Skulls, Ethiopia, Islam, Christianity, children’s books, and an elizabethan genius

I feel obliged to point out yet again how intriguingly disgusting lots of tantric rituals are:

thod tshal

is a skull cup which differs from the usual one (

thod pa

) in having the scalp with hair still attached



skull cup?! You mean, the one that Aldi sells in ten-packs?

And yes, ‘cup’ does mean they drink things out of it. ‘Things’ tends to mean semen, which, by some convoluted logic, represents the Buddha. Why you want to drink the Buddha out of a skull still escapes me, but I’m sure there’s a reason for it somewhere.

In other news, I’m feeling terribly cosmopolitan at the moment. Lots of interesting and obscure non-Indian languages keep turning up – Mongolian, Uighur, Tibetan Chinese. I can’t actually


any of them, of course, but it’s nice to know that someone once cared about things I read enough to have pan-Asian debates over what it meant. And some of the scripts look very, very pretty.

Then there’s the growing fascination of Ge’ez. Ge’ez is a fascinating, undervalued and under-studied ancient language of Ethiopia. It has no connection whatsoever to my course, but it does seem to be connected to just about everything else.

Ethiopia, Ge’ez, Islam, Enoch, Dee, and Philip Pullman

Jonathan Raban

Last December, I came across Jonathan Raban’s soft city in Oxfam. I impulse-bought it, because it played to my fascination with big cities, and with their impact on the imaginations of their inhabitants and visitors.

As I wrote elsewhere, I was torn between admiration for Raban’s erudition and prose style, and irritation at his disdain for non-academics trying to think by themselves. Mostly, I liked it just because there still aren’t enough people writing about cities in the same rose-tinted way they write about nature.

Now I find that Raban is a bit more interesting than the parochial academic I’d pegged him as after

Soft City

. He’s moved on from London, lived in Seattle for a decade, and written

Passage to Juneau

, a book about sailing in the Pacific Northwest. From the reviews, it seems he’s trying to do for the sea the same as

Soft City

did for cities – the book is even subtitled

A sea and its meanings

. I find that strangely inspiring. I normally avoid books about the sea or the countryside for fear of sentimentality: since I grew up in the country, I’d rather save my sentimentality for the city. But Raban I might make an exception for – if he can write poetically about London, then perhaps he can also write non-romantically about Alaska. It’s easy to be inspired by a book about something you love anyway. I’m wondering whether I’ll manage to be equally inspired by a book about something as alien to me as the sea. So

Passage to Juneau

goes on the reading list.


It turns out that, oddly enough, nobody can recognise me without a photo. So, for the benefit of fiona_kitty, elise, atreic, and anyone else who’s been quietly wondering about my secret identity, here I am.


My delightful sister tells me she’s not visiting this weekend because she has no clean clothes. harumph.

This leaves me with an empty weekend. What should I do with it? Answers on a postcard, please.

Anyone who suggests ‘work’ will be hanged by the neck until they be dead.

Bruno does childcare

Bruno is about the best way I’ve found to cheer myself up when I’m down. This sequence (which goes on for about a month) is particularly uplifting and chicken-soup-esque. I’m impressed – there’s a small child involved, and I still loved it.