Saturday, 31 December 2005

denied by the post

Whenever I watch Match of the Day - like tonight, ah I know how to celebrate on New Year's Eve (I have now switched over to Jools's Hootenanny) - you can hear me shouting at the telly, 'No, he wasn't denied by the bar/post, you fool'. It wasn't like the bar or post had moved in or down. If they were using jumpers for goalposts the ball would have gone over the jumper and it wouldn't have been a goal. He just missed, that's all: no one, nothing, denied him anything. Who do I write to about this?

careless vespa

time can never mend
the careless vespa of a good friend

different books

‘I’m not mad,’ says Ken Campbell, ‘I’ve just read different books.’ - Guardian Guide, 17 December 2005

31 Songs - part 3

Lee, the proprietor [of Wood Music record shop in Upper Street], wasn’t there on the day I first visited. He’d gone to Liverpool, to see Bob Dylan, an unambiguous indication that he was serious abot his music. Later, when I met him, I found that he was serious about his football, too, just as I am, and that when his two passions clashed, the collision was spectacular and bloody: Dylan was playing Liverpool the night that England was playing Germany in the semi-final of Euro ’96, and Lee had got straight off the train to watch the game in a pub round the corner from the concert hall. The game went into extra time, and then there was the agony of the penalty shoot-out . . . He walked out of the pub just as the last Dylan fans were walking out of the gig. He’d travelled 200 miles to watch England play on the TV. This was a man I could do business with.
- p146

There is an enduring confusion in rock ’n’roll on the subject of authenticity. Those who have lived the sex-and-drugs life, the argument goes, are somehow more likely to speak to us with the voice of wisdom and self-knowledge, but this is rarely the case. There are plenty of screw-ups whose music is trite and shallow, and, besides, this theory of rock is very selective: it is applied to Kurt Cobain but not to, say, Elton John.
- p195

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

'wanting what's best for your children'

Too often Christian morals seem to be simply middle class morals, especially in relation to schooling of, and parental ambitions for, children. If we weren't Christian, but simply middle class, how much would actually change in our lifestyles, I wonder.

the Guardian and Christians

An interesting article by the Guardian's reader's editor, Ian Mayes, on their mentions of religion (some readers think they have increased - they have - and that there are too many of them now).

'Editing [the Face to Faith column] is the Guardian's religious affairs correspondent, Stephen Bates. He defends it enthusiastically. He said: "I am by no means averse to including humanist or secularist writers but I tell all would-be contributors that the column is intended, in my opinion, to be a space for non-polemical or philosophical reflection. This means not attacking the beliefs of others. In my experience, humanists and atheists find this very difficult ... "


'He said that at a recent conference on the church and the media he got the sense that both Anglicans and Catholics felt a bit bewildered by the Guardian even though, he said, they loved it and regarded it as their paper. "We share the same concerns in many ways. But they feel that too often we are hostile to religion or to their church, and I do think this is something we have to watch out for.

'"We have to be aware that there are a lot of Guardian readers, with broadly the same worldview as the rest of us, who are happy to be Christians, and who are disappointed that the exaggeration of differences sometimes obscures what we all have in common. They have just as much right to be heard as others."'

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

3 from fopp: undertones, stone roses, saint etienne

A while ago on one of my Fopp forays I came out with three CDs. Positive Touch by The Undertones wasn’t that good. It was interesting to read on the liner notes, written more recently, that the songwriters thought - at the time, and still, I think - that they were making a great leap forward in their songwriting, and that the songs on this album were so much better than their earlier, rougher/simpler material. The public didn’t think so, and the public were right. It’s interesting how often when people work harder to do something creative ‘properly’, it’s not as good as what comes unforced and naturally, even if they think it’s better. Lennon and MacCartney expected to graduate to writing musicals, proper stuff. I’d see it when editing the magazine at my old place sometimes; I’d ask somebody if I could use something from their newsletter in the magazine, and they’d say yes, but be surprised because they hadn’t written it ‘properly’, just naturally for their friends; conversely, people who wrote perfectly good newsletters might send me ‘an article’ which they’d written, and it would be heavy, flowery and formal.

I also got a Stone Roses compilation and a Saint Etienne compilation. The Stone Roses I had always thought I didn’t like, until a couple of years ago when I was hearing songs which I liked which turned out to be theirs; I’d been more aware of their image than their actual music. Saint Ettienne, on the other hand, were a band who I’d heard of, and who sounded like the kind of thing I might like, but whose whole career had passed me by. They turned out not to be quite my thing - the synthesiser sound didn’t appeal, the voice was quite plain - but hey.

I ‘met’ Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne at the Rocking Vicar’s social which I went to with John in the basement of a sushi bar on Farringdon Road. He and I were both much too early, and our quiz teams were sharing a table; we exchanged pleasantries before he wandered off. I didn’t recognise him, and he thought I might be on his team, a friend of the guy who’d got the team together, Peter Paphides whose name I did recognise, because he worked for Time Out at the time and now I see in the Guardian Guide sometimes. I asked Bob if he worked with Peter and he said no; what did he do?; he did some writing. When he and his team came back later Ronnie whispered to us that one of the guys from Saint Etienne was on our table, and I thought yes, of course, it’s Bob Stanley. And he had been a music journalist before his music career. But he’ll always be unfashionably early Bob to me.


On the younger generation's birthday, coincidentally, I had a request played on Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the Sixties programme on R2. I didn’t really write in for a request; I wanted to do a thank you email for the programme - before, frankly, Mr Matthew shuffles off. You could listen to oldies stations for months and never hear a song you’d never heard before, whereas it’s a rare half hour of Sots in which I don’t hear at least one song I’ve never heard before (and I’ve heard a lot). Anyway, I thought I’d better ask for something as I was writing in, so in the spirit of my praise I asked for something I’d never heard before, nor even knew the title of - the B-side of the record which was number one when I was born, Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s Something Stupid. It turned out to be a song by Frank alone, Call Me (not the Blondie song). I’m not a big fan of Frank, but hey.

song of a pin

see a pin and pick it up,
then all day long you’ll have a pin.

coughing in church

A simple incident which occurred during my first morning attendance at [Dr M’Crie’s] chapel [in Edinburgh] strongly impressed me with a sense of his sagacity. There was a great deal of coughing in the place, the effect of a recent change of weather; and the Doctor, whose voice was not a strong one, and who seemed somewhat annoyed by the ruthless interruptions, stopping suddenly short in the middle of his argument, made a dead pause. When people are taken greatly by surprise they cease to cough - a circumstance on which he had evidently calculated. Every eye now turned towards him, and for a full minute so dead was the silence that one might have heard a pin drop. ‘I see, my friends,’ said the Doctor, resuming speeech, with a suppressed smile - ‘I see you can be all quiet enough when I am quiet.’ There was not a little genuine strategy in the rebuke; and as cough lies a good deal more under the influences of the will than most coughers suppose, such was its effect, that during the rest of the day there was not a tithe of the previous coughing.
- Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters, p336

Reminds me of a story which I think I heard from John Macpherson (or my father) of another minister preaching in a church where the floor was raked. Someone near the back - they were probably all near the back - dropped a sweetie, which rattled and rolled all the way down to the front. Near the end of its progress the minister stopped, and when it came to rest he said, after a pause, ‘Why do they make them round?’

I think it was also John who passed on, from the horse’s mouth, the tale of another minister who was making quite a long prayer, and while he was in the middle of it he used one of the phrases which traditionally comes at the end of a prayer - ‘in Jesus’ name’, say, or ‘for Jesus’ sake’ - whereupon everyone sat down, anticipating the ‘amen’. With good grace, he decided to end the prayer there.

I learnt more from John (and my father) than just curious tales of the pulpit, I should say.

Monday, 5 December 2005

george best

On Saturday I tuned into Radio 5 to listen to Fighting Talk, but found they were relaying George Best's funeral live. Turned out they were also showing it on BBC1. I really can't get my head round it. George Best's productive playing career was short, and its unpleasant aftermath was long - and extended by a liver transplant. His three extra years of life continued just as those before it. I guess it's human nature that we abuse our second chances. But I presume that someone who needed a liver transplant didn't get one because George Best did. There must be families with loved ones who needed a liver transplant in 2002 and didn't get it who are bitterly wondering about that.

Friday, 2 December 2005

serving your constituency

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
- Edmund Burke, quoted in a letter (on why it was reasonable for MPs to vote against something their constituents were in favour of) in The Guardian, Monday 14 November 2005

yellow police signs; london at work

On halloween a young woman on our estate was shot in the eye in what appears to have been a random shooting through a letterbox; the first we knew was the yellow police sign. Walking to the park one day last week I passed a yellow sign about an armed robbery at the bookmaker's near Kennington tube, and on the way back another yellow sign about an armed mugging off the other side of Kennington Park Road.

Conversely, yesterday we were coming back down Southwark Bridge Road and passed in quick succession some firemen training in a fake building with watery hoses and everything, and then a big crane lowering a bucket to be filled with cement from a big mixer vehicle - sights to delight any small child's heart.

'It's all about what you want and when you want it'

Article of this title in today's Guardian, springing from research finding that 'over a 10-year period, the number of men in Britain who have paid for sex has doubled'.

The study's co-author is quoted: "My feeling," says Ward, "is there is a general and continual increase in the way sex is presented as something continually available; it's a commodity now, with lads mags, you see it more in films and so on. In all aspects of society it has become much more about what you want, when you want it, whether it's 24-hour shopping or whatever, and sex has become part of that - this idea of 'no strings sex' just increasingly fits in with the lifestyle."

Article writer Laura Barton: 'Indeed, the shift in the British perception of sex over the past decade has been dramatic. It has moved beyond Page 3 titillation and drifted down from the top shelf to encompass lads mags, ready access to pornographic films, and an increased sexualisation of TV content both pre and post-watershed, from Hollyoaks to Footballers' Wives, not to mention music videos and song lyrics.'

The article generally thinks this is a bad thing, but has to say near the end, 'An increasingly open attitude to sex should, of course, be applauded, and there is a very reasonable case for the decriminalisation of prostitution.'

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

why I don't have to worry about my pension

The table which accompanied this article in Saturday's Guardian isn't on the webpage, but men in the Western Isles have the 428th-best life expectancy for men in the UK - 72.2 years. Fifth-worst, to put it another way; the four worse places for men are Glasgow City (the worst, with 69.3), Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire. I don't know if moving away helps. Glasgow City is also the worst place for women, but they manage 76.4 years. Kensington & Chelsea is the best for both men (80.8) and women (85.8).

don't talk to strangers

Interesting article in Saturday's Guardian by Jenni Russell, entitled 'We have a responsibility to look out for all children - not just our own', on how adults now relate to children other than their own.

'A father I know dreads picking up his two-year-old daughter from nursery. He loves watching her run towards him, arms outstretched. The problem is her friends, who come tumbling along with her. "It's Rosie's dad!" They too have arms outstretched, faces lit up. And every time he thinks: how do I get out of this? He cannot hug them, he cannot let them kiss him, he cannot let them clamber on his knee. "Hello!" he says, standing up quickly, smiling anxiously, repelling them - and watching their puzzled disappointment.'
'It isn't just men who feel this is becoming an absolute taboo. A mother of three small girls says that she too avoids all contact with the children of strangers. "If a child falls off their bike in the park, and is screaming because they've grazed their knee, all the adults nearby freeze. You want to comfort them, but you can't react.'
'Almost imperceptibly, and without any discussion about its desirability, we have arrived at a situation where adults feel they are not allowed to interact with children, unless they are professionals, relations or friends. Evolution designed small children to be appealing, yet we are made to feel awkward for responding to them. What began as an understandable desire to protect children from the risks of sexual abuse seems to have mutated into something far broader and more disturbing: the assumption that any adult can legitimately be considered a threat to any child. What is so perverse about this is that there is so little evidence that it is true.'
'I asked five children - all of whom have travelled extensively on public transport since they were 11 - whether adults ever spoke to them. Never, they said. Whether they were being turned off a bus and left to walk two miles home because they had lost the money for their fare, whether they were being mugged, or whether they and their friends were being appallingly rowdy in the back seats, no one ever intervened. For much of the time that our children are in a public space, they are experiencing neither the support nor the sanctions of a wider society. They are being left to themselves.

'Such enforced neglect must have a negative effect on children's attitudes. If the adults you encounter every day do not return your smiles, do not dust your knees when you fall over, or do not help you when you are lost, and if you later discover that all of them are to be regarded as potential threats, then why should you grow up to care about their feelings when you chuck rubbish into their front garden or vomit into their hedge? What connections have you learned to make with the strangers who surround you?'
'It is a toxic combination, for just as adults have been forced to retreat from a generalised responsibility for socialising the young, so many of the families that retain it have either been disintegrating, or finding themselves so preoccupied with work and their own needs that there is little time left to respond to their children. The evidence of inadequate socialisation is everywhere'.

trees of britain

something I read in Saturday's Guardian seemed to imply there were only 39 kinds of tree native to Britain, which seemed a low number, and which made it even more pathetic that I can't identify any with any certainty. I blame growing up in Lewis. This Wikipedia entry lists 32 (38 if you include the large shrubs). For an online, user-updated source, Wikipedia is usually pretty reliable, and determining 'nativity' is an inexact science.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

what are the chances of that happening?

No material errors can account for the wizardry displayed by my husband's phone when he answered it last weekend at a family party. He didn't recognise the caller's voice, so asked who it was. It was Kevin, looking for his brother, Ian. My husband said he wasn't Ian and he didn't know anyone called Kevin. The caller gave Ian's surname. My husband thought it was a joke, or a virus. There was a man across the room with that very name. He called to him. Did he have a brother called Kevin? "It's a wind-up," said Ian. But it wasn't. The telephone number of my husband's mobile had been Ian's 10 years ago and Kevin had never updated it. He'd dialled it, and the man to whom it had been allocated not only knew his brother but was standing feet away from him. What were the chances of that?
- Barbara Toner, p28, Guardian, Saturday 19 November 2005.

oil, cocoa, scams

Internet scams are thought to be Nigeria's third-largest source of hard currency after oil and cocoa.
- p28, Guardian, 19 November 2005.

Sunday, 20 November 2005

knock knock

'Knock knock.'
'Who's there?'
'Control freak. *Now you say "Control freak who?"*'

- joke told by Ben Schott, Guardian, 12 November 2005.

aren't they lovely when they're asleep?

- where does she get her energy from?
- I think she saps it from us.

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

stay-at-home dads

One set of figures found by the pressure group Fathers Direct suggested there were just 445 stay-at-home dads in 1986, while the current total is now estimated at 21,000.
- The Guardian, 8 October 2005.

soap opera moral values

'... There's a tablet of commandments in soap opera (Lou Beale has them with her, I imagine, on Mount Walford) - a set of liberal values. "Be true to yourself"; "talk about your feelings"; "learn to forgive and move on"; "accept difference"; and "you're still family even after the murder/arson/substance abuse". Most of the plots of the soaps are generated when one of the characters strays from these commandments and the others rush around the Street or Square or Village trying to get them back living by these liberal values until - whoops! - another character slips and the game is on again. And again and again. The message is clear: learn these values or be ostracised by your community and banished to panto in Crewe.

'This teaching of moral values is spreading across the TV drama spectrum. The wards of Holby City now live by the same principles, as do the cops at Sun Hill. Even Billie and the Doctor had to learn this time around, in a way that Tom Baker would never have done, that "Daleks have feelings too", and "you can travel in time but you mustn't forget your family". It seems there's nowhere in time or space, or the TV schedule, that can fully escape what they call in American sitcom script meetings "hugs and learning".

'Which is odd, given that the philosophers tell us we're living in a morally relativistic age, an age when TV programmers like to scoff at the Rada vowels and patronising tone of previous eras of television. In fact TV drama today has a model of the perfect citizen it wants us to be: a liberal, sensitive, communicative person. And it wants to teach far more than drama ever did in the days of my tutor with the black polo neck. ...'

- Mark Ravenhill in The Guardian, 14 November 2005.

Interesting to see a non-Christian make the same point as Christians often do, though from a different angle.

Sven's English

'Sven's command of the English language is not as good as what it could be.'
- Trevor Francis on Radio Five Live, quoted in The Guardian, 10 October 2005.

the rabbi's chicken

I've always found it impossible to read the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer set in the European Jewish ghettos of the early 20th century because I'm too aware of the horror that is about to descend on the bickering inhabitants and find myself internally yelling, 'It doesn't matter who stole the Rabbi's chicken! Just get out of Warsaw, evil is coming!'
- Alexei Sayle, Radio Times, 10 September 2005.

what are chips made of?

'Research carried out for the foundation reveals the reality of young people's knowledge of food: more than one in three eight- to 14-year-olds do not know chips are made from potatoes. In a survey of 1,000 children, one in 10 thought chips were made mainly of oil, while others suggested eggs, flour and even apples. The 36% in the dark about chips were matched by 37% who failed to identify cheese's origins in milk.'

- The Guardian, 7 November 2005.

selection of the pupil by the school

'Why school-selection exams are unfair' - The Guardian, 10 November 2005.

'The prime minister has repeatedly promised that there will be no return to selection based on ability for secondary schools in England, but in many parts of the country current practice is entirely different from the government's rhetoric. As Fiona Millar, the ex-Blair adviser, has argued so cogently, the government's emphasis on choice has so far meant selection of the pupil by the school, not the other way around. ...

'Life involves many lotteries, but like many parents, I would have preferred my children to have avoided this one. They have not done so, which makes me think that Millar is right - bog-standard local comprehensives, adequately funded, might be preferable to the manifest unfairness we still see in Britain's schools today.'

wrong type of leaves

Notoriously, the arrival of the wrong type of leaves on the line was once blamed for rail delays. Now there seems to be a muddle over just who should clear up which leaves in a Cornish seaside town.

Cornwall county council is more than happy to pick up wet leaves from the streets of Newquay, but will not clear dry ones because it says they are the responsibility of the borough council, Restormel. It all appears to be down to what a fallen leaf really is - and when a fallen leaf becomes a dangerous leaf.

Richard Mauger, area surveyor for the county council, said dry leaves were "litter" - Restormel's responsibility. But if the leaves became wet and could present a hazard to motorists or passers-by, the county council's sweepers would act. "Wet leaves are hazardous and that is our problem," said Mr Mauger.

The Guardian of 10 November 2005.

what is adequate compensation for grief?

Very interesting article in The Guardian of 12 October 2005 on bereavement compensation.

'... there is something troublingly illogical about the demand for more. Parents say: "No amount of money can ever compensate me for the death of my child." That is heartbreakingly true. Then: "But what they're offering is far too little."
So if £11,000 is inadequate, how much would be acceptable? How do we calculate the amount? Should it be means-tested? Should it depend on how many other children the parents have or, in the case of a spouse claiming compensation, how long the marriage has lasted? Or should we return to the first part of the parents' cry, and decide that if no amount of money can compensate for their grief, then it serves no purpose to pay them anything? The money saved could then go instead to survivors of the atrocities, who may need help for the rest of their lives.

'We could delve even deeper and ask, philosophically and logically, why a mother and father whose child has died of some dreadful disease should miss out on compensation for their grief, while children dying as a result of a crime trigger off payments to their parents. Is either grief the greater? ...'

Monday, 14 November 2005

nee naw

The blog of a despatcher in the London Ambulance Service control room.

Extract from a recent entry:
My desert-island, all-time, top ten most memorably rubbish, pointless and waste-of-time 999 calls, in no particular order.

1. “There’s a bee in my front room!” (Had it stung anyone? No. Was anyone there allergic to bees? No. It was a straightforward case of Bee In Front Room…)
2. “I’ve stubbed my toe!”
3. “I had a dream my friend has been shot. I tried to ring him but no-one answered. Can you go round and make sure he is okay?” (It was 2am, I’m not surprised no-one answered…)
4. “My cat has scratched me!”
5. “I’ve just got a new SIM card, and I don’t know the number. Could you tell me, please?”
6. “My boyfriend has a boil on his bottom and can’t sit down!” (What made this one worse was the fact that the caller kept ringing back every ten minutes bemoaning the fact we hadn’t sent an ambulance yet.)
7. “There’s a rat in my kitchen!”
8. “My child has stuck a pea up his nose!”
9. “I think I’m going to get an abscess in my mouth!” (He hadn’t actually got it yet… I guess he was thinking that prevention was better than cure!)
10. “I had an accident last week and was taken to hospital by ambulance. I’ve just been discharged, and there is blood all over the carpet. Could you come round and clean it up?”

a mind to murder

A couple of interesting things about this book by PD James from 1963:

- it's just a couple of hundred pages long, while her more recent ones are more than twice that. It seems to me that people are losing the art of writing short novels - they're so often big, fat flabby things nowadays. Perhaps that's what people want; perhaps the print is bigger.

- it's set in a psychiatric clinic, and the two methods of treatment principally mentioned, apart from analysis, are LSD and ECT.


Old line, new to me: Behind every great man there stands an astonished mother-in-law.

thou shalt do no murder 2

In the AV, 'thou shalt do no murder' appears once rather than 'thou shalt not kill', in Matthew 19:18; presumably there is a difference in the original. Probably more relevantly in this context, 'Thou shalt not murder' is how the Book of Common Prayer renders the commandment.

In searching about this on the internet I came across a site by someone who thinks that the move to 'do no murder' is a cover up to disguise the fact that we should not kill any creature, and so should all be vegetarians, as Jesus was. The loaves and the fishes? Why, surely you have heard of the Fish Plant - a sea plant from which a kind of little bread roll was made. That's what the 'fishes' in the feeding miracles was: a different kind of bread. Presumably this is also what Jesus ate twice after the resurrection, although he doesn't go into that (nor Jesus's lack of condemnation for some of his apostles' former career as fishermen). Funny old church.

Sunday, 13 November 2005

the early days of a better nation

'Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation' - usually attributed to Alasdair Gray, though it may have been an epigram in one of his books, said by someone else. Perhaps I'm simply not to prepared to accept he's up to crafting such a fine statement. I do like it.

From a slightly different angle, I often think of it in relation to our congregation. I especially imagine our minister at his event marking thirty years in the ministry, and how the blanks might be filled in in the paragraph about his first congregation. (Perhaps it'll still be his current congregation.) Will it be a paragraph of hard knocks, difficult lessons, reality hitting, struggles, and so on; or a paragraph of support, nurturing, encouragement, mutual growth and learning, and so on? I find it helpful and challenging to think about that. Work as if you live in the early days of a better congregation.

what the Bible doesn't say

- that Methuselah was the oldest man in the Bible (or who ever lived). His is the oldest age recorded in the Bible.
- that Simeon in Luke 2 was very old.
- that Jesus was angry when he cleansed the Temple (although that act is typically given as a key example of 'righteous anger').

thou shalt do no murder

The church we rent, like many other old church building, especially Anglican I think, has the ten commandments written on the wall. And like at least one other I've seen, rather than having 'thou shalt not kill' it has 'thou shalt do no murder', which is interesting. I'm not sure if it's sourced from a translation other than the AV, or if it's meant to convey a different nuance from the AV rendering.

more on white poppies

For some, the poppy is an uncomfortable symbol. Some pacifists feel that wearing a red poppy legitimises the very idea of war. The Peace Pledge Union has been involved in producing white poppies since the 1930s, although its production - around 35,000 a year - is a tiny seedling compared to the British Legion’s strapping specimen: 34 million red poppies are manufactured each year.
- The Guardian, 9 November 2005, G2 section.

the little ships of manhattan

We need to break organisational strangleholds on the idea of disaster-response. On 9/11, an estimated half-million people fled Manhattan in one of the largest water-borne evacuations in history. How did that happen? Barges, fishing boats, pleasure boats, ferries - all manner of watercraft carried people to safety. It wasn’t driven by an official plan. No one was in charge. Ordinary people, though terrified, boarded the vessels in an orderly way. As a rescue system, it was flexible, decentralised, and massively effective. As Sam Nunn observed at the end of the Dark Winter experiment: ‘The federal government has to have the cooperation of the American people. There is no federal force out there that can require 300,000,000 people to take steps they don’t want to take.
- article by Lee Clarke on disaster planning, The Guardian, 9 November 2005, G2, p15.

a couple of more recent minor celeb spots

(Rory McGrath was years ago)

- a couple of weeks ago, Dermot O'Leary in the back door of John Lewis one weekday morning, apologising as we manoeuvred around him.

- a couple of months ago, the guy who played the producer in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (he also had a small part in Nathan Barley), outside Fopp (on an earlier Fopp trip I might have crossed the road with Daniel Craig, but he's got a pretty generic look - could have been anybody. But that's top secret agents for you).

rory mcgrath

Saw Rory McGrath on QI, clearly very intelligent and really very knowledgeable about a wide range of things. Yet he makes his career in low smut and innuendo. Funny old world. We saw him once, as we were leaving an Arsenal match.

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

this little chair

I was watching the first of a two-part documentary tonight on BBC1 - The Last Tommy, a documentary featuring some of the few surviving British veterans from the first world war. One man, who went over the top six times, said that each time he’d stop for a moment and pray a little prayer. ‘“Dear Lord, I am going into grave danger. Help me to act like a man, and take me back safely. Amen.” That little prayer brought me through safely, to this little chair.’

a minute's silence

We were talking about the minute’s silence on Remembrance Sundays. From a Christian point of view it’s an odd thing; according to Newsround, it was originally instituted by King George V on 11 November 1919, who made the request so that ‘the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead’. The roll of honour in the church we rent is headed ‘the glorious dead’. The minute’s silence wasn’t intended as a time of prayer, despite being instituted when our country was supposedly more ‘Christian’, but that’s probably the best way to deal with it today. Also, people tend to remember/pray for combatants and civilians of all sides, not just British servicemen, and current wars and the desire for peace, rather than just past conflicts.

Remembrance Day and poppy-wearing, used to be objected to by some people as glorifying war; that doesn’t seem to be the case any more. (You used to be able to get white poppies to demonstrate your commitment to peace, but I haven’t seen any of those in recent years either.)

no comments

During Gulf War Jr I used to read an interesting weblog by a US serviceman based over there. At least, it was interesting - full of insights into the day-to-day experience of serving behind front lines in a war zone - until he began to read his comments, whereupon the posts became comments and responses to pro/anti-war/patriotism comments. It turned from an interesting solo piece to a tedious discussion forum.

That's not exactly why I disabled comments on my weblog, and you can have comments without it descending into an unpleasant message board (I'm tempted to make a link there to an example, but I won't; suffice it to say that it's depressing that a Millwall FC message board can be more civilised than a Christian message board), but that disabling has helped me to keep my subtitle ('just notes to myself, really') in mind.

commander king-hall presents listen with mother

Kids programming isn't what it used to be. During the war, one Commander King-Hall began an edition of 'Listen With Mother' thus: 'Good afternoon. I will start by announcing the result of the poetry competition. I'm sorry to have to say that out of about 2,000 entries that were sent in, I couldn't find one that in my opinion deserves the great honour of being read out.'
- preview of a R4 documentary in Time Out, 14-21 September 2005.

tamsin greig

TO: You live in London. Why do you stay?
TG: I grew up here, about a mile from where I live now in Kensal Green. I got to Birmingham University and vowed I'd never return, then crawled my way back. There's something about London I just can't let go of. I can't imagine wanting to move out. I experience a sense of community, there's always a conversation to be had. We go to church and the kids go to school here. Maybe living in London means I can indulge my tapas appetite for people.
TO: Which church do you go to?
TG: It's an Anglican church on the road we used to live on with lots of Caribbean ladies in hats. I didn't grow up a churchgoer. I had a moment...
TO: What was the moment?
TG: I got to 30 and thought: I've done everything wrong. I've done it the world's way and I'm not happy. So I started going to church secretly. If you go, you're a fundamentalist freak, especially post-9/11. Although the Church of England are seen as moderate liberal jokesters, I think if you have a faith, it *is* fundamental. Yet we've coined the term fundamentalist to make it 'other', to be able to say 'that's wrong'. I remember when I first started going it became a dinner-party topic. One friend came up and said, 'But we just don't understand it, Tam, it's just sooo uncool.'

- part of an interview in Time Out with Tamsin Greig (who we've watched in Black Books, Green Wing and Love Soup, and Bethan doubtless heard on The Archers), 21-28 September 2005.

is the BBC full of hatred of America?

Is the BBC full of hatred of America?' Interesting little article from The Guardian of 19 September 2005. Concluding para: 'Post-Hutton, the BBC does not have the usual advantage of the man in the dock - it has to prove itself to be innocent, rather than the other way round. But there is a lesson for Tony Blair, too: be careful what you say to septuagenarian media magnates. If there is one unquestionable source of institutional bias, it is surely Rupert Murdoch and his ever biddable media outlets.'

Monday, 7 November 2005

you don't have music in your church

It annoys me when people say that we don't have music in our denomination (sometimes said even by people in our denomination): we do have music in our church services, it's musical instruments we don't have.

city size

Plato reckoned a city should be no bigger than the number of citizens who can be addressed by a single voice.
- in a book review, p19, Saturday Guardian Review, 24 September 2005.

Gives an interesting perspective on how big places described in the Bible as cities might have been (though without the context it's possible that they were much bigger in Plato's day and he was saying they should be smaller).

God doesn't change our personalities

One of Henrietta's wise sayings is that God doesn't generally change our personalities when we become Christians - we become shy Christians, or gregarious Christians, or whatever. Which is why she will talk to people in buses and cafes, and I never will.

songs which I have listened to on 'repeat' recently

(apart from ones I was trying to learn the words of)

a sailor's life
the inner light
within you without you
oxford town
desolation row

Sometimes buying a greatest hits CD reveals that the only song you know someone for is really the only good song they ever did. Exhibit A: Karl Denver, Wimoweh.

Oxford Town is possibly the most peculiar mix of grim lyrics and chirpy tune I've ever heard. (Crash Test Dummies Mmm Mmm Mmm is the same in reverse: a beautiful mournful tune tied to lyrics about the oddities of fellow pupils in schooldays.)

George Harrison once said something along the lines that when he first heard Indian music he felt like he had come home, and I kind of know what he meant. I guess I'm one of the few people (apart from him, presumably) who thinks that Within You Without You is the best song on Sgt Pepper's. And you can see how the lyrics of The Inner Light might appeal to a boy in Lewis: 'Without going out of my door, I can know all things on Earth; Without looking out of my window, I can know the ways of Heaven. The farther one travels, The less one knows, The less one really knows.'

lawrence dallaglio the choirboy

'Wasps hardman Lawrence Dallaglio has been unmasked as an angelic choirboy who sang on one of Tina Turner's biggest hits. The former England captain - all 6ft 4ins and 18 stone of him - formed part of the school ensemble that provided backing on We Don't Need Another Hero in 1985.' (BBC)

Sunday, 30 October 2005

Day of the Triffids - book, bookmark, film

I borrowed The Day of the Triffids from the library the day before we went on our holiday to Wales earlier this month. But I didn’t read any of the book there. When I did read it I found in it a receipt for petrol bought at the Shell garage in Crickhowell on 6 April 2003. We drove through Crickhowell on the way to and from our holiday house.

The book was good. Coincidentally, the old film of the book was on telly the day we came back; it was quite different from the book. The film 28 Days Later was much more like the book, in fact.

the latest in a long line of thin wedge-ends

I bought a CD primarily because it had a cover version of a Beatles song for which I didn't already own a cover version. The Pixies at the BBC. Wild Honey Pie. I mean, come on: Wild Honey Pie. Got to get it when you find it.

it's what he would have wanted

‘It’s what he would have wanted.’ Often said in relation to plans and events in the aftermath of someone’s death. In fact, what he would have wanted, nine times out of ten, was not to have died.

jumping off the edge

It hasn’t happened often - I can only think of twice - but a few weeks ago when I was precenting I sang the first note and realised I couldn’t remember what the next note should be. I knew the line descended, so just went down in the hope that by the time I’d reached the end of the line I’d have crossed the path of the actual tune. That worked out.

Sunday, 23 October 2005

darby crash

The day is particularly vivid for me because Darby Crash, the singer of The Germs, was always threatening to kill himself and make a whole media blitz. He finally managed to do it the same day Lennon was murdered, but, of course, hardly anyone noticed.
- Jesse Malin, NY singer-songwriter, in feature on death of John Lennon, 8 December 1980, Uncut October 2005.

kate and delia

Kate Bush is back, and looking very like Delia Smith. It's a funny old world. Delius willl always be Delia from now on.

dark horse

My brother made it to the final of the solo traditional competition, at the first time of trying, at last week's Mod, which is pretty impressive. I managed to hear him online on Radio nan Gaidheal. Most people had no idea he could sing, it seems.

Monday, 17 October 2005

'done the born-again thing'

It’s always been interesting to me to think of Dylan’s Christian phase. I’d done the born-again thing when I was about 17. There was a youth movement I got wound up in until it started to really bug me that some of my friends were going to heaven and some weren’t. I became what they call a backslider pretty quick.
Sheryl Crow, in Mojo, September 2005

neil sedaka's bottle

I interviewed Neil Sedaka once and asked if he still writes songs. He said, ‘Well, the new ones just weren’t as good as the ones I wrote years ago. So I stopped.’ Takes a bit of bottle to decide that.
- Gideon Coe, Word, September 2005

Bryn Bedw scrabble

Sunday: Bethan 294, Iain 284. Total 578. I got a word on two double word scores, and also went out with counties. Bethan won on last go.
Monday: Iain 307, Bethan 274. Total 581. I went out with dunlins.
Tuesday: Iain 300, Bethan 294. Total 594. I won on last go.
Wednesday: Bethan 347, Iain 327. Total 674. I went out with loaders.
Thursday: Iain 363, Bethan 287. Total 650. I went out with rambles. My last two words were fairly big triple word scores, which largely explains the gap.
Friday: Bethan 279, Iain 275. Total 554. Bethan won on letters left over.

Friday, 23 September 2005

open house, closed lift

It was Open House last weekend.

On Saturday we visited: Blue Sky House, 405 Kennington Road (a 60s building recently renovated for a firm of solicitors); Lilian Baylis Technology School, Kennington Lane; National Theatre Studio, The Cut; Barons Place, off Waterloo Road (low-cost prefab housing development); Friendship House, Belvedere Place, off Borough Road (student accommodation); 1-4 Swan Mead, off Tower Bridge Road (an artist’s residence/gallery); 67 Grange Walk (a c1690 Queen Anne house, residential); and Weston Williamson Architects Offices, Tanner Street (off Tower Bridge Road; with a roof terrace).

Eight sites looks quite impressive, but it was mostly places which didn’t take too long to go around, and which were self-guided.

Our first venue took a little longer than expected, though, as we got stuck in the lift at the start of our tour and had to be rescued by firemen. It was a wee lift for 6, and 8 of us plus the younger generation squeezed in, the architect who was guiding us saying it would be fine. It stopped just about a foot short of the top, third floor. We mostly took a stoical British approach - possibly the fact that a small child was there, and behaving extraordinarily well, meant people didn’t get tetchy. The most agitated were the guide and another woman, both continental, I think. Our mobiles didn’t work, and the alarm button in the lift just got an Orange answering machine, which wasn’t very impressive. If there had been no one else in the building I’d have felt rather more concerned, but it would only be a matter of time before someone noticed and just a little longer before someone got us out. It turned out that the alarm which sounded loudly when we pressed the alarm button wasn’t being heard outside, and there was no indication at reception when someone pressed the alarm button; but someone eventually heard us making a commotion, when they took the stairs for the next tour since the lift wouldn’t come to them. They still didn’t phone the fire brigade straight away, despite our encouragement - they were looking for a key to open the lift, I think - but when we made it clear a second time that they really should ring the fire brigade, they did; and the firemen were there about eight minutes later, and got us out without any bother. Then we did the tour. We were in the lift for about half an hour.

Bethan has now been rescued by the coastguard and the fire brigade.

Monday, 19 September 2005

more on benedictions; sermons online

As part of a baptism service yesterday morning, after the baby was baptised, all the congregation stood and said the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), praying blessing for the baby, which was pretty nifty I thought.

In the evening, being at home, I tried listening to one of the sermons on our website, one of those which we'd missed having been away a couple of weekends recently. I streamed rather than downloaded; and while I did have 20-40 pauses for 'rebuffering', because my connection wasn't fast enough (upgrading to broadband is looking increasingly necessary, not least for downloading massive software updates), there was no stuttering, they picked up exactly where they left off, the sound quality was good, and I got to the end without any problem. I'll do that again.

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

east on the central line

Catch London's central line east from the City and life expectancy declines a year for every one of the next six stops.
- extract from book review in Guardian Review of Saturday 10 September.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

faith does breed charity

Very interesting article in yesterday's Guardian by Roy Hattersley, headed 'Faith does breed charity: We atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings.'

On Hurricane Katrina relief work: 'The Salvation Army has been given a special status as provider-in-chief of American disaster relief. But its work is being augmented by all sorts of other groups. Almost all of them have a religious origin and character. Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations - the sort of people who not only scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil.'

Concluding para: 'The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.'

And more like it in between. Like 'Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists.'

Roy Hattersley, of course, isn't your average atheist, having written biographies of John Wesley and William & Catherine Booth.

Monday, 12 September 2005

yellow submarine

Courtesy of my ebay agent (hello mum) I now have the full official Beatles career on CD. I've never owned Yellow Submarine in any format, and I guess the four tracks which only appear there are the least heard even by fans (who are likely to have the Past Masters collections of non-album tracks before Yellow Submarine OST, although Yellow Submarine Songtrack may make a difference now). Hey Bulldog is on the Rock & Roll Music compilation (which I had on tape), and a version of Only A Northern Song is on Anthology 2 (which I have on CD). So, step forward All Together Now and It's All Too Much, and welcome. I've heard them all before, of course, but it's good to hear the George Harrison pair in particular properly.

Sunday, 11 September 2005


another thing that I've thought about over the years in the pews:

In benedictions, ministers seem to vary in whether they say 'you' or 'us' (sometimes the same minister uses both). 'You' is usually the accurate quote from the Bible, but always feels a bit priestly to me.

(Which is similar to a reason I've never taken communion in an Anglican service - too priestly in delivery. The answer to the question, 'Do you believe in women priests?', being, 'Women priests? I don't believe in men priests.' Which isn't to say I don't believe they exist. 'Do you believe in...' is an interesting construction.)

But then, why shouldn't a minister pray for blessing on his congregation, without oversensitive people imagining they're implying they're bestowing the blessing? I think too much about things that really don't matter. And if asked on a Monday, I wouldn't be able to tell you whether a minister had said 'you' or 'us' the day before.

minor irritations in churches

little things that have made my back itch where I can't quite reach in churches for years:

- when a minister says 'as you know' or 'you'll remember the story where' when referring to some incident from the Bible which he takes literally as read, which may be aimed at not making the experienced Bible readers feel patronised, but I imagine causes less experienced Bible readers to feel excluded.

- when a minister indicates that he hopes the congregation can cope with the surprising/radical/left-field approach he's taking to expounding/interpreting a passage, which generally turns out to be something unremarkable or familiar which the congregation easily takes in its stride; usually a visiting minister at a congregation he thinks is more conservative / less cutting edge than he is.

31 Songs - part 2

[Item on 'Frankie Teardrop', by Suicide, a song of 'genuinely terrifying industrial noise' telling an appalling tale]

It's a strange critical phenomenon that only works of art that are 'edgy', or 'scary', or 'dangerous', are regarded as in any way noteworthy. In my newspaper today, there is an interview with the filmmaker Todd Solondz, whose film Happiness was about paedophilia and provided, it says here, 'a lacerating insight into the hypocrisy of the American middle classes' - an insight I missed, I'm afraid, when I saw the film. ... And a rapper called Bubba Sparxxx is taken to task by a journalist because 'talking about your rural roots isn't exactly edgy, is it?' (Well, no. But that, it seems to me, is a flaw inherent in most conversational topics, unless you are heroically single-minded about it, and wax lyrical about the Nazis or terrorist atrocities every time you go out to dinner. ...)

[Critical interest is excited by edginess and danger because reviewers hear so much of the same that something different stands out, and because reviewer are young]

... [music reviewers are mostly young] which is why they tend to get very excited about anyone with a whiff of hard-drug use about them - hard-drug use is frequently misinterpreted by rock critics as a valuable life experience. ...

Me, I need no convincing that life is scary. I'm forty-four, and it has got quite scary enough already - I don't need anyone trying to jolt me out of my complacency. Friends have started to die of incurable diseases, leaving loved ones, in some cases young childen, behind. ...

'All these years later and Suicide still feels like a shot in the head,' an enthusiastic reviewer remarked when their first album was re-released; a couple of decades ago, that would have been enough to make me want to buy it. ... Now, however, I have come to the conclusion that I don't want to be shot in the head, and so I will avoid any work of art that sets out to re-create that particular experience for me. It's a peculiarly modern phenomenon, this obsession with danger. And, in the end, it's impossible not to conclude that it has been born out of peacetime and prosperity and over-education. Would the same critic have told someone coming back from the Somme that a piece of music 'feels like a shot in the head', one wonders. ...

... 'We are all Frankies', Suicide concluded at the end of their magnum opus, but they didn't mean it, really, unless they were dafter than they let on. (In what sense have we killed our families and then turned the gun on ourselves, even metaphorically?) And if we were all Frankies, what would we rather listen to? Blood-curdling re-creations of our miserable and unbearable existence, or something that offered a brief but precious temporary respite? That's the real con of shock-art: it makes out that it's democratic, but it's actually only for those who can afford it. And some of us, as we get older, simply find that we don't have that much courage to spare any more. Good luck to you if you have, because it means that you have managed to avoid more or less everything that life has to throw at you, but don't try to make me feel morally or intellectually inferior.

[The 'what would we rather listen to' thought is the same one as at the conclusion of Sullivan's Travels, where the would-be director of gritty realism tale 'Brother, Where Art Thou?' realises through rubbing shoulders with the masses that what they need are comedies rather than dramas reflecting their plight.]

I can't afford to be a pop snob any more, and if there is a piece of music out there that has the ability to move me, then I want to hear it, no matter who's made it. ... You're either for music or against it, and being for it means embracing anyone who's any good.

The pop snob's dismissal of people like poor Jackson [Browne] would be forgivable if everything we spent our snobbiest years listening to was of comparable worth, but of course most of it was the most terrible (and ephemeral) rubbish. Recently, Mojo magazine ran their list of the 100 Greatest Punk Singles, and it would be fair to say that probably eighty of them were and remain simply awful - derivative, childish, tuneless even within the context of punk, nothing I would ever want to hear again. And yet at the time Iwould have taken Half Man Half Biscuit or The Users over Jackson Browne any day of the week.

are you the one who was to come?

Alan Black at work made an interesting point talking about the passage where John the Baptist, in prison, sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?' We are much more prepared these days to countenance the possibility that one of such spiritual stature as John could have had doubts, whereas in the past the episode has often been explained by saying he had no doubts but it was for his disciples' sakes that he sent them to ask.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

what good are the arts?

Carey offers quotes to show that the ideas which sustained the Holocaust (Hitler: "Really outstanding geniuses permit themselves no concern for normal human beings") come from the same intellectual tradition that produced the Bloomsbury group (Clive Bell: "All artists are aristocrats ... Why should artists bother about the fate of humanity?").

In pre-industrial societies, Carey argues, art was "spread through the whole community". But once the word "aesthetics" was coined in the mid-18th century, it became the preserve of a priestly caste. To Kant, art was good insofar as it accessed a "supersensible" realm of beauty and truth, and only certain kinds of artist - geniuses - were capable of that. Kant's view of art, as developed by Hegel and Schopenhauer, also required that the audience for art (readers, spectators and concert-goers) be unusually gifted. To expect the blind, striving creatures who composed the mass of humanity to appreciate art was clearly futile. The best that could be hoped was that, as one philanthropist involved in setting up the National Gallery in London put it, art might "wean them from polluting and debasing habits".

- Interesting review of John Carey's book, What good are the Arts?, in Guardian Review of Saturday 11 June 2005.

the war room

I've read in a couple of places that when Ronald Reagan became President and moved into the White House he wanted to be shown the War Room, which didn't actually exist outside Dr Strangelove. Pictured here.

Sunday, 4 September 2005

the dangers of drugs; countless thousands

My "partying" [at university] ... provided a long-term social circle and a series of unforgettable occasions, including a five-piece band playing in my bed at one point and the educational experience of being the only sober person in a room full of students on magic mushrooms. They dressed up the kitchen equipment as the Stone Roses - a large broom was Ian Brown, I believe - and found it hilarious, which taught me more than any fact sheet about the dangers of drugs.
When it comes to the indifference of the young, as my grandfather used to say: 'Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands yawn.'
- Flic Everett, Guardian, Saturday 27 August 2005

The latter sounded like an amended quote, and googling told me it was from a Burns poem (Man was made to mourn, which I'd never come across before), the original being 'countless thousands mourn'.

'never said that'

It consists of about 250 paragraphs (this is a very rough count indeed), over about 70 pages (that's a bit more accurate), each beginning, or almost beginning, with the words 'I heard'. So, for example: 'I heard Donald Rumsfeld say that there was "no question" that American troops would be "welcomed": "Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and al-Qaida would not let them do."' And, 40-odd pages later: 'I heard a reporter say to Donald Rumsfeld: "Before the war in Iraq, you ... said they would welcome us with open arms." And I heard Rumsfeld interrupt him: "Never said that. Never did. You may remember it well, but you're thinking of somebody else. You can't find, anywhere, me saying anything like those things you just said I said."'
- Nicholas Lezard's review of What I Heard About Iraq, by Eliot Weinberger; Guardian, 28 May 2005.

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

demand and supply; tom and jerry

During the ten months which I spent in the neighbourhood of Niddry Mill, I saw neither minister nor missionary. But if the village furnished no advantageous grounds on which to fight the battle of religious Establishments - seeing that the Establishment was of no manner of use there - it furnished ground quite as unsuitable for the class of Voluntaries who hold that the supply of religious instruction should, as in the case of all other commodities, be regulated by the demand. Demand and supply were admirably well balanced in the village of Niddry: there was no religious instruction, and no wish or desire for it.
- p309, Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters

Narratives of their adventures [workmates who spent their wages on weekends of drink and debauchery], however, would then begin to circulate through the squad - adventures commonly of the ‘Tom and Jerry’ type; and always, the more extravagant they were, the greater was the admiration which they excited.
- p310, Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters
- an intriguing Tom and Jerry reference.

and then do nothing

Twaddle, rubbish, and gossip is what people want, not action; that is what they think interesting. In Aus meinem Leben Goethe relates that The Sorrows of Werther created a great sensation and after that time, he says, he never again knew the peace and obscurity which he had known before, because he was drawn into all kinds of relationships and friendships. How interesting and exciting small talk is! Nothing would have been easier than to have prevented that if Goethe had really had the courage, had he genuinely loved ideas more than acquaintances. Anyone with Goethe’s powers could easily have kept people away. but in fact, soft and sensitive as he was, he did not wish it - but he likes to relate it as a story. People like to hear about it because it relieves them from action. If someone were to get up and preach, saying: once, in my early youth I had faith, but then I grew busy in the world, made many acquaintances, was knighted, and since that time I have never really had time to collect my thoughts - people would find the sermon very touching and would enjoy listening to it. If one wishes to succeed, the secret of life is to chatter freely about all one wishes to do and how one is always being prevented - and then do nothing.
- p104, Kierkegaard’s Journals

puppets and blood and films of eyeballs

But what really makes that album [The Soft Bulletin, by The Flaming Lips] so special to me is the whole concert around it that I saw at Reading in 1999. I'd never seen anything like it. I thought you just had to stand onstage and shyly announce each song title. Then Wayne Coyne came on with puppets and blood and films of eyeballs and all this stuff and you think, hang on a minute, you're basically turning it into a church service. It was the best thing I'd ever seen, and still have ever seen.
- Chris Martin, Uncut, September 2005

The first thought is, what kind of church services has Chris Martin been to? The second thought is, that reflects quite a positive view of church services.

Friday, 26 August 2005

31 Songs - part 1

There are ... around twenty separate Bob Dylan CDs on my shelf; in fact I own more recordings by Dylan than by any other artist. Some people - my mother, say, who may not own twenty CDs in total - would say that I am a Dylan fanatic, but I know Dylan fanatics, and they would not recognize me as one of them. (I have a friend who stays logged on to the Dylan website Expecting Rain most of the day at work - as if the website were CNN and Dylan's career were the Middle East - and owns 130 Dylan albums, including a fourteen-CD box of every single thing Dylan recorded during 1965 apart from - get this - Highway 61 Revisited, the only thing he recorded during 1965 that sane people would want to own. He's pretty keen.)
- p46

'All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,' Walter Pater said, in one of the only lines of criticism that has ever meant anything to me (if I could write music, I'd never have bothered with books); music is such a pure form of self-expression, and lyrics, because they consist of words, are so impure, and songwriters, even great ones like [Aimee] Mann, find that, even though they can produce both, words will always let you down. One half of her art is aspiring towards the condition of the other half, and that must be weird, to feel so divinely inspired and so fallibly human, all at the same time.
- p58

Songs about drugs - especially songs that purport to be about girls but are 'really' about drugs - don't have the same appeal when you are no longer at school and there's no one you can explain the hidden meaning to. And jokes never really stand the test of airtime. (I have always felt slightly ambivalent about Randy Newman's work, brilliant though much of it is. How many times do you want to listen to a song satirizing bigotry, or the partiality of American congressional politics? Listening to Randy Newman over and over again is like reading The Grapes of Wrath twice a year: however much you care about the plight of America's migrant workers in the 1930s, there is surely only a certain amount of your soul and mental energy you can devote to them.)
- p60
- Nick Hornby, 31 Songs; Penguin, 2003.

the birth of the spiritualist movement

Would you believe that modern spiritualism stemmed from a prank by two mischievous American sisters in 1848? That's according to Science and the Seance, which charts the development of spiritualist practice from the 19th century. In New York State, sisters Maggie and Kate Fox, aged 15 and 11, claimed mysterious rapping noises in their house emanated from a murdered pedlar. When all attempts to expose trickery failed, they became famous, hundreds of other mediums started popping up and the spiritualist movement was born. Within five years, the first spiritualist churches reached Britain. But 40 years later, Maggie admitted the noises were nothing more than the sisters covertly popping their toe joints!
- Radio Times, 27 August 2005.

giving up at scapa flow

The British Navy believed [Scapa Flow harbour, in WWII] was impregnable. Three torpedoes from a German U-boat told them otherwise, and 833 of the 1,200 men and boys on board died. Two survivors return to the base for the first time in 65 years. One of them remembered swimming alongside a shipmate in the freezing water. 'You're almost in despair, really. You know you can't swim forever. In the end he said, 'Oh, bollocks to this,' and disappeared underwater. That frightened me more than anything else did.' But he kept swimming.
- Guardian, 15 August 2005, TV review of Coast.

specialist subject: stating the obvious

Yesterday's headline in the Evening Standard was, 'Diana's crash *was* an accident'.
Disappointingly, today's headline wasn't, 'Elvis Presley *is* dead'.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

you won't believe this but...

I'm always struck by the number of people who tell me they've always fancied being a writer and would have got round to it if only they'd had the time. They just assume they would have the talent.
- p5

Like myself, Humph [Humphrey Lyttelton] is in his anecdotage and told us that he had been relating for years the story of how he had played outside Buckingham Palace on VE Day. He admitted that he had told that story so often he had no idea whether it was true or not. Two members of his band, devoted radio buffs, tracked down a recording, transcribed on to tape, upon which you can clearly hear him playing his trumpet behind commentator Howard Marshall. Humph said he was thrilled to have confirmation that it did really happen.
- p83

You can't have everything. I mean, where would you put it?
- p102

A strange process takes place in the learning of lines. ... most actors - using the word in the unisex sense - seem to absorb the lines in conjunction with the moves the director gives them. If you're going through a door, you tend to remember the lines you say as you do so. My friend Robert Powell ... told me he was rehearsing a play called Tovarich at Chichester. ... He was appearing with Natalia Makarova, the former ballerina assoluta, who now performs as an actress and singer. ... At the dress rehearsals, he suddenly realised that Makarova wasn't standing where she should be, but behind him. He stopped and asked what she was doing.
'I'm a free spirit, darling; I go where I please,' she replied.
'All right,' said Bob, 'what's your next line?'
She couldn't remember. But once she went back to her original position, the line returned.
- p170

Someone once accused Stephen Fry of patronising them, upon which he put his arm around them and, smiling patiently, said, 'No, no. Let me tell you what patronising *really* means.'
It was also Stephen who met a man who said, 'I wish I had a tenth of your talent.'
Stephen replied, 'Your wish has been granted.'
- p173

[Bud Flanagan] must have sung his theme songs 'Underneath the Arches' and 'Strolling' hundreds of times. I asked him if he ever got tired of them and bored with the endless repetition. 'Of course,' he said, 'but I run a shop and, if the customers come in and I haven't got what they want, I'm out of business.' ...
When I was a young comic, I would sometimes make smart-arsed remarks about the smallness of the audience. An older performer took me to one side. 'Never make fun of them,' he said, 'they're the ones who have come to see you.'
Willie Rushton's favourite pieces of advice were: first, never go to a dentist with blood in his hair; and, secondly, never holiday in a country where they still point at planes.
- p188

[Arthur Askey] developed gangrene and had his leg amputated. I visited him in St Thomas's Hospital. Ever ebullient, he greeted me. He showed me a telegram he had received from an old friend. It read: 'Have got you the part of Long John Silver in the tour of Treasure Island'. Arthur was much amused. Tragically, his condition worsened and he lost his other leg. I went to see him again, desperately putting on a cheerful face. I entered his room. He lay in bed. The sheets were heartbreakingly flat. And he was laughing and said, 'You remember that man who sent me the telegram?' I did. 'He's sent me another one,' he said, and showed it to me. It said: 'Calm down, you've got the job.'
- p192

I was told this joke by a blind man. There was a blind parachutist who did jumps for charity. Someone asked him how he knew when he was getting near the ground. 'The lead on my guide dog goes slack,' he said.
- p194

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders tell the story of giving their autographs to two women at an airport. After assuring them how much they enjoyed their work, the women moved away. As they did so, Dawn and Jennifer heard one say, after looking at the signatures, 'Still none the wiser.'
Michael Parkinson was sitting in a Manchester store, at a book-signing session. Two women stood close by. Finally, after studying him closely, one said to the other, 'He doesn't take daylight, does he?'
- p195

My first employer, David Nixon, told me a story of the early days of What's My Line? on BBC television. One of his fellow panellists was Gilbert Harding, an irascible, gifted man with a huge reputation. They came out of the stage door one night to be confronted by a crowd of autograph hunters. As Gilbert fumbled in his pocket, he heard someone say, "You'd think he'd have a pen.'
The next week, he said to David, 'I'm prepared,' and took out a pen.
They went out through the door and a voice said, 'Look at him with his pen out!'
- p196

- Barry Cryer, You Won't Believe This But...; Virgin, 1999.

When I was at Aberdeen I saw a production of Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard I think, by a company led by Ian McKellen, and part of their thing was that they had no set staging, so the actors moved wherever they felt like it each night.

One summer I stayed in Aberdeen - either before third year or fourth year - working in a fish factory for a few weeks, and I went down to the Festival for three weekends (I'd actually bought tickets for another weekend's worth of shows - I bought all my tickets in advance, it was a meticulously planned operation - but my father suggested I should come home for the Stornoway communions, which I did, and in fact that weekend was when I joined the church. I still have those unused tickets, including one for Mullarkey and Myers, who were a double act. I wonder whatever happened to Mike Myers.). Quite a number of the shows I went to had small audiences - I think the first one I went to (on the first Friday evening after I got off the bus) was a Christian sketch show at which there were only two of us in the audience (me and a psychiatric nurse, Australian if I remember rightly). I remember two comedians treating their small audiences very differently - one American plainly hated it and kept making comments to the offstage fellow comedians, seeking solidarity with them as if the audience were the enemy, while one from Liverpool created his solidarity with us, making us a little gang, saying we should swop addresses, keep in touch and have reunions. The latter, unsurprisingly, was a much more enjoyable experience for everyone concerned.

Sunday, 21 August 2005

dream a little dream of me

So, a CD by Mama Cass. File under M, C or E (Elliot, her surname)? My life is so very complicated.

loneliness won't leave me alone, life going nowhere

One of John's CD reviews in Word kept me awake wondering where I'd heard 'this loneliness won't leave me alone' before, which was a lyric quoted from the CD. In the morning I remembered the tune for the line, but still couldn't place it, so ended up googling it - Dock of the Bay is where I knew it from. Googling it, while meaning admitting defeat, also meant I saw that it was in the lyrics of Many Rivers To Cross, and I was amazed to see that Many Rivers To Cross also included mention of 'the white cliffs of Dover', which wasn't what I would have expected.

It's quite recently that I realised that what the Bee Gees are singing in the section near the end of the brash, cocky Stayin' Alive ('you can tell by the way I use my walk I'm a woman's man, no time to talk') is 'I'm going nowhere, somebody help me'. (Online lyrics I've just looked at suggest it is in fact 'Life going nowhere'.)

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

'current reading'

I'm the kind of person who reads several books at a time, of different kinds and to suit different moods. At New Year of 2003 I decided I should round up all the books I had bookmarks in. I was still finding them in the summer. I've done the same at subsequent New Years.

1 January 2003 - 33 books, including some I’d been ‘reading’ for years.
1 January 2004 - 23 books, 20 of which had been on the 2003 list.
1 January 2005 - 15 books, 8 of which had been on the 2003 list (and none of which were new additions on the 2004 list).

The trend is in the right direction, but I still haven’t finished any of the 2003 Eight yet this year.

The Eight: Oxford Dictionary of Popes; John Keegan - A History of Warfare; David Groves - Hogg: Birth of a Writer; The Times London History Atlas; Walter Scott - Old Mortality; Iain Murray - Martyn Lloyd-Jones Vol 2; William Cowper - Poetical Works; Hugh Miller - My Schools and Schoolmasters. Of those, three don’t lend themselves to speedy headway, four are fat books I’m in the middle of, and one is one I’ll have to start again as it’s been so long since I picked it up.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

robin cook

The obituaries of Robin Cook gave me a chance to scan the internet again for something. I heard a bit of Desert Island Discs when he was on it, and was sure I remembered a reference to some kind of Christian background, but couldn't find any reference to it subsequently when I searched online some time later.

But the Daily Telegraph obituary includes this: 'Robert Finlayson Cook was born on February 28 1946 at Bellshill, Lanarkshire, the son of Peter Cook, a headmaster, and his wife Christina. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, Edinburgh Royal High School and Edinburgh University, where he read English Literature. He intended to become a Church of Scotland minister, but lost his faith as he discovered politics; his student sparring partners included another future Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, and he chaired the Scottish Association of Labour Student Organisations.'

While searching for that this time, I also discovered that James Callaghan met his wife through his being a Sunday School teacher in his Baptist church.

Monday, 15 August 2005

but are you a protestant jew or a catholic jew?

(being the punchline to the joke of the man being approached in dark Belfast street by threatening gang and being asked 'Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?' and replying 'I'm Jewish.')

Loyalist and Republican terrorists in Northern Ireland were (let's say were) sometimes described as being from the Protestant or Catholic communities, but they would rarely be described (by either friends or enemies of religion or their cause) as Christians.

Part of the linguistic problem, I think, in relation to 'Islamic terrorism' is that the language and terms haven't developed to help Muslims, secular or religious, to distance themselves from the terrorists and not be identified with them. An unknown (to me) proportion of Muslims will be secular Muslims or people from a Muslim background - just as not all those who identify themselves as Christian in the census surely contain a proportion who do not consider themselves to be faithful or practicing Christians, however broad one's definition. Unless one believes that the UK is indeed 71% Christian.

Of course part of the difference is that the Islamic terrorists do believe they are faithful believers (or Islamist - I haven't grasped whether there is a preferred acceptable usage, and whether the distinction is intented to imply quotation marks as opposed to faithful believers). Which I guess makes their nearest Western Christian equivalent those American Christians (or 'Christians') who attack abortion clinics and murder people who work there. How does the Christian community distance itself from them, in its use of language? (I've just visited a very unpleasant website which embraces them. I don't expect the Christians behind that website view equivalent websites by Muslims inciting murder in quite the same way as their own.)

An interesting thing I've seen in a couple of reports and interviews is where Muslims say that obeying their faith and its laws is a higher requirement than obeying the law of the land, and that Western culture is decadent, immoral and materialistic; I think many reasonable Christians asked similar questions would give similar answers.

That's not very clear, but it's clearer than when I started. You should see the other guy.

7 July

7 July was a Thursday, so my day with the younger generation, but we didn’t go to Chipper Club in the morning as we were spending the day getting ready for going off on holiday that evening. We popped out to the shops a couple of times, but spent most of the day watching/listening to events unfolding. The sirens were noticeable, and the absence of buses a little noticeable; the most unusual thing I saw was in the shopping centre, the group of people standing outside the shop with the tellies in the window, watching the news pictures and ticker tape. I'd never seen that actually happen outside old black and white films and newsreels.

We drove up to Leeds that evening, a reverse journey to that taken by some of the bombers just that morning.

james doohan

James Doohan died last month. The most interesting thing I read after his death was that he lost a finger, shot off, when landing on the Canadian beach on D-Day (he was Canadian, not American - or Scottish, but you knew that), and its absence is only noticeable in two episodes of Star Trek.

his life expresses a demand

Why did Socrates compare himself to a gad-fly?
Because he only wished to have ethical significance. He did not wish to be admired as a genius standing apart from others, and fundamentally, therefore, make the lives of others easy, because they could then say, 'it is all very well for him, he is a genius.' No, he only did what every man can do, he only understood what every man can understand. Therein lies the epigram. He bit hard into the individual man, continually enforcing him and irritating him with this 'universal'. He was a gad-fly who provoked people by means of the individual's passion, not allowing him to admire indolently and effeminately but demanding his self of him. If a man has ethical power people like to make him into a genius, simply to be rid of him; because his life expresses a demand.
- p97, Kierkegaard Journals

Sunday, 14 August 2005

hebridean celtic festival - the experience

The audiences at the concerts in the tent were probably the least attentive I have experienced - lots of chat and milling about between and during the songs, lots of people not even in the tent. I got the impression that for a significant number of people the performances were just background music for a night out drinking with pals. Some of it might also have been the 'we were there' factor - not that keen on, or not really familiar with, Van Morrison, but we were there the night he played Stornoway. Also, if you go to a concert in London, say, it's because you want to be at that particular concert, because there are scores of concerts you can choose from; if you want to hear live music in Lewis, there's less of a choice.

The instrumental acts were largely providing clubbing music with live musicians, in a context without dancing, which seemed odd to me. Clearly I was just too old. I bumped into Carol, who I'd been in school and Aberdeen with, at the end of Runrig, and we recognised the sobering fact that a large proportion of the people in the audience hadn't been born the first time we saw Runrig (over twenty years ago, while still at school). (Apart from Carol, I bumped into Kathleen and Martin, also at Runrigh, and that was it for the whole holiday really. I tend to recognise or half-recognise people, but generally conclude that it might not be them, or that I didn't know them that well, or that they won't remember me. I haven't really maintained many Lewis links beyond family. I've certainly now reached the point where I've lived in London for longer than I lived in Lewis.)

And a depressing proportion of the audience seemed to be drunk teenagers.

I wouldn't make another effort to plan a Lewis holiday around the festival, unless they developed a town hall programme of concerts in parallel with the tent concerts.

Part of my discomfort may have been knowing that I might have been just the same. I certainly wasn't keen on Echo and the Bunnymen when they played the Caledonian Hotel in Stornoway when I was in school, but I was there. Although I was listening. Festival concerts might just have been a night out with pals and drinking (illicit or otherwise). (I don't know if it's still the case that you can get tickets to wedding dances on Saturday nights, weddings of people you'd never met - younger family members would get fistfuls of tickets to disperse, and you might just get in at the door anyway. Which must have been odd for the happy couple.)

It struck me that my view and experience (of the festival, and probably of all my visits to Lewis) was being distorted by the fact that my memories and resonances are largely linked to schooldays. Friends who never left, or who moved back after studies, , or who maintained better links with friends, have built up a bank of memories and associations at age 24, 27, 30, 32, 35... my core memories stop at 17. So the people in the crowd I make the mental associations with are the schoolkids, which makes no sense.

You can also easily see how people can get caught up in regret or bitterness about the past, or trying to recapture their youth by hanging onto youth culture - thinking, say, about what their youth would have been like if they'd had the things the youth of today have, like a livelier music/culture scene. Forward, not back.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

against the law, apparently

For Buford Posey, a white man raised in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the second world war had a civilising influence. 'When I was coming up in Mississippi I never knew it was against the law to kill a black man,' he says. 'I learned that when I went in the army. I was 17 years old. When they told me I thought they were joking.'
- Guardian, 11 June 2005, p17

this is the modern world

The most remote inhabited island on Earth, Tristan Da Cunha, an overseas territory of the UK which takes six days to reach by boat from Cape Town, has been assigned a postcode: TDCU 1ZZ. [But why, Iain, why?] The island's 276 inhabitants asked the Royal Mail to help after being unable to shop online without a postcode.
- Guardian, Monday 8 August 2005.

Monday, 8 August 2005

hebridean celtic festival - the concerts

We planned our holiday to coincide with the Hebridean Celtic Festival for the first time.

The most enjoyable concert we went to was the first, in the Town Hall rather than the marquee, which featured Seamus Begley & Jim Murray and James Graham. I'm not sure why they don't have a Town Hall alternative concert on the Thu-Sat nights. According to Jim Murray, who was a very good guitar player from Cork, people from Cork are famously big-headed, and he told this joke: Did you hear about the Cork man who had an inferiority complex? He thought he was just the same as everyone else.

Thursday night was Van Morrison, supported by Blas (before) and Xosé Manuel Budiño (after, to accommodate Van's flight departure). Blas were quite good, but the audience were inattentive. Xosé was a Spanish piper who had a band and a lot of backing tapes (which seemed to be why they took about an hour to set up), and obviously thought he was God's gift to bagpipe-loving women. As someone once marvellously said of Graeme Souness, if he was made of chocolate, he'd eat himself. His manner was off-putting, the tapes were noisy, the playing was nothing special, and we left before too long.

Van is famously curmudgeonly and unpredictable, and when we saw him at the Fleadh years ago he was in a dull noodly jazz phase. This time, however, he had a more traditional jazz band, with a brass section, and he played the hits. (Setlist: Celtic Swing, Have I Told You Lately(Las Vegas version), Days Like This, Stop Drinking, Bright Side Of The Road, All Work And No Play, Baby Please Don't Go, All Saints Day, Moondance, Here Comes The Night, Jackie Wilson Said, Cleaning Windows, Back On Top, Don't Worry About A Thing, Wonderful Remark, Help Me, Irish Heartbeat, Celtic New Year, Precious Time, Northern Muse(Solid Ground), Star Of The County Down, Brown Eyed Girl, E:Gloria.) The band were good, though most of Van's on-stage speaking involved shouting at them (it was obviously a flexible set list). He did mumble a couple of things to the audience, including the word 'Stornoway', so everyone was happy. A pleasant surprise.

Friday night was Runrig supported by the Peatbog Faeries. The PFs were okay - amplified ceilidh music with another brass section. Runrig packed in a lot of songs, and unusually had hardly any between-song chat. I enjoyed them more last time I saw them; I think they played more from the traditional angle that time, perhaps you have to adjust your set for a festival crowd.

Saturday night, which Bethan didn't come to, was Shooglenifty supported by Mark Saul. Mark Saul was an Australian piper, with a smaller band and also backing tapes - more interesting than Xose, but could still have done without the backing tape. In both cases, most of the musical and audience energy seemed to be generated by what was on the tape rather than what was being played live, which is such a cheat. Shooglenifty were trailed as 'techno ceilidh, acid croft, hypnofolkadelica', but it sounded rather like the PFs to me, just amplified ceilidh music with different instruments. But I did leave before the end.

Saturday, 30 July 2005

ashenden quotes

Quotes from Ashenden by Somerset Maugham. (In fact, the cover, spine and title page of the old little hardback I have of this (a Literary Press edition, with no date on it) call it Secret Agent, while the running heads call it Ashenden. I saw one of a series volumes of collected short stories of his in a secondhand bookshop at the weekend, and it was made up primarily of the chapters of this book.)

[playing cards] Ashenden kept his eyes open and he was not careless of the possibility that his antagonist might correct the inequalities of chance.
- p61

He observed the curious little pain with which the memories of the past wrung his heart-strings. [Revisiting a place he'd spent time in before. Interesting in its expression of the passivity, the self-observation rather than the experience, of the writer]

'That Indian fellow must be a rather remarkable chap,' he said.
'He's got brains, of course.'
'One can't help being impressed by a man who had the courage to take on almost single-handed the whole British power in India.'
'I wouldn't get sentimental about him if I were you. He's nothing but a dangerous criminal.'
'I don't suppose he'd use bombs if he could command a few batteries and half a dozen battalions. He uses what weapons he can. You can hardly blame him for that. After all, he's aiming at nothing for himself, is he? He's aiming at freedom for his country. On the face of it it looks as though he were justified in his actions.'
But R. had no notion of what Ashenden was talking.
'That's very far-fetched and morbid,' he said. 'We can't go into all that. Our job is to get him and when we've got him to shoot him.'
- p102

She had a passion for intrigue and a desire for power. When he hinted that he had command of large sums of money, she saw at once that through him she might acquire an influence in the affairs of Russia. It tickled her vanity. She was immensely patriotic, but like many patriots she had an impression that her own aggrandisement tended to the good of her country.


There's an advert for posh food from M&S on telly just now: 'This isn't salmon - this is wild salmon smoked by dusky Highland maidens. This isn't chicken,' etc. No, you're right, I always think, this isn't salmon: it's albatross. That Fleetwood Mac track wouldn't have been my choice of music to sell fancy food with.


I thought certain songs would mean that it would be impossible to get a cover version of every Beatles song. But reveals that there are cover versions of Revolution No 9 (Electric Love Muffin, Phish, The Shazam, Kurt Hoffman’s Band of Weeds), Her Majesty (Robby Kreiger, Brian Sewell, Tok Tok Tok), Wild Honey Pie (Das Damen, Downsiders, The Pixies, Phish, The Squirrels) and Dig It (Laibach, who covered the entire Let It Be album except the title track). Robby Kreiger! The Pixies! In fact I now have the Brian Sewell track.

Two Marks and a Jonathan

Mark Lamarr is sitting in for Jonathan Ross this morning on Radio 2 - it’s always a good Saturday when that happens. I find JR tedious - when you take away the talking about himself and the talking about sex, there’s really nothing there. I also had to stop watching Film 200X, which deteriorated mightily from Barry Norman’s day - but last year I discovered, through the ‘listen again’ section of the BBC Radio website, Mark Kermode’s film reviews on Radio 5 on Friday afternoons, and they’re excellent. He’d have been a much more appropriate successor to Barry - maybe he’ll take over from Jonathan.

Of course, the film reviews are rather academic, since I don’t think we’ve been to the cinema since the younger generation was born. When we do go out we tend to go to something live - cinema is so expensive and video is so cheap.

Tuesday, 26 July 2005

never been so insulted

- I've never been so insulted in all my life!
- You need to get out more.

the smell of edinburgh

As we were driving along the ring road south of Edinburgh at the weekend I opened the window and the smell of Edinburgh came in. It makes me think of bakeries and breweries, so it's probably a yeasty smell; I don't know what it is, I don't know why it's there, and I don't know if it's just there in the summer, but it's the distinctive smell of Edinburgh to me.

the highland division's return to London

- Are you worried about going back to London?
- Yes: we've got to drive down the A9.

It's a scandal that the A9 isn't dual carriageway from Inverness to Edinburgh. It chops and changes between two, three and four lanes, with great scope for frustrated drivers behind tourists, reckless overtaking, forgetting whether you're on single or dual carriageway, and for some tourists forgetting that they should be driving on the left-hand side of the road. We saw some mad driving, both up and back.

I don't feel less safe in London now, after the recent bombings; I think you'd have to be lacking in imagination and awareness to have felt entirely safe before the bombings. Statistically, we're probably safer now, in fact. Ah, warm cuddly statistics.

Monday, 27 June 2005


It's quite commonplace now for established magazines to let their cover pic obscure some of their title and subtitle. SFX, a sci-fi/fantasy magazine usually filed among the film mags in WHSmith's, fairly consistently cuts into the F, so that it could equally be an E that's being partially obscured. In terms of catching the eye, I have to say it works.

terrorism religious and secular

Richad Dawkins, recommending Sam Harris's The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, urges us to read the book and 'wake up' to the dangers of religion as a cause of terrorism. Before Dawkins continues to flog his anti-religion hobby horse, perhaps he should wake up and read some history. The greatest 'terrorists' in the last century were Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, all of whom were against any form of religion and slaughtered far more people than any 'religious' terrorist I can think of.
- Kate Potter, Oxford; letter in Guardian Review, Saturday 25 June 2005.

the excuse for wars

He had taken to the faith [GSD] at an early age and tried all sorts of religions before settling for the GSD.
'GSD?' murmured Mycroft. 'What in heaven's name is that?'
'Global Standard Deity,' answered Polly. 'It's a mixture of all the religions. I think it's meant to stop religious wars.'
Mycroft grunted again.
'Religion isn't the cause of wars, it's the excuse.'
- Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair; NEL, 2001; p104.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

punk swastika

'... the punk appropriation of the swastika, aestheticising the symbol but jettisoning its history, or, perhaps worse, revelling in its power to shock, while ignoring why it could.' - Gary Lachman puts it nicely in a review of two books about disco in the Guardian Review of Saturday 11 June 2005.

In a previous life, Gary Lachman was Gary Valentine, in Blondie for their first album, writer of (I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear on their second (Plastic Letters - probably my favourite, though the critics don't seem to like it).

stay at home dads

80% of dads would rather stay at home and raise children, says The Independent. 'The vast majority of new fathers want to combine careers with caring for their child, according to a study, which reveals a dramatic shift in male perceptions of fatherhood. The study marks a stark contrast to a similar EOC survey 20 years ago, when more than half of the fathers questioned saw their roles strictly as breadwinners. Nearly nine out of 10 men felt as confident as their partner when changing nappies, feeding the baby and taking charge of childcare duties. The results of the survey show the extent to which attitudes towards fatherhood have changed in two decades. More than 50 per cent of men in the previous survey believed the mother's place was in the home. Twenty years on, that figure has shrunk to just 20 per cent.'

Sunday, 12 June 2005

sarcastic quotation marks

The classical record shop at the Royal Festival Hall, which you'd imagine should know better, has a section of its shelving headed thus: '"Great" Special Offers'. Since they're not really that cheap (to a meanie like me, anyway), perhaps some sarcastic underling is putting one over on their boss.

attending in prayer

The immediate person thinks and imagines that when he prays, the important thing, the thing he must concentrate upon, is that *God should hear what HE is praying for*. And yet in the true, eternal sense it is just the reverse: the true relation in prayer is not when God hears what is prayed for, but when *the person praying* continues to pray until he is *the one who hears*, who hears what God wills. The immediate person, therefore, uses many words and, therefore, makes demands in his prayer; the true man of prayer only *attends*.
- Kierkegaard’s Journals, p97

covenant witnesses

The witnesses, however, are solemnly named, and this shows that what is in dispute is no light or trivial matter. Micah is told to initiate proceedings ‘before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say’. Mention of the mountains and the hills reflects another feature of ancient covenant-making procedure. Witnesses were invoked at the making of the covenant, and in pagan cultures these were normally gods and goddesses. In Israel that was not an option, so heaven and earth are frequently called upon to play the same role (Deut 4:26; 32:1; Isa 1:2). If they could speak, they would testify to the undertakings given by both parties.
- John L Mackay on Micah 6:1-8, in his commentary on Jonah-Zephaniah; CFP, 1998; p115.

self-sufficient in garlic

For the last five years or so we have been growing enough garlic to keep us all year. In our own way we are re-creating the past. I’m sure that a hundred years ago Point was self-sufficient in garlic - no one grew it and no one ate it.
- the gardening column in The Rudhach, May 2005

better than mandela

Martha herself compared her situation to that of Nelson Mandela, which might sound a tiny bit prideful, but it didn’t stop her fans taking it up and extending, slightly - in fact, she was better than Mandela. ‘She’s created lots and lots of things that have been good for working people,’ said a man who lived near [the prison]. ‘I really don’t know what Mandela did, to be honest with you.’
- in article re Martha Stewart (US domestic lifestyle guru imprisoned for fraud/deception) in Saturday Guardian guide, 11 June 2005. Better than Mandela? Not even as good as Martha and the Vandellas.

brain tumour

One night in 20001 he dreamed that he had a brain tumour, and the dream was so unusual in its atmosphere and clarity that he went to the doctor. It turned out that he did have a brain tumour.
- in article re Mark Ruffalo in Saturday Guardian magazine, 11 June 2005

ian rankin

An interesting profile of Ian Rankin from the Saturday Guardian Review of 28 May 2005.

It says the first Rebus crime novel wasn't intended as the first of a series, which is what I thought as I read it, as it used up so much of his back story.

It also said, 'As a PhD student at Edinburgh University in the mid-80s - "up to my oxters in deconstruction and semiotics" - Rankin set out to write a modern-day Scottish gothic novel featuring a policeman and his alter ego. The book self-consciously drew on the tradition of RL Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Its title, Knots And Crosses, and the name of the policeman, Rebus, a type of picture puzzle, made clear his ludic intent. But while the book was received well enough, Rankin was perplexed that people thought it was a crime novel and disappointed that no-one seemed to get his "smart-ass PhD student" jokes.'
- I've read both those other books and didn't spot the allusions; I got it back out of the library, along with the second one to read, to skim through but still didn't particularly see them.

It also said, 'Rankin's first book owed a debt to Kelman in that the Edinburgh student publishing house, Polygon, brought out Kelman's first book of stories, which did well enough to fund Rankin's 1986 debut The Flood, which is being re-issued for the first time this year. Rankin has said how impressed he was by Kelman's use of Scottish vernacular and how he enthusiastically showed Kelman's stories to his father. "But he said he couldn't read it because it wasn't in English. Now my dad is from the same working-class linguistic community as Kelman writes about. If he couldn't read it, but half of Hampstead was lapping it up, that to me was a huge failure and I decided then not to write phonetically."'

Friday, 3 June 2005


We ourselves, or at least the pious among us, are often quick to see the hand of the Great Predestinator in the events of our own daily lives. But here, as elsewhere, we merely prove how odd we are, though the Scots are by no means the oddest. One great but forgotten Scot, John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, had one of his American neighbours rush into his house one day in a state of breathless excitement. His carriage had turned somersaults, but he had escaped unscathed: 'Wasn't it a wonderful providence!'
'Hoot, man,' said Dr Witherspoon, 'that's naething of a providence compared to what I can tell of. I've driven doon that same road for years and years, and my horse has never run off wi' me.'
Like the Free Church minister who once visited a hospital patient who had broken his leg in a road accident. 'You were lucky,' said the minister, 'that you broke nothing but your leg.' 'It's you that were lucky, minister,' said the aggrieved and aching patient, 'you didn't even break your leg.'
- Donald Macleod, West Highland Free Press, 20 May 2005.

Thursday, 2 June 2005

shakespearean actors

An interesting article from the Saturday Guardian Review of 21 May 2005: 'Olivier and Gielgud set the template for portraying Shakespeare's heroes. But their performances would baffle us today, says Michael Pennington.'