Monday, 13 October 2014

john terraine on mons - part one

Here are some of the things I learned from reading John Terraine's book on Mons (the first major battle sequence of WWI), in the Pan British Battles series, this summer. (It was very good; don't know if any of the analysis etc has been superseded since it was published in 1960.)

- '[one can see] in the terrifying success of the Blitzkrieg simply the belated fulfilment of a plan which had failed a quarter of a century earlier, and which, in all its fundamentals, had been devised in 1905. What Hitler had done was, in effect, simply to supply, through mechanical power, the force which was never available in 1914 to consummate the famous Schlieffen Plan.' [pxii]

- the Schlieffen Plan was based on Hannibal's triumph at Cannae in 216BC. [pxiii]

- in the years leading up to WWI, the perceived primary purpose of the British Army was 'To fight beside the French Army in the event of German aggression', and the position in France that the British Army would take up on the left flank of the Frency Army had also been planned. [pxviii]

- [on the BEF preparing for war in August 1914] There was no hatred of Germany, says one of the regimental officers, 'but in the true mercenary spirit we would equally readily have fought the French. Our motto was, "We'll do it. What is it?"' In those days all foreigners were much alike to Englishmen; it had been a different matter, even for 'mercenaries', back in March, when it was a question of coercing Ulster. ... Lieutenant B L Montgomery, of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, records that it was laid down in the very detailed instructions on mobilization procedure 'that all officers' swords were to go to the armourers' shop on the third day of mobilization to be sharpened. It was not clear to me why, since I had never used my sword except for saluting, But of course I obeyed the order and my sword was made sharp for war.' [p4]

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

morag henriksen's bra

Morag Henriksen's bra appears in a short story [of her own] along with Portree legend John the Caley, and there won't be too many times when I can write that in the same sentence. The story is true, and was based on a chance encounter with a sheep-worrying young dog along the shoreline, a mile from the nearest house, when a younger version of the writer was in need of a leash with which to control the animal. The solution, witnessed by John the Caley, was unorthodox.
Having returned the dog to its rightful owner, Morag then submitted a claim to Toravaig Grazings Committee and was rewarded with £25 - 'enough to buy several bras'. Session chair Cailean Maclean confirmed that the Grazings Committee accounts did indeed contain an entry 'For Morag Henriksen's bra'.
- WHFP, 12 September, report of Skye Book Festival

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

private eye cartoon

5 September, in the Forgotten Moments in Music History cartoon, a courtroom scene with lawyer addressing large lady in the dock: 'Yet you said, did you not, "All the leaves are brown"? I put it to you Ms Cass, that these events occurred on an *autumn* day.'

Sunday, 5 October 2014

catriona knox

As I've probably mentioned in a Morris-related post, I saw comedian Catriona Knox on Tuesday 2 July at the Hope and Anchor in Islington, doing an Edinburgh preview. She was doing character-based sketches, which were more hit than miss. I was only there because I didn't know she'd been booked there and so displaced the Morris choir from their upstairs rehearsal room. (Morris weren't there much longer before their being-messed-around culminated in being moved out altogether; the room is now being used as a small theatre, linked with the King's Head Theatre.)

Catriona was more hit than miss. There was a degree of audience interaction, which was tough as there were only seven or eight of us there, and I think I was the only person there who didn't know her. (I don't think it was widely publicised.) I didn't mind staying for it (it was free, also); you've got to embrace the serendipities of London. As I said to people, perhaps when she's famous I'll be able to tell people I saw her in a room with half a dozen people, but I won't let on I was there by accident.

(Long ago we saw two Edinburgh try-outs in small rooms at the Riverside Studios, I think in the same season; one was Al Murray Pub Landlord, who was not obscure then, but not as well-known; one was a Lee Mack show, ditto for Lee, but his helpers were unknown then I think - Catherine Tate and Dan Topolski.)

Here's her website (she's in the Boom Jennies too, who I heard subsequently on R4). As well as coverage of her show at this year's festival, there are some reviews of last year's: Spectator sounds fair (Grenfell a familiar comparison, I think); The New Current (her comic performing talent outstripping her comic writing ability, also said by more than one); The List; One4Review; and here's a review from this February, with some of the same characters it sounds like, from the Evening Standard.

despicable me 2

We saw Despicable Me 2 on Friday 28 June 2013, the day it opened, the six pm show, at the Apollo Victoria. We all enjoyed it. (Of course now we own it on DVD.) It was cheaper to buy a family ticket - two adults and two children - rather than separate tickets for two adults and a child, so we took a friend. We usually go to cheaper showings on Saturday mornings, which are usually of any vintage up to a couple of months old, so going to a new release, at a full price, is a bit of a novelty. Though we have recently discovered the Genesis cinema in Whitechapel, whose Saturday morning cheap showings include current release films.

sherlock holmes at the scoop

On Friday 14 June 2013 we went to The Scoop to see a free theatre production of Sherlock Holmes by the Pantaloons theatre company. We've seen good things at The Scoop, in their free summer seasons, and this was good too. We've always got in to the theatre productions; Bethan's been turned away from at least one film showing; and we've had a film and a theatre cancelled for weather.

I wonder if I'll find any reviews for it (not just time delay, but I don't think the Scoop things generally get reviewed). Here's one on Something Like Reviews blog. Here's the page for the production on the Pantaloons website.

brian cox on religion

Some use religion to make the vastness bearable. Not Cox, who says he is neither atheist nor agnostic and 'only thinks about religion when people ask him about it'. He rejects Richard Dawkins's view that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible - except for fundamentalists. 'Obviously you can't be a young Earth creationist and a scientist. It's not possible because the Earth isn't 6,000 years old.
'But Biblical literalism isn't what I take to be religion. Religion's a more complex response than that. In the spirit of Gottfried Leibniz [a 17th-century German mathematiciian who philosophised about the existence of God], you can say, "Well, I don't accept that something can come into existence without a cause". You're allowed to say that; it's not illogical. So if you want to think there's an eternal presence that causes things to happen; that's not illogical. I don't happen to think that - I almost don't have an opinion on it.'
- Interview-based article on Professor Brian Cox in Radio Times, 4 October 2014

Saturday, 20 September 2014

murder, marple and me

On Tuesday 18 June last year I went to the Ambassadors Theatre to see a one-woman show, Murder, Marple & Me, about Margaret Rutherford, filming Miss Marple, and Agatha Christie. Janet Prince was the one woman. It was quite short, which I had expected since I'd seen some of the reviews from the Festival - it was a fringe hit - which indicated it was an hour long. They made it one hour twenty by giving it an interval. I was pretty sure I saw Josie Lawrence coming in at the start, and at the interval I was standing near her outside, it was indeed her. Ambassadors is the theatre where Stomp is usually on, but it's different things at the start of the week. This was a touring production, there for Tuesday and Wednesday for two weeks. I'd been looking at tickets the previous week, when we had two potential nights out, so I knew there were plenty tickets, enough that I thought I'd be able to get one at the half-price booth, and sure enough I got one for £10.

Downstairs wasn't full, and I don't think anyone was upstairs, but it was well done and well received, for what it was - I guess I was concerned that half-price booth purchasers might feel short-changed in length and cast number; a one-person show's the kind of thing you have to make a conscious decision and deliberate effort to buy into from the outset. The set was split, broadly speaking for Agatha in her house and Margaret in her dressing room (Miss Marple also plays a part - or is played as a part). It was interesting biographically too, with interesting details of the kind covered pretty well in Margaret Rutherford's Wikipedia entry.

It was just a short run, so not many reviews (also a long time's passed, of course). British Theatre Guide (which makes a good point, that I felt too at the time, that the particular height of the stage in that theatre worked against the needed intimacy and created distance). One Stop Arts. The View From The Upper Circle blog (new to me). Bargain Theatreland (also new to me, and not where I'd expect to find actual reviews). Camden Review. Onomatopoeia blog (quite a high hit rate of reviews new to me).

eleanor rigby

On Thursday 30 May last year I finished Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland. I remembered nothing about it based on the title, except that I enjoyed it, as I usually enjoy Douglas Coupland. I still have the copy, and remember more after a flick through it. I see I've also marked a few page numbers:

Here's something else I think about: in the movies, the way criminals are ready to squeal so long as they're entered into a witness relocation program. They're given a brand new name, passport and home, but they'll never be able to contact anybody from their old life again; they have to choose between death and becoming someone entirely new. But you know what I think? I think the FBI simply shoots everybody who enters the program. The fact that nobody ever hears from these dead participants perversely convinces outsiders that the program really works. Let's face it: they go to the same magic place in the country where people take their unwanted pets.

p6, the name of a pet shop: Petcetera.

The day after we landed in Rome was a Sunday, and we were driven to Vatican City in our Albanian motorcoach. All I knew about the Vatican was that my dad was annoyed I'd be going there, and, well, that's about it - I still have no idea what the Pope is supposed to do. Given my limited knowledge of office politics at Landover Communication Systems, I can only imagine what a political viper's nest the Vatican must be.
Alain, the only Catholic in the class, kept his distance from us, knowing that our heretical energy might easily consume him. To paraphrase the warning he gave us before we arrived: 'Religions are designed to outlive individual people, and so what looks evil and bizarre from the outside is actually just a long-term survival system.'

the queen

On Wednesday 22 May last year I finished watching The Queen, starring Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen. A long time after the event to be mentioning it (more of that to come; didn't realise how many ancient drafts I had knocking around). It certainly took me back to the peculiar time between death and burial of Princess Diana.

mary rose

On Sunday 9 February I read Mary Rose, a play by J M Barrie. I enjoyed it more than I'd expected, a supernatural/ghost story partly set on a Hebridean island, though the ending seemed unsatisfactory.

I'd picked it up in an old hardback edition quite some time ago (I think there were a number of others from the same edition on the bookshop shelf). JM Barrie seems to be one of those writers who were prolific and popular at the time but are almost completely out of print today (and who when you read them make you wonder why they haven't endured because they're very good; conversely, of course, there are others you read which you wonder why they were ever popular). Plays, of course, don't tend to stay in print like novels do, but he wrote novels too.

The reason Mary Rose caught my eye was because when I was at university, someone who had been at Highland Youth Theatre was working/training in stage management in Bristol (Old Vic?) - Lynda McQueen - got in touch as they were putting on Mary Rose and the actor playing the young Hebridean man wanted some accent help and asked if I could record myself speaking. If I remember rightly I got Ishbel Kennedy and someone else (Anna comes to mind, but had she gone to Glasgow by then?) to come round, and recorded ourselves having a conversation. I spoke some more onto the tape later, and sent it off. Lynda sent me a copy of the programme later, with a mention for me in the thanks section. I don't know how much use it would have been, as I'm not sure how typical our accents were - certainly at the time I didn't think my accent very typical - but it was probably more Hebridean than anything else.

Interestingly, the Theatricalia website, which I'd never come across before, lists (non-comprehensively) productions done of plays. Mary Rose was done in London a couple of years ago; the mid-80s Bristol one isn't mentioned.

4.50 from paddington; more martin beck novels

On Saturday 30 August, on the train back from Inverness, I finished 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie, which was okay, and read all of Murder At The Savoy, another Martin Beck novel by Sjowall and Wahloo, which was okay too.

On Tuesday 12 August I had finished The Locked Room, another Martin Beck novel by Sjowall and Wahloo. I thought it was okay, but not as good as those I'd read before.

If I'd read the last couple of Martin Becks I've read first (and these weren't the fifth and sixth in the series, but ones I'd picked up in charity shops), I'm not sure I'd have been so taken with the series. The later ones seem to be getting less about the detective story and more about politics and society, which some people clearly like but I don't.

martin beck novels

A series worth ditching the Ngaio Marshes for: I read in rapid succession, partly because I did them accidentally in the wrong order, the second and third Martin Beck novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, The Man on the Balcony (third, finished on Sunday 20 July), and The Man Who Went Up In Smoke (the second, finished on Wednesday 23 July).

The first I'd read was The Laughing Policeman, the fourth, after which I bought the first three and read the first, Roseanna.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

one good turn

On Monday 18 August I finished One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, which I liked a lot. It was very readable, like the first of hers I read (Case Histories), and I chomped through it on holiday. Certainly made me want to read more of hers.

Friday, 12 September 2014

slovenia - may 2014 - tue 27th to sat 31st

Tuesday 27th. Bethan, M and I had a day's walk, mum stayed in the hotel and village. We walked out from KG on route 2, across the road on the south side of the wooded hills, with views south, until it met route 19, which we then walked back along, at a lower level, close to the river. We only made two significant stops. One not long in, perhaps an hour in, where there was a viewpoint at an inn (Sinjak?), where M had a Cockta, then another hour in, when we had lunch on the path, on rocks by a stream (only time when we had light drizzle; a warm and often sunny day); after which we went on out past Jurez and back in past Fetalez, these being names of farms more than settlements, I suspect.

We left at 11, started home at 3, and were home by 5. B and M went for a swim in the hotel pool before dinner. Then we had a stroll into the village, popping into tat shops and having drinks and ice cream in Charlie's. The Belgian basketball team left after dinner, we think (and the Russians after breakfast on Wednesday). The lounge furniture was being moved in the morning, and when we came back in the afternoon and evening exhibition stands were being set up for a computer technology conference. Quite a contrast of clientele.

Wed 28th. Early start for coach trip to Ljubjana. Drove there, and around city, with commentary, then walked round pedestrianised centre with the guide and up to the castle, before being given time to wander ourselves. Ate lunch, then wandered. I got two CDs of Slovenian music in the tourist office. The bus left KG at 8.45, home about 4. Would have been good to have longer; if we'd had longer we might have gone back for another day. It was a pleasant small European capital with attractive architecture. Put one in mind of Edinburgh as capital of an independent Scotland...

Back at the hotel, M and I went to pool and jacuzzi before dinner, then all out for drinks to a restaurant.

Thu 29th. Mum stayed around KG while we got a service bus at 1028 to Ratece, and walked from there up to Pec, the hilltop where the borders of Italy, Austria and Slovenia meet. It took us about 2h20 to get up, had lunch on the top, then less than two hours down. Another mainly warm and sunny day, except just when taking last photo on top a heavy shower came. We got quite wet on the first part of the walk down, but it and we dried up, and it was hot back in Ratece. B and M went to pool, I went to town and got chocolates for work. Mum and I met Kasia for Saturday pickup info and chat. Dinner, then Pirate Flux and table football.

Fri 30th. Got bus to Bled - the 0915 direct. We took a boat trip to the church on the island in the lake, then lunch in lakeside restaurant. Various tummy upsets hit, so that the rest of the afternoon was a process of toilets and buses home, changing at Lesce. M got some souvenirs, then dinner, table football and Fluxx.

Sat 31st. In the morning, having packed, had a last go on the chairlift and summer toboggan. I went up and down chairlift taking photos, passing B and M when they were on their way up before they summer tobogganed down; I got to the bottom just in time to video them. Then coach to airport and flight home.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

slovenia - may 2014 - sat 24th to mon 26th

Not such a long wait this time for typing up the notes on this May's Ingham's holiday, this time to Kranjska Gora in Slovenia, a ski resort, though not at this time of year, of course. Sat 24 - Sat 31 May.

Saturday 24th. Flew with Adria from Gatwick to Ljubljana. We left almost an hour late because they couldn't find a little truck needed to push the plane out from the gate. People were cheered up by a little girl asking, once we'd moved from the gate, if we were going into space. There was little food available on the plane, but we'd planned for that possibility. Ingham's coach to hotel, with several hotel stops in Bled and Kranjska Gora. Got to hotel around midnight, where food had been left out for us and the other pair who were on the plane. (Quite a few Inghams guests, and other UK packages, in the hotel on other time periods.)

Sunday 25th. Briefing at other hotel after breakfast with Ingham rep Katia. Booked coach trips on Monday and Wednesday. Walked a bit out of town and down to the river; mum went back and we carried on along the road south down to the two lakes (small, picturesque - learned later on bus trip that they were artificial and used to be artificially heated by giant metal plates in the river. Back to hotel, where we ate our packed lunches outside. In the afternoon we walked into the village, then to the chairlift and summer toboggan to see what was what. Decided to do it, so changed back at hotel and back out with mum, who watched while we went up chairlift and back down on summer toboggan (on fixed rail with hand-operated brake stick to control speed). I went fast but didn't enjoy it particularly. Cherub keen to do it again.  Then to cafe for drinks, where cherub and I experimented - I had Radler, which turned out to be a rather nice grapefruit shandy, cherub had Cockta, a pleasant local soft drink. Then walked all the way through town and back to hotel, where Bethan and cherub went to pool before dinner.

We were sharing the hotel with female basketball teams, probably national student teams, from Belgium (the ones we saw most of), Russia, and Montenegro (who left on Sunday), part of a tournament. It was designed to make you feel short, fat and unfit. Breakfast and dinner were all-you-can-eat buffet style. Not very adventurous, but straightforward and fairly pleasant fare.

Monday 26th. Breakfast, then picked up for bus trip at 9.45 and home about 5. Out for a wander into town before dinner - went to Charlie's cafe for ice cream, and some tourist shops, and also to Mercator supermarket for a couple of things (always good fun and interesting (and cheaper) to go to local supermarkets). After dinner, played table football, cards and read. (With dinner, M had lemon Cockta, I had Zagerog, and B and mum had Slovenian wines, as B and I had on Sunday.)

The coach trip was to the Julian Alps. We went from Kranjska Gora to Trenta over the Vrsic pass. It was raining most of the way up and at the top, so we did not stop at the top as planned, since too wet and no views. On way up stopped at Russian chapel and not long later at an inn (possibly Koca na gozdu), there mainly for a drink and toilet stop. On the other side we stopped at Trenta, where we went to the museum (instead of the stop at the top), which B and I found interesting, then at an Italian fortress, before lunch at Bovec - M and granny ate in restaurant with party, B and I ate packed lunch on bench in light rain under a tree; we saw a church cemetery and walked through the village, including a cafe for a drink and toilet stop. The coach went onwards for a circular route back to Kranjska Gora, including half an hour driving through Italy (though we didn't stop). Back in Slovenia, drove down into valley south of Ratice to see ski slopes under construction, then home to KG. The KG party were last on and first off; most of our group are staying in Lake Bled hotels.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

an old joke

'They were exceedingly handsome and so much alike, that it was not every one who knew them apart. Nay even their most intimate freinds had nothing to distinguish them by, but the shape of the face, the colour of the Eye, the length of the Nose and the difference of the complexion.'

This feels like rather a modern joke. It's on the first page of the first volume of Jane Austen's juvenilia, written in the late 1780s when she was in her early teens. I've just started rereading her teenage works - this time in the Oxford World's Classics edition, Catharine and Other Writings. They're my favourite of her works, and among my favourite of anybody's. Go, teenage Jane!

Monday, 1 September 2014

the referendum question

A fortnight in Scotland emphasised that the first victory in the Referendum war was won by those who got their side of the question to have the answer 'Yes'. I wonder how different the shape and feeling of things would be if the question was something like 'Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom?'

In a way I'm surprised they didn't go for a question which avoided yes/no (something like 'What should Scotland be?' with the answer options 'Independent' and 'Part of UK'), but maybe that would have been considered insufficiently simple.

For maximum confusion and entertainment, however, I'd have gone for:
What should Scotland's position be in relation to the UK?
- Apart
- A part

Avoids unpleasant and awkward arguments:
'How are you voting?'
'A part? Me too!'

You wouldn't get away with that though:
'Aye, but are you a Spacer or a non-Spacer?'

I also like the fact that the word structures are the opposite of what they would be campaigning for:
'Apart - Putting Space Between Us!'
'A Part - Better Together!'

Thursday, 21 August 2014

land sakes; the case of the lame canary

I used to think that when Elvis sang 'land sakes alive' in I Got Stung, he had just tripped over his words in saying 'and snakes alive'. But I was reading The Case of the Lame Canary by Erle Stanley Gardner - a Perry Mason novel from 1937 - and one of the characters used the expression a couple of times ('Land sakes, I'm so excited I'm all of a tremble.'). A google indicates that it's a euphemism - American, perhaps primarily southern states - for a swear, of the kind avoiding religious swearing. Here's a stump on Wikipedia.

The Case of the Lame Canary, which I finished on Saturday morning on the sleeper to Inverness, was alright, but not sufficiently good that it made me want to read more Perry Mason. I think I've read one Perry Mason before (there are over eighty novels and short stories, according to Wikipedia; looking at the list here, the Borrowed Brunette title rings a bell).

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

the british resistance

Pat's grandfather was a steward (factor) on one of the Yorkshire estates of Lady Waechter de Grimston - and also a famous poacher on neighbouring estates.
'That fact never seemed to go against him because in the Second World War he was recruited into the British resistance. They had underground bunkers full of molotov cocktails. While the Home Guard had pitchforks, he had a sub-machine gun.
'He was the Commanding Officer of Holderness. He had a list of names and, if we were invaded, he was to go round, knock on the door, and shoot them. These were people who were suspected of having German or Nazi sympathies. The one on the top of the list was the Chief Constable of East Riding. He must have been a right-winger. Who provided the list I don't know, but he would have done it.'
- A quote from an interview-based article in the West Highland Free Press of 11 July 2014 about Pat Myhill, a former planning officer in Skye who was brought up in Yorkshire. Whether the story is true or not, who knows.