Depressed? I'll give you depressed...My mentor, Mr Kininmonth (the elder) ...
...politely requests that you leave this site - and the rest of our fragile planet - as tidy as (or tidier than) you found it; but, as in the matters of the rising price of snuff and the declining standard of pickled herring, is resigned to disappointment.
But here we have, picked fresh from the midden, a dusty heap of old excitements, bits of nostalgia to bring a tear to your eye, opiniated opinions and words from when a man was younger than he is now.
Cave Beck - his Universal Character (August 2020)Those of you keeping a close eye on the legacy of 16th century linguists - and I know you are legion - will be pleased to learn that there is now a newly transcribed and foreword-ed edition of Cave Beck's 1657 Universal Character available to purchase. The transcriber and foreworder is, of course, myself. Read more about this book by clicking here
Cave Beck's descendants get no money from this publication: but, although it is the fruit of many evenings of hard work, I stand to make almost no profit from it either. So you can snap it up with an easy conscience. Go here to view the book on Amazon. Two clicks and it's yours....
The King of Madagascar? (February 2020)The good people of the British Czech and Slovak Association in London are holding an event on the 26th February 2020, to take a look at Moric Benyovszky. To that end, they have invited me to give a talk on the man. The event is open to all comers, and will be held in the rather grand Slovak Embassy in the heart of Kensington.
Full details are available on the BCSA's website, which you can reach by clicking on Count Benyovszky's portrait here on the right.
What a stushie in Edinburgh ... (July 2019)An archivist working for Edinburgh City Council has uncovered a letter from 1705, in which a baker living in the Old Town complains to the City Fathers about an elephant which is being lodged in a room above his bakery. Unsurprisingly, dung and urine come into the tale... It doesn't sound very pleasant. And, of course, this was our Dundee Elephant shortly before she left for Dundee. To read more, click here, then reflect on Trading Standards...
Also here...(The Herald newspaper) and here...(The Scottish Sun newspaper)
Another Oversight ... (June 2019)To complete the re-release of my first four novels, this month sees the publication on Amazon of Novgorod the Great.
It contains a small number of typographical corrections, and is embellished with a new cover. But all else is much the same: Ksenia is still torn, Horatio still love-lorn, John still dying, and his father still raging against the world at large. But more so.
You can view it - and, I would strongly recommend, also purchase it - just by clicking here, or the equivalent site in (say) the USA. It is, of course, now available in Kindle format as well.
It's Ullapool - it must be a Railway (February 2019)A little surprisingly, the very wonderful Ullapool Book Festival has invited me back - 14 years on from the Festival's - and my own - first outing. And, yes: it's to do with the Ullapool Railway again. This time, I am pleased to be telling the unvarnished truth about the proposal (several of them now). The Book Festival takes place between 9th and 11th May 2019, and my session is on the 10th.
Kautö ! (August 2018)Responding to worldwide demand (muted, perhaps, but nonetheless...), we have released a new edition of A Hand-book of Volapük. Unsurprisingly there are very few changes from the first edition: some tightening up of the exercises, some new 'paid content' at the back (the new edition has been subsidised by the esteemed Polton and Loanhead Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser) and a rather fetching new cover. You can view - and purchase it - just by clicking here, or the equivalent site in (say) the USA. And... in an unprecedented nod to the technology of the imminent 20th century, we have issued it in Kindle format as well. (Kindle: smafiledilöm ? Who can tell?)
Enjoy it while you still can.
And the Elephant lives in paperback. (July 2018)We have a spanking new edition of the book about the Dundee (or Dutch, if you prefer) Elephant, Elephantina. It can found, in easily-affordable paperback, just by clicking here. There are some surprising minor changes to the text, which result from careful investigations by the 21st century editor. So much for previous rigour and editorial care!
Admirers of the elephant will be pleased to learn that her Dutch origins are now plain to see. And, as always, no effort has been spared with the new cover.
Alexander Kininmonth rides out again. (May 2018)The Abridged History of the Railway Between Garve, Ullapool and Lochinver... has just been re-issued. It can found, in both paperback and Kindle editions, just by clicking here. The new edition corrects a small number of inattentive mistakes perpetrated by the 1901 editor, Alured Marjoribanks, a man considered by many of his contemporaries to be of considerable laxity, a wastrel and a supine fool. The text is otherwise essentially the same as the first edition and the book benefits from a revised cover, created at no small expense, the costs being absorbed by the author.
Intriguing! Ignominious! Fact? Fiction? Whatever. (August 2017)Amidst all this perfectly justifiable doom and gloom (see below, and probably above as well, by the time you read this), some glimmering of hope: news of the forthcoming publication of my book on the 18th-century Hungarian (or Slovak, if you incline that way) adventurer, Maurice Benyovszky. You can read more about him here - his amazing adventures amongst the Alaskans and the Aleutians, the Japanese and the Formosans, the French and - not least - the admiring Madagascans. A man quite unstoppable in his breathless - and entirely post-factual - autobiography. For more information about the book which is now available to purchase, click here to view all the details. Surely, in the words of our century's pre-eminent Stable Genius - Fake News?
Thomas Müntzer and the German Reformation (May 2017)Celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the German Reformation may be far and few between in the UK – it's all that Euro-stuff: rather passé, maybe? - but the trusty old BBC has broadcast a series of talks on the matter at the beginning of May. There are five 15-minute talks, given by a fine collection of respected academics ... and one amateur. All five are currently available for catch-up or download now on the BBC iPlayer website - click here...
Subjects and speakers are as follows :
Martin Luther. by Prof Lyndal Roper of Oxford
Thomas Müntzer Andy Drummond
Katarina von Bora (Luther's wife) Dr Charlotte Woodford of Cambridge
Johann Walter (Lutheran composer) Dr Stephen Rose of Royal Holloway, London
Philipp Melanchthon (Luther's main collaborator) Prof Brian Cummings of York
Something, then, for almost everyone !
To learn more on Müntzer, click here
Never heard of Volapük ??? (March 2017)It was with some surprise that I was alerted to a question on the BBC's University Challenge that cited my book on Volapük. Gratifyingly, none of the students involved knew the correct answer - what does that tell us about the Younger Generation, eh? For those of you appreciative of murky and grainy pirated footage, watch here on YouTube To avoid the humiliation of not knowing any answers to any questions, jump to around 14mins 30secs to start watching...
You have a new President? I have a once-used Apocalypse. (December 2016)In celebration of The Mighty Trump Organisation's™ successful bid for immortality, my friend and colleague Murdo Mondane has transferred his book about golfing to paperback format - click here to be sorely tempted. Has Mr Mondane rejected Kindle and similar electronic contraptions? Hardly. The original format of the book can still be found here...
The Similarity between a Putting-Green and the White House Lawn (November 2016)So what happened there, then? The Mighty Trump has got himself into the White House? Logic clearly played no great role in that selection. Those of you who are American citizens: we wish you good luck - you will certainly need it. Those of us who are not can only feel nervous: what will actually befall us first? The abandonment of any measures to contain climate change? The obliteration of North Korea? A cold-hearted division of the world between America and Russia? Or simply an increase in the rate at which abandoned voters (USA included) move to the Right? Where is the resurgent Left when you most need it? Will there be a post-Trump era? Will America be Great Again? (Questions, questions: I only ask).
The Hopeless Short-sightedness of Beings (July 2016)You know that something has gone badly wrong when it is applauded by Donald Trump and a rabid assortment of European neo-Fascists. Leaving Europe behind makes them all very happy indeed. But let's face it - the British people have been abandoned, or hoodwinked, and preferably both, by all their politicians. And it's not only the British people in this parlous state. Who, now, would trust any politician, anywhere? And yet - politics is the only solution: that, or a gradual descent into Apocalypse.
We must move on, I suppose, and embrace the New Reality. But how nice it would be if, in the not-too-distant future, we could be part of a Europe that was not victim to the endless spirals of ambitious bureaucracy and the mean-spirited posturing of competing national interests. Will it happen? Who can guess? Perhaps all voting should be restricted to those aged 16-40, to cut out narrow-mindedness, and re-invigorate with a measure of idealism?
Of Hats, Angels and Remorse (April 2016)If your interests encompass (as I'm sure they do) : the western isles of Scotland; hat-fashions during the Scottish Enlightenment; Cherubim and godly modes of transport; the Gaelic names for Snow-white and the Seven Dwarves; the fate of the unfortunate Lady Grange; and very irritating poetry: then I now have the very book for you.
Set in the years 1739-1745 in Scotland, it tells two intertwining stories - that of the unfortunate Lady Grange who found herself imprisoned on the island of St Kilda by a well-meaning husband; and that of the Cherub of Desire, who just happened to drop in on her, before taking an ill-fated holiday in Edinburgh.
You can read all about the new book by clicking just here. Or you can just miss out the guff, and go straight to checkout: Available in printed and Kindle formats.
Found a Volapük word, and really don't know what to do with it? (Summer 2015)Well now - we have the very dab, a new toy to play with. An App, if you will. So 21st Century!
But seriously: this toy will do its level best to translate words and numbers from English into Volapük, and Volapük words into English. Most of the time. Not all the time. But when it works, it is so rewarding!
For benefit of the academicians, I have called it the pükabumöm (pük = speech, bum = build, öm = apparatus...)
Go on - why not try it, just once: - just click here and you'll be away on another planet...
Thomas Müntzer - who he? (August 2015)I've been developing an English-language website in celebration of the 16th-century German radical, Thomas Müntzer. You might not know it yet, but he is a fascinating figure, one I've been pursuing for most of my adult life. To see what's what, just click once here.
Volapük corrected (July 2015)A young Volapük aficionado from China has kindly contacted me to point out some grammatical errors on my '9 Things You Never Thought to Ask' web-page - look on the Volapük page. These have now been hastily and shamefacedly corrected. And none of the rest of you noticed until now? - you never thought to ask? - for shame! Thank you, Daniel Zhang and your Volapükaklub : oli danoms; studs ola plöponös !
Elephants from Amsterdam ! (April 2015)Dutch author Michiel Roscam Abbing has just published his research into the early history of the Dundee Elephant. It makes for fascinating reading. This was a well-travelled Elephant, and one who could do a whole series of tricks for the greater amusement of the 18th century public. Click here for more details...
Yet another Scottish Referendum Fantasy !! (December 2014)Most of us have come to terms with the result of the Great Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014. That was the last one : but guess what? - another one will come along soon. In celebration of the former and in preparation for the latter, here's a tale which might cheer you up, whichever way you were disappointed: Brigadoon, Ostriches, Fairytale characters and the Referendum, all jumbled up and presented in readable format... or indeed (for the more adventurous types) in Kindle format.
PS !! (November 2014)I signed a contract with the publishers of an excellent series of short-story anthologies, Postcripts. I have written three longish short stories set in the early 20th century, each dealing with an historical matter which almost certainly has been puzzling you for some time. The third of these has now appeared. Visit the Postscripts web-site to look at the index for the most recent volume.
A Cock and a Bull Story (September 2012)I was very pleased to be asked to contribute an appreciation of my all-time favourite novel to a blog run by the late Norman Geras, emeritus professor of Politics at Manchester. My book of choice was, of course, Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which should be required reading for all adults. My short notes can be found here...and also, indeed... also here
Beware ... ! (May 2012)I spent some of the darker days of a recent winter transcribing a 17th Century text by an Ipswich schoolmaster named Cave Beck. His Universal Character was one of the very first attempts to promote a Universal Language - sadly, it failed to do much - a bit like a Mayan Apocalypse. I am pleased to say that the Language Creation Society in the US has kindly agreed to host - and even promote - my transcription on their on-line journal : click here to be entertained and instructed ...
Neckties? (2012)The original idea for my story about Big Horace and his tie collection came from a stray email from Belgium; now, however, the most excellent Museum of Corporate Neckties (late of California, now expanding into Arizona) has adopted Big Horace: their site rewards a visit... We hope for further sponsorship in these straitened times!