Tuesday, 27 January 2015

the treasure of the sierra madre

On Friday 19 December I finished The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B Traven, in an old paperback edition which I'd picked up secondhand. The film is a classic - I saw it years ago and remember being really impressed with it - and, I have discovered, much better than the book, which was not a lost classic. Only in the final third did it really hold my attention; the first half in particular was very slow and unengaging, and with a lot of material that I don't remember from the film and suspect wasn't in there. My main memory of the film is the paranoid interplay of the three prospectors, but it takes the book a long time to get there.

(A look at the Wikipedia entries for the book and the film suggest that in fact the film was quite faithful to the book. The film must tell it better.)

Monday, 26 January 2015

berkhamsted castle

On Saturday 13 December we had a train day trip to Berkhamsted and I finally visited the castle I'd seen from the train for two years while commuting from Euston to Bletchley - the substantial remains of a big old early Norman motte and bailey, now in the care of English Heritage (it also has a surprisingly detailed entry on Wikipedia). It was nice to visit it eventually, and possibly the highlight of my day in Berkhamsted. There was a Christmas tree festival in a local church which we also went to, but that wasn't much cop. The chips from the chip shop near the station were good, though.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

war horse

We finished watching War Horse, recorded on our Freeview box, on Saturday 22nd November. I don't know what the lauded stage version is like (still on here), but the film was pretty unremarkable I thought.

transforming grace; the case for christ

On Wednesday 19 November I finished Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges. Other people have appreciated it a great deal, including the person who gave it to me, but I just thought it was okay. I think, as they say, it didn't scratch where I itch.

Conversely, very much scratching where I was itching was The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel, which I finished on Saturday 6 December. A former crime journalist interviewing different theological academics in their area of speciality in relation to proofs, evidence, reliability etc of the gospels and the story of Christ. I found the style a little annoying, with the author narrating the ongoing thoughts and actions within the interview to give it some 'colour', but the content was solid.

a murder is announced

On Sunday 16th November I finished Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced. It was okay, but one of those with rather ridiculous plot and character contrivances.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

bloomsbury's hundred must-read sf novels

On Saturday 15th November I finished reading the Bloomsbury Hundred Must-Read SF novels. It's a good series of little books - I've also read the crime and the fantasy ones - which have given some good pointers for possible reading.

catching fire; mockingjay part 1

On Thursday 6 November we - not Bethan, not interested - finished watching Catching Fire on DVD. We'd seen the first one (The Hunger Games) before, on a video from the library I think, and I'd read the first book in advance of it for vetting purposes, and had also read this one. They were both okay, but nothing special. The Catching Fire poster had been up in the bedroom for some time already, though. Well, when I was a teenager I had a t-shirt of The Wall before I'd seen the film or even heard the album.

Then we - not Bethan, not interested - saw Mockingjay Part 1 in the cinema when it was newly out, on Saturday 22nd November. I think that was part of the motivation of watching Catching Fire on DVD (we bought it in Cex, with part of the proceeds of selling the old DS and most of the games for it), to be ready for this. It was, again, okay, but nothing special, although quite interesting about propaganda and how good and bad authoritarian systems might not be so different.

the adjustment bureau

On Saturday 1 November we watched The Adjustment Bureau, which we'd recorded on the freeview box. I was in the mood for a thoughtful science fiction film; it was okay, but less substantial than it might have been.

morris folk club - march to november

On Tuesday 25 March  we had Morris Folk Club (last Tuesday of the month, at the Hysteria bar). I took my guitar, and used it for one song. I had heard Tim's song Making Time on one of the Dark Lanterns' music pages and really liked it. It was billed as a demo, and Tim said he didn't think it was finished, as he wasn't content with the words. I boldly had a stab at working on the words myself, and then sang a version accompanying myself on rudimentary guitar and sent it to him, which he didn't object to, so I did it at folk club. People liked it; it's a good song. I'd like to sing it one day with Tim playing the guitar, because it was a lovely arrangement. I also sang Can't Stand Losing You, which of course is a Police song, but sings well as a folk song.

On Tuesday 29 April I sang Lightning Express (which I hadn't planned to, but a train theme had emerged in the open rehearsal, and I knew the song well enough) and The Parting Glass.

(I covered the January and February clubs in an earlier post.)

I wasn't around for the May folk club.

On Tuesday 24 June I sang When The Tigers Broke Free and Wave Or Particle.

There was no club in July, and I wasn't around for August.

On Tuesday 30 September. I sang The Brown And The Yellow Ale by myself, and I Am Stretched On Your Grave, planned with Ginny but Mandy also joined us. Unusually for the folk club (so far), we had a guest artists, Brendan Collins, an old friend of the choir, who did a set of his own material.

Ginny and I had practiced with a mixture of hi tech and lo fi - emailing each other recordings of us singing it and then the other singing along with it. We had a practice after the choir practice the week before in the cupboard, which seemed to go quite well; the people still in the hall outside seemed to think so. I sang the tune, Ginny did the harmony which she had done with the choir when they'd sung it, which was before I joined, which I think was more or less the harmony on the Ken Hall and Peta Webb version. Michelle has been encouraging people to try singing together at folk club, and I suggested this one to Ginny because I knew we both liked it but it didn't seem to be very likely that the choir would do it again because not a lot of people did. Either at the first or second choir rehearsal I was at, as an introduction thing, people went round the circle introducing themselves and saying which their favourite song they'd sung with Morris was; I was at the end and Ginny was just before me (in fact I think Ginny was the first person I sang with at Morris, in that same circle, as Michelle got us to go round the circle singing a line at a time in pairs of Shallow Brown), and she said it was I Am Stretched On Your Grave; and I said of those that had been mentioned, that was my favourite. When we sang it at folk club it turned out that more people did like it - including Mandy, which is why she came up to sing it with us, which we certainly didn't begrudge.

On Tuesday 28 October, which had a Halloweeny theme, I sang Twa Corbies and Thriller. I pitched Thriller just on the verge of being too high, so I had to sing it ridiculously loudly, but it came off okay. I do like to dig out songs from various places and sing them as folk songs, and at the Morris weekend away Rachel and Jen had wondered if it was possible to do a Michael Jackson song... Of course, as I pointed out on the night, Thriller is actually a song from Lincolnshire, having been written by Rod Temperton from Cleethorpes. It was semi-plausible as a folk song (I did the Vincent Price bit by singing it to a variation of the music playing underneath it).

On Tuesday 25 November I sang Poor Little Jesus (from the Maddy Prior / Carnival Band version) by myself (as it was our last folk club before Christmas, and I thought it would be good to sing something Christmas-related), and then Death of Queen Jane (based on Karine Polwart's version) with Ginny. Again we'd done hi tech / lo fi practicing: having gone back and forth for quite a bit with possible songs, we decided to go for Queen Jane, though there's no harmony on the Karine Polwart version, though there is a drone, which Ginny thought she might do on her recently-acquired melodeon. I emailed a possible harmony, very simple and not going much away from the drone; Ginny emailed back herself improvising harmonies; I improvised harmonies and recorded snippets I liked, then tried to construct a cohesive harmony out of bits of mine and Ginny's. We did some practice recordings with and without the melodeon (Ginny doing the tune, I doing the harmony), and then a pre-rehearsal cupboard practice with and without, when we concluded it would work better without; another cupboard practice the next week, then the folk club itself. While the emailing process was very helpful, you really needed to sing it together to feel how it worked, and it did work. It went pretty well at folk club, and was extra satisfying to think that we'd come up with the harmony ourselves.

I'm very hopeful that it's the start of various people from the choir having a go at singing together at folk club. Fiona has suggested a song the three of us could do, so we may give that a go.


On the train back from Aviemore on Tuesday 21 October I read - in a vetting way - Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Another dystopian teen scifi. It was okay, but preposterous.

Monday, 8 December 2014


We watched the tv movie Marvellous, about Neil Baldwin, starring Toby Jones; finished watching it on Friday 17 October. It was very well done. I was in particular impressed with Lou Macari's real life action, which seems to be true, that he gave Neil a job at Stoke City out of the goodness of his heart.

the maze runner

On Saturday 11 October two of us went to the West India Quay cinema to see The Maze Runner, which was quite good (although no proper ending, just the starting point for the next in the series) - another film based on a dystopian scifi book series aimed at teenagers; as I think Mark Kermode pointed out, teenage fiction seems to be the core area for dystopian sci-fi, which fits quite well with teenage angst.

(We went to the the Museum of London Docklands afterwards, first time for a while.)

Thursday, 4 December 2014

two nights at the bedford in 2013

On Wednesday 7 August 2013 I went to the Bedford, for the preview of the Buzztones' Edinburgh show, supported by Jamie Lawson and Carrie Haber. Most nights at the Bedford the music is free, but this was a special event and cost £5. Though I do like acapella, all-male or otherwise, The Buzztones were a bit too smooth and mellow for my liking (and perhaps lacking in variety tonally, though at this distance it's hard to remember), though very accomplished. Jamie Lawson was an amiable singer songwriter who - he explained before he sang it - had had a surprise online hit in Ireland with his song I Wasn't Expecting That (which, whether or not it made him any money, obviously hadn't broken him through - although it looks like he is or has just been on tour supporting Ed Sheeran). Carrie Haber was another singer-songwriter, with keyboard rather than guitar, who I guess would like to be thought of as in the same line as - though doubtless resisting being compared to - Kate Bush and Tori Amos. As with the others, okay, but nothing to make me seek her out again (though perfectly aware of the subjectiveness of musical taste; plenty people would like Jamie and Carrie much more than I did, and if either of them became successful I would be pleased for them, and certainly not appalled). A pleasant evening out, though.

On the following Wednesday, 14 August, I went to the Bedford again, this time for a free night, under the umbrella Nothing Wrong With Pop. The lineup was Mila Falls, Victoria, Ellie Rose and The Future Kills. Mila Falls was a bit dancey, sang to a backing track, and performed as if she were on stage at a festival, which I do have respect for, when someone's really giving you the moves full-on as if you weren't a handful of people in a room behind a pub. Although I wasn't fussed about her material, and I thought she dressed younger than she was (could be wrong, might be younger than she looks), I thought she had a very good voice. (Google suggests she entered X Factor this year, but looks like she wasn't successful.) Victoria need a more Googleable name - I can't remember anything about them/her... ah, digging in, found them (interestingly, they and Jamie above both using Tumblr as a site for their home page, which seems odd to an oldie like me who doesn't get Tumblr), was right to think they were a band; the bits I'm seeing there remind me they were okay, and sang quite well (though, as is generally the case at evenings like this, not much in the way of good/memorable songs; songs are always much harder than technical competence/proficiency). Ellie Rose was another unremarkable singer-songwriter. The Future Kills, who were obviously the headliners and had a small following with them, were quite peculiar - a kind of rocky boyband, with a mishmash of visual styles, who were going for it a bit, but more self-consciously and awkwardly than Mila (internet suggests they were on Britain's Got Talent during that year before I saw them). I remember thinking they were awful; the clips I've listened to just now haven't changed my mind.

Both nights I had looked on Time Out for something to go out to and saw nothing better than those (looking at theatre and comedy as well as music), partly because things seem quieter here in the summer, especially during the Edinburgh festival.

I didn't regret either visit; but the thing which struck me this autumn after a couple of folk gigs (read about them a year from now!) was that the hit rate of hearing acts you really enjoy and are impressed with when you go to hear an act or line-up of acts that you've never heard of before is much higher with folk music than other genres, in my experience.

two nights at the proms in 2013

On Tuesday 6 August 2013 we went to the Proms - Bruch Violin Concerto, Korngold Symphony in F sharp. The following week, on Monday 12 August, we went to the Proms again - Holst Indra, Khan sitar concerto, Vaughan Williams London Symphony. Both times we sat in the sixth row of the choir; the second time we were there also with Laura and Andrew & Maria. I enjoyed both concerts; the sitar concerto in particular was right up my street. I also really enjoy sitting in the choir seats; so much closer to the performers, a more interesting view, and no particular problem of sound balance noticeable to my amateur ears.

Monday, 24 November 2014

the vacuum cleaners of boston

[Surgeon Atul Gawande, giving this year's Reith Lectures] He tells the story of the vacuum cleaners of Boston. Doctors there noticed that children from homes with no vacuum cleaner had much higher rates of asthma. They could treat the asthma but the drugs and therapies are expensive. So they gave out vacuum cleaners instead of inhalers. One for every house. It cost money up front. And it was an eccentric way to spend a health budget. But a year later there was an 80 per cent drop in children being admitted to A&E departments in Boston with asthma attacks.
- Radio Times, 22 November

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.