Sunday, 12 December 2004

Hamlet (Toby Stephens)

I saw Hamlet again last Tuesday - an RSC production, at the Albery Theatre, with Toby Stephens in the lead role. As a fortnight ago, full of A-level students, mostly girls. I had restricted view seats at side of grand circle, but it was pretty much sold out, so no upgrades this time. For the second half I stood at the back of the grand circle, which was much better.

The indisposition of Greg Hicks meant there was a chain of understudies, from the ghost and player king down (was meant to be Greg Hicks, was John Killoran). JK was very good (after a tittered-at entrance as the ghost, made up in white and topless). The ghost is usually doubled by the player king or , more often, Claudius.

The interval came in the middle of the players’ play, where Claudius calls for lights, and the second half started up again at the same point. The Barbican interval came at the end of that scene, again in the middle of continuous action; before the play scene would be a more obvious place in play-time, where there’s a gap of a day, but not dramatically, or timewise in the production, I guess).

Ophelia’s was reminiscent of the mad Scotswoman in Green Wing when mad. Her mad singing was in tune, unusually; dramatic convention seems to require that if one is mad, one gains the desire to sing bonkers songs but loses the ability to sing in tune. The gravedigger’s mate appeared to be being played by Ophelia, possibly because of understudy reshuffling, which gave the opportunity for a reflective look on exit, before entrance as dead Ophelia.

Forbes Masson played Horatio; okay, but a bit cold, matching Hamlet really. His career trajectory has been rather different from his old double act partner Alan Cumming). I saw FM in an excellent Edinburgh Fringe production of a play about Laurel and Hardy by John McGrath.

Toby Stephens was Hamlet - he played him posh, which is unusual but obviously makes perfect sense. He was rather haughty and cold, with no sense of really having been friends with R&G or even Horatio. When mad, reminiscent of Rik Mayall with hint of Eddie Izzard when mad.

The set was circular; wooden floorboards, vertical wooden wallboards, no real doors (at the Barbican it was black walls, rectangular, no real doors).

There was an interesting point in the programme about the length of the play (some good articles in prog, in fact; often prog articles bear no relation to the production; the Barbican programme had an article referring to ‘dreamt of in your philosophy’ (Hamlet to Horatio), but ‘dreamt of in our philosophy’ was the version used in the production; the Young Vic prog in fact made a big deal about using the ‘our’ version, but actually I think that’s what I’ve mostly heard used) - ‘Scholars traditionally prefer the second quarto because it is the fullest text and apparently the one closest to Shakespeare’s original manuscript. But it has recently been suggested that this may represent a ‘reading text’ as opposed to a ‘performance’ one. Coming in at around 4000 lines, second quarto Hamlet could never have been played in full within the 160 or so minutes that was the legal maximum for an Elizabethan play (shows began at 2pm and the theatre had to be cleared by 5). Shakespeare must be cut for performance and with a play as long as Hamlet he must have known that he would be.’

In this production I heard lines and bits of scenes I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before (including Horatio telling Gertrude how Hamlet escaped, rather than Hamlet telling Horatio, and which makes clear that Gertrude’s on Hamlet’s side).

Hamlet’s ambition gets mentioned a significant amount, but a big deal is rarely made of his desire to be king and his having been usurped (even if Claudius had married Gertrude, the son would surely take precendence in the succession?).

The last (fencing) scene was very well done, use of plaintive piano accompaniment to emphasise the inevitability and tragedy, rather than excitement; it’s made clear (then and in scenes leading up to it) that various of the characters know that bad things are going to happen - Gertrude knows the cup is poisoned, Horatio and Hamlet obviously think so too; usually when Laertes asks for another blade it’s to pick up the poisoned one, here he had the poisoned one and was thinking about swopping it for a clean one, but decides against it and doesn’t take it.

The final scene and the ghost/player king’s performance were the best things about this production. No one was bad, no one apart from g/pk was really good; Osric was flat and unflamboyant, but that was one of the roles being understudied.

According to Luke

[On Luke 18:35-43]
But it was a very different vision [from the persistent widow’s] that filled the eyes of the blind man when his persistence was rewarded: not, of course, the Son of man appearing in the glory of his Father and of the holy angels; but not even a figure in royal clothes, with a noble entourage, on his way to his throne. Simply a dust-stained traveller. on his way to Jerusalem, and, as we have just been reminded (see 18:31-33), on his way to being mocked, insulted, spit on, scourged and killed. ... When he eventually saw what happened to the King at Jerusalem, perhaps he realised that if the King had not come near enough for men to spit on him, he might not have come near enough to hear a blind man’s cry.
- David Gooding, According to Luke; IVP, 1987, p297.

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

eats, shoots and leaves

Private Eye got stuck in a bit to Lynne Truss's book about the decline of grammar and punctuation (I haven't read it, but by all accounts she seems to have just a few hobbyhorses and not be too bothered, or well-researched or accurate, about other issues), starting with the sub-title ('zero-tolerance', surely, rather than 'zero tolerance', they say), but the New Yorker really went to town. Some of the quotes they pull out certainly suggest they're right to do so.

(First para of the review: 'The first punctuation mistake in “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” (Gotham; $17.50), by Lynne Truss, a British writer, appears in the dedication, where a nonrestrictive clause is not preceded by a comma. It is a wild ride downhill from there. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” presents itself as a call to arms, in a world spinning rapidly into subliteracy, by a hip yet unapologetic curmudgeon, a stickler for the rules of writing. But it’s hard to fend off the suspicion that the whole thing might be a hoax.')

therapy for poor people

'It’s called friendship - you know - it's like therapy for poor people.'
- a line (woman explaining that she wasn't having an affair with the man she spoke with regularly in the pub) on Without A Trace last night.

Friday, 26 November 2004

Hamlet (Michael Maloney)

Saw Hamlet at the Barbican on Tuesday - a version by a Japanese director with Michael Maloney as Hamlet. I was bumped up to stalls row G from my upper circle side seat, so it was far from selling out. There were loads of students there - I’m guessing A-level rather than university (I’m so old now that I can no longer judge reliably), and most of them were girls, which suggests rather an imbalance in the students, unless there were girls colleges there. Being so full of students meant that there was more sniggering at bits they thought ‘over the top’ than there would usually be (so, more than none), like Hamlet’s dead father in purgatorial agony (which I thought was good, actually) and Ophelia hitting her nethers while mad (not so much). The girl to my left, with two others (and friends in other rows), asked me how much I paid for my seat, but I had to tell her that I, like her, had been bumped up, so I didn’t know how much extra her new seat would have cost her - probably about another £20. The girl on my right, on her own and possibly university rather than school, was making notes in the dark during the performance.

The stage was empty apart from eight strands of barbed wire running floor to ceiling, and twelve lightbulbs of varying sizes hanging from the ceiling. The bulbs would come on, and/or swing, at various times: I couldn’t work out if there was a pattern to the times. Barbed wire and bare lightbulbs I guess picked up on ‘Denmark’s a prison’, but the fact of the Japanese director made me think of prisoner-of-war camps, and Tenko in particular, which probably wasn’t a good thing.

The last Hamlet I saw had an excellent Polonius, played as a loving father and wise counsellor, which I’d often thought would be an accurate way to do it; this one took a more traditional approach, unloving father and tedious and dull man, unloving to the extent of being quite aggressive towards Ophelia. This always makes the idea that Ophelia goes mad with grief rather puzzling. This one took the interesting approach that in the scene where she meets Hamlet in the corridor as bait, and he behaves madly and leaves, and then she has a speech beginning ‘o what a noble mind is here o’erthrown’, you see that the encounter has disturbed her, and that her own mind has begun to be overthrown.

If Polonius was a dull fool, he wouldn’t be the king’s chief advisor; nor is it likely that the multitude would, after Laertes’ return after his father’s mysterious death, rise and call for Laertes as king. But then, it has to be said that Shakespeare plays are full of contradictory things that don’t always bear close analysis. Right at the start, right after Horatio and the guards have seen the ghost, they have an expository conversation about political events, which seems nerveless, given that they’ve just seen the ghost of their late king. You could play it that they’re just talking about anything to take their mind off the unbelievable and fearful experience they’ve just had, but I don’t remember seeing it done like that..

It’s a play about two families, really - probably the two leading families in the land - , all of whom are dead at the end of the play. The students in particular - Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - just find themselves drawn into and caught up in events bigger than and beyond them. Horatio makes good decisions, R&G not so good. Though again, R&G are pretty consistently played as slimy and duplicitous, perhaps to make Hamlet’s cold-blooded treatment of them seem more acceptable, where in fact I think they could reasonably be played as friends who want to help Hamlet and do their best for their king; they’re just out of their depth, and are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, when Hamlet decides that from this time forth his thoughts will be bloody or be nothing worth (a moment done well here, with a look offstage after R&G which gave little doubt where his bloody thoughts would begin).

Hamlet, Ophelia, Horatio (Horatio’s a good part - best mate, good bloke) and Claudius were quite good (Peter Egan - last saw him in Noises Off). Gertude (Frances Tomelty), Laertes were okay. Fortinbras was terrible. The player queen was Japanese, and his English wasn’t great. The play interlude, especially the prologue dumb-show, was the only Japanesey thing about the play, apart from the armour of the guards and the dead king.

The scene where the players arrive and Hamlet gets the chief player to make a speech in which he moves himself to tears - I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that speech in a way that makes it at all interesting or moving, which I think reflects that we don’t find moving what they used to, rather than any poverty of acting.

Today I bought a ticket for the RSC version of Hamlet currently on. Watch this space for more tedious pontificating about the play in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004


I discovered the Foxtrot cartoon strip via My Yahoo content, and I do like it. They have several US political cartoonists in the Yahoo content options, and they're often pretty good too - I don't know if it's chance that they're all left-wing, or if it's that there are no funny right-wing cartoonists.

shakespeare in quarto

Since I'm going to see Hamlet again tonight, here's a link to the British Library's site built around their stock of Shakespeare in quarto.

freeway blogger

An interesting website by a man who spends his time writing political signs on cardboard and putting them beside motorways, getting lots of exposure for little outlay. Some of the slogans are very good.

Monday, 15 November 2004

More from Andrew Bonar's Diary and Life

When giving reproof, he was as faithful and fearless in carrying out the Apostle’s injunction: ‘reprove, rebuke, exhort,’ but in a way that seldom gave offence. He used to say, ‘A man is never safe in rebuking another if it does not cost him something to have to do it.’

A gentleman whom he knew to be very excitable told him that during his illness he had had a vision of angels, and had felt one of them touch him as he lay in bed. Dr Bonar quetly remarked, ‘Have you a cat in the house? Don’t you think it may have been the cat?’

The story with which he closed his address on that same evening [his ‘Jubilee’ meeting in 1888] was one which he often told in illustration of what humbles a minister, and delivers him from self-satisfaction.

A Grecian painter had executed a remarkable painting of a boy carrying on his head a basket of grapes. So exquisitely were the grapes painted, that when the picture was put up in the Forum for the admiration of the citizens, the birds pecked the grapes, thinking they were real. The friends of the painter were full of congratulations, but he did not seem at all satisfied. When they asked him why, he replied, ‘I should have done a great deal more. I should have painted the boy so true to life that the birds would not have dared to come near!’

The Club of Queer Trades

'I agree that they [in the poor parts of London] have to live in something worse than barbarism. They have to live in a fourth-rate civilisation. But yet I am practically certain that the majority of people here are good people. And being good is an adventure far more violent and daring than sailing around the world.'
GK Chesterton, The Club of Queer Trades; Penguin, 1946; p37. (First published 1905)

The revolt of Matter against Man (which I believe to exist) has now been reduced to a singular condition. It is the small things rather than the large things which make war against us and, I may add, beat us. The bones of the last mammoth have long ago decayed, a mighty wreck; the tempests no longer devour our navies, nor the mountains with heart of fire heap hell over our cities But we are engaged in a bitter and eternal war with small things; chiefly with microbes and with collar studs.

- ‘Will you have a cigar?’ I said.
- ‘No, thank you,’ he said, with indescribable embarrassment, as if not smoking cigars was a social disgrace.
- ‘A glass of wine?’ I said.
- ‘No, thank you, no, thank you; not just now,’ he repeated with that hysterical eagerness with which people who do not drink at all often try to convey that on any other night of the week they would sit up all night drinking rum-punch. ‘Not just now, thank you.’

- ‘Do you believe that truth is stranger than fiction?’
- ‘Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction,’ said Basil placidly. ‘For fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it.’

- ‘Any more arguments?’ he said, when introductions had been effected. ‘I must say, Mr Grant, you were rather severe upon eminent men of science such as we. I’ve half a mind to chuck my D.Sc. and turn minor poet.’
- ‘Bosh,’ answered Grant. ‘I never said a word against eminent men of science. What I complain of is a vague popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion and an uncommonly nasty one. When people talked about the fall of man they knew they were talking about a mystery, a thing they didn’t understand. Now that they talk about the survival of the fittest they think they do understand it, whereas they have not merely no notion, they have an elaborately false notion of what the words mean. The Darwinian movement has made no difference to mankind, except that, instead of talking unphilosophically about philosophy, they now talk unscientifically about science.’

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

three of my favourite jokes

Who led the Pedants Revolt?
Which Tyler.
(first heard on R4, a perfect R4 joke, requiring a knowledge of history, grammar and punnery)

Why do elephants have big ears?
Because Noddy won't pay the ransom.

What did Vesuvius say to Pompeii?
I lava you.
(I knew this joke for ages in my younger days before I realised it became funny when said in a supposedly Italian accent. I say it regularly to Bethan now.)

The Harlem Gospel Choir sings three Beatles songs

My mother and I went to see the Harlem Gospel Choir at the Royal Festival Hall. (They were fine, though we'd have enjoyed them more without the accompanying band - the arrangements were of the mellow jazz/funk style which seems popular in contemporary Christian worship.)

They said they were going to sing three Beatles songs. I guessed they would be All You Need is Love, Let it Be and With A Little Help From My Friends. They were All You Need is Love, Hey Jude and... Imagine. They Christianised the lyrics to Hey Jude, so it was a surprise that they left Imagine intact (or, frankly, sang it at all). 'Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky ... Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.' Praise the Lord, indeed. Perhaps they weren't listening to the words.

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Bonar on suffering

He had been engaged to give an address to the Young Men’s Literary Society on an evening just a day or two after Mrs Bonar’s funeral. He could not take the subject he had intended, but he came as he had promised, and gave an address on some things connected with the Holy Land. The inexpressible sadness of his whole appearance, and his marvellous self-control, made a deep impression on all who were present. ‘God does not tell us,’ he said, ‘to *feel* it is for the best, but he does ask us to *believe* it.’
- Andrew Bonar, Diary and Life; Banner of Truth, 1960; p456.

We have got more from Paul's prison-house than from his visit to the third heavens.
- p459

There were two thoughts he often left with God's people in sickness. ... The other thought was that they are *teaching angels* (Ephesians 3:10). Angels learn much by visiting God's people. They know nothing of suffering themselves, but they learn from the patience and joyfulness of suffering believers. When the sick one enters heaven, some of the angels will say, 'Oh, here is my teacher come!'
- p460

Van Morrison in Lewis

'Van Morrison once visited Lewis and Harris and Scalpay to hear the Gaelic psalms for himself. The equally legendary Robin Morton accompanied him as guide and minder, anxious that Mr Morrison would not set the cat among the pigeons by asking the good religius folk of the Free Church about any possible connection between Gaelic psalm singing and African (pagan) chants. But on reaching the Free Church manse on Scalpay the resident minister beat Van Morrison to the shout: "Don't you think, Mr Morrison,'" said the minister straightaway, "that there is a fundamental connection between our Gaelic psalm-singing and African chanting?" It's called playing an ace, or spiritual - as well as musical - discernment.'
- Angus Peter Campbell, West Highland Free Press, 12 August 2004.

four more years

My first reaction was that the American people must be stupid. On reflection, they're just selfish, greedy, short-sighted, arrogant and insular. As we all would be in their position, I expect. Their position being similar to that of the British Empire in the 19th century. They deny the empire thing, but it's just a different kind of empire.

The only thing I think George W has in his favour - his professed faith - is ironically the thing that seems to be causing most concern to post-election commentators, who fear how he is going to repay his debt to his right-wing evangelical constituency.

It's a great shame the US evangelicals have become so closely identified with the right. You can see why some moral issues have drawn them there, but right-wing economics in particular have become part of the package (with their own theological justifications). Self-made self-sufficient individualism is held up essentially as a biblical virtue but owes more to perceived roots in their immigrant forebears and the American dream.

Outrageous summary of political theory: Jesus says, Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself; the left wing says, love your neighbour as yourself; the right wing says, love yourself.

Tuesday, 26 October 2004

neither capitalist nor Communist

"Our revolution is neither capitalist nor Communist ... Capitalism sacrifices the human being; Communism, with its totalitarian conceptions, sacrifices human rights."

- Fidel Castro, in a speech made on May 21 1959 (four months after becoming leader of Cuba), quoted in a Guardian book review.

social engineering

Another Guardian article, by Clare Sambrook. 'Burger-munchers need not apply: Oxbridge condemns 'social engineering' - but not when the aim of it is to keep people like me out.'

'... Back in my college days, 20 years ago, the term "social engineering" struck my untuned ear as exactly what Cambridge was doing: encouraging rich parents to buy children of sometimes modest talents an unfair advantage in the world.'

fantasy located in real landscape

A Guardian article on Alan Garner; interesting the extent to which he set myth in a real local landscape.

I read someone long ago making an interesting point about how children might read stories differently depending on where they lived. So many books are at least partly set in London; so to a child in London, their real world is a place where magical and unexpected things might happen - Peruvian bears turn up in Paddington station and live in a terrace, Wombles live in Wimbledon Common, Harry Potter shops for magic items and catches trains, and so on. To a boy growing up in the Scottish highlands, say, such stories are something which happen somewhere else in places which might as well be fictional, so little do they relate to his experience.

I remember as a boy seeing (but never reading) a book by Joan Aiken set in a place I assumed she'd made up and given a ridiculous fictional name to: it was Black Hearts in Battersea.

I remember coming into London on a coach for the first time and seeing a sign for Cricklewood, and thinking, That's where the Goodies live. The first months in London were full of such resonances.

Freedom for Tooting!

roast beef and yorkshire pudding

Walkers have introduced a 'Sunday lunch' range of crisps - including roast beef and yorkshire pudding, which I had a bag of the other day. The two striking things about them were just how much they really did taste of roast beef and yorkshire pudding, and just how not nice it was to be eating crisps that tasted of roast beef and, particularly, yorkshire pudding.

Monday, 25 October 2004

fagin's children

An interesting Guardian book review. 'Artful dodgers: Judith Flanders on Jeannie Duckworth's account of criminal youth in Victorian England, Fagin's Children.'

stoppard and pinter

I remember someone reviewing (in the Guardian, doubtless) two books of interviews, one with Tom Stoppard, the other with Harold Pinter. Those two are sometimes criticised for writing in a way no one speaks - dense, well-constructed prose, and fractured pause-ridden half sentences, respectively - but our reviewer found that both spoke exactly the way they wrote.


My liking for things found in books explains why I like the Found website, though they deal mostly in stuff found on the ground.

Friday, 22 October 2004

none to call me Charley now

'Poor Norris has been lying dying for now almost a week .... By this time I hope it is all over with him. In him I have a loss the world cannot make up. He was my friend and my father’s friend all the life I can remember. I seem to have made foolish friendships ever since. Those are friendships which outlive a second generation. Old as I am waxing, in his eyes I was still the child he first knew me. To the last he called me Charley. I have none to call me Charley now.'

From a letter - written at Colebrook Row, Islington, Saturday January 20, 1827 - from Charles Lamb to Crabb Robinson. In English Letters of the 18th Century, James Aitken (Ed); Pelican, 1946, p175

Tuesday, 19 October 2004


I like finding things in secondhand books and library books.

I got Jimmy Corrigan - The Smartest Kid on Earth out of the library yesterday (a cartoon novel which, as the sticker on the cover says, was 'inexplicably bestowed the Guardian First Book Award 2001').

Just over halfway through it was a 'good luck' card ('Any way you look at it, you're wished the very best'). The message reads
'Dear Nnenna
'Your Mum told me the good news this morning.
'I'm so pleased for you, I knew there would be a job for you. All I can say now is don't go and spend your first months salery all at once (HA HA)
'Love Angela. xx'

I've never bought a book just for what was inside it, but I think I have moved something from another book into a book I was buying.

Monday, 18 October 2004

Marc Almond accident

On the way to church last night we passed the site of an accident; it looked like a crash between a car and a two-wheeler. It was, and Marc Almond was on the back of the motorbike.

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

lucky shopping in Shrewsbury, and lists

Last time we were in Shrewsbury I had a quick trawl of charity shops and second-hand bookshops. I bought two things.

One was the other Beatles covers Mojo cover CD - they had about a dozen CDs, no other cover CDs, and the one they had was the one I didn't have. Impressive.

The other was Charlie Brown No 44 (Coronet Books) - the only CB they had, and one of only two CBs I didn't have below No 67.

Yes, I carry with me a list of the CBs I don't have (42, 67, 69-71, 73, 75+, since you ask). And your point is?

It's not like I carry a list of Beatles songs of which I don't own cover versions. Oh no. Because trying to get cover versions of every Beatles song, of which there are many, would be mad. I assure you, no such list currently exists.

PS John commented, 'There's a very angry man in the new issue of Mojo complaining about his subscription and the Beatles CD specifically. I'm slightly taken aback by your Charlie Brown revelation.'

Monday, 11 October 2004

our holiday

- a weekend in Thurcaston with the Gilmours.
- Mon-Fri in CenterParcs Whinfell Forest with the Sladeks.
- a weekend in Colwall with the assembled Watts.

CenterParcs a posher version of Butlins, in which you have to pay for everything. (Interestingly, they never seem to refer to an individual site as a CenterParc - it's always CenterParcs.) We drove along the A66 with hillscapes to our left, right and front, into a place from which you're clearly not meant to stray for your whole time there (and from which there were no views to remind you of the world beyond the forest site), which seemed a terrible waste. Really not our kind of place. But we had a good time there with our lodgemates. And who knows what parenthood will drive us to in the years to come.

We did stray one day, and went for a country walk in the wind and the rain. We went to Haweswater, tempted by an RSPB symbol on the map, but there was nothing there that we spotted. According to this, it's the only place you can see golden eagles in England. It looks from online sources like our little walk took us up the start of the Gatesgarth Pass.

The weekends were good too (another ascent, up a dry but windy British Camp). But good to get back to our own beds last night.

Apart from food, the only thing we bought the whole time was a small ball. Cheapskates.

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 10

Here I am. My day job is with British Gas, but the Literacy Trust declared me a Reading Champion in 2002. Admirable.

Stevie Wonder

Here's a true story:
A reporter asks Stevie Wonder, 'What's it like being blind?'
Stevie Wonder says, 'It could be worse: I could be black.'

Here's a joke:
A reporter asks Stevie Wonder, 'What's it like being blind?'
Stevie Wonder says, 'It could be worse: I could be black.'

If it's a joke, it's offensive (poor Stevie doesn't realise he's black, which would obviously be a terrible thing); if it's a true story, it's not (Stevie makes smart answer to stupid question and discomfits the reporter).

PS John commented, 'That's an interesting interpretation. I would assume in both instances that Stevie is complicit in the joke. Do I have a view of the world that's too rosey?'
I said, 'I guess it does depend who's making the joke. Black US stand-up, we hoot; Jim Davidson, not so much.'

animals on the underground

Here's a charming little site, picking out pictures of animals within the London Underground map.

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

hotblack desiato; buildings with dates on

I went up to Camden yesterday to take a photo of the Hotblack Desiato office - an estate agent, better known as a character in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the estate agent came first).

Since I was taking a photo of a building I thought it was a good day to start my project of taking photos of buildings with dates on (either carved in or on foundation stone /opening plaque text). Because there aren't enough lists in my life already.

PS John commented, 'That's an unusual hobby. Well done.'
I said, 'Woe betide me if I ever learn to create a proper website searchable by date, type or location.'

NGOs and 4x4s

Someone working for an NGO (I've omitted the name; the story probably applies to many) in Nepal wrote recently:
'The other day [our son] was drawing the symbols of various organisations, and decided he needed to include XXX's symbol. He asked [his mum] what it was, but then realised he knew it all along - 'it's 4x4!', he exclaimed. He'd noticed that all XXX
cars around the place have '4x4' on them! We guess it gets noticed by Nepalis too.'

factors leading to civil war

Someone in Nepal wrote in an email recently:
'While I was in Oxford I heard some interesting research on the economic and political factors associated with the likelihood of a civil war starting in Africa. The countries most likely to slip into civil war are those that start with low incomes; those where incomes of the poor have been falling; and where democratic freedoms have recently increased. All of which is quite an accurate thumbnail sketch of Nepal.'

the curious incident of the book everyone loved

I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and became the only person I'd heard of who didn't think it was tremendous. I thought it was tedious, stunt writing - written as by a boy with asperger's syndrome. I just kept wondering how accurate and consistent it was, because it seemed to be inconsistent in what the boy would say or do (and even if accurate, accuracy doesn't excuse dullness). A non-fiction case study would have been much more interesting.

And it gave away the ending of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was an outrageous thing to do.

super trouper

The first couplet of Abba's Super Trouper is 'I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Glasgow.' I remember at the time they said they were pleased to be able to mention Glasgow in a song since their Scottish fans were so great, but you couldn't escape the implication that Glasgow was a place which drove you to feel sick and tired of everything.

Listening to the Abba Live CD, I noticed they'd changed the line to 'when you called me last night from Glasgow'. A bit late, but at least they made the effort.

Friday, 24 September 2004

songs that answer another

- What's it all about, Alfie?
- You put your left foot in, your left foot out. In, out, in, out, shake it all about. You do the hokey cokey and you turn around. That's what it's all about.

Tuesday, 21 September 2004


I sent a letter to Word along the lines of 'fun with dates', which they printed, as I hoped they would, in their Pedants Corner.

I then had to send them another letter to point out that I had spelled millennium wrongly.

That issue's Pedants Corner also pointed out that their '99% True' feature - 17 stories about an artist, one of them false - should more accurately be called '94.11% True'. John wrote them a letter to that effect months ago. Unrecognised, ahead of his time, etc.

debbie harry

One of my schoolfriends' mums told my mother that she knew a significant moment had been reached when the football player poster came down and the one of Debbie Harry went up.

Debbie Harry was born in 1945. I'm pretty sure wee lads our age (born 66/67) didn't realise she was as old as our mums. We were 11, 12, when Parallel Lines came out; she was 33.

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Tony Blair

Bethan saw Tony Blair down Lower Marsh on Tuesday morning; we have a slightly out-of-focus photo to prove it. This is what he was up to: 'Tony Blair visits solarcentury to confirm his commitment to renewable energy.'

The younger generation sadly was asleep for this momentous occasion.

Frank Sinatra

‘A lot of stars today are unmemorable and I never know their names. I’m sick of them going, “I’m a normal person.” If that’s the case, why are they there? I don’t want them to be normal. Frank Sinatra said to Roddy McDowall - my daughter’s godfather - “Why won’t they leave me alone?” and Roddy replied, “Take off your toupee, and you’ll just be a short, bald, old Italian no one recognises.” Sinatra didn’t speak to him for two years.’
- Joan Rivers, interview in Radio Times 4-10 September, 2004.

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation

A new series of Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation started last week on R4. In the first programme he talked about prejudice, intolerance and fear of the unknown. He talked about how people strove to separate BNP candidates and members from those who voted for them, explaining that they weren't racists because they'd voted that way but that their fears had been played upon etc. But, he said, he couldn't help thinking that the country would be a better place if BNP candidates, members and voters alike were all shot in the back of the head.

I wondered if he felt uneasy that the proposed mass murder of those with whom we disagree politically, in his essay against prejudice and intolerance, got both a laugh and a round of applause.

The Two Towers

Recently finished watching The Two Towers on DVD, with all its extras. It made me want to read the book again - not so much seeing the film as hearing the director's/writers' commentary and all the other people in the extras who so obviously loved the book. I'm not sure I'm really up for rereading it, though; it's more like I would like to be about the read it for the first time.

I got a copy of the Letters of JRR Tolkien second-hand at the weekend, which looked interesting. Now I'm wondering if I've read it before, borrowed from the library in my schooldays - or was that a book of CS Lewis letters, or a book of JRR letters to children? See, this is where keeping a list of every book you've ever read - like Art Garfunkel nearly has - would pay off.

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Blanche + David Viner + Cass McCombs

Went with John last Tuesday to see Blanche (these guys) at the Borderline. Actually, if we'd just wanted to see them we could have gone home after we ate at the Twelve Bar Club cafe beforehand, since they were all in there.

The support was unannounced, but it was (courtesy of a typewritten sheet outside) Cass McCombs and David Viner.

It was standing, we were in the front row, on the stage-left-hand edge (it's a low stage). It progressively filled, eventually very busy for the main act; it was sold out.

Cass McCombs (here or here), on first, were a five-piece band (though the websites treat him as a solo artist). I have reached the age where the acts being referenced by hip retro pop are those which were around when I was in my teens; which is to say, they sounded like early 80s indie. The singer, Cass, had Andy McCluskey's hair; bassist looked like Alan Arkin, drummer like Alan Bates, keyboard player like a builder's mate. They made almost no eye contact with each other, and on those few occasions when Cass (unlike Mama Cass in so many ways) was facing forward he had his eyes closed. They didn't announce themselves, or their songs, and didn't seem comfortable on stage. I wouldn't have recognised them from the descriptions on his official website. But I enjoyed them.

David Viner (here or here), was a folk/blues singer/guitarist, accompanied by a drummer for some songs. He was an average singer and player, with for me the added detraction that you couldn't tell if he was 'for real' or not - it seemed a bit of an act. People say the same about The Darkness, but the difference is that The Darkness do the music very well.

Blanche were interesting - another 'act', theatrical in a tense, neurotic, understated way (the lead singer made me think of psycho killer David Byrne), doing bluegrass in a modern style, essentially. Guitar, bass, drums, banjo/autoharp, pedal steel / wind. Our view was partly blocked by the pedal steel guitarist, who was sitting right beside us. How close? Close enough that I could have patted him on the head. Close enough that when one of his strings broke it hit the woman next to me (who, incidentally dived for his copy of the setlist pretty sharpish when they left the stage). John claimed he was someone called Feeny, but it was quite clearly Jeremy Hardy.

A good evening's entertainment for £9 - thanks John. The previous time I was at the Borderline with John I saw Bill Jones, and bought all her CDs on sale there; I don't feel the need to buy any of the bands' product this time, but it was still enjoyable.

6Music the next day mentioned that members of Franz Ferdinand, Soledad Brother, and other people, were at this hot gig. (I saw someone in the front row in a t-shirt which said 'Soledad Brother', as it happened, but thought they were just being particularly retro, as I'd never heard of a band by that name; I don't suppose the band members were wearing t-shirts promoting their own bands.) There was a gormless chap in the front row in a Blanche t-shirt, but he didn't seem to know any of the words to the songs (he did 'play along' with the drums of each band though, and wore a cowboy hat).

The Guardian reviewed it here; they weren't impressed.

This guy reviewed it too - we saw him and his girlfriend at the other side of the stage talking to the drummer. Now we know what he gave her which she took backstage and brought back out. How funny. He's also preserved for posterity some of the between-song chat. And lo, here are his photos of the gig.

And further lo, John and I said we were going to be in the background of lots of people's photos, and here we are - John's reflecting eyes are clearly visible above Feeny's hands, my reflecting glasses give away that I'm the shadowy figure behind the blonde woman. There's an 'even better' picture of us here. The photos remind me that the girl singer/bassist had big bruises on her upper arm.

I remember an early article about the wonders of the internet talking about fans going to concerts - Pink Floyd were mentioned - and then writing up their reviews and putting them online within hours of the end; I don't know why that stuck in my mind in particular. The webmaster of that Blanche fan site is, apparently, a 15-year-old girl.

Friday, 3 September 2004


I’ve been downloading photos off the camera onto the computer (which we have back and in working order now). Interestingly (or not), you can tell which of us has taken the portrait format pics, because we turn the camera in opposite directions.


Iain: Do you want some of the ginger loaf?
Bethan: No thanks.
Iain: Oh, I think there's some mould on it.
Bethan: Still no thanks.

PS John said, 'Ka-ching!'
I said, 'brrm-tsh!'

Thursday, 2 September 2004


‘I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other when they fight, “Please - a little less love, and a little more common decency.”’
- Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!, by Kurt Vonnegut; Panther, 1977; p12

‘He was a co-founder of the Indianapolis Chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. His obituary in the Indianapolis Star said that he himself was not an alcoholic. ... The paper’s genteel denial of his ever having had trouble with alcohol had the old-fashioned intent of preserving from taint all the rest of us who had the same last name.

‘We would all have a harder time making good Indianapolis marriages or getting good Indianapolis jobs, if it were known for certain that we had had relatives who were once drunkards, or who, like my mother and my son, had gone at least temporarily insane.

‘It was even a secret that my paternal grandmother died of cancer.’
- Slapstick, p16 (autobiographical introduction)

‘There was a time in our childhood when we actually agreed that we were *lucky* not to be beautiful. We knew from all the romantic novels that I’d read out loud in my squeaky voice, often with gestures, that that beautiful people had their privacy destroyed by passionate strangers.'
- Slapstick, p52

It was when I read this that I knew for sure that I’d read this book before; I noted it down then too. I couldn’t remember exactly which of my Kurt Vonnegut novels I’d read. I picked it out to read on the evening of the Blanche concert as it would fit into my back pocket and I didn’t mind if it got crumpled or soggy.

‘[Our parents] appeared, as they had always appeared to Eliza and me, to be under some curse which required them to speak only of matters which did not interest them at all.’
- Slapstick, p58. I'd noted this one too.

ice cream

‘It has even been rumoured that McKeag [Newcastle FC director] is so mean, he has his house double-glazed so his grandchildren can’t hear the ice-cream van.’
- article on Newcastle United; Offside - the When Saturday Comes special; 1989.

Bethan said they must have been asking for a lot of ice-cream if it was cheaper to install double-glazing.

a long inhabitant

Watched a documentary we’d videoed about Myddelton Square in Islington (‘The street where you live’ series - like episodes of ‘Do not pass Go’, by Tim Moore based on his book re the streets on the Monopoly board (which was a good series), there were no adverts, just trailers; I suspect it’s part of their local programming obligation).

Anyway, they introduced one interviewee by saying, ‘X is one of the Square’s longest inhabitants.’

I said to Bethan, ‘I wonder how long she is.’

Diary of a Nobody

‘There was also a large picture in a very handsome frame, done in coloured crayons. It looked like a religious subject. I was very much struck with the lace collar, it looked so real, but I unfortunately made the remark that there was something about the expression of the face that was not quite pleasing. It looked pinched. Mr Finsworth sorrowfully replied: “Yes, the face was done after death - my wife’s sister.”

‘I felt terribly awkward and bowed apologetically, and in a whisper said I hoped I had not hurt his feelings. We both stood looking at the picture for a few minutes in silence, when Mr Finsworth took out a handkerchief and said: “She was sitting in our garden last summer,” and blew his nose violently. He seemed quite affected, so I turned to look at something else and stood in front of a portrait of a jolly-looking middle-aged gentleman, with a red face and straw hat. I said to Mr Finsworth: “Who is this jovial-looking gentleman? Life doesn’t seem to trouble him much.” Mr Finsworth said: “No, it doesn’t. *He is dead too* - my brother.”’

- The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith; Penguin, 1965, p188.

A humorous classic of the 19th century, but I found it more sad than funny.It’s for people who like humour based on other people’s misfortunes. Pooteresque has become a word to describe someone tedious and middle class with ideas above their station, but they seem quite reasonably trying to live a happy life. Maybe that makes me Pooteresque.

Tuesday, 31 August 2004

a monk doesn't play football at this level

To mark Bobby Robson's sacking by Newcastle United, the BBC have put together a page of his remarkable sayings, of which this is the finest:

'We don't want our players to be monks, we want them to be better football players because a monk doesn't play football at this level.'

Cactus Flower

Videoed and watched Cactus Flower recently. Goldie Hawn won a supporting actress Oscar for it, which is the reason I noticed it and watched it.

(One of my various lists is of Oscar winners in the main categories each year (in the back of a freebie I got with the Guardian years ago). Is that so terrible? The only 1969 one I haven't now seen is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, for which Maggie Smith won an Oscar. My list doesn't have best foreign film - lowbrow!)

Also starring Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman, it was an inconsequential late 60s groovy comedy; pleasant enough, but I wouldn't have anticipated it attracting any Oscars. My main thought watching it was, 'Casablanca. She was in Casablanca.'

Saturday, 28 August 2004

Give us an 'F'

'Forbes Phillipson-Masters was an amiable lumbering carthorse of a centre half who smiled as he fouled; a man who comes second only to the immortal Wayne Wanklyn in the "Footballers' Silly Names Contest". On near deserted away terraces from Carlisle to Chester in the early Eighties we would embark on a ritual which occupied most of the first half. '"Give us an F... F! Give us an O... O!" Not forgetting of course the obligatory "Give us a hyphen...".'
- Rupert Metcalf, article on Plymouth Argyle; Offside - the When Saturday Comes special; 1989, p57

pew cushions

'At the close of that day's service [first day in their new church building, 1878] he referred to the comfortable place in which they were now met, and said, 'We read in the New Testament that our Lord made the five thousand sit down "because there was *much grass* in the place." That is why we have provided cushions in the pews. We believe the Lord Jesus is not indifferent to your comfort.'
- Andrew Bonar, Diary and Life; Banner of Truth, 1960; p426

In the churches I grew up in, the only seats with cushions were those in the area where the elders sat; this is probably still the case.

As for there being a special area at all where the elders sat, an elevated level in front of the pulpit, well that's something else peculiar.

Wednesday, 25 August 2004

fun with dates

An article (about The White Stripes) in the current issue of Word magazine (dated September, I guess) says 'Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison and Kurt Cobain all died in their 27th years.' No they didn't. Between your 27th and your 28th birthdays - as they were - you are in your 28th year. We start at 0; our first birthday marks the *end* of our first year.

(It was Cicero, our Latin teacher, who first alerted me to that, congratulating someone on their birthday in such a way as to make us think he'd got their age wrong, but he hadn't. He was, is, a fine man.)

Conversely, because there was no year 0, 1 January 2000 marks the *start* of the 2000th year. Which is why this millennium, and this century, began on 1 January 2001.

Furthermore, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

fortnum and mason's

When my mum was down we all went into Fortnum and Mason's to see the food hall, which was very busy. We took the lift upstairs to another floor to see how the other half shopped, and found the upper floors virtually deserted. The ground floor full of tourists like us, I guess.

Having started in the children's section looking in amazement at mighty price tags, we (my mother, that is) in fact ended up buying something - a long (6ft-ish) segmented material caterpillar, each segment having a letter of the alphabet and relevant animal on it. It was thirty pounds, which we (granny, specifically) thought not unreasonable. Some of the animals we are yet to tie up with their alphabet letter, however - it was manufactured somewhere where Spanish was the first language, which might have something to do with it.

Also there saw a nice cushion in another department with the motto (Italian proverb, it said) 'When a baby is born, so is a grandmother'. Now that *was* too expensive, which was a shame.

Tuesday, 24 August 2004

seil weblog

This lady was the wife of my scoutmaster. Now she's the minister on Alison L's 'home' island. Small world.

scottish hill panoramas

A set of nice Scottish hill panoramas here, including quite a number on Lewis and Harris.

more on cover cds

The new Mojo has two different cover CDs 'to collect', which is a bit of a swizz (all Beatles covers - I'll have to decide which one to buy). At least it's a significant step up from having two to four different covers on an otherwise identical issue of a magazine 'to collect'.

I once did a questionnaire which asked if I'd ever bought a CD on the strength of a track I'd heard on a cover CD, and I couldn't think of a time when I had. Not the kind of feedback designed to encourage labels to deliver up tracks for such CDs.

Monday, 23 August 2004

hello dolly!

Hello Dolly was a big disappointment. The first scene, post-titles, featured Walter Matthau with his barber ('Stop moving about; if I cut your throat now it would be practically an accident') and his niece's suitor ('That's an insult!' 'Every fact about you is an insult!'), and was excellent, setting up high hopes for the rest of the film, but it was really very dull and empty. Still, I've seen it now. ('Why? Because it is there.' Easier than climbing Everest, at least.)

is it easier to get an A?

Is it easier to get an A in school exams these days? The main answer is, surely, that it doesn't matter. There's no context in the real world in which my school results from twenty years ago will be compared to someone's school results of today in order to make a decision. What's important is that exams differentiate between those who took them in that year, so that they're an effective tool in making education or employment selections.

The question of whether people are coming out of school less well-educated than they used to can have a variety of answers depending on your definition of what constitutes being well-educated. A better guide than the school exam results might be to look at a range of professions and ask if they have declined in standard in the last twenty years. If they haven't, then is it reasonable to assume that school education hasn't either?

strachan on souness

'Souness was the tidiest man I've ever met. I'd throw my underpants into a corner but he'd have them lined up on hangers.'
- Gordon Strachan, FourFourTwo, September 2004, p61 (quoting issue No 4).

Tuesday, 17 August 2004

Word magazine sub-titles

Issue 1-7: Music and Entertainment Now
Issue 8: Music and Entertainment
Issue 9-18: Music and More
Issue 19: The Quality Music Magazine

Thus ends the journey from its original multidisciplinary intentions to being just another music magazine, which I'm sorry about. I had high hopes.

It's amazing that there isn't really a proper book magazine. Ink saw the gap in the market, but the issues I've seen have been disappointingly shallow and 'now' - mostly articles about and interviews with people who have a new book out. There are two centuries of back catalogue waiting for genre/era/career overviews and analysis.

Where did it all go right?

I read this lovely book by Andrew Collins and really enjoyed it. He's two years older than me, so many of the memories (and diary entries) about growing up normal in the 70s were resonant. Communicates the simple happiness of childhood, as well as being funny.

My favourite diary entry was from Saturday 24 February 1973, when he was 7: 'I had a smashing tea, it was the best tea I've ever had.' If I was the crying type, that would have made me cry.

There's an associated website too, which, among other things, has photos. I think the first photo is my favourite. No, it's alright, I've just got something in my eye.

blogger - from ads to navbar

Posted Notes still has the ads bar (has been different every time I've looked today, currently advertising Highland Lochside Hotel and Loch Lomond hotels), but it looks like blogger are instituting a rolling change from ads to a navbar. Do they no longer need the money? The navbar has already appeared on The Legram. The facility to do a search on the website alone is a handy one. The 'next blog' button is like Russian roulette, but very hard to resist. I can't work out what 'next' means in this context, though.

Monday, 16 August 2004

barbra streisand

'In a series of rare television appearances in the United States, Streisand has repeatedly complained that she grew up thinking she was ugly because her mother never told her that she was pretty. (Julia Roberts, one presumes, had exactly the opposite experience.) From this we can learn one thing: Whatever other crimes Streisand Senior may one day have to answer for, bald-faced lying is not one of them.
- Joe Queenan, Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler; Picador, 2000; p178.

cover cds

Deciding which tracks to allow a magazine to put on their cover cd must be tricky, I guess. You don't want to put your best track on, in case you kill it through overexposure or people decide that's the only one they need so don't buy your album, but if you put a lesser track on people might think if that's what you really sound like then I'm not interested.

A recent Uncut cover cd - themed on 'influences on Jimmy Page' - had a cover version of Summertime with the writer's credit listed as the (obscure) artist rather than the Gershwins, which was either a) extraordinarily sloppy or b) a tribute to the author-assuming practices of groups like Led Zeppelin in relation to old folk/blues songs.

The recent Word cover cd had a track on it by Mylo (Myles MacInnes) which was based almost entirely on samples from Judie Tzuke's Stay With Me Till Dawn. Writer? MacInnes, of course. Most unfair. 'Best new music', indeed. I am an old fogey.

'Mylo' spent some time growing up in Skye, and there was an interview-based article on him in a recent West Highland Free Press on the strength of that. Might have been less well-disposed towards him if they'd seen the item I read recently in which he was thoroughly scathing about Skye.

PS John commented, 'Good Nick Cave track on the Word CD though. Mute (Cave's label) seem please with it to the extent that they've flagged it in a new email newsletter.
'I had a clear out at the weekend and dropped a large pile of freebie CDs into my charity shop box. I'm enjoying the freedom that iTunes seems to be bringing to my record collection. Must buy an external harddrive soon to back it all up onto though.'

pink and blue

'Pink was a boy's colour while blue was thought better for girls - a "generally accepted rule" according to The Ladies Home Journal in 1918, which described pink as "more decided and stronger" while blue was "more delicate and dainty".'
- BBC Online.

PS John commented, 'In Disney's Peter Pan (1953) Wendy wears a blue nightgown while her youngest brother Michael is dressed in a pink sleepsuit. I was thinking about this just the other day on my 10,000th viewing of the Mermaid Lagoon scene.'

Wednesday, 11 August 2004

'Anything can happen - and probably will!'

A line usually associated with 'zany' events, theatrical or otherwise. How I hate it.

So, a cow will probably fall through the roof?
A cast member will probably turn into a frog?
A mad child will probably come in and machine-gun the audience?
John Lennon will probably make a guest appearance from beyond the grave?
Everyone there will probably be flown to Disneyland?
My licence fee will probably be refunded?

I don't think so.

Tuesday, 10 August 2004

tom gordon

Tom generates the most genuine search engine hits of anyone I know. Here are a couple of pages with his picture in:
The Ray Gelato Giants.
Rebecca Hollweg's band.

witch hunts, dolophine

'Ergot is a fungus called Claviceps purpurea. It attacks rye. In the middle ages, people who ate rye bread or gruel could develop a disease called St Anthony's Fire: their hands and feet blackened and turned gangrenous. Sufferers experienced hallucinations and some scholars have matched 17th-century witch hunts with the cold, wet summers that produce ergot infection in ripening rye. ...

'Around 1850, average annual consumption of opium in Britain was 5g per person: it only became a "dangerous drug" with the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920. In fact, morphine tested at St Mary's Hospital in London in 1874 was one of the first drugs made by modifying a natural molecule. German scientists modified morphine once again to make diacetylmorphine, and brandnamed it Heroin. During the second world war, German chemists came up with a morphine substitute, originally called Dolophine, after Adolf Hitler. It is now called methadone.'

- from a review of Pills, Potions and Poisons: How Drugs Work, in the Guardian of 8 July 2004.

Monday, 9 August 2004


I noticed the absence in one of James's dinosaur books, and here's the confirmation: one of the key dinosaurs of my childhood, the brontosaurus, didn't really exist - it was an apatosaurus with the wrong head on.

Highland Youth Theatre

An article in the Scotsman about playwright Henry Adam, which mentions his being the writer at one of the Highland Youth Theatres which I attended. 'He started out writing songs, then poetry, then drama for Highland Youth Theatre. "That was the first time I’d ever come across theatrical people, a bit of a shock for an 18-year-old from Wick! We were doing an adaptation of Cu Chulainn, all you had to do was take the dialogue from the book and fancy it up, it didn’t seem so hard to me!"'

the shiants

Interesting website about the Shiants, which appears to be by Adam Nicolson, owner and author of a book about them.

Wednesday, 4 August 2004


In 1953, amateur lepidopterist HBD Kettlewell announced that he could show the process of natural selection occurring in peppered moths over periods of mere months rather than tens of thousands of years. Supposedly the moths evolved into a darker variety in industrial areas where blackened trees were the norm. Kettlewell proved that this "industrial melanism" was an example of natural selection with data showing how much larger numbers of the lighter moths were being eaten by birds. There was just one problem. The light-coloured moths were eaten in huge numbers because Kettlewell was actually gluing them to the trees.
- from a book review of Of Moths and Men, by Judith Hooper, in the Guardian of 26 April 2003.

Tuesday, 3 August 2004

exploring lews castle

There are people whose hobby it is to break into and explore derelict buildings. I don't think this guy is one of them, but he did poke about in Lews Castle during his visit to Stornoway.

bedtime sounds

When we were up in Lewis, the sound we could hear in bed were the massed terns on Loch an Duin, which kept up their row all day and night.

Down here, among other things, we hear Big Ben as we lie in bed (more so in summer with the windows open). I set my watch to it the other night.

Each sound has its attractions.

compactor-worm combo supplementary

Douglas said, 'As regards the Death Star, remember reading something similar in the mid-eighties. Another point that he has missed. Given the mass of the Death Star and its high density, it would have the gravity of a medium sized rock moon. Therefore anything ejected into space would not drift away but would make a gentle arc until it landed back on the surface of the Death Star. After about 20 years or so it could make for effective camouflage.'

Monday, 2 August 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 9

Here I am, completing my ascent of all the Munros (the 2,998th person recorded as having done so), on 5 July 2003, on Mullach Fraoch-choire, accompanied I guess by my loving family. Well done.

assassinations foretold in Moby Dick

Michael Drosnin, author of the bonkers but money-spinning Bible Code (hidden messages in the Bible now revealed by computer analysis), said 'When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them.' Our hero did just that, and more. A splendid thing.

Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Box Hill railway tunnel

Brunel 'engineered the tunnel at Box Hill so that the sun shone straight through it on the morning of his birthday'. So says a book review of Parallel Lines, by Ian Marchant, in The Guardian of 10 July 2004.

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

ullapool to inverness

When I was wee and we were going on holidays, I always thought the first part of the drive from Ullapool was really dull, and when we reached 'the trees' (probably around Garve) we were approaching Inverness. Now Inverness to Garve seems long and tedious, and it's the drive through the hills between Garve and Ullapool that's splendid. Because I was used to bleakness, and trees meant holidays? The scenery's the same, it's certainly me that's changed.

And I notice that when I think of the childhood journey it's Ullapool to Inverness, and the adult journey it's Inverness to Ullapool. The holiday direction.

I could have been someone

Roger Waters once said in an interview of David Gilmour, with a smile, something like, 'Dave likes to think that it's laziness that means he doesn't contribute more creatively' (to Pink Floyd albums) - Roger obviously thinks it's because he lacks the talent.

Reminiscent of the exchange in Fairytale of New York:
- 'I could have been someone.'
- 'Well, so could anyone.'
Which is a splendid couplet.

Monday, 26 July 2004

extraordinary facial grotesquery

“The reviews I used to get [at the National Theatre] were things like ‘extraordinary facial grotesquery’ and I’d come home saying ‘oh, I got a good review – they called me incredibly grotesque’. That’s not someone who’s going to play a classical role."
- David Schneider, interviewed on

Wednesday, 21 July 2004

tom and jerry

First a cartoon cat and mouse. Then Simon and Garfunkel's original stage name. Then the names of the two male characters in The Good Life. If Margo had been called Hannah then I'd be thinking cartoon-related in-jokes by the writers.

Monday, 19 July 2004

compactor-worm combo

There is a splendid article on the implausibility of the Death Star's trash compactor here, on the McSweeney's website.

Wednesday, 30 June 2004

ads - horse passports, custom fencing and gates

John got the blogspot ads, powered by google, removed from the top of his weblog. I quite like seeing what adverts appear at the top of this, presumably based on words featured in my weblog. Today the adverts are for horse passports and custom fencing & gates (in the Inverness area), with the 'related searches' being 'passport office' and 'scottish enterprise'. I won't be so happy if the ads turn unpleasant.

That's Inverness, Florida, of course.

price and worth

I wonder why priceless and worthless have opposite meanings when price and worth have similar meanings?

The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing - Oscar Wilde, they usually say.

class names

John's Martha's third birthday party guests were: Martha, Zoë, Izzy, Saskia, Gabby, Jasmine, Sophie, Eleanor, Lily (x2), Ella, Alex and Zachary.

Lists of children's names - be it party attenders or classmates - probably give a good indicator of where and when the list was from.

My primary school class: Iain, Angus, Alasdair Iain, Donald John, Calum, Ivor, Anna, Noreen, Linda, Lorna, Kathleen, Marion, Sandra, Isabel. We were all there the whole time. I can think of one other who was in the class, possibly for no longer than a year - Tracey Ramsay, spelling doubtful. There was a Canadian boy over for a few weeks, but I'm not sure he was in our class.

Balham in the 2000s, Lewis in the 1970s.

free money from bill gates

'Is Bill Gates offering big bucks to track your email? On the trail of the most forwarded hoax in Internet history.' Someone at Wired magazine tracks down the person who started it. Good work, sir.

Tuesday, 29 June 2004

fp induction

Went to the FP induction on Friday with Henrietta, held in Grove Chapel. The most impressive thing was the precentor managing to change pitch by several notes three or four verses in, as he'd pitched it too high. It was possible because of the congregation's adherence to the highland practice of letting the precentor sing the first couple of notes of each verse entirely on his own.

Also saw Rachel, the new minister's daughter, I think for the first time since we were together in the Nicolson, so that was good. Also saw Kenny the barber, and spoke to both Rachel's parents.

My fifth FP service, I think - one Sunday service (in Dumbarton, when visiting Douglas once), two (I think) funerals, a wedding and an induction.

Friday, 25 June 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 8

Here I am, convenor and associate producer of the Inverness Area Gang Show 2003. What a public-spirited fellow I am. And I'm doing it again for 2005. Maybe I'll crop up again in my work capacity and I won't realise it's the same person.

People who give of their free time to youth clubs, camps, and things like the scouts and guides impress me.

flexible fliers

John's story makes me think of our Copenhagen break.

I think it was GO rather than Easyjet that we, Naomi and Genevieve went with from Stansted to Copenhagen for a short break, when I turned up with my expired passport. I noticed it was expired just as I left the house that morning; they noticed when I tried to check-in all the same (lurking at the back, like an escaped prisoner-of-war with poorly-forged papers). Although the seats were non-exchangable and non-refundable, they said they could put me on a plane to Portugal or Germany if I liked - for some reason those places didn't mind if I didn't have a current passport - or they could put me on another plane to Copenhagen later that day if I could get a new passport in time.

I decided against an exciting solo holiday (now that would have been adventurous), went to the passport office in St James's, got a new passport in superquick time, and got the afternoon flight to join the others in Copenhagen. It would have been a lot more stressful if it had been a long holiday, or it had just been the two of us - it wouldn't have been that big a deal if I'd had to stay at home and the others had a short girls break.

A good time was had by all.

(On my way to the passport office I met a previous-work colleague on the tube, who was going to a conference which some of my current colleagues were at, so they knew all about it at work before I returned.)

possibly the most useless word in the English language

bimonthly - 'occurring twice a month or every two months' (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

You can't use it without explaining which you mean; which means you might as well never use it.

Thursday, 24 June 2004

hebridean footnotes to pop no 1

Ms Dynamite's mum is from Benbecula.


I've seen a couple of reviews of the new film Saved which described it as courageous in choosing as its target evangelical Christians. All those films featuring sympathetic Christian characters (never mind evangelicals) obviously don't get distribution deals over here.

I remember a few years ago a gay group asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to sign a petition asking for more gay characters to appear in tv soaps/dramas. I don't know if he signed it. I know what he didn't do: ask them to draw up a list of gay characters who had appeared in soaps/dramas in the previous five years, indicating which were broadly sympathetic characters and which unsympathetic, and then to draw up a similar list of Christian characters, and compare them; and then ask them to sign his petition asking for more Christian characters to appear in tv soaps/dramas.

People are funny.

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

our local pub

Keith Duffy, off the first celebrity big brother, frequents our local pub, the Hampton Court Palace, apparently. 'This is quite a rough area,' says he, in this feature for FHM. I'll not be rushing out to subscribe.

Interestingly, there are two HCP websites online. this one is still up, where Maura and John, of twenty years' standing, welcome us. This one, where Alan and Liz welcome us, only survives in Google's cache, though it is presumably the more recent. They've had a lot of work done upstairs in the past few years, on the hotel side of things.

elephant and castle

A relatively plausible explanation of where the name Elephant and Castle (for pub, and hence area) comes from. It's the Cutlers' Company we have to thank.

Tuesday, 22 June 2004

the word is out

"My father died of leukemia when I was nine. I hated those teachers spitting on handkerchiefs to wipe away tears that didn't exist and making those announcements: 'Now I want everyone to be really *kind* to Laurence!' And later on I used to dread dinner parties 'cos people would say, What do your parents do?, and then go, Oh I'm *so* sorry, and I'd say, Look, this isn't Little Dorrit. It happens on quite a regular basis. You'll be amazed how many parents do actually die. ... If you speak to people who've lost a parent young they tend to be pragmatic about it. They tend not to have taken three years off to travel round India. They tend not to have slobbed around hoping to become a 'rock drummer'. They tend to be people who've got on with life. They get married younger, have children younger, they grow up quicker. A lot of people of my generation have never encountered death at all - you know, 'My grandmother died two weeks ago and I still can't talk about it!' You're 35 and you've just seen a dead person and you're 'having issues'! Du-uuh! What do you *think* happens to us? Do you think we just *fade away*?"
- Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Word, July 2004, p45.

Sue Perkins, at a recording of, I think, the R4 comedy The 99p Challenge, said that when she knew him at college/university he was just plain Laurence Bowen. She obviously wasn't keen. He comes across okay in the article.

Also in this issue of Word so far: a photo of Christine McVie which suggests that people who approach her for her autograph these days are mostly children asking when the next Harry Potter will be out; a journalist fan article about Jeff Buckley, of the type alluded to in a previous post ('the most influential artist of the 21st Century'!), which left me liking the sound of him less than I had before.

gordon strachan

Gary Lineker: So Gordon, if you were English, what formation would you play?
Gordon Strachan: If I was English I'd top myself!
Gordon Strachan shows why the BBC have hired him for Euro 2004.
- BBC sports quotes of the week, 21 June 2004.

Monday, 21 June 2004

king robert burns

'Rev Murdo Ewen Macdonald, the war hero and theologian who died this week, wrote a most interesting book of memoirs about a decade ago. The only problem was that it was printed and published by the Stornoway Greysheet and, to Murdo Ewen's fury, was filled with a catastrophic number of typesetting and spelling errors.

'One classic arose in a passage where Murdo Ewen was reflecting on his time in Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp. 'Long before Martin Luther King,' he wrote, 'Robert Burns had a dream of human brotherhood.' Then he quoted lines from 'A Man's A Man, For A' That'.

'Straightforward? Not a bit of it. The Greysheet managed to put the comma in the wrong place so that what appeared was: 'Long before Martin Luther, King Robert Burns had a dream of human brotherhood.' '
- West Highland Free Press, 11 June 2004, p11

The Greysheet is the Gazette. Their publications, and their newspapers, are indeed full of appalling editing and proofreading mistakes.

PS John commented, 'Although still interesting to note that Martin Luther is more to the forfront of island thinking than Martin Luther King.'

Friday, 18 June 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 7

Here I am, a blue badge guide offering personalised tours of Scotland from my base in Largs. Another kilt.

lewis music

This is Roddy Huggan’s music site. He plays regularly in folk clubs in his area. Good that he persisted.

Meantime has also continued, back in the hands of David Maclennan, playing ceilidh music. Their website seems to have disappeared.

There seems to be a thriving band scene in Lewis, if the Jori’s breathless columns in the Stornoway Gazette are to be believed, more thriving than when I were a lad. I wonder why? Cheap recording technology? Inspiration of successful local band (Astrid - as opposed to Runrig). More venues? Inspiration of The Hebridean Celtic Festival? More talent? Isles FM?

Traditional gaelic music recording output has certainly increased in that time.

Wednesday, 16 June 2004

snapping your fingers

I was thinking the other day about how children have to learn about everything, things like how to snap your fingers. And then I realised that I didn't know what made the 'snapping' noise. I worked out it was the pad of the middle finger hitting the nail of the ring finger.

I'm learning new things already!

PS Anonymous said, 'That's rubbish! Even if you have no nails, you still make the snapping noise.'
I replied, 'Are you speaking from painful experience, my anonymous friend? It doesn't work for me unless I hit the nail. Perhaps I just have odd hands. Ah, the ball of the thumb seems to work a bit now - it didn't before. Apparently I do have odd hands.'
And I added later, 'On further experimentation, it is the fingernail hit that gives the satisfying click when I do it, as opposed to the dull slap of the thumb-ball hit. Pushing back those scientific boundaries.'
The anonymous contributor was my mother.

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

I recently spoke to a parent who said her child exhibited ADHD each time they sat down to do homework. Something had to be done and she wanted the Ed Psych to see the child. She followed by stating "Why, yesterday I even had to turn off the TV to try to get her to work!!"
- from a letter, dated 01/08/2003, from Steve Williamson on the Times Educational Supplement website.

It was in response to this: 'Academic Priscilla Alderson reckons psychologists are making a fast and cynical buck labelling children as having ADHD and other behaviour syndromes. What they really have, she says, is the pent-up energy of normal children, cooped up by neurotic parents; and what they really need is a bit of running around in the park and climbing trees.'

robert smiths

'And he has a frankly cock and bull theory about the Smiths, and how their influence on the era [the 1980s] is overplayed because there's a media conspiracy, full of media people who liked them much more than anyone else did (mind, I would say that: I'm in the media, and I really like the Smiths).'
Interview article on Robert Smith of The Cure by Zoe Williams, Guardian, Saturday 12 June.

I'm with Bob - Morrissey in particular is vastly overrated.

Another annoying thing is music journalists claiming that their favourite, usually obscure, artist of the past is a pivotal influence on a vast swathe of artists in the present who they think sound a bit like them or who mentioned them once in an interview. Correlation does not imply causation.

Monday, 14 June 2004

ronald reagan

Ronald Reagan (Nancy helped, presumably) left a 300-page plan for his own funeral, according to the Independent.

Some links to look at should I ever need reminding why I didn't like him:
- Peter Preston in the Guardian
- David Aaronovitch in the Guardian
- letters in the Guardian
- Jonathan Steele in the Guardian
- a pattern has emerged. Obviously all I will have to do is do a search on the Guardian website.

voting for the bnp

Saw twits being interviewed on BBC London news unashamedly saying they hadn't voted, and then saying what needed sorting out in London.

The value of an opinion not backed up by bothering to vote is one thing, but with any element of proportional representation in an election, by not voting you are, in effect, voting for the fringe parties like the BNP - you are lowering the number of votes, in real terms, needed to reach the trigger percentage at which a party gets a proportional representation member. The fewer people who vote, the fewer votes the BNP need to get elected. Well done, cool young dudes.

Friday, 11 June 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 6

Here I am, newly-appointed (in September 2002) as director general of the ICA. That's the International Cooperative Alliance, based in Geneva. It's 'the apex organisation of the international co-operative movement' - I'm guessing it's nothing to do with the Coop shops, but could be wrong. Yes, I am wrong. My goodness, what a wide assortment of cooperative bodies must come within the ICA's remit. I wonder if I'm Scottish? Yes, I am.

Thursday, 10 June 2004

tin top ten

searched 'does exactly what it says on the tin' on Google. The things being referred to as doing exactly etc in the first ten results were:

- car, camera, website, film (examples in a dictionary definition)
- film titles
- Ronseal (hurrah!)
- men (...)
- anti-spammer code
- quick and easy software tools
- three websites (a webcam on a cuddly toy in a box;;
- Tweezerman Professional Brow Mousse

does exactly what it says on the tin

If the success of an advertising slogan is measured by the extent to which it passes into common speech, then this is one of the most successful of recent years - I hear or see it all the time in all kinds of contexts.

I don't exactly remember who the ad was for though, which I guess is another way to measure the success of an ad. I'm guessing Ronseal? I can never remember which car any of the many car ads I see is for; but then, I'm not exactly the target audience.

Yes, it is Ronseal.


I had a recent holiday in Wales where I noticed that Snowdon was claimed to be the highest mountain in England and Wales. Wales certainly, but why England? If they are going to start dragging other countries into it, why not claim superiority over other places? Snowdon isn't just the highest mountain in England and Wales, but also Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, the Faeroe Islands, Bangladesh - there's an awful lot of people who ought to be proud of the fact that Snowdon is their highest mountain but are ignorant of the fact.
- from a letter from Craig Weldon in The Angry Corrie 18, April-June 1994.

Well, I thought it was funny. It made me laugh out loud, which the written word rarely does. I'm slowly but surely reading through back issues of The Angry Corrie online.

Tuesday, 8 June 2004

origins of the first world war

Tzara: You ended up in the trenches, because on the 28th of June 1900 the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary married beneath him and found that the wife he loved was never allowed to sit next to him on royal occasions, except! when he was acting in his military capacity as Inspector General of the Austro-Hungarian army - in which capacity he therefore decided to inspect the army in Bosnia, so that *at least on their wedding anniversary*, the 28th of June 1914, they might ride side by side in an open carriage through the streets of Sarajevo!
- Tom Stoppard, Travesties; Faber, 1975; p40.

Interesting if true. I do like Tom Stoppard.


Tzara: Doing the things by which is meant Art is no longer considered the proper concern of the artist. In fact it is frowned upon. Nowadays, an artist is someone who makes art mean the things he does. A man may be an artist by exhibiting his hindquarters. He may be a poet by drawing words out of a hat. In fact some of my best poems have been drawn out of my hat which I afterwards exhibited to general acclaim at the Dada Gallery in Bahnhofstrasse.
Carr: But that is simply to change the meaning of the word Art.
Tzara: I see I have made myself clear.
Carr: Then you are not actually *an artist* at all?
Tzara: On the contrary, I have just told you I am.
- Tom Stoppard, Travesties; Faber, 1975; p38.

We had a guided tour of the Tate Modern, and our Tate guide told us, quite seriously, the three prerequisites which established that something was Art:
a) it is presented as art by someone who calls themselves an artist;
b) it is exhibited somewhere which exhibits art;
c) it is accepted as art, and reviewed as such, by an art critic.

I've never heard anything so incestuous and empty in my life.

He told us that by the end of the tour he hoped to have communicated to us why Duchamp's signed urinal was important in art. It's importance isn't the question however - it's important because it was at the start of the process that led to the definition of art as above. What he didn't communicate was any sense of why it deserved to be called art. ('Because it fulfils criteria a, b and c, obviously, you philistine!')

Monday, 7 June 2004

derek taylor

I was speaking to one of our supporters, Liz Taylor, on the phone at work here once.

She mentioned her husband, Derek, and I thought to myself, ah, Derek Taylor, like The Beatles' press officer.

After our conversation ended, I realised that at no point had I thought, ah, Liz Taylor, like the incredibly famous film star.

I am an odd fellow.

rich cultural contribution

'Calvin was imbued with a powerful conviction that we live in a coherent universe, subject in all its aspects to God’s law and ruled by his sovereign will. Since it is the Christian’s privilege and duty to exalt God’s glory, it follows that all cultural activity, as well as the moral life and the practice of worship, is a way of serving God. Religion is not to be confined to church or monastery. The fundamental human passion for commitment is expressed in all that a person does. The commitment may indeed be to an image, or false idea, or to some created thing. In that case it is idolatry. If, however, through grace a person has been brought to the commitment of faith in Christ, then he can exercise his loyalty to God in his farming, or in business, as a parent, a schoolteacher, a craftsman, scientist, artist or politician. There is a profound unity in the Christian life, because the Christian acknowledges God’s universal rule, sees the unity of all creation in Christ, and concentrates his own endeavours on the service of Christ’s kingdom.

'... Calvin’s thinking was to percolate into the minds of all Protestants. Thus it was that Protestantism was to inspire such a rich cultural contribution to the lives of so many nations.'
- R Tudur Jones, The Great Reformation; IVP, 1985; p258.

PS John commented, '"Thus it was that Protestantism was to inspire such a rich cultural contribution to the lives of so many nations"Until Big Brother came along.'
I said, 'It was nice to see a reference to Christian contribution to culture that wasn't about Puritans closing theatres or Presbyterians burning fiddles.'

Friday, 4 June 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 5

Here I am as an English teacher - speciality Scottish Studies - at Arcata High School, California. I have to confess this photo isn't as unlike me as I would probably like it to be. I'm impressed a school in California has a specialist in Scottish Studies, though.

PS John commented, 'This is the most Iain-MacDonald-like Iain MacDonald so far.'
I said, 'That's certainly true. Although in fact I think he looks even more like my old school friend Alex Matheson used to - if he had a photo on his website we could compare.'

new colour tv

I was thinking the other day of when we came home one Saturday afternoon to find that we had a new, colour, television. Purchased partly, no doubt, to stop me spending all my life going next door to Peter's to watch their colour telly.

What was on was a film starring Sammy Davis Junior. He played some kind of junior devil, obviously supposed to be tempting someone but not very good at it. One temptation, for some reason, involved the creating of a vast department store, but they cancelled the idea for some reason and took it all back. The stocktake showed there was one watch missing. Sammy confessed he'd given it to his temptee. 'Why?', he was asked. 'Because he seemed like a nice guy.' Whoosh, he was back to sweating in the fiery caverns.

I tracked it down on the internet. It was called Poor Devil.

Thursday, 3 June 2004

degrees of sadness

Who's sadder: someone who creates an enormous fan website devoted to an actress, or someone who comes across it in search of theatre reviews to print out and put into his copy of the programme? We're neither of us sad, I tell you!

PS John commented, 'I'd say that there was an equality of sadness.'

happiness - the lazy person's emotion?

People regularly say that it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown. They're wrong.

Wednesday, 2 June 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 4

Here I am as one of the principal dancers in the South African Ballet Theatre. There are photos of me in several productions, but this page has my favourite one - me as Hamlet. (More appropriate might be the one in the 2002 gallery of me in a kilt, but there you go.) I'm in good shape.

PS John commented, 'Gertrude looks a bit scarey though.'
I said, 'She's holding a big metal spike behind her back, ready to drive it into my temple.'

Gulf War Snr

A character in CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) last night referred to the first Gulf War as 'Gulf War Senior', which I thought was rather good.

red ken

An interesting article about Ken Livingstone in Monday's Guardian, mainly about his time as mayor.

Best quote: '"Mrs Thatcher used to say that when I see a man of 25 riding the bus, I see a man who has failed in his life," he told the London Assembly. "That is the kind of view we are going to change."'

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

the highlands at war

Not to be outdone, John's parents also got quoted in a newspaper - Saturday's Scotsman, in an article about rehearsals for D-Day on the Tarbat peninsula.

On the morning of Peter and Marina's wedding in Poolewe, we drove out to the end of the road beyond Marina's home in Cove, being early. You wouldn't have expected anything to be there, but there were signs that there had once been a significant number of buildings there. Turns out Loch Ewe was an important anchorage during the war, especially for the North Atlantic convoys.

On the late bus home I would often see a wee old man who shook all the time. I assumed it was the drink, and that may have had something to do with it. My father told me that he had been on the North Atlantic convoys; the ship he was on was hit and sunk, but he survived and was picked up by another ship, which was then hit and sunk, but he survived and was picked up by another ship. After the war he made his living on a fishing boat. People are extraordinary.


There were many odd things about Friends, which finished on Friday night. The oddest was probably that in real life there was only one of the characters that you would actually want as a friend. And yet I still watched it.

Then came the start of the new Big Brother series. I've watched them all up to now; I don't know if anyone believed me when I said it was to see how people interacted with each other, but it was. But they've 'learned' from the success of the more unpleasant reality tv shows, and have gone for a group full of unpleasant, opinionated, annoying people, for maximum conflict. So I won't be watching it this year. Well, that'll save me a lot of time over the next ten weeks.

Some of it I'll use by watching Britain Goes Wild over the next three weeks, which should be rather more edifying.

PS John commented, 'Which of the friends would be your friend?'
I replied, 'I didn't think I'd need to say! Chandler. The only normal and funny one of the lot of them, neither self-obsessed, neurotic nor airhead.'

Friday, 28 May 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald 3

Here I am as a philosophy lecturer in Montreal University. A trendy one, if my photo is anything to go by. And I speak French too!

hebridean footnotes to punk no 2

John Maher, the Buzzcocks' drummer, now runs John Maher Racing ('performance engines, transmissions and components for your aircooled Volkswagen') from Leverburgh, Harris.

alex's business

This is Alex Matheson's website for his business. I hope it's going well.

Thursday, 27 May 2004

looking in on sleeping babies

On screen, people fighting crime or injustice are always looking in on their sleeping children, often as a way to cleanse themselves from the unpleasantness of the world they find themselves in. A cliche, but - though my world's hardly unpleasant - I do it all the time now. I hope this doesn't mean I'm going to come to a sticky end, which is what usually follows.

photos of Iain MacDonald No 2

John's already come across this one: Monarch Iain Macdonald of the Van Zor Grotto in Vancouver. We both have glasses, but I don't have a hat or a chain of office like he does - an oversight on someone's part. 'If you are a master mason, inquire about joining a grotto in your area. You and your lady will be welcomed into an enjoyable and rewarding experience.' Some of the other photos on the page are excellent too - 'our master of ceremonies at his post' probably my favourite.

tailors to the emperor

Part of Charles Saatchi's collection of publicity material went up in flames this week. A nation mourns.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

photos of Iain MacDonald No 1

This is the traditional/folk multi-instrumentalist from the Highlands. He doesn't look much like me, but you might guess we came from the same part of the world. Possibly the most well-known Iain MacDonald (or Iain Dòmhnallach). He's very good. I saw him long ago when he was with (my uncle) Ryno in Fir Chlis, and on a recent holiday in Lewis at a Gaelic music college concert.

My version of the 'Are You Dave Gorman?' challenge wouldn't take long to complete.

a book cover

I finished reading a detective novel yesterday. It was a 60s paperback, and the cover photo was of a rifle and a pistol. No pistol is mentioned in the book until a plot twist very late on - but I was ready for it, thanks to the cover. A very odd cover image decision.

easier than Munro-bagging

I think Hamlet's the only Shakespeare play I've seen more than twice (unless you count Return to the Forbidden Planet). The current reckoning is that he wrote 37 plays; a quick scan of this list suggests I've got eight to go.

I finished reading Richard III recently, and it was interesting to see that in all the textual variants between the different early editions, the choice as to which was Shakespeare's original seemed largely based on which was the best - the self-fulfilling prophecy approach to genius.

Consistency of Bible manuscripts, many centuries older, compares very favourably with the consistency of early Shakespeare editions.

Tuesday, 25 May 2004


I saw Hamlet at the Old Vic last Thursday, while my better half and our better generation were up in Shrewsbury in advance of my working weekend. I think it's the seventh time I've seen it on stage (mostly in my first few years in London): at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh (Simon Russell Beale played Osric, I think); at the official Edinburgh Festival (in the CofS Assembly Hall, I think) with David Threlfall; RSC Barbican with Mark Rylance; Barbican (RSC or not) with Kenneth Branagh; Riverside Studios with Alan Rickman; Old Vic with knitted costumes and scenery, and actor whose name I could look up; National Theatre with Daniel Day-Lewis. So, eighth time.

This one's USP was that all the young characters were played by young actors. If its aim was to remind us that Hamlet was just an annoying mopey student, then it succeeded. Polonius (Nicholas Jones?) was easily the best thing in it: usually played as a tedious windbag, in this he was a loving father and wise counsellor. Imogen Stubbs was Gertrude: she played her essentially as Rachel from Friends, which was entertaining in its own way.

Mark Rylance was the best I've seen: it became a very funny play in his hands. I'm sorry I didn't get along to see him do it in Shakespeare's Globe, where he's now artistic director.

You can't see Hamlet too often. Bethan would disagree.

PS John commented, 'I know I shouldn't agree, but I'm with Bethan on this one.'
I said, 'As one apocryphal American said to another on the way out of a performance, 'It's nothing but cliches'.'

Monday, 24 May 2004

hebridean footnotes to punk no 1

Jamie Reid became famous as the designer of The Sex Pistols' artwork and publicity materials. He was living in Lewis when he got the call from Malcolm Maclaren. Not sure what he was doing - this interview suggests nothing much. Little did we know.

rinkydinkyding kading

Ice cream van chimes. Greensleeves and The Teddy Bears' Picnic are pretty common. But we've started hearing one near home which uses the main theme from The Third Man. I wonder if they've ever seen the film.

Thursday, 20 May 2004

a well-rounded education

Phill Jupitus described Mark Lamarr's passion for music in an interesting way on Jonathan Ross's radio show once - 'he knows about music he doesn't even like'. JR of course turned it into nonsense, by chipping in 'about music that doesn't even exist', and they were off. But it was a good description.

PS John commented, 'I recorded 2 hours of Jonathan Ross' show onto my iPod at the weekend only to find myself listening to Mark Lamarr instead. Have been listening to episodes of Just a Minute from 1975 instead.'
I replied, 'Do you not like him? It's always a special day for us when Mark's on instead of Jonathan. Although sidekick Mark Steel relies too much on the '[something I disagree with]? That's like [preposterous analogy]' comedy structure, which Ian Hislop reacted against on Have I Got News For You?'

Wednesday, 19 May 2004

art versus architecture

Word magazine last issue had a sub-feature on art school bands. It included Pink Floyd, on the strength of Syd Barrett's art-school background, and listed their most art school moment as The Wall concept - by which time of course Syd was long, and far, gone. More interestingly, the other three original band members (Roger, Nick and Richard), who were still around, were all architecture students. Which by any reckoning makes The Wall in fact their most architecture school moment.

(David Gilmour was, I think, an art student, though I'm not sure about that.)


There are places where owning more than one pair of shoes, if you are a man, marks you out as a dandy. As indeed does using the word dandy.

Tuesday, 18 May 2004

island life

It was John's revival of his blog, with its new - and to me, mysterious - name of Fresh Foot that kicked me off on this.

There are only two weblogs in the Outer Hebrides that I've come across.

One is a kind of set of weblogs by Neil Finlayson, who I think is my second cousin. They're pretty techy and static - except that having looked it up again for this, I see there's been some recent activity.

The other, 'proper' one, which I look at fairly regularly, is Island Life, kept by the Heggies to cover their relocation to Leurbost from Yorkshire last year, for their friends and family.

I often wonder if it's turning out as they'd expected: are they less busy (they've each set up a business - he computers, she home furnishings and textiles); is their quality of life better; are they becoming part of the community; and so on. I'd ask them, but I think they get enough correspondence from people they don't know, much of it from people seeking advice on how, where and if they should relocate. But they seem to be enjoying it.

PS John commented 'Fresh Foot: I realised that you asked me about this and I hadn't responded. Well, it was one of those spur of the moment things; a conjunction of "fresh leaf" and "best foot forward". In addition I do in fact have moderatly fresh feet.'

PPS John's weblog is now (2005) called MMV (more muttered verbitude).