Links post: December/January

Things My Friends Do

Things I’ve Done

  • … I’ll get back to you on that.

Things Strangers Have Done

Writing Post: What is Litotes?

As I had to explain this to a friend recently I thought I’d try to make a coherent post about it, as – no doubt to the detriment of my friend’s education – I was trying to explain the concept to him while half-cut and drowned out by a pub jukebox; not, I am sure most will agree, the ideal circumstances for education (especially from someone whose own education has been … underwhelming).

While preserving the privacy of our conversation, at this point we were haggling over acceptable use of hyperbole in everyday conversation, something which I delight in and which my friend reviles (fortunately the one thing we do both love is a good argument, and this one kept us going for a while); I asked if he had similar reservations about the use of litotes in everyday speech and on meeting with a blank face utterly failed to get the concept across. Drunk!Delilah scores nil points on literary education.

Litotes is usually credited originally to the sagas of the great frozen north (particularly in Icelandic and Old English), although as with anything to do with language and thought I suspect that it’s the kind of literary device that came about concurrently in a number of different linguistic civilisations and it’s only credited to the sagas because the people doing the crediting are European.

In the sagas, a phrase such as “not few were the men slain by his [insert adjective here] blade” would be used, under the assumption that cultural context would fill in the stoicism with accuracy; effectively, “not few were the men slain” translated to “he slaughtered his way through an entire army but frankly you wouldn’t believe how many people he killed so we’re going to go with the bald fact”.

Expressing an idea – usually one of extraordinary qualities, one which to describe “honestly” would require the use of terms that sound hyperbolic – through the denial of its opposite is not especially sophisticated in terms of rhetoric, and is in fact possibly a step below sarcasm or irony in terms of duplicity, but it and variants on the classic “not [adjective] = extremely [antonymic adjective]” structure are … well … not unpopular specifically with users of British English.

To be litotes, the rhetorical or literary device has to state and deny the opposite [strictly speaking the antonym] of the intended meaning in order to inflate or heighten the intended meaning by negation; this is most usually done through the use of antonymic adjective denial, for example, “her pustules were not pretty”, meaning “her pustules were repulsive”. The effect cannot be achieved with either an adjective that has no strongly-associated opposite, for example, “his foot was not purple” offers no immediate answer as to what colour his foot might actually be, whereas “his foot wasn’t exactly tiny” automatically creates the understanding (in the mind of a reader culturally attuned to use of litotes) that he has one massive hoof on him.

Even more so than the use of adjectives without direct antonym, litotes does not involve the negation of verbs or nouns; while the negation of a verb or noun can be used to make a rhetorical point (example: “What are you doing?” / “Not running?” in the case of someone walking very slowly), these fall under the aegis of irony or sarcasm.

To make it a little clearer:

Hyperbole: I ran so fast that I broke the sound barrier.

Simile: I ran like the wind.

Metaphor: I was lightning-quick on my feet.

Litotes: I wasn’t exactly dawdling.

Understatement: I was going quite fast.

Hyperbole takes the factual rendering and exaggerates it to ludicrous extent, sometimes for comic effect and sometimes (in an impressive and paradoxical display of implied irony) to diminish the known factual events themselves by comparison to the hyperbole. For example, after a mediocre weekend known by all to be a disappointment or, at best, averagely entertaining, one might state, “I’VE HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE. THIS WEEKEND WAS THE NUTS”, clearly implying that the weekend in question was actually quite rubbish by comparison with the statement itself. This is ironic hyperbole.

Litotes takes the factual rendering and negates the opposition, in a manner similar to “drawing the negative space” in art. By taking a binary set of adjectives (or “graded opposites) and drawing attention to, then denying the antonym of the desired adjective, the binary is brought to mind by association. One might almost think of it as depressing one side of a see-saw in order to make the other rise.

Visual metaphor

This is, I feel, mildly more coherent than my belligerent shouting about Beowulf in the pub, and if nothing else it contains the words “antonymic adjective” to make me look like I have ever learnt anything in my life, and also a picture of a see-saw.

Poetry Post: Goodbye to the Parade Grounds

Goodbye to the Parade Grounds

I expect no kinship, look for no tribe.
I will be content if you consent to leave me alive.
Please don’t ask if I’m your “side”;
I’ll lick your wounds if you’ll lick mine,
But I will be content if you consent just to leave me alive,
For I have no label, no family, and no Pride.

For more poetry, why not try Know Your Words (with Amy Kreines and Al Kennedy), For the Love of a City, or Year of the Ghost: Collected Poems 2011 (eBook only).

Book launch: postcardsfromanexplosion

With any book promotion it’s difficult to find something to say about my work without immediately giving into to compulsive self-deprecation (according to Kate Fox this is a perfectly normal symptom of Being English and nothing pathological at all), and with postcardsfromanexplosion it becomes even more tricky because it’s an art book.

It comprises a series of close-ups of mundane settings and light conditions rendered alien by the intense scrutiny this mimics, and a series of pseudo-cut-ups and genuine cut-ups numbered from a far wider pool (I selected each via an extremely silly method involving several scuff marks on my bathroom wall from throwing shoes at a pile of paper slips. It sounds fine in theory but in practice when you’re lobbing trainers at fragments of poetry you feel a bit of a tit).


postcardsfromanexplosion is only available from, it is a 36-page full-colour paperback (which is why it is so embarrassingly expensive), and as I cannot bring myself to tell you that it’s an in-depth examination of the human pysche and the randomness of fate contrasted to the alienation of city life or whatever I’m supposed to say in order to sound duly pretentious, I will say this: it’s a collection of written images which I thought were cool, lined up with some photos I took which I thought looked cool. Hopefully you will also think they look cool.

This is why I am not an art critic.

postcardsfromanexplosion is available from only, for the princely sum of £9.99.

Bric-a-Brac and indolence

After a recent and, some might say, deeply self-indulgent excursion to the gift shop at the National Gallery to buy some hand cream that doesn’t seem to be available anywhere else, I got into a conversation with a friend in the gift shop at the British Museum. The general gist of it was “When I am rich, because obviously I will automatically become rich selling cheap jewellery and books that  no one reads, I am going to buy everything from museum gift shops”. We digressed into listing our favourite museum gift shops, and it occurred to me that this would be a pleasantly middle-class and Asperger’s-y thing to post about: a little review of museum gift shops in London.

Well, I say little. I asked around my friends for suggestions of places to review because I was sure I’d forgotten a few, and discovered that London has a lot of museums and tourist attractions. I mean, I always knew that because the place is heaving with tourists from dawn ’til dusk almost every day of the year, but I’d always just presumed they came with the place, like rats and buses that you don’t want and everything else that gets in the way on Oxford Street.

Apparently we’re absolutely rife with gift-shop-filled places and this little diversion is going to take quite a long time! After making my life-changing decision I completely failed to leave the house on time and so the first day is only two places:

From the British Library to the Wellcome Collection

The British Library

The British Library

Number of gift shops: 2, next to each other. One is exhibition-specific, the other general.

The British Library, as one might expect, is primarily concerned with books, although they also sell a range of book/library-related memorabilia and trinkets, notebooks, books on CD, and rather mysteriously, candles in tins.

They have a wide and beautiful selections of post and greetings cards (I tripped and bought four, and would have bought more were I not the kind of stony brassic broke that makes my wallet curl up and whimper in my pocket if I try to open it), and in the exhibition shop often a range of home goods such as tea towels, crockery, and “trinkets”, most of which are quite high quality (and, unfortunately, price: even the Christmas treet ornaments were £7.99 each).

The bookshop itself is impressive, and as one would expect from the British Library, carries a broader and more interesting range of books than the average Waterstones! It is however also more costly than the average Waterstones, so if you only want the content of an unusual book I’d suggest Quinto (if you’re in London) or Abebooks or, God forbid, Amazon or Barnes & Noble (neither of whom need any more traffic from me).

The area that the British Library bookshop/giftshop really excels in is books as objects of art. There are no ugly or badly-designed covers in the entire place, and many editions I’ve seen in there I’ve not seen anywhere else; they have several exquisite special bindings of various classic books and Shakespearean folios which any bibliophile would be proud to show off (especially in the age of Kindles, where shelf space is growing again).

Service is polite and reserved, as one would hope for in a library; a good place to pick up gifts for older relatives or more studious younger ones (there is one product which allows younger readers to keep a record of things they’ve read and what they thought of them, which I’d have loved as a book-devouring child continually entering library competitions…)

The Wellcome Trust Collection

The Wellcome Trust Collection

Number of gift shops: Nominally 1.

Perplexingly, the Wellcome Trust Collection’s gift shop is also a bookshop with a few gifts in it, and not a proprietary bookshop either but a Blackwell. Perhaps because of this, the selection of books – while leaning towards the content of the Collection (History of Medicine is a dedicated and interesting section), and having an area for books related to the specific exhibitions currently hosted in the building – is quite often unconnected to its location.

While it’s nice to be able to buy, say, Louisa Young’s My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You at the drop of a hat, it’s of only loose relevance to the Collection and there were other titles I spotted which were even less closely connected.

Gifts here also stroll away from the usual branded miscellany of pens and badges and the like, and the very enticing model skulls and bone-printed socks, into the arbitrary. Useful though book lamps and “posh word search” books are, they’re again not really relevant.

That said, there is also an intriguing and enticing display of medical and biology inspired jewellery of quite unique forms for those with deeper pockets, and … a surprising amount of moustache-related goods.

Stay tuned for further museum gift shop reviews.

Poetry Post: Mixed Blessing

Mixed Blessing

Had I stopped the clocks when I stumbled,
you might have broken my fall; there’s no
lament like the mumbled truth of a held tongue,
no call like the one halted by a punctured
lung, and the swiftest among us (of which,
sad to say, I’m not one) know it all;
speak up at the start, break your freefall
into heartache, and grant yourself a reprieve;
sometimes for something right to start
something beautiful has to leave.

For more poetry, see Know Your Words (also by Amy Kreines and Al Kennedy) or For the Love of a City.

Addendum: Fish!

Oh, goodness, where was this picture when I was renaming the fish?

I'm calling this one the "faith-destroyer"

Sadly despite the caption I can’t bring myself to rename this one, as it’s already got the best name ever bestowed upon one of the earth’s creatures: this beauty,  which labours under the Linnean name Neoclinus blanchardi, has the privilege of the common name the “Sarcastic Fringehead”. This is not a name that can be beaten. Marine biologists, my hat his very firmly off to you.

Jewellery Post: Gothic Elegance

These necklaces are listed on my Etsy store, along with many others.

Click on image for listing.

18 and one quarter inch / 46.5 centimetre glass, hematite and acrylic bead choker/collar with gold plate clasp and antiqued bronze-tone connectors.

This black and bronze-accented lattice is the perfect accompaniment to severe necklines or long necklaces, and would work well with a high-collared Victorian-style shirt. It features tear-drop hematite beads and a simple, easy-to-handle clasp. Extension chain can be added on request.

This necklace is available for £9.99

Click on image for listing.

28 and a half inch / 72.5 centimetre strung beaded necklace of acrylic, hematite, and ceramic lustre beads with gold and silver plate findings.

This opera-length necklace features tear-drop hematite beads spaced according to the Fibonacci sequence to give the impression of trickling down to a point, condensing around a single hanging ceramic lustre bead in oily black. Unique and dramatic, it will surely liven up outfits of any colour, even adding noticeable texture to all-black ensembles.

This necklace is available for £11.99

The Three Worst Cinemas I Have Ever Been In

Good grief, why would anyone want to write about this? Well, a friend was reminiscing about the qualities of her home town (Clevedon, Somerset) and the rather beautiful old custom-built cinema there, and I countered with the tale of woe that was my home town (Tavistock); no cinema until the mid-90s, and that one only dealing in films which had finished their run in all the main cinemas. Hardly what any teenager gorging themselves sick on teen magazines full of new releases wants.

The conversation turned to other cinemas I’d been to; in my teens I went to a boarding school in Somerset, and one of the ways to escape the tedium of sitting in a brick building in the middle of sheep fields was the regularly-organised trips to various cinemas. As a result of this, I saw some truly abhorrent films between 1994 and 1999, on the big screen, which these days I wouldn’t watch on the screen of an iPod after torrenting them if you actually paid me (alright, that’s a lie, I was paid to review The Village and that was about as bad).

Some of these films I hated because I was a teenager and didn’t really appreciate them (The Crucible, The Scarlet Jacket, the latter of which has given me a lifelong disdain for Thomas Hardy’s prose), some I hated because they were unequivocally rubbish (Forces of Nature, a deeply forgettable movie starring possibly Sandra Bullock and someone else and I don’t remember very much beyond it being bad and the leading lady had cool lavender streaks in her hair). Some were actually rather good, and most of them I watched in Yeovil’s perfectly serviceable cinema, or Poole’s swish-seeming out-of-town complex.

Then there were the films we saw in … slightly less magnificent buildings.

These reviews haul from the recesses of my teenage memory, and I fully expect the cinemas in question to have either improved or shut down by now, so don’t take them so much as warnings as whatever the opposite of nostalgia is.

1. Cinema Town: Wells

Film Watched: Fierce Creatures (a pleasant enough comedy featuring the cast of A Fish Called Wanda and very recognisably the environs of Marwell Zoo, which I visited a lot as a child).

Why it was horrific: It was like the worst kind of Scout hall. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but the village I lived in from 6 to 13 seemed to delete in stashing all of its social activities in “temporary” structures which were upwards of 30 years old: long, low-ceilinged bunkers which always contrived to be colder than the outside air. This was more or less one of those, with a concession stand amounting to the ticket sales person reaching under a desk for some bags of priced-up cornershop popcorn and sad-looking M&Ms. Possibly the first time I had ever been grateful for the school’s usual “no tuck” rule with cinema trips.

The floor was flat rather than sloped, meaning that it was more or less impossible to see past anyone’s head and everyone got a crick in their neck; it was freezing cold, and the place smelled of something we couldn’t quite place until half-way through the film when something large and furry ran past my dorm-mate’s foot, she screamed and clutched at me, and we realised that the smell was rat urine.

Unlike the next two cinemas, I have actual evidence that Wells is no longer like this: the extras of the Hot Fuzz DVD show the premier of the film (which was filmed mostly in Wells) taking place in Wells cinema, which in the clips is a beautiful little thing with proper staggered seating and red upholstery and a distinct absence of large rodents. Wells also holds the dubious honour of housing the most horrifying public toilets I’ve ever set foot in and then dived out of immediately afterwards, but I should stress this was in the 90s. I am pretty sure it’s now a picturesque holiday destination and it has always been populated by friendly people although possibly not towards me after I’ve written this.

2. Cinema Town: Weymouth

Film Watched: Dracula: Dead and Loving It (a largely poor parody of vampire films by Lesley Nielsen et al which nevertheless amused the rag-tag selection of juvenile delinquents given the treat of watching it).

Why it was horrific: Not so much “horrific” as just “totally unsuited to be a cinema”. The floor was damp, we could hear traffic outside all the way through, and were a couple of times convinced the screen was going to fall on us. From what I remember they began closing the cinema almost before we’d walked out of the screening, and the entire place smelled of off milk.

That said, I do have a vendetta against Weymouth anyway: my father took me there on holiday when I was 7, whereupon I suffered quite a severe head injury at the hands of some lovely children on a campsite with a concrete playground, and I spent my teens being dragged through the town after dark by various “friends” who were very enthusiastic about the possibility of hooking up with one of the multitudinous boy racers who used the town centre for demonstrating twin exhaust pipes. Perhaps it would be unfair to be rude about Weymouth’s cinema when there was so much else about it to make me steer clear of it for the rest of my life.

3. Cinema Town: Salisbury

Film Watched: The Crucible (we also watched Hercules, Ghost Rider, and Daylight here, along with a British movie about rugby so utterly unmemorable that I can’t Google anything about it, but it was only the screen in which we saw The Crucible to which this applies).

Why it was horrific: Because I couldn’t bloody see. Aside from that, it was colder than a witch’s tit, creaky, lopsided, and rumoured to be full of mice – but then “freezing, creaky, lopsided, and definitely full of mice” also applies to my flat so I can’t really complain about that. However, when we went to see The Crucible we ended up shoved into a selection of seats toward the back of a screen so steeply banked that we were somewhere above the screen, as if looking down on the stage of a theatre (in fact, without Googling, I can’t be sure that’s not what the building originally was). Directly in my line of sight and blocking most of the screen was a large wooden chandelier which, to my untrained teenage eye, looked approximately a million years old, and was held in place by a chain made of something the colour of tar.

To my perennial annoyance, our teen-herder wouldn’t let me sit in the aisle to watch it (something about a “fire hazard”, ho hum) so I watched almost all of The Crucible at a ninety degree angle from that usually considered optimum for film viewing. The question of “why the bloody hell was that chandelier there” was never addressed, but in hindsight I can only assume it was a listed building.

It’s fair to point out that none of the other screens in the Salisbury Odeon produced quite such a deleterious effect on my back and neck muscles, and also to speculate that this experience made me a little unimpressed with the possibility of “doing” The Crucible as our school play the following year…

Poetry Post: Chivalry

For added poetic flavour, I wrote this in a leatherbound notebook with an anatomical heart stencil on the front; some of the romance goes out of it if you learn that I wrote it on the bus, so pretend I didn’t let that slip.


I have exhausted my repertoire of rhymes
on assaulting battlements in verse
And now I come to gates held open
No need for all my practiced poet’s lines;
I wish I’d come to this castle first
And saved the sense of my tongue
for now I’m stammered silent, wits numb
forced by an empty library to unlock
the path to the dessicated heart
and all my sad constructed songs slip and drift apart
the cage unlocked, the poet defrocked;
speaking unwanted naked truth, in shock.

For less bus-written and more meaningful poetry, why not try Know Your Words or For the Love of a City? Both are available for E-readers and Know Your Words is available from the Kindle store too