Monday, 31 January 2005

eye to the telescope

The Uncut I'm reading - the Jan issue, not the latest issue - has a review of the 'brilliant solo debut' from Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope. Says KT, 'I don't write statement songs. I write what I call "kitchen table songs", like a conversation between two people about a specific incident or situation. That's the reason for the album title. I want the telescope to focus in on the small details.'

That'll be a microscope, then, KT. See me not holding out much hope for KT's brilliant wordsmithery.

Saturday, 29 January 2005

Westminster Abbey

On Thursday morning the younger generation and I went to Westminster Abbey. Bethan has an aversion to paying to go into a church on principle. It was £8 to get in, £3 for a guidebook, £3 for an audioguide and £4 for a guided tour; the only free information was a pretty skimpy leaflet (no information panels or anything). Pretty steep. I got the guidebook and hired the audioguide. I was able to get most places with the buggy. It wasn’t very busy. It was my first time (although we had been to the English Heritage run bits before - the chapter house, pyx chamber and museum), and I don’t anticipate being back. But it’s off my list of major London tourist attractions I’ve never been to.

It was smaller than I imagined. It was interesting to note that for a coronation or a state funeral, which take place in front of the high altar, the majority of people in the abbey wouldn’t be able to see a thing (everyone in the nave has their view blocked by the quire - the distance and mystery beloved of Anglican church architecture and ritual which is the antithesis of what Christianity is all about).

The most impressive things were the Nightingale memorial (photos here and here) which had an extraordinary carved skeletal death figure leaning out from the monument threatening the memorialised couple above (one website I found said that one of the Wesleys said it was one of only two memorials in the Abbey worthy of the attention of Christians), and two in particular of the plain king’s caskets (in the south ambulatory, I think Edward III and Richard II), which just appeared to be huge boxes of some kind of weatherbeaten or pollution-pocked (neither of which seem likely) stone. In looking for photos of the latter online, I only found photos of the effigies and carvings which are presumably on top of the boxes; the plainness of the boxes was much more striking than the many fancier monuments packed into the place, and they seemed old and fantastic (as in fantasy). You couldn’t take photos inside, presumably for conservation reasons primarily.

On the way to the bus stop afterwards I saw Stephen Fry walking along outside the Houses of Parliament, with someone I took to be a media professional taking him somewhere. My mother mentioned today that he took part in a Holocaust Day memorial event in Westminster Hall, so I guess he was on his way there - it’s the 60th anniversary this year, so there was a lot on; it had crossed my mind there might be something in Westminster Abbey, but I guess it was more appropriate to have it not in a place of worship.

PS: This is where Stephen Fry was.
PPS From reading the guidebook and scrutinising the photos, it looks like I was seeing the back of the caskets, and the other sides, facing into the Confessor's Chapel, which the public don't get into, are where all the fancy ornamentation is. I prefer the backs.

tsunami scam

I regularly get - at work or the church email - ‘Nigerian scam’ emails, ie those purporting to be from lawyers of dead people, or children of dead high-ranking politicians, usually in Africa countries, who have a large sum of money, usually embezzled, to disburse or launder, and offering me a cut if I can help them out.

I also get the Christian variations on this, usually from someone dying of cancer in Africa or the Arab World, recently converted from Islam and wanting to disburse the money to good Christian use, usually to atone for it having been ill-gotten by their late husband before Christianity struck.

On Wednesday I received my first one which referenced the tsunami as being the reason for death which leaves this money to be disbursed to Christian causes.

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Anyone I can imagine is quite unlikely to exist

‘I like God,’ she said.
‘You don’t show much sign of it,’ accused Betty. ‘You never go to church and you’re not very charitable.’
‘I know,’ said Lydia, ‘but God makes me laugh.’
‘Perhaps you make *him* laugh,’ suggested Betty. ‘Perhaps it’s him you keep hearing.’
‘That is not impossible,’ said Lydia. ‘But it’s more likely to be the little fat chap who laughs when people make love.’
‘Cupid?’ asked Betty cautiously.
‘No, no,’ said Lydia. ‘This one’s much older, and oriental in appearance. He sits on a very smoky-looking cloud and he laughs and laughs at the sight of copulation. All his stomachs and his chins wobble. He has to hang on to them with his hands.’
After a moment Betty said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘This god,’ said Lydia. ‘The one who invented sex. He did it for a laugh.’
Betty glanced appealingly at Bueno. ‘I thought you were a Christian,’ she said to Lydia. ‘One God.’
‘I am a Christian,’ said Lydia. ‘This little god is the product of my imagination.’
‘Then how do you know the other one isn’t as well,’ demanded Betty, seeing that a point might be scored here.
‘I know my imagination,’ said Lydia. ‘I can’t imagine the other one.’
‘Then how do you know he’s there?’ asked Betty.
‘I know he’s there because I can’t imagine him,’ explained Lydia patiently. ‘If I could I should be extremely doubtful. He’d resemble Santa Claus or someone. Anyone I can imagine is quite unlikely to exist.’
- Unexplained Laughter, p49-50

My Schools and Schoolmasters - mills

Several other ancient practices and implements had at this time just disappeared from the district [of Gairloch]. A good meal-mill of the modern construction had superseded, not a generation before, several small mills with horizontal water-wheels, of that rude antique type which first supplanted the still more ancient handmill. These horizontal mills still exist, however - at least they did so only two years ago - in the gneiss region of Assynt. The antiquary sometimes forgets that, tested by his special rules for determining periods, several ages may be found contemporary in contiguous districts of the same country. I am old enough to have seen the handmill at work in the north of Scotland,; and the traveller into the Highlands of western Sutherland might have witness the horozontal mill in action only two years ago. But to the remains of either, if dug out of the mosses or sand-hills of the southern counties, we would assign an antiquity of centuries. In the same way, the unglazed earthen pipkin, fashioned by the hand without the assistance of the potter’s wheel, is held to belong to the ‘bronze and stone periods’ of the antiquary; and yet my friend of the Doocot Cave, when minister of Small Isles, found the remains of one of these pipkins in the famous charnel cave (in which a party of MacLeods smoked to death the MacDonalds of Eigg in 1577) of Eigg, which belonged to an age not earlier than that of Mary, and more probably pertained to that of her son James; and I have since learned, that in the southern portions of the Long Island, this same hand-moulded pottery of the bronze period has been fashioned for domestic use during the early part of the present century. A chapter devoted to these lingering, or only recently departed, arts of the primitive ages, would be a curious one; but I fear the time for writing it is now well-nigh past. My few facts on the subject may serve to show that, even as late as the year 1823, some three days’ journey into the Highlands might be regarded as analogous in some respects to a journey into the past of some three or four centuries. But even since that comparatively recent period the Highlands have greatly changed.
- Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters; B&W, 1993 (first published 1854); p272.

Monday, 24 January 2005

Gertrude - Queen of Denmark

“I thought it would be awful. To be honest I was dreading it.” This is, surprisingly, how Thomas felt initially at the thought of playing Gertrude. She quite fancied the manipulative evil of Lady Macbeth but, having played Ophelia earlier in her career, the move from young-yet-mad girl to motherly-yet-murderer-loving woman did not entice her.

“I’d always thought the play was about Ophelia – which shows where I’m at! Now I think it is a play about Gertrude. In fact, I don’t know why it’s not called ‘Gertrude’! I think whatever part one plays, one suddenly sees the play from that person’s point of view. So automatically it became a play about Gertrude, rather than a play about Ophelia. Hamlet really doesn’t figure much in my grand plan.”

- Sian Thomas, interviewed on the London Theatre Guide website, re her role in the latest RSC production.

jerry springer and agatha christie

There was a lot of fuss recently about Jerry Springer - The Opera being shown on the BBC. The most interesting thing about it was how clearly it demonstrated the way in which Christian sensitivities about things in the arts, media and society are responded to very differently from the sensitivities of other groups.

But what was more interesting was the series of four new Miss Marple adaptations on ITV. In the first one, The Body in the Library, the murder turned out to be a crime of passion committed by lesbians. Hmm, we thought. The book was one which we happened to have, so we took a look, and they'd changed the murderer (from a man) and the motive (from money). Their sympathetic portrayal, and the fact that it was adapted by the author of My Night With Reg, meant it was unlikely to provoke the protests of unfair portrayal which Basic Instinct did. The next adaptation gave Miss Marple the back story that she had had an affair with a married man who died in the war, and the final one featured another lesbian couple (one of whom was a victim), happily integrated into village life; I guess it's unlikely that either of these scenarios appear in the originals.

It's a kind of revisionism, or reverse-bowdlerisation. I wonder if in a hundred years such imposition of the morals of the day on works of the past will be held in such low esteem as the rewriting of Shakespeare with happy endings and 19th century bowdlerisation are held today. If I live to be 137, I'll keep an eye out.

tsunami - science, religion and literature

An interesting article from Saturday's Guardian Review section: 'Sea changes: James Wood on how the tsunami raises difficult questions for Christians and atheists.'

'But all of these arguments fall on the central one: if there is a God with whom we can communicate, who (sometimes) hears our prayers, why does He not hear our suffering? Or why does He hear our suffering and do nothing about it? Theology has no answer, and never has had. But it would be a mistake, I think, to assume that atheism has one either. A few weeks ago Richard Dawkins chided a correspondent to this paper who claimed that science could no more explain why the tsunami happened than theology could. Nonsense, said Professor Dawkins, science exactly explains the movement of tectonic plates, and could indeed have warned the poor victims of impending disaster.

'Surely Professor Dawkins was here confusing scientific explanation with metaphysical interrogation. Science - atheistical science, if you will - can tell us how the world works, but cannot answer the eternal metaphysical wail: why do we suffer so? Little Abraham asks his sister, Tess, in Hardy's novel, if we live on a splendid planet or a blighted one. "A blighted one," she replies. In this empty space, between theological obscurity and atheistical confidence, it is tempting to imagine that there is a place for literature, and particularly for tragedy. Literature can no more "explain" suffering than can science or religion, but it can describe it better than either. If great suffering forces theology into embarrassed silence and atheism into cocksure noise, it prompts literature to measured lament, which is all we have right now.'

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

ipod? probably not

Why I probably won’t get into using an ipod or downloading tracks from the internet:
- I don’t like earphones
- I have to leave room to listen to new music, not just make a radio station out of what I already own
- I like the artefact: the full CD with its packaging
- if your computer and ipod crash, and you’ve given away all the CDs, it’s all gone (something like this happened to Emma Kennedy, I heard her recount on Danny Baker’s programme). Someone writing in Word sold all the CDs they’d copied from on Ebay, which doesn’t sound legal. I guess to be legal you’d have to keep the original of every CD you ever copied the one track you liked off (as I presumably should have done with all my tapes).
- think of all the other album tracks (be it various or single artist) you’d miss by just downloading individual tracks you’ve heard and liked.
- fear of the demon I’d unleash, spending all my days downloading

Unexplained Laughter

The wind is coming up the valley - quite slowly, like an army that will win.
- Alice Thomas Ellis, Unexplained Laughter; Penguin, 1985; p18

Women’s magazines had a lot to answer for, thought Lydia, with their embroidered jumpers, their mackerel and mandarin oranges, their stories of the nurse who gets the surgeon, the typist who gets the boss, contrasting so starkly with the bewildered anguish manifested by their love-ruined readers on the letters page.
- p46

more home taping

Having said all that, I have mastered the iTunes technology on my iBook sufficiently (and also now that I’m using OSX instead of OS9, so that the computer doesn’t crash every time I try to eject a disk) that I have made for myself a double CD of favourite new tracks from CDs I bought in 2004 (new as in songs which I hadn’t owned before or heard often on the radio). I sequenced them simply by length, which gave a reasonable running order. Most of the tracks were from various artist compilations. I’ve made Bethan listen to them; her view was that I had produced a surprisingly mellow collection. She’s going to be sorry she said that, this time next year.

The CD project was possible because last year was the first year I made a list of the CDs I bought (and how much they cost); that’s because I bought a week-to-view A5 diary for the first time. I also made lists of the books I finished, and the TV, films and theatre I saw. What a sad man I am. It was interesting making sure I listened again to all the CDs I bought this year; I realised that sometimes I don’t listen to a CD for ages after its first listen, so a good discipline; some only needed that second or third listen to make it clear that I didn’t want to keep it.

the morals of home taping

home taping is killing music... and it’s illegal. So they used to say, under a skull and crossbones tape logo. I don’t think it did.

We were listening to some of my old home tapes in the car a while ago - some taped off the radio, some off other tapes (separate tapes depending on source, obviously). The sources were radio, tapes borrowed from the library, tapes borrowed from friends, and tapes I then gave to charity shops.

The least number were from borrowed tapes, and it’s the library tapes I feel most uneasy about. A significant number of the tracks I’d taped from radio or borrowings I now own on CD. Some of the radio tracks are pretty obscure and never heard since. Some of the radio tracks are sessions, which one presumably can’t buy.

CD is I guess a bigger danger than tape to the music industry, since you can make a perfect copy onto a more versatile medium than tape - and, if one were so inclined, download text and images to create your own sleeve. I can't imagine my schoolfriends still have the tapes we taped off each other. I find a lot of the back catalogue I'm buying now are from my schoolfriends' record collections. That's the argument in favour of home taping - it causes people to buy more, not less. CD burning may not be the same, which is what the record labels fear I guess.

We’re at a turning point in music buying, and it’s not entirely clear how it will progress for the ordinary consumer rather than the computer whizz - though I guess the point may be that those categories are increasingly similar as time goes by. Elvis has just had the 1000th No 1 single, with sales of little over twenty thousand, the lowest since they started counting properly in the Sixties. (They’re re-releasing a load of his singles this year, and chances seem high that many will get to No 1.)

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

The authorised version

Although it's far from an original idea, I was quite pleased with my GO editorial this quarter. This is it below.

The authorised version

I said, 'I hope that hundreds of years from now in each place where Interserve works the language of their Bible will have saturated their language as it has English.'

He said, 'What do you mean?'

I said, 'Eat, drink and be merry, don't suffer fools gladly, redeem the time, keep the faith, choose life, put your house in order, gird up your loins, escape by the skin of your teeth, kill the fatted calf, turn the other cheek, beat your swords into ploughshares, see eye to eye, be of good cheer, draw a bow at a venture, put your hand to the plough, be all things to all men, and turn the world upside down.

'Don't hide your light under a bushel, or pass by on the other side, or play the fool, or let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, or be a meddling fool, or cast your pearls before swine, or give up the ghost.

'Are you a prodigal son, a good Samaritan, a doubting Thomas, a real Jonah, a Job's comforter, a prophet without honour, no respecter of persons, a scapegoat, a stranger in a strange land, your brother's keeper, a man after my own heart, the apple of my eye, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a lamb to the slaughter, or a thorn in the flesh?

'Have you the patience of Job, a millstone around your neck, talents, fallen from grace, been a law unto yourself, been present in spirit, taken up the mantle, kicked against the pricks, been beside yourself, shown tender mercies, spoken a word in season, or heard a still, small voice?

'A leopard can't change its spots. Pride goes before a fall. There's nothing new under the sun. The writing's on the wall. The blind leading the blind. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. An eye for an eye. A land flowing with milk and honey. As you sow, so shall you reap. He that is not with me is against me. Thirty pieces of silver. Wars and rumours of wars. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. He that lives by the sword shall die by the sword. Love covers a multitude of sins. Let him that is without sin cast the first stone. Physician, heal thyself! In the twinkling of an eye. How the mighty are fallen. The root of all evil. No mean city. Render unto Caesar. Vengeance is mine. God forbid.

'The fat of the land, the root of the matter, the parting of the ways, the salt of the earth, the land of the living, the signs of the times.'

He said, 'I'm washing my hands of you, mate: you're bonkers.'

I said, '"You're not in your right mind" would have been better. But I take your point.'

Saturday, 8 January 2005

more from Andrew Bonar

You are not very holy if you are not very kind.
- Diary and Life, p499

He asked some friends on whom he was calling how they were getting on. They said, ‘Not very well; we are not getting the rich food for our souls we used to get. We were just saying we are getting husks now.’ ‘Oh, I see,’ was his reply. ‘You’ve been having a grumble-meeting! Did you ever notice when we grumble to one another we grow discontented and bitter, and that is grieving to the Holy Spirit? But, when we go and tell the Lord, it has a very different effect. We get tenderness and sympathy.’

Speaking one day of the conversion of the Philippian jailer, he said, ‘Oh, brethren, I see it now! They had spread the Gospel over the whole city by their *prayers* and *praises*, and they thought it was to be by their *preaching*!’

‘A gloomy believer,’ he said,’ is surely an anomaly in Christ’s kingdom’.
- p500-501

Some one told him that for six months she had not consciously committed any sin. ‘And are you not very proud of it?’ said Dr Bonar. ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘I am!’

a handful of dust

A friend who was a great cameraman in Indochina came back one day from the front and told me he had managed to do something that he had always wanted: he had filmed someone dying. In fact, he would have filmed innumerable people dying, but what he explained was that, though you can point your camera at someone dying, it is immensely rare to witness a visible moment which will express death.

In this case, a wounded soldier was lying on the ground, and the cameraman saw that, in his pain, he was continually clutching at a handful of dust, scooping it up and letting it run through his fingers. This repeated action became slower and slower. When it stopped, the soldier was dead.

- Guardian, 1 Jan 2005: James Fenton, Guardian Review, p20


'After half an hour, the game remains scoreless.'
- no, it doesn't. The game remains goalless, certainly no one has scored, but the game is not without a score: the score is 0-0. What is wrong with you people? Can you not hear me shouting at the radio?