Thomas Thurman

An author of magical realism and a formalist poet. When he was a child, his ambition was to write storybooks. Many other things got in the way, including owning various cats, ringing tower bells, writing sonnets, moving to Cambridge, unexpectedly emigrating to Pennsylvania, learning to make fudge, maintaining interesting but obscure parts of computer systems and unexpectedly moving back to England. Nevertheless, he is still writing.

Gentle Readers: catch them, Rimeq

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 15
24th July 2014: catch them, Rimeq
What I’ve been up to

I read a choose-your-own-adventure science fiction book when I was little. It concerned the efforts of an alien named Rimeq to take over the world, and the hero’s efforts to stop him. This was made more difficult because Rimeq possessed the ability to move objects around with his mind (telekinesis). The only part which has stayed in my head is towards the end, when the hero has reached Rimeq’s room but Rimeq has paralysed him by telekinesis, the police have been stopped similarly, and so have the spaceships bringing help, and the stress is showing on Rimeq’s face. Finally the hero manages to take some rings off his fingers and throw them at Rimeq, shouting, “Catch them, Rimeq, they’re grenades!” This is the final straw; the stress on Rimeq’s mind is too much, and he is taken away catatonic.

So as I mentioned earlier, we have been moving house, and several moments have made me think, “Catch them, Rimeq”— in particular, I meant to put out an edition of Gentle Readers on Monday as usual, but exhaustion won. Sorry for the interruption in service; meanwhile, I’ve been very encouraged by the messages I’ve had telling me how much you enjoy reading Gentle Readers.

Many people are due public thanks for helping us get through the last week. In particular, I want to thank the people of St John’s church, Egham; as the obstacles to getting moved grew more and more formidable, so more and more people from St John’s turned up unasked to help. We couldn’t have managed without you. Thanks also go to the Gentle Reader who offered a garage when the movers needed to deliver before the landlord could give us the key. And thanks to the people from the Runnymede Besom, who turned up to take away some furniture we’d donated, but then came back later to help clean up. That’s what love in action looks like, and I’ll do my best to pay it forward. Thank you all.

A poem of mine

THE ECHOES OF AN AMBER GOD
(T54)

Electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.
You fill my batteries with such
electric sparkles in your touch,
that Tesla would have charged too much
and Franklin dropped his lightning-rod:
electric sparkles in your touch,
the echoes of an amber god.

A picture

I was going to draw you a cartoon as usual, but my tablet is still packed away. Instead, here are some photos I took when I was working in London earlier this year.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/clapham-junction
Trains in the sidings at Clapham Junction, the busiest railway station in Britain.
More than a hundred trains an hour come through.

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/binder
The tombstone of Jason Binder:
"He respected all living things. His inspiration lives on."
And it lives on with me, too, even though his epitaph is all I know about him.

Something from someone else

Does this one really need an introduction? Well, if you’ve never seen it before, then you have the joy of seeing it for the first time; the Guardian has a decent analysis if you’re interested in digging into it. “Baggonets” is an archaic form of the word “bayonets”, and Kensal Green is a large London cemetery, one of the magnificent seven. There is a pub called “Paradise" near there now; it was named for the poem.

THE ROLLING ENGLISH ROAD
by G K Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at thomas@thurman.org.uk and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don’t if you can’t. Love and peace to you all.
Sunset over the M6.

I am in the chemist’s waiting for a prescription to be filled, and eavesdropping.

Customer, to assistant: How much is this?
Assistant: (scans it repeatedly) Dunno.
Pharmacist: What’s up?
Assistant: Every time I scan this, it just says “enter price”, “enter price”.
Marn: (under breath) These are the voyages of the Starship Enter Price…
(Pharmacist laughs. Assistant looks confused.)
Pharmacist: Well, *I* thought it was funny.

kids’ fascination with death

As a littl’un, my daughter was interested not only in Ancient Egypt but also in the Soap Lady in the Mütter museum— a corpse which has become entirely saponified, turned to the soapy substance called adipocere. One day, when my daughter was about five, I was sitting reading while she was playing in the park, and eavesdropping on her conversation with another girl:

Other Girl: “Do you know what happens to you when you die?”
Rio: “Yes. You turn into soap.”
Other Girl: “No… you turn into stone. I know because my grandma died and I touched her and she was as cold as a stone.”

Bonka, the Alphabet, and the Dreaded Balloon

When I was in about Year 5, we were asked to write a storybook for someone in the infant school. I wrote my storybook for Amanda, who was in the top infant class. I just found it again, and its name is "BONKA, THE ALPHABET, AND THE DREADED BALLOON." (It begins “Here is Bonka. He is a slug.”) Should I scan it?

I’m a centaur I’m a centaur
From Manchester way
I drink lots of beer and
I eat lots of hay
I may be a man at my neckline
But from the waist down I’m an equine.

My heart leaps up when I behold
An airship in the sky:
So was it once at Cardington,
So was it with R101,
So be it, if I shall behold
Or if I fly.

(with apologies to Wordsworth)

Only yesterday I mentioned to someone that I spent my first day in my school’s Special Educational Needs Unit helping the teachers write limericks. In one of those weird synchronicity things, I found the limericks today in the back of a book of poetry, in Mrs Price’s handwriting. Internal evidence dates it to 1987. I apologise for the quality of the image, and to my siblings in general:There was a young fellow called Thomas Who always showed plenty of promiseAt science he scoredAt PE was boredThat flourishing artist called Thomas There was a young fellow named MarkWho went out for a bit of a larkHe jumped in the lakeWhile eating some cakeAnd got himself banned from the parkThere was a young lady named MandyWhose favourite food was candy.So into the shopWith a skip and a hopShe grabbed every sweet that was handyThere was a young fellow named AndrewWho’s now reached the great age of two.He has two teddy bears.They both live upstairs.The real ones all live in the zoo.

Sredni Vashtar in the style of Hilaire Belloc

ELAINE DE ROPP
Who loved to thwart children
and was sacrificed to a polecat-god

A woman named ELAINE DE ROPP
Believed in knowing when to stop;
In being careful to be quite
Respectable and Good and Right,
And Decent, Upright, Free from Sin,
Unlike her cousin Conradin.
He rarely did as he was told.
For Conradin was ten years old,
And as is good for girls and boys
Was fond of Laughter, fond of Noise,
Fond of Pretending, fond of Play,
Which irked her more than I can say.
If he should fail to Brush his Hair,
Or climbed too loudly on the stair,
Disturb her after-dinner peace,
Or brush against the Mantlepiece,
Or Shout Too Loud, or Speak Too Low,
She’d punish him like Billy-Ho
For breaking of the slightest rule—
A habit of the very cruel.
I fear it formed her Chiefest Joy
To thwart the actions of the boy,
As may be seen, for instance, when
He found and kept a Houdan hen,
And then at breakfast-time was told
His pet was gone; the hen was sold.
She wondered then if he would get
Another sort of secret pet,
And by this wondering was led
To venture to the Garden Shed.
She did not know that Conradin
Would worship at the shrine therein
A Polecat-God of Ancient Fame;
And SREDNI VASHTAR was his Name.
She hears a sound. She turns her head.
His Teeth are White. His Thoughts are Red.
He does not heed his victim’s prayer:
O Sredni Vashtar, Great and Fair!
And as her lifeblood drains away,
The child that lately knelt to pray,
Who cares about this case the most
Smiles quietly, and makes the toast.

(With thanks to Kit for the idea.)


Gentle Readers: faster than fairies

Gentle Readers
a newsletter made for sharing
volume 1, number 13
14th July 2014: faster than fairies
What I’ve been up to

Still mostly tidying the house, preparing to move up to Salford. If all goes well, we’ll be moving in a week today. Things haven’t shown as much sign of going well as I’d like, though: a number of mishaps, ranging from the serious (someone driving into the back of our car) to the ridiculous (trying to pick up a beanbag when the fabric dissolved in my hands, and the floor filled with a million polystyrene beads) have made me wonder whether I’m actually a character in a sitcom.

I mentioned this to my brother Andrew, who said, “And have you noticed that when you sit down to dinner, people only sit on three sides of the table?” And he’s right! I’m just hoping I won’t close my eyes and see those ominous words…

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/you-have-been-watching

"You have been watching…"

I was very glad to hear that the Church of England will now be consecrating women bishops, and not only because it caused me to imagine The Bishop of Dibley. (You see, I can’t get away from sitcoms.) And I doodled a twelve-second film about a hungry skyscraper, though I’m not really sure why. I think I just needed the distraction.

Other than that, I’ve been setting up a Twitter account for Gentle Readers: @gentlereaders. Do follow it if you’re on Twitter— and, as ever, tell your friends.

A poem of mine

STATIONS OF THE CROSS

I watched from Farringdon as Satan fell;
I’ve battled for my soul at Leicester Square;
I’ve laid a ghost with Oystercard and bell;
I’ve tracked the wolf of Wembley to his lair;
I’ve drawn Heathrow’s enchantment in rotation;
at Bank I played the devil for his fare;
I laugh at lesser modes of transportation.
I change at Aldgate East because it’s there.

The Waterloo and City cast its spell;
I watched it slip away, and could not care,
the Northern Line descending into hell
until King’s Cross was more than I could bear;
he left me there in fear for my salvation,
a Mansion House in heaven to prepare:
so why return to any lesser station?
I change at Aldgate East because it’s there.

Three days beneath the earth in stench and smell
I lay, and let the enemy beware:
I learned the truth of tales the children tell:
an Angel plucked me homeward by the hair,
to glory from the depths of condemnation,
to where I started long ago from where
I missed my stop through long procrastination.
I change at Aldgate East because it’s there.

Prince of the buskers, sing your new creation:
the change you ask is more than I can spare;
a change of spirit, soul, imagination.
I change at Aldgate East because it’s there.

A picture

http://thomasthurman.org/pics/mind-the-gap
"Mind. The gap."
Something wonderful

Harry Beck (1902-1974) worked for London Transport as an electrical engineer. His great idea was born, as all great ideas are, by looking at something familiar and seeing it anew in terms of something quite different.

One day in 1931, he sketched the tube map as if it were an electrical circuit diagram: the map he drew showed the order of stations, and the connections between them, but not their geographical positions, nor the length of the lines between them, nor the physical routes they took. Nowadays, we would call this a topological map, but although topology had been well-studied by mathematicians back then, this sort of practical use was new and nameless.

Unsurprisingly, Beck’s bosses were sceptical. After all, it was an untested skunkworks project by someone without expertise in mapmaking. Nevertheless, he persuaded them to give the design a try. It proved so popular that it has been used in London ever since, as well as copied by countless other railway networks around the world.

In this way, Beck made daily life slightly easier for millions of commuters over nearly a century. Most of them have never heard his name.

Something from someone else
FROM A RAILWAY CARRIAGE
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!
This is an old favourite. Like the best poetry, it evokes memories in everyone, similar but each different; like the best poetry, the sound of it is half the joy. Don’t just sit there: read it aloud!

Colophon

Gentle Readers is published on Mondays and Thursdays, and I want you to share it. The archives are at http://thomasthurman.org/gentle/ , and so is a form to get on the mailing list. If you have anything to say or reply, or you want to be added or removed from the mailing list, I’m at thomas@thurman.org.uk and I’d love to hear from you. The newsletter is reader-supported; please pledge something if you can afford to, and please don’t if you can’t. Love and peace to you all.