The Black Spot

Oh dear. Both Jonathan Derbyshire and Robert Jubb have passed me the Black Spot. So here goes.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Augustine: City of God. In both English and Latin, if that’s (a) allowed and (b) humanly possible.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No. Can’t think of one, at least.

What are you currently reading?

Hmm. There’s a pile of journals, photocopied articles, drafts of pieces by other academics, etc. in my various in-trays, but I’ll restrict this list to stuff at home that I’m reading that doesn’t have much to do with my worklife. There are still quite a few things on the list:

Selecting the Pope, by Greg Tobin. Doesn’t say much that we haven’t already all absorbed from the newspapers over the last few days, but it’s solid enough. It makes me think that all the people who are photographing the pope with their mobiles as he lies in state are probably going to go straight to Hell.

The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard Evans, which does its job nicely.

A Savage War of Peace, by Alastiar Horne. Hmm. About 100 pages from the end of this long book (a history of the Algerian war), and I got a bit bogged down in French politics at the turn of the 1960s. Should go back and finish it off soon, though. Good book.

The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. About half way through, and it’s as interesting as I wanted it to be.

Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright: The Bob Marley Reader, ed. Hank Bordowitz. A disappointing collection so far, but then good writing on pop music is a very rare pleasure. (Frank Zappa’s remark on rock journalism, written for people who can’t read by people who can’t write about people who can’t talk describes the general problem well.)

Britain’s Gulag, by Caroline Elkins: Like many people, I acquired Elkins’s book together with David Anderson’s Histories of the Hanged, and I now know a lot more about Mau Mau than before. Anderson’s book is terrific; Elkins’s is good, though not quite in the same league. (Exactly half way through it now; will finish off soon.)

Dick Turpin and the Myth of the English Highwayman, by James Sharpe. It’s not especially good; I bought it to read on a train, and almost finished it on that journey, but still have a few pages to go, which I’ll probably knock off fairly soon in an idle hour. David Wootton gets things about right in his LRB review. In the World of Blogs, Ophelia Benson has some critical comments by way of response to Wootton, which make me think she hasn’t read the book.

Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel, by my friend Daphna Baram. Again, about halfway through. V. interesting stuff.

The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. It’s in chronological order, so this really is a dictionary you can read from cover to cover. Though I’m not sure I’m quite going to do that. But a reference work I’m consulting on a daily basis, this week at least.

Fascists, by Michael Mann. On the strength of the first hundred pages or so, this is really excellent stuff, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel volume on ethnic cleansing.

The last book you bought is:

As blogged below, the two Pope books, from Borders in Oxford on Sunday.

The last book you read:

Witch Craze, by Lyndal Roper.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

I wouldn’t need the Augustine, as I’d have memorized it. So it’d be:

In Search of Lost Time. I’ve finally acquired a copy, and am looking forward to making a start, but it may be that desert island exile is still the only way to really get cracking. Still, I motored through A Dance to the Music of Time, so I should have the staying power for Proust

– Hobbes, Leviathan: you can’t go anywhere without Hobbes.

Ulysses, of course.

Paradise Lost: never read it, think I’d enjoy it.

– And Bayle’s Dictionary, just in case I was there for a long time. I spent a big chunk of the Summer of 1998 reading Bayle, but there’s seven million words in the Dictionary, and I’m not going to read the rest of them any time soon.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Matthew Turner, because everyone else is passing it to him, and we must break down his resistance, False Alarm Sarah, to get her posting again, and Peter the Great, because I’m curious about his desert island books, and he needs the practice for when he goes on DID in later life.

So Farewell Then…

… Paul Marsden, who probably strutted and fretted his final hour upon the public stage yesterday, and, with luck, will be heard no more.

To mark his passing from public consciousness, if not from bloggers’ memory, I’ll reprint both his finest piece of sex-verse, “She Came In The Night”, together with my own response, hastily written when a commenter at the Stoa suggested that we should be more impressed by the rhyme scheme than in fact we are.

(It is a great shame that Mr Marsden’s collected poems are no longer available on the web. If anyone ever archived a copy of “Grand Old Man” in particular, please get in touch.)


Dark hair, alive billowing as a trapped kite
Marching forward, confident and right,
Her hips swaying and her red lips tight
Then that smile so devastating in its might,
Tongue rippling across teeth so white.
Breasts rising as I feel the urge to bite.
Eyes stalking its prey, she’s relishing the fight.

Who would mess with this amazing sight?
In awe of womanhood so sexual and bright,
A wondrous sweet smell exacerbates my plight,
Arching her back, stretched to its full height,
I am captured forever, dazzled by feminine light.
As she came in the night.


“She came in the night” —
This erotic poem by Paul Marsden might
Be one to set my dullard’s soul alight,
Thrill my mind and make my world more bright,
Fill my heart with parliamentary verse delight
And end MPs’ collective literary blight
With sexy words that intrigue and excite —
So shall I give this sonnet a big green light?

It’s strongly tempting to remain polite
To change the subject, not be quite forthright,
Refrain from judging it as black or white.

But no, this time I’m going to pick a fight:
The MP should be quite contrite:
The trouble is, his rhymes are shite.


The Vatican website is generally excellent, and they’ve already assembled a complete retrospective of his Papacy packed with useful documentation.

I’ve decided to take this Papal selection business seriously, and have already eqipped myself with a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Popes and Greg Tobin’s Selecting the Pope, both in good bookshops everywhere.

I haven’t explored it properly yet, but this site looks like being essential reading over the next 2-3 weeks. [via]