Toccata Psalm 146, Jan Zwart performed by Harm Hoeve on the organ of Bovenkerk, Kampen


Performed on the renowned organ of the Bovenkirk in Kampen, Holland, here is a piece by Jan Zwart, on whom there is little on the Anglophone internet.:

  • Born: 20th August 1877

  • Died: 13th July 1937

  • Birthplace: Holland

Jan Zwart was a Dutch organist and a pupil of H. van Eyk. After having been an organist of the Dutch Reformed Church in Rotterdam and Capelle aan den IJssel, he was appointed in 1898 in the same position at the Reformed Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amsterdam.

There is quite a bit more on the Bovenkirk organ:

A masterpiece of the baroque period, the Hinsz organ of the Bovenkerk located in Kampen, Netherlands is perhaps one of the most sought-after Dutch organs by performing and recording artists from around the world.

Available in three volumes, the baroque instrument is ideal for contrapuntal works requiring a variety of tonal colors and is also well suited for romantic works which sound quite elegant.

For those who are a little rusty, Psalm 146 includes the well-known (and wise!) words “put not your trust in princes” and  here it is in the King James Version: 

  1. Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.

While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lordhis God:

Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:

Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners:

The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous:

The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

10 The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.


“Shopping Centre” – a poem from September 2007

Came across this rather randomly lately, will leave it as is, with its hilariously unsubtle allusions to this and that intact, as  a memorial of pre-bust Ireland:

Shopping Centre.

Time outside time is still time.

Clean floors shine. Clean escalators, eternal
As they disappear and reappear, shine. Screens
Shine. Shops shine. Glass and air shine. As in a casino, no
Sign of time here.

Try and avoid anything as obvious as disdain. Try and accept
This shining universe as all that is the case.
These clean floors, these clean escalators, eternally
Dis- and Re-appearing, this timeless void, this void
Filled with sales and selling, shining.

Time outside time is still time.
The shopping centre is on still time.
Amidst the repetition of escalators, elevators, shoppers, sales
You achieve a kind of eternity.

Happy 50th Birthday Ballocephala verrucospora

I’ve posted quite a few bits from John Wright’s wonderful “The Naming of the Shrew” . Quite a fewin fact.  It is quite the treasure trove of entertaining and informative material. I have taken the liberty of yet another post to mark the 50th Anniversary of the discovery of a new species of fungus upon a tiny creature in sheep dung. I am sure you are all well aware of this occasion, but just to recap:

Mike Richardson is another such enthusiast. A fellow devotee of fungi, he and I were sharing an Indian meal in an Edinburgh restaurant one evening when he told me the story of Ballocephala verrucospora. Back in the late sixties, he was attending his son’s first birthday party, something which, frankly, can be a bit of a trial for the adults tasked with keeping the little darlings happy. Unable to face a gruelling afternoon of cake and tears, he decided to go for a walk instead. It took him to the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, where he had only sheep for company. Where there are sheep there are sheep droppings, and knowing that sheep droppings can be more interesting than most people might suspect, he took some home to incubate. A few days later, Mike noticed some small white clumps on the surface of the droppings. Studying his treasures with the help of a dissecting microscope, he discovered that these white clumps were growing from the surface of deceased tardigrades. A tardigrade (its name means ‘slow walker’) is a tiny creature (1.5 millimetres long makes one a giant of the clan), with eight short, fat legs and an ambling gait that has provided it with the common name of ‘water bear’– the ‘water’ part coming from its preference for damp habitats. Mike likes tardigrades (who wouldn’t?), but it was the white clumps that interested him because they were a fungus. Many small creatures can end up as a fungus’s dinner, consumed by the thread-like hyphae that invade their bodies and suck out their precious bodily fluids. A search of the literature enabled Mike to assign the fungus to an existing genus, Ballocephala. But he noticed that its spores were larger than those of the only species known at that time, and were covered in little warts. This and other considerations led Mike to believe at first that he had an undescribed variety of Ballocephala sphaerospora on his hands. However, a fellow mycologist was sure that the find was sufficiently distinct to constitute a new species.


An exciting development, one must surely agree, and Wrights takes us through what happened next:

Mike’s publication of his new species followed the typical pattern that had been used for more than a century (although such a publication is likely to be considerably more complex nowadays than when Mike was writing back in 1970). His paper (referred to as a ‘protologue’ because it is the first word on a species*) begins with an introduction, explaining why he considers his find to be a new species. Then comes the description proper, starting with the heading: ‘Ballocephala verrucospora sp.nov.’ Judith Winston in Describing Specieswrote that while some people approach the naming of a new species with trepidation, others are like expectant parents, asking friends for suggestions and making lists of good candidates. Ballocephala was the name already given to the genus by Charles Drechsler in 1951. It means ‘head thrower’, a reference to the way in which the packet containing the spores (the sporangium) is released by being thrown by the arm-like sporangiophore. The specific epithet verrucospora was provided by Mike himself and simply means ‘warty spores’. This was a good choice, because it describes one of the characters that ‘differentiates’ this species from B. sphaerospora, although there is no rule to say that a specific epithet must represent a difference (differentia in the trade, see here). The abbreviation ‘sp. nov.’ stand for species nova or ‘new species’. Because it is a new species there is no reference to previous descriptions or authors, as would have been necessary had he been reviewing an existing species. In a nice piece of conventional modesty, now dispensed with, Mike does not cite his own name – that is for later writers to do. The next part of the description begins: ‘Hyphae hyalinae, inclusae in corpore hospitis, constantes de cellis secedentibus 20-40 x 10-12 µm diam. Sporangiophora crescentia per superficiem dorsi hospitalis, 50-150 µm alta x 5-7 µm diam, septata solum AD basem

Don’t worry if your Latin is a little rusty, Wright demystifies it beautifully, and introduces what, to me, was a new meaning of the word “diagnosis”:

This is the beginning of the Latin description, which is one hundred words in this case but could be shorter or longer. For a mycologist, even one whose Latin is a hazy memory from school, this description is not too difficult to understand. The Latin of biology is quite different from that of Ancient Rome and different again from Church Latin. It is a highly stylised language all of its own, brimming with specialist Latinised terms that would make Mike’s description almost completely incomprehensible to Cicero. Hyphae hyalinae means something like ‘glassy web’, but here a mycologist would understand it to mean that the hollow fibres (hyphae) that are the ‘cells’ of the fungus are transparent (hyaline). All branches of biology have developed their own specialised nouns and adjectives, usually derived from Greek or Latin, so a description written by a zoologist might make little sense to a mycologist or botanist.

As is traditional, the description is repeated in English translation: ‘Hyphae hyaline, internal in the body of the host, composed of disjointed cells 20–40 x 10–12 µm diam. Sporangiophores growing through the dorsal surface of the host, 50–150 µm high x 5–7 µm diam, septate only at the base.’ What Mike provides is a ‘description’, but he could have given us a description and something called a ‘diagnosis’, or even just a diagnosis. Diagnoses explain what is sufficiently different about the species in question to qualify it for species status. They can be extremely short. For example, if all that differentiated a new species of rabbit from others in its genus was that it was blue, then ‘blue’, would be a sufficient diagnosis. A diagnosis has long been required in zoology but is optional in botany and mycology, where either or both are sufficient.*

Below the description comes this line: ‘Habitat parasitus in Tardigradis (Macrobiotus?). In fimo ovino, West Kip (550 m), Midlothian, Scotland, II. i. 1969. Typus IMI 148042.’ This tells us the habitat – parasitic on tardigrades; that the tardigrade could possibly be a member of the genus Macrobiotus, and that it was found in sheep’s dung (‘In fimo ovino’). It also states where it was found. ‘Typus IMI 148042’ is very important. It tells anyone who needs to check on the original specimens studied by Mike where they can find them – in this case at the International Mycological Institute, reference number 148042. More on ‘types’ later (see here). Just before ‘Typus’ is ‘11. i. 1969’. This is the date on which the specimens were discovered and also, of course, someone’s birthday

So, happy 51st birthday Mr Richardson Jnr and happy 50th birthday to Ballocephala verrucospora

Review of “Albert of Adelaide”, Howard L Anderson, SF Site, 2012

Original here. `And I must confess that until I stumbled across it I had forgotten reading this book or writing this review.

The anthropomorphised animal is a staple of children’s media, especially TV shows and films, so much so that we barely notice it. Even such paradoxes as why Goofy can speak but Pluto can’t pass by unnoticed; so familiar is the technique of humanising animals that giving them a pet, even of the same species, is a logical progression. Adult-focused anthropomorphic fictions are rarer, at least in literature (though not in mythology) and tend towards fable and allegory. From Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, anthropomorphism is used to smuggle in or sweeten unpalatable observations on human society. Sometimes this results in great literature, but more often modern allegories are clumsy and po-faced.

Albert of Adelaide tells the story of the eponymous platypus, an escapee from Adelaide Zoo, and his adventures in Old Australia, which he had previously idealised as a human-free paradise. Albert is haunted and infuriated by memories of his captivity, and the perpetual eyes watching his every movement. Further back, his capture from a simple life along the Murray River was even more traumatic.

The story begins with Albert, days march north from Adelaide, delirious and seeming ready to die. He encounters Jack, a wombat who rescues him and becomes his companion of the initial part of the narrative; Jack gives Albert canned sardines, makes camp with him, and clothes him. Jack also brings him to a remote general store/saloon called Ponsby Station, run by Sing Sing O’Hanlin, a vicious kangaroo. Here Albert’s strangeness both attracts the unwanted attention of other customers and becomes a protective factor, setting a pattern for the rest of the story.

What follows is a curious tale of Albert’s wanderings through the landscape of Old Australia, with various fauna as anthropomorphised friends or antagonists, with his captivity and prior capture still haunting him. Howard L Anderson does a good job of capturing some of the frontier spirit of Australia (it is somewhat difficult to work out when the story is set) which remains, for all its cosmopolitan cities, a land of huge untamed territories. His prose style is generally clear and engaging, and sometimes unobtrusively lyrical although the richness of the Australian argot is rarely captured (the characters do sporadically deliver themselves of such Ozisms as “fair dinkum”).

But what does it all add up to? Unlike Watership Down, to which the book is compared on the blurb, Anderson does not construct an elaborate platypus-centred world view, and with the animals wielding guns, operating saloons and toting backpacks there is no claim to any kind of natural history verisimilitude of even the most rudimentary kind. The characters occasionally indulge in observations on “difference” and “otherness” which are uniformly trite, and Albert’s self-reflections similarly fall flat. Albert is something of a cipher; one feels that Anderson intends him as a sort of accidental picaresque hero but his characterisation is not developed enough. There is a pointlessness about the whole endeavour which ultimately left me rather cold.

Review of “Kafkaesque” edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly, SF Site, 2012

I previously blogged a shorter piece, adapted from this review, on Kafka and alternate history. Here is a full review of what was an enjoyable book to read,


“Kafkaesque” is a word used very often to describe bureaucratic snafus and paradoxes. Even people who have never read a word of Kafka use it to describe their encounter with the Department of Motor Vehicles, or airport security. So pervasive has “Kafkaesque” become that it has nearly lost its link with the works of Franz Kafka. When it comes to trying to summarise this wonderful anthology, I have something of a dilemma. I would recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone who has ever read any Kafka (even — perhaps especially — if they didn’t like the experience), but what about those for whom Kafkaesque is a noun they use but Kafka is not someone they’ve read?

On reflection, the answer is yes. This anthology — which after all includes Kafka’s own “The Hunger Artist,” and a version of the same story by R. Crumb — is both an ideal introduction to Kafka’s writings and an surpassingly excellent anthology in its own right. An ideal introduction as the stories capture the strangeness, wonder, despair and humour which Kafka’s work exemplifies (often all at the same time). And an excellent anthology in its own right as stories such as Jeffrey Ford’s “Bright Morning” and T.C. Boyle’s “The Big Garage” would be worthy inclusions in any collection of speculative, surreal, slipstream-ish (not to nail the genre coffin lid on too tight) stories.

This beautifully designed little volume consists of eighteen stories (as well as a witty, insightful introduction from the editors, and a handy Kafka chronology) each of which is preceded by a brief piece from the story’s author on Kafka’s influence on them and the story. After each story the editors provide their thoughts on the story. So what we have is a sort of extension of the anthology concept. Not only does each story itself reflect and deepen our reading of Kafka, the authors’ and editors’ contributions deepen our appreciation not just of the story, or of Kafka, but of the whole web of influences and reflections that every author exists in.

In a famous essay, “Kafka and His Precursors,” Jorge Luis Borges identified a diverse band of stories, poems and essays which bore the mark of Kafka. They were an assorted bunch — Browning, Kierkegaard, Léon Bloy, Zeno of the eponymous paradox inter alia. As Borges wrote, these were not necessarily authors we would have linked were it not for Kafka. Yet there is unmistakably something of the Kafka spirit about the works he discusses. Kafka creates his precursors, as much as his precursors created him. His work modified our perception of the past, as it will modify that of the future.

Of course, our perception of Kafka is modified by our own preoccupations and concerns. Kafka’s own work never contains the word “Jew” and explicit consideration of Jewishness is absent. Many of the stories in this collection deal with themes of Jewishness. Our contemporary concern with ethnicity and diversity is surely part of this; more significant may be the Holocaust. Kafka’s work is often seen as a prefiguration of the totalitarianisms of the Twentieth Century, and also as a premonition of the attempted industrial extermination of a whole population. Orson Welles, in his film version of The Trial, described his final scene as an explicit invocation of the Holocaust; we read Kafka now in the shadow of an event that began fourteen years after he died. Tamar Yellin’s excellent “Kafka in Bronteland” explores Kafka’s Jewishness — and the narrator’s — in a way that is never strained or (despite what one might think from the title) overly “literary.” It is the final story in the anthology and one that has a real sense of compressed power, a sense of being a summing up that opens up new possibilities.

I am being rather perverse discussing the final story first. Some of the stories, such as Borges’ own “The Lottery in Babylon” and J.G. Ballard’s “The Drowned Giant,” are Kafkaesque in spirit. Others, such as Carol Emshwiller’s “Report to the Men’s Club,” Damon Knight’s “The Handler” and Boyle’s “The Big Garage” use Kafkaian tropes and themes (with varying degrees of explicitness) but do not invoke Franz by name. Of course, as readers we may think we are finding allusions when the author hasn’t meant there to be. Eileen Gunn, in her reflection on her insect transformation story “Stable Strategies For Middle Management,” describes how her inspiration came from a particularly anthropomorphic sentence from David Attenborough’s Life On Earth: A Natural History. It was only later, discussing her work on the story with a writer friend, that she realised the Kafkaian parallels. And now the story takes its place in an anthology of stories “inspired by Franz Kafka.”

Another strain — and possibly the stories which Kafka aficionados will perhaps get more out of than the Kafka virgin — is the story in which Kafka and his works feature directly. I have to say these were the stories I enjoyed most myself — and in their invention and wit, I personally feel confident that the hypothetical person who had never read a word of Kafka would too. “Bright Morning” is a perfect example, a tale which Jeffrey Ford wrote partly to exorcise the overwhelming influence of Kafka, which combines weird wit, vampirism, and a very literary ghost story into a package that may be the most haunting short story I’ve read all year. Johnathan Lethem and Carter Scholz’s “Receding Horizon” has Kafka survive his tuberculosis and cross the Atlantic, changes his name to Jack Dawson, become a screenwriter and work with his near-namesake Frank Capra. The story becomes a retelling of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Quentin Tarantino said once that what he found really interesting about Capra’s seasonal tale of Everyman realising his indispensability was not the redemptive ending but the despair and alienation of George Bailey. Lethem and Scholz insert themselves into the narrative in the best metafictional tradition, yet the whole thing works and never seems overly contrived or clever-clever.

Scholz, as a solo writer, is represented by “The Amount to Carry,” which takes Kafka’s day job in the insurance industry and imagines him crossing the Atlantic (a recurrent theme of quite a few of these stories) to attend a conference where he meets his fellow insurance professionals Charles Ives and Wallace Stevens. Lethem and Scholz have co written a book of five stories on Kafka in America, Kafka Americana, published originally by Subterranean Press and republished by W.W. Norton.

Paul di Fillipo’s “The Jackdaw’s Last Case” (at this point the reader may be interested to know that kavka is the Czech for “jackdaw”) is perhaps the wildest, most fun reimagining of the real Franz Kafka, this time as a caped crusader against crime in New York. Kafka writes for a newspaper owned by Bernarr Macfadden, a historical figure I had never heard of and I am eternally grateful to di Fillipo that now I have.

What this collection is, above all, is entertaining. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Kafka is actually very funny, which is not what one is usually meant by the popular word “Kafkaesque.” As Rudy Rucker, author of gothic identify-shift of “The 57th Franz Kafka,” observes in his pre-story reflection: “Kafka himself considered his stories to be funny. His friend Max Brod reports that Kafka once fell out of his chair from laughing so hard while reading aloud from one of his works, perhaps from Die Verwandlung, that is, ‘The Metamorphosis.’ Our puritanical and self-aggrandizing American culture tends to make out Kafka’s work to be solemn and portentous. But it’s funny the same way as Donald Duck comics.”

The one literary work I thought might have been included but wasn’t was an excerpt from Alan Bennet’s play Kafka’s Dick, or Bennet’s mordantly witty introduction, which explored the legacy of Max Brod and what it means to be talented and hard working yet overshadowed by genius (I do not know enough about Brod’s real life to know if this reflects reality, or if it is a Amadeus style myth).

Beautifully designed, typeset and presented, it is an example of what superb artefacts physical books can be. Even the less engaging or entertaining stories manage to provoke thought, to be part of a great conversation between Kafka, the authors, the editors, and ourselves. Borges described how Kafka both created and was created by his precursors; the stories in this anthology are not only to be read in the shadow of Kafka but modify our own perception of the master.