Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Amusement (IX)

Jim Woodring is probably one of the strangest, and is certainly one of the most compelling and brilliant, comic-book artists of the last couple of decades. Starting with his auto-journal Jim in the mid- to late eighties, he has produced comics, paintings, very strange novelties and models, and in general is a one-man Surrealist cottage industry. And he has a blog! (which can be found here.) I urge you to seek out the collections The Book of Jim, the several Frank books, and the original issues of Jim Volume 2 (there's six in total, which I have; I really like the way he alternates the Jim and Frank stories in the comics, something he doesn't do in the collections. Jim Volume 1 (in four issues) is the original auto-journal, all of which are, to the best of my knowledge, out of print. I only have No 4, one of my prize possessions.)
The Jim stories are literal transcriptions of his unsettling dreams, with little or no editing, while the dialogue-free Frank stories concern a strange, cat-like being (with mighty choppers) and the very peculiar world he inhabits. To say any more would be to spoil the pleasures that are to be gained from exploring it yourself. The books and comics are available from Fantagraphics; other items, like paintings, models, and oddities, can be obtained from the man himself here. So buy something, and do your bit to make an authentic genius rich!
Several of the Frank stories were brought to the screen as short films by Japanese animators, and collected together on a DVD called Visions of Frank (see here; it's unfortunately out of stock, which is a great shame). They have, however, been posted on YouTube and, while such copyright infringement is not something I usually approve of, in this case it's the only way I have of seeing these films at all. So, to get you in the mood to explore Mr Woodring's remarkable work, here's a Vision of Frank!
(Note: The picture is (intentionally, I believe) quite low contrast, so it's best watched on full screen with the lights off. And I love the music!)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This Week’s Blinding Thought (V)

The next time you’re stricken down by an minor ailment, or if you’re in the throes of one now, take into account some of these medieval remedies and be glad you live in the 21st century. (Please note that A Doubtful Egg takes no responsibility if you attempt to cure yourself by the following methods.)

Catch a badger, draw his teeth while he is alive, and say: “I thee slay and draw thy teeth.” Then tie them in a garment and they will protect thee from hail, storm, wicked men and pestilence.
For difficult breathing, put the lung of a fox into sweetened wine and drink the mixture.
For sore ears, mix a fox’s gall with oil and smear the ears with it.
To avoid oversleeping [or sleeping at all, quippeth the Egg] drink a hare’s brain in wine; “wonderful it amendeth”.
For sore feet, beat a boar’s lung small, and mix it with honey. “Quickly this salve easeth the sore.”
To remove ugly marks from the face, smear the face with the blood of a bull. “It taketh away the marks.”
For pain and pricking sensation in the eyes, break into pieces the head of a hound. If
the right eye ache, take the right eye, if the left eye ache, take the left eye, and bind it to the affected eye. “It healeth well.”
For cataract or white spots, catch a fox alive, cut his tongue out, let him go, dry the tongue, tie it in a red bag, and hang it round the neck.
However, not all medieval cures were based on cruelty to animals and swallowing disgusting things. Many involved a doubtlessly sensible use of herbs and the like to alleviate symptoms (such as “For sore of feet, take [mugwort] and pound it with lard [and] lay it to the feet; it removes the soreness.”). Others, though, seem downright bizarre to the modern mind.

To avoid inflamed eyes, when you see a star fall or cross the heavens count quickly, for you will be free from the trouble for as many years as you can count numbers.
For the same, write on a clean sheet of paper, ούβαίχ, and hang this round the sufferer’s neck with a thread from a loom.
If a bone be stuck in your throat, say thrice nine times: “I buss the Gorgon’s mouth.”
For a sore eyelid, poke the sore with nine grains of barley and say: Flee, flee; barley thee chaseth.
For sleep, lay a wolf’s head under the pillow. “The unhealthy shall sleep.”

Or, my absolute favourite:

When you have toothache, say argidam margidam sturgidam, spit in the mouth of a frog and ask the frog to make off with the toothache.

Yeah, to hell with the dentist; next time I get a twinge in the jaw, I’m off into a field to find a frog …

[Source: Frederick Harrison's Medieval Man and his Notions, published in 1947 by John Murray]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Amusement (VIII)

I was quite startled - indeed, my gast was flabbered (sorry, but I couldn't resist) - to discover that I'm nominated for an Irish Blog Award. The rest of the nominees and other information can be found here. What's most interesting about said nomination is that it's provided a handy list of hitherto unknown-to-me culture blogs that I can explore at my leisure. Thanks very much to whoever put forward my name!
Anyway, in lieu of the usual type of thing that I tend to blather on about, I'd like to post the following picture, which registers very highly on the Cute-O-Meter.

This is our misfortunate hound, last seen at risk of being swept out to sea here. Last Saturday, my partner and I noticed that his testicles (which I will hereafter refer to as his "bag", for those of a delicate disposition) (and apologies to Flann O'Brien fans, who may have different associations for that word) were extremely red and inflamed looking, and he was licking them an awful lot (even for him). So off to the vet we went, where we discovered (after listening to the most hideous shrieks and yelps coming from the surgery - the vet emerged with a huge bite on his forearm and a look which said he was seriously questioning his chosen profession) that he had picked up an infection, and would have to take antibiotics and wear the above-pictured lampshade around his neck to prevent him from getting at his bag and indulging in his usual enthusiastic tongue-work. Once the giant, Elizabethan-ruff style plastic collar went on, he was sent into a Slough of Despond so deep that he refused to eat or even move without encouragement for oh, at least thirty minutes, after which he was back to his normal demented self (he's an amazingly adaptable and good-natured hound). Later in the week we discovered that the collar wasn't large enough, and he'd figured out that, by angling himself like a particularly elastic contortionist, he could just about reach his bag with his tongue, and went at it with the energy born of several days' pent-up frustration. So off to the vet we went again, and he now has a lampshade so huge that he can barely fit out the door, and is even more hilarious looking than he was before. The poor hound!
(This happened last Saturday, while the house was being turned upside-down by the plumber installing a new heating system. But as well as that, our washing machine broke down (unrelated to the plumber's work, I hasten to add) and a stream behind our house burst its banks and headed in a torrent towards our kitchen door, necessitating two hours of furious digging by myself and the plumber to channel it away. Every day I put between myself and last Saturday is very, very welcome, I must say!)
(Update: the stream behind us is again overflowing, but the system of gullies we put in place appears to be holding. However, if the rain doesn't stop, or increases in volume, this may change, and then we're in for a most unpleasant evening. Time will tell...)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Worth Seeking (VI)

A musical update: When I wrote a review of Dialing In's Cows in Lye (here) I was unaware that she had a MySpace page, which can be found here, with some of the tracks I discuss available for your listening pleasure.
This week's musical pleasure comes courtesy of Norwegian composer/performer/vocalist/noise musician Maja S. K. Ratkje, whose website can be found here. Her recent album, River Mouth Echoes, gives a good overview of her composed work (and is not quite as extreme as the performance below). The video can be divided into two sections: a vocal improvisation (?) followed by some serious noise (the noise starts at around 5:16 if the vocals are not to your taste; they are to mine!). (And, once again, my apologies for simply posting a video rather than anything more substantial.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Amusement (VII)

For some reason, since returning from my holidays I've had little to no enthusiasm for writing. Whether it's the sub-zero temperatures, the depression/rage brought on by the unrelentingly grim news, the burst water pipe that knocked out our heating system for several days, or just my usual slothfulness, I'm not sure (and the probable answer is "all of the above") but the thought of sitting down with my notebook and trying to construct a coherent, let alone a sparkling or witty, sentence fills me with a profound aversion. I suddenly remember that spot of grease in the kitchen that urgently requires cleaning. It can't wait, even for a second! I'd love to start scribbling, but it won't clean itself! And that tiniest of smears will not only spread and transform our kitchen into a fetid pigsty, but will, if left untended, germinate a plague that could wipe out the population of the country! I need bleach! Where's the goddamn bleach?!
So it goes: to avoid writing, excuses pile on top of excuses until the whole house gleams with an unearthly light and the kitchen is so surgically wiped that you could see your reflection in every grape in the fruit bowl, and eat a raw egg off the inside of the dustbin lid. And I'm left at the end of it feeling exhausted and dissatisfied, knowing that the computer is sitting out there in the office waiting for me, taunting me, like a wrestler flexing his muscles and cracking wise about my momma.
I could write about Cambridge and Ely Cathedral and Sutton Hoo, but I don't feel up to the challenge of communicating the beauty and darkness of these places. I could write about The Wire, the TV show I've become addicted to since before Xmas, but I'm not really sure what to say, except "it's like, uh, really good, y'know?". I could tell you about the delights of climbing onto my roof at eleven at night, after travelling since six in the morning, and watching water pour out of a split in a copper pipe down the side of the house, but I haven't the energy to work it into an amusing anecdote for your entertainment.
Please forgive this tedious rambling, and as a reward for having sat through it, here's some really interesting music that I found on the internet. Out of curiosity, once the first video starts playing you should look away immediately, then try to guess in what year (or decade) this song was recorded (the video lets you know practically immediately, thus spoiling the fun). I'd also like to say that neither video is connected to the original artists in any way bar using their photographs. And, when I've shaken myself out of my lethargy, normal blogging (if such a description can really be applied to my little doodles) should resume.