as well: waiters like to think that they’re fireproof, and should be disproved at every turn.) is if both the food and the service were aweful. Think about it. If you had excellent service but bad food, why penalise your fantastic waitress in order to punish the kitchen? Similarly, why punish the kitchen when you’ve dined like a king but your waiter didn’t know his arse from his elbow?

And yes, anything less than 10% is insulting. Don’t leave your small change as a tip: any waiter worth his salt will follow you out of the restaurant and remind you that you’ve forgotten your change. Really loudly, in front of other people. The elderly should also take note here: we are not your grandchildren and as such fifty pence is not a reasonable tip on a forty pound bill.

If you can’t afford to tip, you shouldn’t be eating out. And remember, a verbal tip won’t buy my beer.

6) Make a note of when the kitchen closes. If the kitchen closes at half nine, don’t order food at twenty-five past. I’m saying this for your benefit as much as mine. By this time, the chef will be ready to close, having cleaned the kitchen down and pretty much put everything away. Some cockend coming in and expecting starters and two well-done steaks five minutes before close is going to be the least popular man in town (never cut into a chef’s drinking time). The chef will rush through your check and the food won’t be great quality: he doesn’t care about your dining experience, he wants the goddamn food off his pass so he can turn everything off and get a couple of pints inside him.

7) I don’t work in a soup kitchen. You want something extra, you pay for it. In none of the languages I speak does the word “discount” occur.

8) Should you have the good fortune to encounter the man (or woman. It’s rare, but becoming more and more common) who cooked your food, recall that “chef” is not just a job description. It’s also a title. “Oi mush” or “Yurr, mate” are both unacceptable. It’s “chef”. The whole sociolinguistics of “chef”, and who gets to be called that in a professional context and when is the subject for a completely different post, but as a general rule, if you don’t know me personally, I’d rather you as a customer address me as “chef” when I’m at work. And do try not to ask stupid questions. Last weekend, in the middle of my shift, I was wandering around in the Bear’s courtyard for a reason which will remain undisclosed, and someone asked me “are you a chef?” Not the chef, mark you, but a chef. Lacking as I do any kind of customer service skills, my response was along the lines of “what gives it away? The jacket, the apron or the bad attitude?” The young lad in question responded that he’d just dropped a glass on the floor and broken it. I clapped him on the shoulder, congratulated him and told him that I hoped that he’d made his night now. If you happen to see me, don’t tell me that you need condiments or cutlery, or that your pint is flat or any other such triviality. I am a chef. The minutiae are handled by the waiting staff.

In summary, we all know that this has been coming for a long while, and hopefully this has gotten it all off my chest. That said, however, the urge to throw something at the wall and shout “CUNTS!” really loudly remains overwhelming. Should you ever visit a certain pub in south-east Dorset and hear a strange mix of French and Welsh expletives coming from a kitchen, you’ll know that you’ve found me.

Bon appetit!

1) For non-classicists, or those who didn’t do Latin at school, both of these terms refer to public eateries. Roman cafés, if you will. Etymologically, both are interesting. Caupō, the root of caupona, is ultimately the source of the English word “cheap”, via a proto-Germanic borrowing of the Latin as *kaupaz “trader”, hence also German kaufen “to buy”. Popīna, like caupō, is actually a loanword into Latin, in this case from Oscan or Umbrian, branches of the Italic family which exhibited a soundchange of * to *p, much as Brittonic and Gaulish changed proto-Celtic * to *p: the corresponding Latin reflex was coquīna “kitchen”. If Oscan-Umbrian were P-Italic, then Latin was Q-Italic. Which is pretty cool.

I need them and they need me

19.11.11 § 3 commentarii

I know this isn't really a post. It's a review. Well, not even that. (Rest assured, I've got a couple of things up my sleeve: one needs me to actually tug my finger out and write it (it's about the hospitality industry, my mistress and nemesis), and the other needs me to fucking locate one of my syntax textbooks.)

When I say “review”, I do of course use the term loosely. I honestly don't intend on any kind of analysis, rather let me offer this to you as something that I've been listening to myself.

I've spoken in passing here before that my taste in music is generally uninteresting: I really like what could be called “indie” music: from the 80's onwards. My iPod is a happy festival of the Killers, the Jam, Madness and everything (chronologocially, at least) in between. However, I still have a dirty little pop-music secret. These are the songs I sing at work. My all-time favourite band, when I was a teenager, was The Beautiful South. And, if I'm honest, still is. (I should probably confess to an enduring weakness for Italian pop music here. But, in honesty, if I can with a straight face refer to Alex Britti as an “Italian composer”, I believe I should be able to get away with it.)

I've mentioned here before (or perhaps on this blog's predecessor) that I am not the most “musical” of people. What I like about a song isn't its tune, but rather its lyrics. The Beautiful South is, to me, the exemplar of horrendously dark lyrics with upbeat pop tunes. (Domestic violence, rape, alcoholism etc. with a really catchy beat.)

The thing about Beautiful South tracks is that they speak to me at different times of my life. (Oh ye gods, I just noticed that I wrote “speak to me” with reference to music. Honestly, I need to be shot/corrected) Years ago, when my parents were divoricing and I was caught in the middle, I really related to Your Father and I, while far too much of my early relationship with He Whom I Call Beloved (actually, he's given permission for me to use his name now. It's Kris. He's pretty damn awesome.) can be summed up by Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud).

Which brings me back to the “review” part. Alternately, to what I'm feeling at the moment. I do apologise that it's not some classical composer: it's not Carl Orff setting some mediaeval lyric to modern music. In spite of the loquaciousness, I do like to remind people that I'm a remarkably simple man: in honesty I'm something of a pikey. Cock'n'bullkid is, in my opinion, a worhty sucessor to the Beautiful South: wry and depressing lyrics with a really chirpy tune. Depression has never sounded so good:

Normal service shortly to be resumed

9.11.11 § 4 commentarii

Sorry guys, I've been rather busy recently. Well, by busy I really mean being depressed enough that I have no motivation to do much of anything. Work's kept me chugging along, and I'm happily out the other side of it now. On the other hand, I've done nothing noteworthy of late. What then to blog about?

In conclusion, I'm a shit blogger. I promise I'll write something soon.

Big Society

22.9.11 § 0 commentarii

I recently heard from a friend of mine.

What with the credit crunch, downsizing and what have you, unfortunately he’s been unemployed for the past six months. Last time I saw him was a few months ago, at a meeting of our local branch of the Conservative party. The talk was all about Cameron’s “Big Society”, an idea I’m fully behind. So, as we mingled over cheese nibbles and chardonnay, I suggested that he put some of what we’d just heard into action: while he’s looking for work, why not volunteer?

Well, yesterday he called me, with good news. He’s taken my advice, and he’s found something to keep himself occupied.

“Deiniol, my lad,” he says to me, “you’ll me proud of me.”

“Oh?” say I. “What’re you doing now?”

“It’s really fantastic. I’m preparing meals for the homeless, for drug addicts, alcoholics, unwed teenage mothers. You know, the poor unfortunates who’ve slipped through the cracks of society.”

“But that’s great!” I enthuse. “You’re what? Working with a charity?”

Good God no. I’m the head chef at a Wetherspoon’s.

And I'm back, ladies and gents.

The most unexpected of things

29.7.11 § 4 commentarii

I recently had the old riah zhooshed and idly inquired whether the cape around my shoulders had been shaken out since the last customer, as there appeared to be more than a few grey hairs down my front. Johann, the surly mitteleuropäisch barber, assured me that no, it was in fact all my own hair, and proceeded to point out exactly what bits of my scalp they came from. I may have made a rather undignified noise. It's now undeniable: I'm going grey at the temples. Now this by itself might not exactly be cause for concern, as I'm relatively certain that the sudden appearance of grey hair is not unconnected to stress. Nevertheless, there are other signa et portenta.

Nasal hair has become an Issue. Hangovers are becoming worse, and lasting a good day or so. My hairline is receding. Oddly, this only appears to be a problem on one side of my head (similarly, the aforementioned nasal hair problem affects only the left nostril. I am ageing lopsidedly.), although this could just be down to how I tend to part my hair. A chance remark by He Whom I Call Beloved, followed by much contortionism and a pair of mirrors, reveals that my hair is beginning to thin on the crown. The hair on my back and shoulders has become pelt-like, and I am forced to either shave my upper arms or refrain from wearing t-shirts. I desperately need to have my prescription updated, as my glasses are no longer helping me to see in the distance, and I suspect that my eyesight is now too poor to drive legally.

I shall refrain from listing the non-physical signs of ageing that I've noticed. Quite frankly, a raging intolerance for youth slang, fashion and music is just a part of the grumpy misanthropy that I have cultivated since I was twenty or so. I do feel old, though, when walking through the centre of town on Friday and Saturday nights. Clubbers are so young these days. And I swear that some bus drivers have obtained employment under false pretences: some of them don't look old enough to be in charge of a tricycle, let alone a sodding double-decker.

I am aware that this post is not without an element of chutzpah. Many (most?) of you dear and loyal readers are richer in years than I. Indeed, my husband, who is six years older than me, as bald as a billiard ball and sports a beard so streaked with grey that he appears to be speaking through a baby badger, has told me to stop being such a bloody drama queen. While tucking a nice tartan blanket around me and passing me my pipe and slippers.

Summer heat

6.7.11 § 1 commentarius

I’ll confess: I dislike the summer.

In this, my twenty-eighth, I can finally say that I fail to see the point. Possibly, this is because for me the summer does not mean long, lazy days of inactivity on the beach, nor pleasant sojourns in shade-dappled forest glades. Summer is not when I jet off to foreign parts, to stroll along the quais of Saint-Tropez or to wander contentedly through the sun-warmed cobbled streets of picturesque Tuscan villages.

No. I live and work in a tourist town. Summer, to me, means endless days sweating in a sauna-like kitchen. Summer is when my working day begins before nine in the morning and doesn’t end until eleven in the evening. Summer is when I need a machete to clear my way through the hordes of babbling foreign students at the bus stop. Summer, to me, is not a time of growth, beauty and wonder; but rather of hard work and hardship, the time of scarcity before the harvest. I’ve often wondered if I have some kind of perversely inverted seasonal affective disorder, as most of my major bouts of depression have tended to occur during July and August.

Strangely, as well, during the summer I become less religious. I find it difficult to maintain the motivation for much more than my semi-regular dawn devotionals. At the same time, I find myself drawn more to esoterica: I think about myths and mythic structures, I find myself meditating more frequently. Recently, I’ve even started taking an interest in astrology, to the point of mapping out my own natal chart and attempting to interpret it. (I have a Sagittarius ascendant, with Jupiter in Sagittarius. Apparently this gives me a natural interest in religion. Who knew?) Perhaps this is because I find myself with little energy in my spare time, what with it all being expended at work, and so the “active” portions of my life tend to go on the back burner.

I much prefer spring and autumn. Autumn is when the harvest has been gathered in, both literally and metaphorically: it’s a time of plenty, when one can look back with satisfaction on a time of back-breaking work and think “thank fuck that’s all over,” and get on with the serious business of enjoying the fruits of one’s labours. Paradoxically, autumn to me also means the beginning of something new: perhaps this is a relic of my academic past, but I’ve always been comfortable with autumn being considered the start of the new year. So, while autumn marks an ending, it also shines with potential: for me, the “feel” of autumn is a combination of hope and melancholy which I’ve always felt to be my native emotional state. Spring, on the other hand, is a wonderful time, full of beauty and promise. As I have remarked before, it’s the time of year before everything goes to shit.

Nevertheless, we’ve passed the solstice, and the fire-wheel is now rolling downhill. It’ll all soon be over and September with its cool breezes will soon be upon us. Happy summer holidays everyone!


§ 1 commentarius

1  Nest baragon wor clāron,   No bread on the board,
     nec curmi in nāwyāi.       nor beer in the bowl.
 Stagrās samosespās   Summer-dry streams
     wo·selont samalī caχtās.       slink low like slaves.
5Au·tetoye arincā,   Gone is the wheat,
     etic windosasyos.       and the white barley.
 Sēbroi tarbont slēbos,   Spectres haunt the threshing-floor,
     serrās wor selwān crabancās.          sickles in clawed hands.
 Cu donyos maleti·yo?   Where now the miller,
10    Uχsū mantrāti·yo?       and the trampling oxen?
 Yon tausyont maginā,   When the millstone falls silent,
     mailos est martos butācī.       evil is the farmer's fate.
 Cridyā ambaχton coryon,   Wolves gnaw the heart,
     cnāyontor bladibi.       of warband and ploughmen.
15    Nest blātos in bolgē,   No ground grain in the bag,
     nec curmi bracitegesi.       nor beer in the brewhouse.

Cras carebo

15.6.11 § 5 commentarii

I fear, dear reader, that I have an alcohol problem. That I am, in fact, an alcoholic.

After twelve years working with and around the Devil’s Urine, coupled with what is termed “an addictive personality”, this is not a particular surprise. I’ve often reasoned with myself that I am not an alcoholic: I’m a drunk, alcoholics go to meetings, I don’t pour cornflakes on my vodka, I can stop any time I like, et cætera ad nauseam. However, the plain truth is that I have an abusive relationship with alcohol.

True, I don’t drink every day. I don’t wake up and reach for the whiskey, nor do I hide bottles of booze around the flat for surreptitious tippling. And I won’t drink while working: after all, I do have some instinct for self-preservation and impaired motor control while dealing with naked flames and incredibly sharp objects is something of a liability. I burn and cut myself enough by accident when I’m sober, and I dread to think what I would be like after a few pints. So I don’t fit the profile of your classic alcoholic.

My problem is a lack of control around alcohol. As an example, I generally have “a drink after work”. Now, given that the kitchen at The Bear closes at nine, one would expect me to have had one pint and then be on the bus home by ten. Instead, I generally have three or four pints and only leave when the pub closes. When I was at O’Murphy’s, it was not unusual for me to go for a drink after work and not get home until five the following morning. Even further back, when I was working at the chippy, a “swift half” after work ended up with me on a park bench in the snow at six in the morning, swigging rum straight from the bottle and spending the following day in hospital on a morphine drip for alcohol poisoning.

Of course, I could be blowing things out of all proportion, as normal. As I’ve learnt to deal with being bipolar, the tendency to self-medicate and the irresponsibility associated with periods of mania have become less severe. I no longer habitually pick up a bottle of wine to consume on my way home from work, for example, and I am (slowly) beginning to recognise when I’ve had too much and it’s time to go home. This concern, this sudden epiphany that I am an alcoholic could just be yet another tool my psyche has found that I can beat myself up with.

Something that my psychiatrist once noted is that there’s a somewhat fundamental tension in my personality, an opposition between hedonism and ascetism. Don’t get me wrong, I like booze. A good wine, ale or whiskey is a pleasure, in much the same way as a good meal is, or ogling an attractive man. However, at the same time there is this revulsion for all of the above, this gnawing, flesh-hating guilt which inevitably follows indulgence in any of the above. I tend not to suffer from hangovers, simply a sense of torpor conmingled with a really miserable guilt.

So, perhaps I’m “an alcoholic”, or perhaps just fucked up. Not sure what to do with that, however. I think that twelve-stepping, support groups and abstinence might be precipitate at the moment, treating the symptoms rather than the causes. I’m going to go read about Breton soundchanges in order to distract myself, I think.

I have nothing to say.

27.5.11 § 0 commentarii


It’s work’s fault, of course. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying it, but I’ve really had to hit the ground running. All these bank holidays, the recent nice weather and the slow build-up of the summer season have all conspired to make me rather work-focused, to the detriment of the rest of my life.

However, as I don’t want this blog to degenerate into a sequence of bitter rants about the life of a chef, I’ve decided not to post about what’s happening to me at the moment in my everyday life. You don’t want to read about my irritating commis or our ongoing quest for a reliable KP. Nor, I suspect, do you want to read self-pitying whining about my mental health and my husband’s seemingly interminable bankruptcy proceedings. It’d be like a really depressing “real lives” section from Closer! magazine.

In lieu of actually writing substantial posts, what I’ve been doing is jotting down ideas for future blogposts, to be written when I regain some energy and motivation (i.e. September). Aside from things I’ve already set up and need to continue (like the conception of Lugus thing), I’m plotting a few posts about some of my favourite languages, both real and invented: Dalmatian, Romansh and Romani on the one hand, Tailancan and Dravean on the other. A post about oaths and oathbreaking in the context of ritual purity (were it an article for publication, I’d title it something grand like “Towards a Celtic reconstruction of miasma”). Something about Romance philology and why I find it quite so fascinating. Maybe a few recipes. Some anecdotes about my time as a drunken, drug-addled bacchant. I’m not sure yet. I wouldn’t expect anything soon, however, as I really don’t know when I’m going to wake up on a day off with sufficient energy to get dressed before three, let alone actually write anything.

The Last Bus

6.5.11 § 3 commentarii

We are the passengers of the last bus.

You’ll recognise us, if you’ve ever been out for a night on the town and then caught the final bus home. We’re not the loud, lairy drunks. We’re not the neat boys on stag dos, all dressed the same in striped long-sleeve shirts, jeans and polished slip-on shoes, nor are we their sluttily-dressed hen party counterparts.

We’re the tired-looking, blank-faced ones. We don’t smell of too much aftershave, but more likely of sweat. Half of us will be dressed in black shirts and trousers: as frigid and bitter as the last of Mussolini’s fascists.

We’re the ones that have poured your drinks, cooked your food and waited on your tables all night. For you it’s the week-end, for us the start of the working week. We look down on all of you, sneering the sneer of the sober in face of the inebriated.

We’re the unfortunates of the hospitality industry, and god help the lot of us.


That particularly bleak image came to me a few nights ago as I was coming home from work. The last bus, the bus I’ve been catching for the past eleven years, always evokes a curious mixture of pride and melancholy in me. It’s always a somewhat soulless journey, as those going home from work try desperately to maintain their dignity and personal space in face of the final cargo of pissheads. Generally, we really don’t want to talk to anybody, particularly not customers who might recognise us. Sometimes, however, the façade slips and humanity reaches out to humanity in joint commiseration and triumph.

In this area of the country, people are not prone at the best of times to strike up conversation with random strangers on the bus. I remember shortly after moving down here as a kid and my mother, used to the slightly more garrulous passengers of Wales and the Midlands, tried to make polite conversation with people on the bus. Invariably, people would shift uncomfortably and change seats. Conversely, I recall how uncomfortable I was when I moved back to Wales at the age of nineteen and people tried to talk to me on the bus. A few nights ago, however, I broke from my customary reserve.

A guy in a t-shirt, roughly the same age as me, sat down heavily on the seat next to me. To put it gently, he smelt rather “ripe”, and I tried to breathe more shallowly. Then I looked down at his arms. Like mine, they were covered in scalds, burns and cuts. Gently, dear reader, I murmured “So, chef, had a busy night?”

And so we struck up a conversation. The normal kind that chefs tend to have among themselves: we spoke of places we’ve worked, compared notes on chefs who we’ve worked with, established common ground. We swapped horror stories of difficult tables and impossible waiters, moaned about the pay and hours of our profession. Then we talked about how we got into the trade in the first place. In both our cases, the answer was “by accident”. Turns out that my new-found friend on the bus had an MA in Computer Animation.

This is more common than you might think. My own sorrowful story of an academic manqué is hardly unique. Very few people choose the trade as their first option: most of us have an escape plan, dreams of what we’d rather be doing. Indeed, the waiter who’s actually a “resting” actor is a well-established trope of popular culture. We all tell ourselves that one day our ship will come in, that we’ll finally get out of the trade for good and finally be who we “really” are.

So why do people actually get into the trade in the first place, and why don’t more leave? As to the second: they do. The hospitality industry has an incredibly high staff turnover. Bar staff in particular are largely transient employees. Nevertheless, there’s always a core of lifers: those who have been in the industry for decades and, in spite of their grand plans and fervent self-delusion, will be in the industry decades hence. I live in perpetual fear of becoming one of them.

The answer to the first is more difficult. For many of us, it was simply an accident of fate. In my own case, it all stems from taking a “summer job” as a dishwasher when I was fifteen or so. I often wonder what might have happened had I learnt to ride a bike and gotten a paper round instead. Some of us just fall into it by default. We drop out of school, or fail our GCSEs, or get told to by our probation officer, and end up doing a GNVQ in catering thinking it’ll be a soft option (indoor work, not much heavy lifting, etc.) A lot of us are running from something. Of course, many of us tell ourselves that it’s only for the interim. We might even try getting a “proper job” outside the trade and discover that we’re far too maladjusted to cope in the real world (ahem.)

The more puzzling cases are those who have “re-skilled”, coming from occupations outside the trade. Those journalists and investment analysts one reads about in the Sunday papers who have decided to retrain as chefs, or to run quaint country pubs. They’re frequently foodies, or real ale enthusiasts. They rarely last more than a few years: they realise that it’s a hell of a lot more work than managing the accounts of Dunkington, Blithely and Smithwick.

When I got home that evening, I finished off editing one of the essays I’m going to submit to Oxford and began to think about what I’m going to write for my “statement of purpose”. That’s my exit plan, and I intend on giving it my best shot. Hedging my bets, though, I still did a cost analysis of the weekend’s specials...

Coquus redivivus

5.4.11 § 1 commentarius

In retrospect, it is lucky that I did not throw away my whites when I got the job at the Bakery, as I was counselled to by my relatives.

On Friday, I went in for a trial shift at a pub just down the road from where I worked at the Bakery. It became rapidly apparent to me that I am badly out of shape. The last time I’d worked in a professional kitchen was exactly six months and one week previously, and I’ve lost my edge: my feet were in agony by the end of the shift, I was having trouble coping with the heat, the callus on my right forefinger where the spine of a knife rests has completely worn away, making repetitive chopping somewhat painful.

Nevertheless, they offered me the job at the end of the shift, on excellent terms. Both the money and the hours are better than I had at the Bakery- something I shall point out with not a little glee to those who expressed disappointment that I had left a “proper job” in order to get back into the hospitality industry. The shift patterns are somewhat more in line with my taste and constitution as well. No longer will I have to be up at sparrow-fart, nor do I now have to stick to a bedtime that a five year old would balk at. The food is good, too. Virtually everything prepared from fresh on the premises, which is a delight after O’Murphy’s. About 60% of the menu there came out of microwavable pouch, which becomes dispiriting after a while- “a while” being approximately half an hour.

So I was offered the job, took it eagerly and went back the following day for twelve hours of intensive induction. Now, when one’s most strenuous activities over the past couple of months have been deciding what novel to read today, a sudden twelve-hour jag on the busiest day of the week is something like a bullet to the back of the head. Sunday saw me utterly exhausted. I met my father on Sunday evening for a celebratory drink and he asked me in all seriousness if I’d been in a fight, the dark circles under my eyes were so bad.

Still, it was a tiring week anyway, without being suddenly plunged back into the fiery inferno of professional chefdom. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Cambridge visiting Bo, and had a fantastic time. We did discourse learnedly upon dyuers matters most recondite (read: we got smashed over an excellent dinner with his friend Melanie and Christina Harrington of Treadwells, both of whom are utterly lovely). However, coach travel is utterly odious, and much of Thursday was spent sleeping the previous two days off.

So that’s that. I’m back in the trade. Once more I am a chef, knowing full well that it’s not what I want to be in the long term. Ach, the things we must do to survive...

The Birth of Lugus I: Towards a reconstruction

13.3.11 § 1 commentarius

While not having a great deal of personal involvement with him, I probably find Lugus the most fascinating of all Celtic deities. He’s one of the few deities that we can be sure was worshipped across the Celtic world, with attestations for him among the Gauls, the Irish, the Celtiberians, the Welsh and the pre-Roman Britons, and the complexity of the Mediaeval stories surrounding him is rather beguiling.

His Welsh reflex, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, is attested primarily in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, although it is not unlikely that he is also reflected in Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys. Today, in an effort to interest myself in, well, anything, I re-read the former in Will Parker’s translation of the the Four Branches- a work I find fascinating and infuriating in equal measures.

Now, I’m well aware that the mediaeval Welsh stories are a product entirely of their time and culture, and that one cannot read them as if by simply deleting all overtly Christian references one would arrive at a “Pure Celtic” proto-myth. For a start, we don’t know how much of the stories the redactor simply made up, or modified in order to better convey his (or her- the arguments that the Mabinogi was written by a woman are actually fairly persuasive) point, and how much is drawn from earlier traditions. To assume that the redactor was like some High Mediaeval precursor to those Victorian folklorists who toured the country faithfully recording folktales, giving these druidic myths only the lightest of Christian veneers is a fatuous idea: that kind of thinking leads us to such horrors as The 21 Lessons of Merlin, Caitlin Matthews and much of modern druidry.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but reading them with a comparativist’s eye, and find it interesting to speculate upon what the “original” myths might have looked like. Particularly of interest to me is the story of Lleu’s conception. Parker’s own speculations on the same are interesting, and his reconstruction of the proto-Celtic mythologem is, in my opinion, persuasive in outline. Below is a slightly abridged version of the beginning of his reconstruction[1]:

*Uuidianos comes from the North and steals the sacred pigs from the aboriginal tribe of the chieftain *Nouda. As a result, the People of *Dânouuiâ defeat Nouda and gain power over the land. In the midst of this chaos, Uuidianos is able to insinuate his way into the island-tower where the sun-giant Belenos has hidden his daughter to protect her virginity. It has been prophesied that should this daughter give birth to a son, the boy would kill her father. After sleeping with Uuidianos, the giant’s daughter gives birth to two baby boys, one of whom immediately turns into a seal and heads for the sea. The other child is nursed and reared, grows and achieves great acclaim even as a boy.

This reconstruction is, of course, an attempt to reconcile the Irish story of Lugh’s conception with that of Lleu: the two stories are at once tantalisingly similar yet obstinately different. While in broad outline, I think that Parker has been overly ambitious here. While his thesis of the “Indigenous Otherworld” is not without merit, I fail to see his point in making *Nouda (recte: *Noudons) its chieftain, nor the victim of the theft. Similarly, I am not sure that Belenos is the deity behind Balor. My own reconstruction is given below, with explanatory notes following:

There is a virginal maiden kept isolated in a tower in the sea(1) by a guardian who wants her to remain a virgin(2). A shape-changing deity(3) is involved in the theft of otherworldly livestock(4). As a result(5), the virginal maiden and the shape-changing deity have sex and the maiden becomes pregnant. The result of this pregnancy is a multiple birth(6): the first children are consigned to the sea, while the last is rescued, raised elsewhere and grows up to be Lugus.
  1. Lugh’s mother Ethniu was imprisoned by her father Balor on Tory Island. Arianrhod’s home was supposed to be an island off the coast of Dinas Dinlle (there’s a rock formation visible there at low tide called “Caer Arianrhod”).
  2. In the Irish story it’s because her father is concerned that her son will kill him. In the Fourth Branch Math’s footholder must remain a virgin.
  3. After being struck by a druid’s wand, Lugh’s father Cían, could turn himself into a pig. Gwydion and his brother Gilfaethwy were turned into pigs by Math ap Mathonwy.
  4. In the Mabinogi, the livestock are the swine Pryderi received from Arawn. In the Irish tale, it was Goibniu’s cow.
  5. How the theft relates to what follows varies. In the Irish story, Cían finds Ethniu while tracking down Goibniu’s cow, which had been stolen by Balor. In the Fourth Branch, Gwydion steals Pryderi’s pigs in order to provide a diversion for his brother’s rape of Goewin. Either way, livestock gets stolen and a virgin gets knocked up as a consequence.
  6. In the Irish story triplets, in the Mabinogi twins.

While attempting to include the main correspondences between both narratives, my reconstruction probably conforms most closely to the Irish story. Given the greater breadth and detail of the Irish material, this is not an uncommon occurrence in Celtic comparative mythology. However, in this case we should exercise caution: the complete Irish narrative actually postdates the composition of the Mabinogi quite significantly. Nevertheless, I feel that there’s enough material of genuine antiquity here to work with. For the sake of argument, let’s accept the above outline and focus on some of the difficulties of the Welsh story, starting with how the actors of the Fourth Branch fit into this proto-myth.

The shape-changing god: The precise nature of Lleu’s paternity is never overtly stated in the Mabinogi, although it is commonly that Gwydion is his father. In the Harleian genealogies, which provide us with out first Welsh attestation of Lleu, the father of Lou hen is given as Guidgen. If the ultimate etymon of “Gwydion” is *Widugenos “born of the woods”, this could represent a native tradition that Gwydion is Lleu’s father. Similarly, it is commonly inferred that the “shame” to which Arianrhod continually refers to in her encounters with Gwydion and Lleu is the sin of incest: that the father of her son was her brother (sc. Gwydion).

That said, Arianrhod had at least two brothers: Gwydion and Gilfaethwy. I think it’s probable that in the Welsh myth we’ve seen a split, that the violated virgin has been split off from the virgin who was Lugus’ mother: that Goewin and Arianrhod were originally one and the same character. That would place Lleu’s conception at Goewin’s rape, making his father Gilfaethwy. The text describing Goewin’s rape seems to me to be slightly ambiguous. Goewin, in her confession to Math, points the finger of blame not solely at Gilfaethwy, but also at Gwydion. This to me implies that perhaps both Gilfaethwy and Gwydion violated Goewin.

A third possible father figure here is Hyfaidd fab Dôn. In the White and Red Book versions of the Branch the two brothers who fulfil Math’s kingly duties on the circuit for him are not Gilfaethwy and Gwydion, but Gilfaethwy and Hefeydd[2]. That this is simply a scribal slip is possible, but seems unlikely: “Gwydyon” and “Eueyd” are not particularly close in spelling or pronunciation.

Of course, this provokes the question of which pre-Christian figures (if any) are lurking behind the characters in the Mabinogi. Let’s look at each in turn:

  • Gwydion is a puzzle. Etymologically, Gwydion could be either from *Widugenos, as mentioned above, or from *Wetyonos, which presents a few problems philologically speaking. Both these putative etyma open interesting perspectives. The latter etymon is most likely derived from the PIE *wet- “prophesy, see”, which with lengthened o-grade gives Proto-Celtic *wātis, which is the form underlying the ὀυάτεις of Strabo (rendered into English as “ovate”). The same root also underlies the Germanic theonym *Wōðanaz. The implication here is a god of magic and frenzy, and indeed Gwydion is a magician and trickster.
    The former etymology *Widugenos “wood-born” is the one I personally lean towards, although I concede that the evidence is somewhat tenuous. Part of the reason why I favour this derivation is because we have ample evidence for a pre-Christian Celtic deity who was associated with forests: Cernunnos. As outlined in a paper by Ceisiwr Serith, the iconography of Cernunnos points to his being a reflex of the Indo-European “pastoral” god, who is also reflected in the Greek Pan and the Vedic Pūṣan. This deity was primarily a god of liminal spaces and those who go between them. While the word “shamanic” tends to be trotted out all too readily by scholars of ancient religions, I do not think that in this case it is unwarranted. The portfolio of this god includes the wilderness and those who dwell there (and thus by extension herdsmen and traders), the journey to and from the afterlife and, of course, prophecy and magic. Gwydion raises Lleu outside the bounds of society, he is the herdsman who obtains a new kind of livestock for his people, he coaxes Lleu back from death. For these reasons, I see Gwydion as the Welsh reflex of Cernunnos.
  • Hefeydd’s name can be traced with some confidence back to a Proto-Celtic *Ogmiyos, who is an actual attested pre-Christian deity. If the mention of Hefeydd in the Red and White Book manuscripts is not a slip of the scribe’s quill, it is possible then that at one point the tale concerned three brothers rather than two, and Hefeydd’s role has been blended with that of the others. In this, I think that it is perhaps particularly relevant that during the episode at Pryderi’s court Gwydion is referred to as the best cyfarwydd (story-teller). Ogmios is known as a god of eloquence, his iconography shows followers connected to his tongue by chains. Note also that it is Gwydion who meets and defeats Pryderi in single combat. Ogmios’ Irish reflex Ogma is the champion of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and in the Cath Maige Tuired he functions as Lug’s champion specifically.
  • Gilfaethwy is possibly the most curious of the three characters. After the rape of Goewin and his subsequent zoomorphic punishment, he simply fades from the story, nor does he to my knowledge crop up elsewhere in the corpus. Etymologically, his name is something of a puzzler as well. Ifor Williams suggests that the first element of the name, gilf- could be an alternate spelling of gylf “knife”. Isaac Graham suggests that the second element is actually daethwy, a toponym meaning “burnt place”, the whole name meaning “knife of the burnt place”[3]. “Daethwy” as a topoymic element is confined to the mediaeval commote of Dindaethwy (”fort of the burnt place”), in the east of Anglesey. Given the intensely local nature of the name, it’s difficult to see how Gilfaethwy is anything but a literary invention.

The virgin: as I mention above, I think it’s likely that Goewin and Arianrhod represent a bifurcation of one original character. But who is that original character? Arianrhod, as we all know, is a difficult figure in the texts. She has no clear proto-Celtic antecedent, if any at all. It’s commonly suggested that she is a “moon goddess”, based on the meaning of her name (i.e. “silver wheel”), but even that is unsure: her name is also attested as Aranrhod, which form precludes an etymon in *Argantorotā. Aside from the name, there appears to be very little within the textual tradition indicating any particular association with the moon. Indeed, Celtic moon-deities in general are conspicuous by their absence.

Her guardian: in the Irish story, the role of the virgin’s guardian is straightforward: Balor is the leader of the enemies of the gods. He is commonly perceived as the personification of drought, a conclusion which I find little problem with. Math fab Mathonwy, however, is a more ambiguous figure. He is not the villain of the piece, indeed he goes on to help Gwydion’s schemes with Lleu. He is not perceived as an outsider, rather he is the lawful sovereign of Gwynedd.

What he is not, however, is very kingly. His “peculiarity” of having to have his feet in the lap of a virgin when not at war prevents him from exercising all the functions of kingship. He isn’t lauded for his brave deeds, his justice or his generosity. Indeed, he does not fit into the mould of a typical Celtic ruler at all. What he is however, is a practitioner of magic. He turns Gwydion and Gilfaethwy into animals, his wand can reveal the status of a virgin. Interestingly, Parker points out that Mathonwy could be cognate to Mathgen, the name of a druid in the Irish stories about Lugh. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that Math’s name is in fact derived from Goidelic.

Parker makes a cogent case that one of the primary folkloric motifs in the Lugus-cycle is the prophesied death of an old king. Assuming he’s correct, I suspect that Math’s “original” role within this myth was not the king fated to die; but rather more akin to the role of Mathgen in the Irish myths and indeed Math’s role later on in the fourth Branch, that is a “helper” to the hero.

I think that this is as far as we can go without bringing in other material. In my next post, I shall try to place the ideas above in a wider comparative context.


1) Parker, Will. The Four Branches of the Mabinogi: Celtic Myth and Medieval Reality. Bardic Press, 2005.

2) The relevant passage reads as follows in the Red Book (spelling vaguely regularised and manuscript conventions excised): Ac ny allei gylchu y wlat, namyn Giluaethwy uab Don ac Eueyd uab Don y nyeint ueibon y chwaer ar teulu gyt ac wy y gylchu y wlat dros daw. He [Math] could not go on the circuit of the land, but Gilfaethwy son of Dôn and Efeydd son of Dôn his nephews, sons of his sister, and the household with them, went on the circuit on his behalf.

3) As explained in an email cited on this page.

Pissing in the Pierian Spring

10.3.11 § 3 commentarii

Earlier on today I managed to work myself into a complete and utter funk. In an effort to cheer myself up, I had decided to translate one of Aesop’s fables, probably into Gallo-Brittonic, so I went and found the original text. To my not inconsiderable consternation, I discovered that I couldn’t understand a bloody word.

Why I should have felt put out by this though is absolutely beyond me. It’s entirely irrational. I never bloody studied bloody Greek. I did Latin at school for six years[1]. What Greek I do know has entirely been gleaned from handbooks on Proto-Indo-European and fitful efforts with a teach yourself book which have always gently petered out some time after the aorist is introduced. I have nothing against the aorist, it’s just that my attention wanders and I start reading about clitic structures in Modern Western Armenian. So I have a working knowledge of the language’s morphology, and can recognise cognates fairly easily. However I managed to convince myself that this might translate into even a basic reading knowledge is beyond me. I still get confused over the breathings, for god’s sake. I can never remember if the one that looks like a c is a dasia or a psili.

Nevertheless, this ego-shaking discovery set me on a plainly insane spiral of panic. I began to question whether this was actually the case for all the languages I think I know. Panicking, I began to paw madly through my books, attempting to reassure myself that it wasn’t. Can I still actually read Old English? Sweet’s Reader in Prose and Verse came out: thank fuck, I can still understand it[2]. German: check. Cornish: yes, but still failing to see the point. Now for the big test: have I retained my Latin? Yes, I have. Barely. It’s a good eleven years since I had any formal instruction in it, and being honest these days I’m far more familiar with Latin as the raw material which would become the Romance languages. Those structures and morphology lost in Vulgar Latin tend to give me trouble, and I have to remind myself that focus, say, does not mean “fire”. On the other hand, I feel confident enough that I could translate a reasonable length of text with only minimal recourse to a grammar. Unless it was Tacitus or Virgil, obviously. Something by Cato, perhaps.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I set unreasonably high standards for myself. I honestly don’t think I will be content, for example, until I can write basic texts without aid in all the major extant Romance languages, excluding the silly ones like Gallo or Romagnol. And Wallon, obviously, which I am convinced is actually a collective hallucination caused by an unhealthy exposure to cow dung. When I look at all the languages I’ve tried to learn, I feel very depressed and realise that I’ve done no more than dabble with virtually all of them. One of the courses I had to attend at university was all about “getting to know yourself as a language learner”, and it was as dull as it sounds. However, I have subsequently realised something very important about myself as a language learner: a mere interest (even a strong one) in a language is not enough motivation for me to actually stick to it. It is no coincidence that most of the languages in which I maintain a reasonable competence are those which I had to study: French, Latin, German and Italian at school because it wasn’t something I could get out of, and Spanish at work, because there was no way of communicating with half the staff otherwise. I needed to know these languages for practical purposes: passing exams, asking where the hell the fish hasn’t been cut yet. Old English I scraped through by pegging it to my German lessons. Cornish I’m not entirely sure how to explain. It’s like a feral cat that finds a sucker who’ll feed it and subsequently keeps turning up at unexpected intervals yowling piteously.

All this has convinced me that I simply can’t do independent learning for any length of time. My attention wanders, my motivation fades and I start doing something else. I need someone to keep me at it. In order to test this theory, and to reassure myself that it’s just a lack of motivation that’s the problem rather than some kind of sudden inability to learn languages, I’m thinking of taking lessons in a language I don’t actually speak. Possibly Russian, as Japanese and Mandarin make me nauseous, and the only other course on offer at the moment is “Get By in Portuguese”, which sounds positively dreadful.


1) Having said that, though, had I not dropped out after only half a term in the Lower Sixth, I’m relatively certain that I could have persuaded my Latin teacher to add Greek into the curriculum. I often wonder what my life would be like had I not actually succumbed to the tedious teenage bacchanal of drugs, booze, casual sex and casual violence but rather continued with my education. More erudite, possibly, but certainly less rich in anecdotes suitable for startling elderly relatives.

2) I taught myself Old English while still a teenager, possibly as a result of Tolkien, possibly as a result of being really interested in runes at the time, I forget which. What I do remember is being entirely insufferable about it. Half of one English Lit class every week would be set aside for pupils to read something of their own choosing, the principle being to “get kids reading”. I remember smugly taking in an untranslated copy of Beowulf, and smugly waiting, just waiting to be taken to task for this so I could smugly point out that it was actually English and therefore perfectly admissible. Instead the teacher asked me to translate a few lines and pulled me up on mistranslating a preposition and thereby completely mangling the sense. He had done his MA thesis on some aspect of Beowulf. Not infrequently do I think that my aforementioned sink into depravity was probably a benefit to all concerned. The violent, promiscuous drunkard I turned into was infinitely preferable to the insufferable little prig I could have become.

In with the light, out with the shite

26.2.11 § 3 commentarii

I am highly disappointed in myself. It’s turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day here in Moriconium, and I am plagued by a nagging guilt that I am not out there making the most of it. A perfect day to hop on the bus and go somewhere wild (well, as close to wild as Dorset gets): to feel the salt breeze upon my face, to wander pensively along the banks of a stream, perhaps even to hug a tree. Instead I’ve sat on the sofa in my underpants all afternoon, eating crisps and watching Wales play a crap game against Italy.

This moring was slightly more productive, albeit only in a manner of speaking. I started writing a short piece on pagan views of sexuality, in response to something that Brochfael wrote on CF. Unfortunately, however, it swiftly got out of control and veered widely off-topic into a rambling denunciation of What I Think is Wrong in Paganism Today. I was vaguely tempted to post it anyway, knowing that it would probably get a few giggles, but on re-reading I noted that some of the things I wrote bordered uncomfortably on the sociopathic even by my own (admittedly rather low) standards.

Discretion being the better part of valour, then (and sensing that I really need to do more work on my anger issues), I have instead condensed it down into a rather more temperate List of Things I Don’t Get about Paganism. It’s far from comprehensive, obviously. I’ve missed off some of the more obvious things, like a cavalier disregard for historical and linguistic facts, as they’re not things I “don’t get”: I’m fully aware that they’re due to the unfortunate truth that people are stupid.

Things I Don’t Get about Paganism
  1. Nudity outside ritual. No, seriously, what’s that all about? Obviously we can lay the blame squarely at Dion Byngham’s door, but it just seems rather incongruous and lacking any actual theological justification. Am I right in suspecting that it’s simply an excuse for the more exhibitionist to wave their tackle about? When you get right down to it, are so many pagan gatherings “clothing-optional” solely so that the more self-aggrandising (there is indeed a pun here) PE teacher types can strut about like the cock of the walk?
  2. “Magickal” names. Just why?
  3. Bad prose. I know it’s not a specifically pagan thing, of course, but so much pagan writing is dire. Take the website of my local band of megalith-botherers: it’s barely literate. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the hideously over-wrought prose of Emma Restall Orr, whose persistent verbal tics render her work utterly unreadable for me. While we’re at it, can we please place a moratorium on the use of the verb “to craft” when we actually mean “to make” or “to create”?
  4. The propensity to schism. Actually, I think I do get why the pagan community is so Balkanised in the UK at least: everybody wants to be an archdruid.
  5. “Ritual” wear. We are, I believe, the only religion in the world where congregants are expected to dress up in homemade robes in order to worship. I know Christians have their Sunday Best, but it’s hardly comparable.
  6. The sheer aesthetic poverty. Bo’s already covered this one amply and I see no reason to add to his discussion.
  7. Tie-dye. When is paganism going to realise that the 1960s ended forty fucking years ago? This is not Height-Ashbury in the Summer of Love. It’s a British field in the middle of a damp August.
  8. Relativism. Sooner or later, paganism is going to have to decide once and for all: is it a religion (or, better, a group of religions) or a pick and mix approach to self-actualisation? When are we going to stop sitting around nodding gnomically and accepting everybody’s “truth” as equally valid. It is the mark of a mature religion to be able to turn to someone and tell them they’re talking bollocks.

I could go on, but those are the main things that are a source of genuine puzzlement to me. Why do these things occur at all? Answers on a postcard, please!

How do you plead?

24.2.11 § 5 commentarii

Q: What do you call a Welshman in a suit?

A: The defendant.

I had an interview today, at a lovely little pub near the quay over in Vetus Moriconium. It went swimmingly, even if I do say so myself: I can be remarkably charming when I want to be (alas that this does not translate into a facility with customer service!), and have been invited to do a trial shift this Sunday. The pay on offer's good, and I've got a good feeling about the place. Should I not make a complete arse of myself over Sunday lunch, I'll hear by Wednesday whether I've got the job or not. Wish me luck!

No Irish Need Apply

21.2.11 § 0 commentarii

I have just discovered that entirely coincidentally the word for “barbarian” in one of my constructed languages is homophonous with a Celtic word meaning “Irishman”. As you might remember, I don’t simply make the words in my constructed languages up, instead I attempt to model naturalistic sound-change through several millenia in order to gain a measure of verisimilitude. So it’s not through any unconscious antigoidelism on my part, but a pure case of happy homophony.

For a while now, the name given to a branch of the Kalpo-Lacaran family has been bugging me. That is the name of the Thærskan branch, which is roughly equivalent to Indo-European’s Germanic family. I came up with the name before actually devising the soundchanges which give the branch its shape, with the vague intention of deriving the name from the established Kalpo-Lacaran root √tʰeres-, meaning “tribe”, from something like an adjectival derivative *tʰeres-ka- “tribal, common to us”- which is basically a calque on the etymology of Deutsch and Dutch. Unfortunately, however, the reflex of *tʰereska- in Proto-Thærskan would be *terska-, which I don’t particularly like.

So, unwilling to tweak the soundchanges so that *þǣrskaz- would be an acceptable outcome, I thought about what proto-form could produce the form þǣrsk-. It turns out to be *dēreska-, which looks like an adjectival derivative of a stem √deres-, which in turn could be an extension of a more “basic” root *der-. On checking my lexicon of Kalpo-Lacaran, I see that there’s no existing roots of that shape. However, there is the already well-established root *del- “to speak”. Kalpo-Lacaran roots occur in two types: biconsonantal roots and triconsonantal roots, the latter often being derivatives or modifications of the former. For example, there’s √bʰar- “to shape, mould” and the extension √bʰaragʰ “to knead dough”. (There also exists a large number of triconsonantal roots with no such correspondence: √dur- “circular” and √durutʰ- “strong”, for example.) A plausible semantic extension of “to speak” would be “to speak intelligibly”: thus we have *þǣlskaz “understandable”, which is a good way of referring to your own language in contrast to a foreigner’s. So the Thærskan languages have become the Thælskan languages.

Satisfied with resolving that little niggle, I started playing around with this new root, tracing its development in the other branches of the family. Adding the pejorative prefix *wai- to a nominalisation of the root gives *waidelso- “someone who cannot be understood”, which is a good term for a barbarian. In Classical Tailancan, this becomes aidelsos by regular sound-change. In the most significant of Tailancan’s daughter languages, Carastan (whose soundchanges are broadly modelled after those of Breton), this becomes gouezel “savage, barbarian”.

And the actual Breton term for “Gael, Goidel” is also gouezel.

A failed experiment

12.2.11 § 2 commentarii

Bugger. That didn’t go well.

I’m unemployed again. It turns out that my unease at taking a job at the Bakery was justified: it turns out that I’m actually not all that successful at maintaining a façade of normality outside the trade, just as I feared. Going by the look of horror on my team’s faces, apparently threatening people with knives and telling them to fuck off isn’t considered to be “normal” behaviour out in the Real World. Some people just can’t take a joke. I mean, it was a bloody bread knife, for gods’ sakes. It might not have helped that I have been known to refer to a certain individual whom I particularly dislike from another shop as a junior tampon (viz. they are both stuck up little cunts.)

This, of course, is not the reason I got fired (rather a pair of illustrative anecdotes demonstrating the dissonance between my standards of workplace normality and theirs)- in fact I didn’t get fired at all. Not technically. Nor did I resign. It was all really very amicable. My employment, as is normal, was subject to a probationary period of twelve weeks, which in my case was extended to sixteen weeks as a due to having been interrupted by the insanity of the Christmas period. I had my final review on Wednesday with my area manager, and we agreed that not only was I not the right person for the job, but also that it wasn’t the right job for me either.

Since early January, I’d been having serious doubts. I just stopped enjoying it and started to be irritated by it. The company’s insane internal bureaucracy was becoming a source of major frustration: as well as the bracelet issue that some of you are aware of, there were a number of less personal but equally frustrating episodes. For example, one day we ran out of milk. Now, the simple and obvious solution to this is to pop over the road to the newsagent and buy some more. No. Instead, we had to phone head office, speak to the Health and Safety Manager and get her permission to buy milk. On the fourth attempt, she answered and told us firmly that we needed to go to a reputable supplier, so we had to go to the Co-Op ten minutes away. The serial numbers of the milk had to be recorded in the due diligence book, along with a reason why they had been bought and a case number from head office. The receipt had to be sent off to the HS manager, and we had to inform her when the milk had been used up so the non-compliance notice could be removed from our file. Now, to me, this is insane. It reflects two things which I grew to hate about the company[1]: micro-management from above and a near-pathological obsession with food safety. Food safety is important, don’t get me wrong, but were the Bakery a person rather than a company it would be in intensive therapy for OCD and mysophobia. I suspect that within recent history they’ve had a serious food poisoning scandal and the current levels of vigilance are an case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

So the company annoyed me. Suck it up and carry on. Which I could easily have done: after all, the job itself is not difficult, nor is it something in which I am completely inexperienced. From 2006 to 2009 I was a restaurant manager, my kitchen duties only occurring in the off-season. I know management, I can look after cash and paperwork, and I can successfully lead a team. Indeed, I started at the Apiary not as a chef but a restaurant supervisor. What I can’t do anymore, however, is customers. I’m too old and too unwilling to fake that smile these days. I’ve lost the ability to smile and apologise if somebody’s rude to me. I simply don’t have the patience for the general public: prolonged exposure makes me misanthropic and depressed. If I’m honest, I’ve realised this for a while. What got me back into the kitchen when I worked at the Apiary was a realisation that I was suffering from a particularly bad case of burnout. My manager there was good enough not to tell me to pack up and find a new job, but to shift me sideways into a kitchen role. I was a fool to think that I’d gotten over it, that I could deal with customers again.

The weirdest thing, though? I realised that I missed being a chef. Having read over some of my previous posts about how much I hated my job, I have to wonder now if it was just the place that needed changing, not the career. O’Murphys was a shithole, sure, but I’m actually a pretty good chef, and mucking about with food something I’ve always enjoyed doing. As I’ve got a couple of years of making money and saving before me until I can afford to apply for a master’s (and let’s face it, the current economic climate in academia isn’t particularly reassuring for the humanities), why not spend it doing something I enjoy? Besides, I’m too old to go on the game now. The discerning queen isn’t going to pay for a scruffy bloke in his late twenties suffering from incipient bearism.

So ultimately, it’s a bit of a relief, really. The Bakery is basically paying me a month’s wages, so I’m not up Excrement Estuary yet. And, as this is the first time I’ve not resigned or been fired, I can actually claim JSA this time around. Having shown my face in the appropriate places and reestablished the appropriate contacts, there’s a couple of jobs I’ve got my eye on. There’s a nice pub in Vetus Moriconium, where I’ve drunk a few times before, and they’re looking for a sous chef. And there’s also a nice French restaurant on the Quay needs a chef de partie, and I kinda-sorta know the chef there.

I’m actually feeling more positive than I have in ages.


1) The third thing which really got on my Hampton was how they referred to disciplinary action as “counselling”. That kind of faux-inclusive corporate buzzword arse-drool really enrages me.


§ 1 commentarius

A sword guides justice,
hilt in a silver hand.
Not miserly that king.

A Gallo-Brittonic Grammar

9.1.11 § 7 commentarii

I’ve been sitting on this for, well, yonks.

It’s a (very) unfinished first draft of a Gallo-Brittonic grammar sketch. It started life as a simple table of inflectional endings, a simple aide-memoire for my personal use when composing texts in Gallo-Brittonic (what? You didn’t think I kept all that stuff in my head, did you?), and then I started expanding it a little, adding in notes on sources. Then I started writing accompanying text, with a view to eventually publishing it.

It’s still very rough, and there are some significant holes. There’s syntax section to speak of, simply a guide to case usage. Similarly, there’s no real phonology section, as descriptions of the reconstructed phonology are easy enough to come by. Additionally, reflecting its origin as a set of notes for my own use, it’s probably rather impenetrable in places to the non-specialist.

Nevertheless, I thought it might be of some amusement to those who fancy “following along at home,” as it were, when I post something in Gallo-Brittonic. To that end, there is an accompanying lexicon, drawn primarily from Matasović’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, but with additional words taken from Delamarre’s Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise and a few other sources.

Who knows, one day I might actually get this finished. I have a horrible habit of beginning projects and not bringing them to completion: there’s about half an essay on domestic sacrifice waiting to be finished, as well as an essay on the gods, and another on ritual purity. Ah, for the time and the self-motivation to actually get something finished.

The Grammar
The Lexicon


2.1.11 § 4 commentarii

A recent mention over on Caer Feddwyd of Boudica of the Iceni made me go and look up references to her in Dio and Tacitus. I’d forgotten that I actually rather like the speech Tacitus gives her before her final battle, so I thought I’d translate it. From Tacitus’ Annales, book XIV, chapter 35, Boudica’s final speech, as it actually sounded (hah):

Boudīcā, canti genetās are swe en carbantē, to·resset pāpan toutan, are yon toχset esāt-yo cowaris ambi·yo wassont Brittones dū monē banon. “Eχtos nu,” dī·wāte, “nest ambi are benan bonusedī, est ambi are toutiyan dī·yo wicū riyon coldāton, mon colanin wliscātan, magutaχtan brūsan mon genetānon. Awēdon Roumānyācon ro·tumīsset po yon ne tarbantor nec asron colaniyas, nec senotūs nou magutaχtā. Eχtri dēwoi lungont dīgalan cowarin: ro·marwasset legyū lamyontro-yo catun, alloi celontro dūnē, nou rādīnt ambi tepon. Ne wo·damont waidās etic truston iluwon canton canton cengeton, nec māyos asron routron asron bemmanā. Mā rādīte ambi nerton coryon, bonūs catous, pisyete esti-yo ancenā boudēs dū swūs, are yon ne marwāte. Ida est tonceton bnas: biyont wiroi biwoi, ac biyont ē caχtoi.

I translated it broadly from the following English rendering from 1942. It’s still too early in the year to attempt a translation direct from Tacitus’ rather dense prose:

Boudicea, with her daughters before her in a chariot, went up to tribe after tribe, protesting that it was indeed usual for Britons to fight under the leadership of women. “But now,” she said, “it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman’s resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves.”