Lockdown Diaries II, Day 8: Precision

In a bus of the S line, 10 m long, 3 wide, 6 high, at 3.6 km from its starting point, loaded with 48 people, at 12.17 p.m., a person of the masculine sex aged 27 years, 3 months and 8 days, 1.72, weighing 65 kg and wearing a hat 35 cm in height, round the crown of which was a ribbon 60 cm long, addressed a man aged 48 years, 4 months and 3 days, 1.68 m tall and weighing 77 kg by means of 14 words whose enunciation lasted 5 seconds and which alluded to some involuntary displacement of 15 to 20 mm. Then he went and sat down about 1.1 m away.

57 minutes later he was 10 metres away from the suburban entrance to the Gare Saint-Lazare and was walking up and down over a distance of 30 m with a friend aged 28, 1.7 m tall and weighing 71 kg, who advised him in 15 words to move a button, 3 cm in diameter, by 5 cm in the direction of the zenith.

(Precision from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

And here’s my effort:

Thursday, 12 November 2020

I got up at exactly 8:00 am GMT in the morning and it took me precisely 9 minutes and 17 seconds to make and drink my tea; my mug holds 200 ml of liquid. I poured the boiling water exactly to the level of the top of the roof of the London bus that decorates the inside of the mug.

There were seven different tasks to get through today, no less, no more. I worked at them diligently all day, paying great attention to even the most minute detail. My GP called me at 11:52; our conversation lasted 7 minutes and 14 seconds. Apart from this, I interrupted my work exactly twice: once at 1:00 pm to take lunch (one frankfurter, fried, plus a half a slice of thin home made white bread, no mustard or other condiments) and for the second time at 3:45 pm, when the doorbell rang. Answered the door in ten seconds flat as I was standing only two metres away at the time. It was a young male male under 30 years old, wearing a blue hoody and faded jeans who delivered a parcel, addressed to Mr Anglo-Saxonist, very light in weight. We exchanged no words, other than me saying “Thank you” to him.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau


Lockdown Diaries II, Day 7: You Know

Well, you know, the bus arrived, so you know, I got on. Then I saw, you know, a citizen, who, you know, caught my eye, sort of. I mean, you know, I saw his long neck and I saw the plait round his hat. Then, you know, he started to rave at the chap next to him. He was, you know, treading on his toes. Then he went and, you know, sat down.

Well, you know, later on, I saw him in the Cour de Rome. He was with a pal, you know, and he was telling him, you know, the pal was: “You ought to get another button put on your coat.” You know.

(You Know from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

Well, here’s my effort:

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Well, I got up in the morning, like you do, you know, and had my morning cuppa. Young Friend of the Elephants pushed off to school, then I, you know, I had to do some work, it was sort of boring, you know, so I played a bit with my Pomodoro app… 

I had lunch, but had no appetite, you know, because, I mean, who likes to eat alone? You know?

And then nothing happened in the afternoon either, you know, it was one of those boring days, you know what I mean… this whole coronavirus stuff simply sucks, you know, man.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau


Lockdown Diaries II, Day 6: With Raymond Queneau

I skipped day 5 of the lockdown diary yesterday, because I spent the day with a friend – owing to my circumstances people are allowed to visit me even in lockdown, now there’s a new turn up for the books! – and there was the weekly quote anyway for you to read. 

Nothing else happened. And today didn’t happen anything much either.

The fact that generally speaking even less is happening in this lockdown than in the last one, however, made me muse on the subject of how many times can you write the same thing over and over again without boring your readers to tears.

Well, Raymond Queneau in his Exercises in Style managed to do it a whopping ninety-nine times. (I don’t think I’ve got his talent.)

I first read his book in Hungarian when I was in grammar school – I first read everything in grammar school – and I found it highly entertaining. Decades later I’ve got myself an English copy, and I still find it highly entertaining. The only thing that baffles me is that Mr Anglo-Saxonist, into whose style of reading this kind of smart-arsery really fits, was never willing to read it. But there. You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink… 

With that I’m handing you over to Raymond Queneau:

On the S bus, in the rush hour. A chap of about twenty-six, soft hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been tugging at it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the man standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time he goes past. A snivelling tone which is meant to be aggressive. When he sees a vacant seat, he throws himself onto it.

Two hours later, I come across him in the Cour de Rome, in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend, who’s saying: “You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the lapels) and why.

(Notation, from Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau)

Now if you think that the above excerpt is particularly boring, it’s because it is particularly boring.

Notation is the retelling of an incident, wholly devoid of interest to anybody, and in as bland a manner as possible, so that afterwards Queneau can have some fun in the rest of the book rewriting it in various styles. In ninety-nine different styles, as I said above.

A Writing Challenge – For Anybody Who Is Interested

Well, we’ve got nothing better to do, since we’re all in lockdown and there’s nothing really happening… so why don’t you write up what happened today, in a simple and matter of fact way, and then start experimenting? 🙂 

I’m going to provide you with my boring entry for today… and tomorrow (when I expect nothing more interesting to happen than today), I’ll look for inspiration in Queneau and give you an attempt at describing the big nothing, imitating one of his style variations. If you want to take up the challenge, post a reply in the comments, keeping to the same style. We’ll see how far we’ll get with this. 🙂

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Got up in the morning and went through the usual morning routine: cup of tea, shower, breakfast. Saw Young Friend of the Elephants off to school, then worked on the computer all morning. I experimented with a Pomodoro timer app as I keep forgetting to take breaks; it would have been great if the app actually worked as advertised.

Took my lunch to eat outside in the garden, as the weather was reasonably mild and there was some weak sunshine.

Worked some more on the computer in the afternoon, including on the blog, adding another map to the History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps, maybe I even finish it before the year ends? Only been at it for months.

Over to you. 🙂

Recommended reading:
Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau


Lockdown Diaries II, Day 4: In Emoji Speak

Trying to write a daily update of the big nothing happening in lockdown can be a bit taxing. Besides, I’d rather get on with writing my History of Hungary in a Dozen Maps which I’ve been trying to finish, quite literally, for months, what with one thing and another holding me up. Therefore today we’ll do the lockdown diary in quick emoji speak…

Sunday, 8 November

State of affairs in the country:

Feeling like:


View from window:

Wasting time with:

Wish I could go:

Most interesting thing that happened today:

Wish I could be:

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 3: A Day With Anne Frank

Today, we pay homage to a famous teenage diarist, Anne Frank (a Jewish girl who was hiding from the Nazis for several years in a flat with her family). If you have never read her diary, you should. (In my opinion, it should be compulsory reading in every school: but for its historical value and for the way it captures the difficulties of growing up.)

The finest thing of all is that I can at least write down what I think and feel, otherwise I would suffocate completely.

(The Diary of Anne Frank, 16 March 1944)

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Got up in the morning to sunshine outside and feeling better than I’ve felt in days. I’m sure the fact that it’s a day of leisure for all of us helps to raise my spirits too (and everybody else’s in the family). 

I wondered what to write for the Lockdown Diaries II today and in the end I decided on continuing to work with some famous diarists in history. I looked up Anne Frank’s diary entry for this day, in 1942: after months in hiding, tempers in her family were fraying and sibling rivalry seemed to be in full flow. Anne’s words display classic teenage angst. And yet, despite the difficult circumstances she endured, she was not without hope and continued to strive to become a better person. She could be an example to us all.

I think of the middle-aged man who pushed me in the supermarket yesterday. I’m sure he has many problems to cope with; I’m almost equally sure he hasn’t got not as many as I’ve got (but I’m not ready to talk about that yet here). But no matter how many problems we’ve got – does that justify any of us forgetting basic human consideration for each other?

With that, I’ll hand the word to Anne:

Annelies Marie Frank (1929-1945)

Saturday, 7 November 1942

Dearest Kitty,

Mother’s nerves are very much on edge, and that doesn’t bode well for me. Is it just a coincidence that Father and Mother never scold Margot and always blame me for everything? Last night, for example, Margot was reading a book with beautiful illustrations; she got up and put the books aside for later. I wasn’t doing anything, so I picked it up and began looking at the pictures. Margot came back, saw “her” book in my hands, knitted her brow and angrily demanded the book back. I wanted to look through it some more. Margot got madder by the minute, and Mother butted in: “Margot was reading that book; give it back to her.”

Father came in, and without even knowing what was going on, saw that Margot was being wronged and lashed out at me: “I’d like to see what you’d do if Margot was looking at one of your books!”

I promptly gave in, put the book down and, according to them, left the room “in a huff”. I was neither huffy, nor cross, but merely sad.

It wasn’t right of Father to pass judgment without knowing what the issue was. I would have given the book to Margot myself, and lot sooner, if Father and Mother hadn’t intervened and rushed to take Margot’s part, as if she were suffering some great injustice.

Of course, Mother took Margot’s side; they always take each other’s sides. I’m so used to it that I’v become completely indifferent to Mother’s rebukes and Margot’s moodiness. I love them but only because they’re Mother and Margot. I don’t give a darn about them as people. As far as I’m concerned they can go jump in a lake. It’s different with Father.  When I see him being partial to Margot, approving Margot’s every action, praising her, hugging her, I feel a gnawing ache inside, because I’m crazy about him. I model myself after Father, and there’s no one in the world I love more. He doesn’t realise that he treats Margot differently than he does me: Margot just happens to be the smartest, the kindest, the prettiest and the best. But I have a right to be taken seriously too. I’ve always been the clown and mischief maker of the family; I’ve always had to pay double for my sins: once with scolding and again with my own sense of despair. I’m no longer satisfied with the meaningless or the supposedly serious talks. I long for something from Father that he’s incapable of giving. I’m not jealous of Margot; I never have been. I’m not envious of her brains or her beauty. It’s just I’d like to feel that Father really loves me, not because I’m his child, but because it’s me, Anne.

I cling to Father because my contempt of Mother is growing daily and it’s only through him that I’m able to retain the last ounce of family feeling I have left. He doesn’t understand that I sometimes need to vent my feelings for Mother. He doesn’t want to talk about it, and he avoids any discussion involving Mother’s failings. And yet Mother, with all her shortcomings, is tougher for me to deal with.

I don’t know how I should act. I can’t very well confront her with her carelessness, her sarcasm and hart-heartedness, yet I can’t continue to take the blame for everything. 

I’m the opposite of Mother, so of course we clash. I don’t mean to judge her; I don’t have that right. I’m simply looking at her as a mother. She’s not a mother to me – I have to mother myself. I’ve cut myself adrift from them. I’m charting my own course, and we’ll see where it leads me. I have no choice because I can picture what a mother and a wife should be and can’t seem to find anything of the sort in the woman I’m supposed to call “Mother”. I tell myself time and again to overlook Mother’s bad example. I only want to see her good points, and to look inside myself for what’s lacking in her. But it doesn’t work, and the worst part is that Father and Mother don’t realise their own inadequacies and how much I blame them for letting me down. Are there any parents who can make their children completely happy?

Sometimes I think God is trying to test me, both now and in the future. I’ll have to become a good person on my own, without anyone to serve as a model or advise me, but it’ll make me stronger in the end.

Who else but me is ever going to read these letters? Who else but me can I turn to for comfort? I’m frequently in need of consolation, I often feel weak, and more often than not, I fail to meet expectations. I know this, and every day I resolve to do better.

They aren’t consistent in their treatment of me. One day they say that’s Anne’s a sensible girl and entitled to know everything, and the next that Anne’s a silly goose who doesn’t know a thing and yet imagines she’s learned all she needs to know from books! I’m no longer the baby and spoiled little darling whose every deed can be laughed at. I have my own ideas, plans and ideals, but am unable to articulate them yet. 

Oh well. So much comes into my head at night when I’m alone, or during the day when I’m obliged to put up with people I can’t abide or who invariably misinterpret my intentions. That’s why I always wind up coming back to my diary – I start there and end there because Kitty’s always patient. I promise her that, despite everything, I’ll keep going, that I’ll find my own way and choke back my tears. I only wish I could see some results or, just once, receive encouragement from someone who loves me. 

Don’t condemn me, but think of me as a person who sometimes reaches the bursting point!

Yours, Anne

(The Diary of Anne Frank, 7 November 1942)

Further Reading:
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam (Holland)

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 2: Written Like A Ship’s Log

Today’s lockdown diary entry takes a ship’s log as inspiration. (We’ve got to have some variety!)

Date: Fri, 6 November 2020
Location: 51°30’35” N, 0°7’5” W
Course: Uncertain, subject to wind direction
Speed: Drifting without power
Weather Conditions: Major depression over the British Isles

0900 Underway. Visiting heads. 0915 Crew exercise (daily walk on deck). 0940 Changing course to galley. 1000 Changing course to captain’s cabin, attending to paperwork. 1120 Taking call from friendly ship, anchored in nearby waters under a quarantine flag (epidemic on board). Offered to help with logistics and distance training, which was gratefully accepted. 1300 working lunch, followed by galley duty in the absence of lower ranked crew (participating in training off ship).

Empty shelves in Sainsbury’s 6 November 2020 (London)

1400 Underway to the nearby island of Sainsbury’s to procure some luxury provisions (Coke) which was not delivered by our supply ship this morning.  1425 Landed at Sainsbury’s. Island already stripped of most things edible or useful. 1430 Suffered a surprise physical attack by an uncivilised and hostile native; escaped without injuries but with a bruised spirit. 1435 Successfully evacuated Sainsbury’s in the company of one 6-pack Coke cans without further incidents. Arriving on board ship at 1500, informing crew that local natives are now on the war path.

1530 Contacting admiralty to investigate whether Admiral B. Johnson has the slightest idea where we’re supposed to be heading. All information classified; much gossip from the admiralty offices but no facts. Suspect admiral hasn’t got the slightest f***ing clue. The admiralty is not aware of any supply  shortages, nor that this has resulted in local middle class tribes becoming aggressive…  

And now we’re handing over to Christopher Columbus whose encounter with the natives on this day in 1492 was much more peaceful…

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Tuesday 6 November [1492]

Yesterday evening, says the Admiral, the two men he had sent out to investigate the interior returned and described how they had walked the 12 leagues to a village of 50 houses, where he says that there must have been 1000 people because many live together in one house. These houses are like very large tents. They said that they had been received with great solemnity after their custom, and they all, men and women alike, came to see them and put them up in the best houses. The people touched them and kissed their hands and feet and marvelled at them, believing that they had come from heaven and that is what they gave them to understand. They gave them things to eat from what they had. They said that when they arrived, the most honourable men of the village carried them on their shoulders to the main house and gave them two seats on which to sit, and they all sat on the floor around them. The Indian who accompanied them told them how the Christians lived and how they were good people. Then the men went out and the women came in and sat around them in the same way, kissing their hands and feet, touching them to see if they were of flesh and blood like them. They asked them to stay there with them for at least five days.

They showed them the cinnamon and the pepper and other spices which the Admiral had given them, and the people said in sign language that there was a lot of it nearby to the SE, but that they did not know if there was any thereabouts. When they found no indication of any city, they returned, and if they had allowed all those who wanted to do so, more than 500 men and women would have come with them, because they thought that they were returning to heaven. However, one of the elders of the village came with them with his son and a manservant.

The Admiral spoke with them, paid them many courtesies, and he pointed out many lands and islands which there were in that region. The Admiral thought about bringing him back to the Monarchs, and says that he did not know what came over him but apparently out of fear and the dark night he wanted to go ashore. And the Admiral says that because the flagship was on dry land, not wishing to upset him he let him go. The Indian said that in the morning he would return; but he never came back.

The two Christians found many people, men and women, on their journey who were on their way to their villages carrying a smouldering brand of herbs which they are accustomed to smoke. They found no village on the way with more than five houses, and all treated them with the same respect. They saw many kinds of trees and plants and fragrant flowers. They saw birds of many kinds, different from those of Spain, except partridges and nightingales which sang, and geese, of which there are a great many. They saw no four-legged animals except dogs which did not bark. The land was very fertile and cultivated with those ‘niames’ and kidney beans and broad beans all very unlike our own; likewise, Indian corn and a great quantity of cotton, picked and spun and woven; in a single house they had seen more than 500 arrobas, and 4000 quintales a year could be obtained there.

The Admiral says that it seemed to him that they did not cultivate it and that it fruits all year round. It is very fine and produces large bolls. He says that everything those people had they gave for a very low price, and that they would give a great basket of cotton for the end of a leather thong or whatever else they are given. They are people, says the Admiral, completely without evil or aggression, naked every one of them, men and women, as the day they were born. It is true that the women wear only a cotton garment, large enough to cover their genitals, but no more. They are very good looking, not very black, rather less so than the Canary Islanders.

Most Serene Princes (says the Admiral at this point), I hold that once dedicated and religious people knew their language and put it to use, they would all become Christians. And so I hope in Our Lord that Your Highnesses will determine with all speed to bring such great peoples to the Church and convert them, just as you have destroyed those who refused to confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost; and at the end of your days, for we are all mortal, you will leave your kingdoms in tranquillity, free from heresy and evil, and will be well received before the Eternal Creator, whom it may please to grant you long life and great increase of your many kingdoms and possessions, and the will and the inclination to spread the holy Christian religion as you have done hitherto. Amen.

Today I will refloat the flagship and I am readying myself to set out on Thursday in the name of God to go SE and seek the gold and spices and discover land. These are all the words of the Admiral, who planned to leave on Thursday, but because the wind was against him, could not depart until the twelfth day of November.

(Diary of Christopher Columbus, First Voyage)

Further Reading / Lectura recomendada:
Diary of Christopher Columbus (First Voyage)
Los cuatro viajes del almirante y su testamento (Cristóbal Colón)
More about ships' watches!

Lockdown Diaries II, Day 1: In the Manner of Pepys

So here we go again. In lockdown.

I thought  we’ll take this in the manner of Samuel Pepys, the great diarist of the era of Charles II. 

November 5th. (Guy Fawkes Day). Up betimes and to sit at the desk in my chamber at home, busy until noon. Then abroad, walking as far as the roundabout, where calling at the chemist’s, and so home. Dined alone, hearing much news on the radio concerning the election in America; but it is of little interest to me. After dinner busy again in my chamber until tea. In the early afternoon talked with Dr -, my physician, whose advice included to continue taking daily walks despite the lockdown, which is to my great satisfaction. Tea with Young Friend of the Elephants who just came in from school; discoursing upon teachers and their foibles awhile. So back to my chamber for the rest of the day and to write my diary…

And now over to Mr Pepys, admiralty clerk: 

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)

5th (Office day). Being disappointed of money, we failed of going to Deptford to pay off the Henrietta to-day. Dined at home, and at home all day, and at the office at night, to make up an account of what the debts of nineteen of the twenty-five ships that should have been paid off, is increased since the adjournment of the Parliament, they being to sit again to-morrow. This 5th of November is observed exceeding well in the City; and at night great bonfires and fireworks. At night Mr. Moore came and sat with me, and there I took a book and he did instruct me in many law notions, in which I took great pleasure. To bed.

(The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 5 November 1660)

Further Reading:
The Diary of Samuel Pepys (on Project Gutenberg)
⇒ To read Pepys's diary in daily instalments (not to mention to get it into your mailbox) click here

Lockdown Diaries: Gunpowder Treason

We’ve been told on Saturday night that we’re going into full lock down in England again – obviously because it worked so well the first time round! – starting on Thursday. 

Now let me see. Thursday, 5th of November: that would be Bonfire Night. I was looking forward to having Sophisticated Young Lady + sweet boyfriend (I have to come up with a name for him, he seems a permanent fixture!)  for dinner & fireworks in the garden. That would have been:

  • Goulash cooked in a cauldron on an open fire 
  • Cocoa snails (don’t panic: no actual snails are involved, it’s just cocoa+sugar filled swirl pastry)
  • Red wine (of course!) for those who like it
  • Fireworks (and here’s to Mr Anglo-Saxonist not sending up us all into the sky; he did once nearly decapitated us, guests and all)
  • A guy to burn? (Perhaps I should make the guy look like Boris Johnson instead of Guy Fawkes.)

But What’s This All About?

Advance Warning for Timid Souls: Politically Incorrect Historical Poem Coming!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder Treason and plot,
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament,
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow.

By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match,
Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to rinse it down
A faggot of sticks to burn him.

Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star,
Burn his body from his head
Then we’ll say old Pope is dead.

Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!

(Rhyme commemorating 5 November¹)

Well, that should explain Bonfire Night well enough but if it doesn’t, you just have to look at ¹ below. 🙂

With regards to the coronavirus: I will not exasperate you with my personal complaints; I’m sure you’ve got plenty of your own. It’s all out of our hands; we just have to do the best we can do. So personally:

  • I brought Bonfire Night a day ahead.
  • I’ll go to swim every day until my gym closes leaving me high & dry. 
  • And I guess the daily Lockdown Diaries will be back.

In the words of Queen Victoria: We are not amused!

¹ For those of you who are not English: 
On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the English Parliament (and the King who was to attend it). Fortunately for Parliament but not so fortunately for him, he had been discovered the night before in the cellars in the company of several barrels of gunpowder. The Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy by persecuted Catholics and it is commemorated annually with fireworks and bonfires (sometimes still involving the burning of a 'guy'). Children still learn the rhyme although they usually content themselves with the first verse nowadays. ⇒ One of the most spectacular Bonfire Nights in England is in the town of Lewis, in Sussex (cancelled this year, of course)


Lockdown Diaries: Cinnamon Swirl

My swimming pool has finally reopened at the end of July.

The negatives?

  • You have to book
  • You can only book one session per day
  • Each session is only half an hour

The positives?

  • You’re allowed to use the changing room (far too many pools expect you to get home on the bus in a wet swimsuit or change in their car park)
  • The changing room and the showers have never been cleaner!

But my swimming app has been shut down as of May 31st, due to coronavirus. It used to track my swims, adding up the distances and match them onto a Google map:

Saved from oblivion… a screenshot of one of my completed swimming challenges

Before the app disintegrated on my phone, I managed to copy out the list of the swimming challenges (completed and uncompleted) but not the associated maps… Today I spent 3 fruitless hours on the internet trying to find out where in the world the intriguingly named Cinnamon Swirl challenge (175,665 m) is supposed to be taking place.

I don’t see much point in swimming 175,665 metres without being able to imagine the scenery…

…so I pretended to swim in the Serpentine (Hyde Park) instead.

Lockdown Diaries: Inmates in Solitary

One of the most bizarre experiences to emerge from the lockdown, at least in our house, is the lonely, self-contained life of the inmates.

You’d think now that we’re all in the house,  we have lots of family interaction: no commuting, we all work/study/live in the same space. And yet.

We’re all in different rooms; not just because some of us increasingly crave privacy but because of work demands: there are all the phone calls, video conferences, webinars and online lessons to participate in at random times of the day. Then there are our different work habits: I like to work with music on; my husband likes to work in complete silence. Young Friend of the Elephants likes to ‘work’ with her door shut so that she can Facetime her friends instead.

Surely as a minimum, we share all the meal times? No. We all get up at different times and trickle downstairs one by one; all end eating breakfast alone. Lunch? Seems absolutely impossible to organise because everybody is on a different schedule. What’s left is dinner, just like when we were not locked into the house, and the rare occasions when people coincide by the kettle in the kitchen. I’m on my tea break now and I can’t find a single soul in the house who’s available for a five minutes’ chat.

My sister said her family was no different. And yours?