Friday, 27 November 2009

Dup egnops elcaert


I don't know why palindromes - sentences that read the same backwards as forwards: Gk. 'palin' = 'again': 'dromos' = 'running' - I don't know why palindromes should come to mind today, when a major focus of my attention is tonight's pud. The ever-stunning J. promises treacle sponge and custard. I can't say that this is a common dessert in France. It would be nearer the truth to say that 99.9% of French people are born, live their lives and die without benefit of that gorgeous, warm, womb-retro stodge, clarted with succulent golden syrup, nobly robed in steaming, smiling custard from which I will already have relished the skin from the jug.

Maybe it's the admission of a woeful sponge pud gluttony that leads me to a famous palindrome which you sometimes find carved into church fonts:

Nipson anomemata me monan opsin

It's Greek, meaning 'cleanse not only the face but sins also'. (To make it work you have to remember that 'ps' is a single letter in Greek.)

So often do palindromes disappoint through being over-contrived and not really meaning very much, ones like

Too bad I hid a boot

or

Anne I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna

- that it comes as a pleasant surprise to learn that W.H.Auden, consummate master of English in all its forms, should be credited with several quite outstandingly original palindromes:

Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

or

Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron

I can imagine him sitting back at his desk, out of breath - it does happen - with his struggles to pin down some masterpiece like Musée des Beaux Arts ('About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters...') and suddenly realising that 'Are we not' reads 'to new era' backwards. A little thought, a welcome break from Breughel's Fall of Icarus that he's writing about, and suddenly it falls into place; he reaches for his palindrome book and writes it in. Another day, another palindrome. Yesterday's was:

Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus

Where Auden stood on sponge pudding isn't recorded, as far as I know, but I don't think he can have got through several years of boarding school without frequent exposure to this classic of English cuisine. As for me, I'm really looking forward to tonight's treat, although I may have to dose myself with Nocsivag: I occasionally suffer from reflux, and I wouldn't want my treacle sponge, palindrome-like, coming back on me.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Good morning, Croatia


When I was about 15 someone gave me a cravat, a thing of great loveliness, rich in swirled Paisley arabesques in custard yellow and strawberry jam red. I adored it and wore it on every possible occasion, at one time getting into trouble for attempting to subvert the school uniform. School uniform - it pains me to type this ghastly admission - included a straw boater and a dashing green waistcoat with brass buttons, if you were a member of a select society called the Zetountes, which is Greek for 'seekers'. To my mind all that it needed to proclaim the ultra-fashionable Zetounte*-about-town was a brilliant yellow cravat. Others thought differently.

In any case not long afterwards the cravat became associated with those of a certain sexual orientation and my cravat never left its drawer. "Why don't you wear your cravat any more?" my mother asked once. "It suits you so well. I rely on you to wear it on Sunday, please. Denby Williamson is coming. He is just the man to appreciate it."

Denby Williamson, a man of perfumed middle age, was gay. His father had been curator or keeper of the last Tsar's Fabergé collection. Denby Williamson had inherited several Fabergé pieces, on which my mother had cast envious eyes. But my cravat stayed in its drawer.

Living in France many years later I rediscovered it. Other significances, never current in France, had long since died out, I imagined. I dared it once more, and found my earlier fashion fire rekindled. Passing a tailors and outfitters in Essex during a recent visit to the UK I went in, on the offchance that they might have some dusty tissue-wrapped relics in some distant stock-room. I was surprised to find several in prominent display. Could it be that they're now back in fashion? Could they still have those old connotations?

Well, who would care in France? I came out the richer by three gorgeous silken beauties, and the poorer by - but I'm ashamed to tell you. I'm now obsessed with wearing cravats, especially in winter, tucked confortably into open-necked polo shirts.

Denby Williamson died twenty years and more ago. No Fabergé came our way.



* I KNOW the singular of 'Zetountes' should be 'Zetous'. And the word 'cravat' comes from Hrvatska, which is what the Croats call their country.