Saturday 28 July 2018

Book review: Heart of Darkness

FTb0ymKWIAAd79a Heart of Darkness is a classic, even more klasik than the Nigger of the Narcissus. It makes #67 on the big list, but IMO that list is full of shit. Errm, not that the books on the list are shit, but the order of the books is shit. There's no way Gatsby deserves to be 65 places above HoD, to take just one example.

As wiki notes, HoD is criticised in postcolonial studies, but since it is greater than them, who cares? I suppose I do at least a bit, since I noted it. Also, the complaint is at least partly illuminating: but the answer is that the novel isn't really about Africa, except in the imagination. Does that make sense? I know what I mean, even if I can't explain it very well. Anchored in the Thames, a primordial river, Marlow looks back to the lights of London and sees the darkness there; the novel is about the opposite of that, which could be the Congo or it could be the Amazon and doubtless other rivers too. Since Apocalypse Now, it could be 'Nam.

The story of travel to and arrival in Africa, and the setup of the - I assume - Belgian Congo, and the travels in the river boat are of some mild historical interest. The descriptions of the fighting, and reaction to it, are in stark contrast to the usual "heroic" type accounts one hears; I'm unsure how novel it was on Conrad's day1.

The classic beautifully setup piece is towards the end, when Marlow relates how he thought he was dying, and realised he might well die without having anything to say; and contrasts himself with Kurtz who, despite the terrible though largely unnamed things he may have done, did at least have something to say. Arguably that resonates less in today's world where every fool thinks they have something to say and generally does; but it isn't addressed to the fools.

HoD has in some ways the good fortune to be addressed to a huge topic / thought / meme: the Heart of Darkness of the title. You can project a huge swathe of ideas onto that. Nowadays, with Apocalypse Now, it gains an extra resonance. I contrast it with Gatsby, which is essentially trivial.

An output of progress

Special bonus report: AOOP. A short story, next to HoD in my collected Conrad [text]. In some ways a mirror-image of HoD: a tale of two white men left to run a minor remote company output who, unlike Kurtz, have no particular character, no energy, and little resilience in the face of the unknown.

Like Kurtz, they are trying to collect ivory. Unlike him, when faced with the unknown, they have little idea of what to do and settle for doing little. Towards the end of the time before the company relief is expected, a group of non-local blacks come through, carrying (primitive) guns, and appear to leave after looking around. The local company black brokers a deal, and in the dark of night the strangers return and take the stations worker-blacks, in exchange for some magnificent tusks. The two whites are outraged by their people being taken into slavery - though the same workers had been little but slaves for them - but are too ineffectual to do anything. Weakly wracked by guilt, they fight when the relief boat is late and food grows short; one shoots the other by accident; and the last hangs himself when the relief boat finally arrives, in thick fog.

Just like in HoD the whites, though pathetically vulnerable, are not menaced by the blacks, who fear the unknown consequences of harming them. Without realising it they are dependent on the local villagers, and their decline largely stems from the village head deciding not to feed them, after some of his people were taken in the course of the slaving exchange.

There's no particular moral, as such, other than a reminder of how dependent we all our on the support framework we so take for granted.


John Crowley in Beasts puts forward the reverse: Meric, returning briefly to the Candy Mountain, finds the leos have relieved him of the burden of speech.

Another view of London

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802.


1. War and Peace at least had already paved the way, I subsequently discover.

Monday 23 July 2018

Bumps 2018: day 4

37713909_10101192501501464_4444446588990914560_n [Day 3]

TL;DR: row-over, but a good one.

Today was difficult: we were going to struggle to do anything but row-over, since we were chasing the same Nines 2 crew who had escaped us on Day 1, but we needed to Believe in order to have any chance. And in the end we did believe, and did do our best, but it wasn't enough. We got to perhaps 1/4 length - three whistles - on Ditton, but they pulled away somewhat down the Reach. However, that was already much better than Day 1, when they'd started pulling away after First Post. For unclear reasons Keith kept flogging us after the railway bridge, but you can see from the trace that weren't really having it. We dropped City 2 behind us early on.

Looking at my GPS trace, we managed 1:40 (6:33) from A14 to Railway bridge, which is now my record. Which is excellent: it was about time I broke the longstanding record of 2013's first-night row-over ahead of Sharks (6:40). Although our A14 to FP was still only 1:16, which we've managed all week.

And so I should name our fine crew, for posterity. In the picture you see me channelling my inner Putin, or possibly Lord Flashheart. At the back, from the left: Chris Wood (2), Alex Fanourakis (5), Conor Burgess (4), Dan McGreal (coach), Ralph Hancock (bow), Tom Pryke (stroke); on their knees before me Steve O'Rourke (3) and Jonathan Pilgrim (6), and in front Keith Lee (cox).

I should perhaps admit here that I was a touch nervous about Keith's steering, but he was fine. The nerves came from his newness, and his tendency to hit the bank during practice starts at the Plough, due to trying to shave the wall too close. But during the race I think our lines were good.

And so, the end of another season. There seems to be some interest in doing off-Cam regattas which I think would be good: we didn't get a chance to really fulfill our potential during bumps, it would be great to have some other chances.

Afterwards, we had drinks and speeches at the Waterman until quite late (and I got a present, a hip-flash with engraved stoat, for doing the crew organising; that was quite touching), and then more drinks at City until, oh my goodness, is it really 3 am? Time to go my unsteady way home...

Thursday 19 July 2018

Bumps 2018: day 3

[Day 1] [Day 2]
[Jo's video]

TL;DR: up! On City 2.

Despite my efforts to jinx us by speculating yesterday about today going on rails, it did. We got a fine start, more stable, and soon had the pleasure of seeing Tabs 4 dropping back. We had a whistle - actually Chris's Kazoo - not long after the A141, and held that for a while as the water got choppy and we wobbled on a couple of strokes. By the end of FP we were on two, then onto three around FP, and then continuous and then it was over. When it's over it's always too soon and it would have been lovely to keep racing, but before it was over I was internally desperate for it to stop, as always.

From the GPS: start peak 1:25; A14 to FP 1:36 (1:16), three seconds better than yesterday; we can still do better than that.

Up ahead, Tabs 3 duly took down Nines 2, so we get a shot at them tomorrow, just like day 1. Sadly, Tabs 2 took down the Robs 2 spoon barge, so the eagerly awaited - by me - Tabs 2 vs Tabs 3 death match won't happen. Nines 2 will be ruing not quite closing down Tabs 2 yesterday. Just one tiny extra effort can make all the difference.


1. Now I watch the video, actually, under the A14.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Bumps 2018: day 2

[Day 1] [Simon's Video]

TL;DR: row over.

We met today in a better spirit than we left yesterday evening. We had a brief chat through the obvious: yes, we could row better, we shouldn't aim for just a row-over, we could probably get something on Tabs 3 off the start, and there was unlikely to be much from behind us. And off we went. After a good practice start at the Plough we span onto station with Chris there again, got out for a wee, and my nerves were better. I even remembered to turn my GoPro on, alas into the wrong mode, never mind I'll try again tomorrow.

The start was fine, though our brief down-to-bowside crept back in. Fairly soon after the start - perhaps 20 strokes - as I was looking back watching for Nines 3 to drop away instead I saw them in some kind of trouble, perhaps a crab or equipement; and not long after they were bumped. We took perhaps 1/2 length off Tabs, and may have had one whistle, but by First Post they were back to station (post race reports tell me) and we heard only, faintly, their whistles on City 2 and passed them bumped out in the gut. FP was - and I haven't looked at my GPS trace yet - better than yesterday but still not our best. With crews out ahead and behind by Grassy we had nowhere to go really although I'm not sure everyone else had realised by then. I was willing to go as far as the Plough, and oh-go-on-then around Ditton, but when Keith started flogging us down the Reach, which was exactly what we should not do (cos City had an easy day today), we rebelled :-).

All in all today was the near-inevitable result of nothing unexpected happening. If tomorrow goes on rails we can hope to bump City not too far off where Tabs got them.

[Update: now I've looked at the GPS trace. Our start peak was slower (1:28) but better sustained. A14 to FP was 1:38 (1:19), and to Plough 1:30 (3:33) both of which are slower than yesterday. So: we can do better than that.]

FROM far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither: here am I.

Now—for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart—
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.

Speak now, and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind’s twelve quarters
I take my endless way.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Bumps 2018: day 1

TL;DR: down just past Ditton to Tabs 3.

[Jo's video from the bike] [Simon's video from First Post]

I forgot to write my "pre bumps" post this year, so can't quite capture what I would have said yesterday. But I turned it over in my mind, and what I thought was that the crew had gelled well, we were consistently paddling at 1:55 and starting at 1:25 and below, and sustaining it well. Pre-bumps prep had gone about as well as it could have, and if only we weren't too unlucky in our choice of opponents, we could do well. My assessment was that City 2 (9), whilst respectable, were likely to be the best target; Nines 2 (10) could easily be good; and Tabs 34 (12) could be better.

Alas, we were unlucky in our choice of opponents; and didn't row our best.

The day went well for the club: W3 rowed over, M3 bumped up, W2 bumped up, M2 bumped up - we cheered them as we rowed down towards Stourbridge - and W1 bumped up - we cheered them after we'd pushed off. I'd managed my nerves well enough, and cheered loudly for M3 to get something out of my system. The row down to the start was decent; the start itself was a little delayed and we didn't get out of the boat. With Chris Smith and Will Miller and others there to push us off there was no worries on that score. And so to the start, which I'll write before I look at the GPS trace. I had my head down and mind empty, which got me from the four minute to the start gun, but my mind was so empty I forgot to turn the riggercam on.

The start itself was good. Sometimes we have a tendency to drop to bowside around stroke 5, but that didn't happen this time. All went well, Tabs weren't gaining and, although we had no whistles, Keith assured us we were gaining on Nines 2. Somewhere towards First Post there was I think a bit of a swerve on the steering, possibly associated with avoiding Robs 2 bumped around there. Our lines around First Post and Grassy were decent, but it was rough and we didn't cope with that as well as we could; nonetheless it was I thought still fairly good. Tabs were perhaps a length or less off at Grassy1, and closed down Plough Reach, and put on a commendable spurt at three whistles to take us down just round Ditton2. There were a fair number of crews bumped out along the way, one of which was the City 2 / Nines 2 pair ahead of us.

Now looking at the GPS trace... start 1:25, which is good but not our best. And there was a patch of 1:40 down FP. And 1:40 down Plough Reach. A14 to FP was 1:37 (1:17) compared to my best of 1:26 (1:08) on Friday 2013. A14 to Plough was 1:40 average (3:32) compared to my best of 1:37 (3:26) on Friday of 2016.

[Update: Strava-trawling, I can find Tabs 2: 1:16 to First Post. So it's a shame they swapped their 2 and 3 crews5. And we were only 2 seconds slower to the Plough than Press.]

So I think the numbers somewhat contradict my impressions of the race: we slowed more on First Post than I thought.

We could row better tomorrow. We could, optimistically but realistically, take more than 5 seconds off our time to the Plough. Had we done that tonight, we could possibly have stayed clear of Tabs 3 to the Railway bridge, so I fear tonight will have to join my list of disappointing first nights (or looked at another even more optimistic way, 8 seconds off to FP could have seen us bump Nines 23). However, given Tabs 3 speed once they'd pulled themselves together, I think we'd have to row at our very best to have survived them.


1. False memory to some extent; and anyway that's not what I was concentrating on. Jo's video shows them half a length off on the exit from Grassy, and I think you can hear their first whistle around FP. 

2. From the vid: I hadn't realised at the time how wide we were around Ditton, probably inevitably due to Tabs on the inside; but it meant we were doomed at that point anyway as we would inevitably have lost half a length round the full corner.

3. Yes, I am getting carried away with might-have-beens. Sorry.

4. Slightly confusingly, the crew who were traditionally Tabs 2, their "intermediate men", are this year their 5th boat. Their actual second boat is the Hills Road Returners; and third third boat (on order on the river) is labelled as "M2".

5. The HRR only just escaped Nines 2 on day 2.


* GPS trace from Tabs 2. who appear to be about the same speed as us.
* Day 0 thoughts from last year.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Play review: Cymbeline

Last year The Winter's Tale; this year Cymbeline. Like AWT the plot has to be regarded as compressed. We this time were M, Mother and I; and the picnic blanket from the car to keep us warm in the second half: despite the long run of hot dry weather it grows chill at night if you're out.

The production was not quite so smooth this time. The audience was a little thin, and two of the actors - the servant, and one of the romans - must have been pressed at the last moment as they had scripts (though the servant managed his quite well and I only realised it was a script, not some letters he was carrying, nearly at the interval). Also the two princes were played by women.

Is there much to be got out of it? The dialogue is "witty" in that rather hard to follow, but rewarding if you do make it the the end of the sentence way that Shakespeare has; and they spoke it well. There's a kind of a plot, though why people would go from "Britain" to "Italy" via Milford Haven is somewhat obscure. Not I think one of the major works.

Oh, and the woman who played several roles - Belarius; and a woman in Italy - was so like Micky, of about 20 years ago, in her role at Rome.