Thursday, 31 March 2005

civil servants and consultants

Mr Smith asked the Prime Minister about the revelation - in a report by the Cabinet Office efficiency unit - that some £500 million had been spent by the government on outside consultancies, with a mere £10 million savings being effected as a result. ... Major implied that the consultancies were not actually meant to save money but to do jobs, such as designing weapons systems, which civil servants can't manage. In fact, this government is hypnotized by consultants. Their reasoning seems to be that civil servants work for less money than they could earn, and are therefore idiots, to be disregarded. Consultants, however, are paid enormous sums and therefore must be clever. If we pay them even more money, they'll become even more clever.
- Simon Hoggart; House of Correction; Robson, 1995; p105


You rarely hear anyone these days being commended, without qualification, as being 'very committed' to something. If suicide bombers have taught us one thing, it's that commitment in itself isn't necessarily a good thing.

win the war in three years

28 January 1940
Dewing, Director of Military Operations and Intelligence at the War Office, came out today for a tour of the front and we were out all day. I had an opportunity of pumping him as regards the WO view of the prsoecution of the war. The feeling they give me is that whilst concentrating on ensuring that they are going to win the war in three years from now they neglect to realise the danger of losing it this year! Unless we get the Air Ministry and the War Office to realise that they are fighting the same war, and that their combined effort is required at the same spot, the same time and with the same object, we are courting disaster against an enemy who adheres to the doctrine of concentration of effort at the vital point at the right time.

- p34, War Diaries 1939-1945; Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke.

a hinterland populated with birds

Together with his wife, Alanbrooke’s hinterland was populated with birds. ‘In ornithology and in nature generally I had formed just such an interest’, he continued, ‘and I cannot describe its value better than by quoting the words which Viscount Grey [the former Foreign Secretary] had written in connection with the First World War in his *Fallodon Papers*: “In those dark days I found some support in the steady progress unchanged of the beauty of the seasons. Every year, as spring came back unfailing and unfaltering, the leaves came out with the same tender green, the birds sang, the flowers came up and opened, and I felt that a great power of Nature for beauty was not affected by the War. It was like a great sanctuary into which we could go and find refuge for a time from even the greatest trouble of the world, finding there not enervating ease, but something which gave optimism, confidence and security. The progress of the seasons unchecked, the continuance of the beauty of Nature, was a manifestation of something great and splendid which not all the crimes and follies and misfortunes of mankind can abolish or destroy.”’

- War Diaries 1939-1945; Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke; Alex Danchev & Daniel Todman (Ed); Phoenix Press, 2002; pxxv (Introduction).

and it is sorrow

And when God wishes to bind a man to him he calls his most faithful servant, his most trustworthy messenger, and it is sorrow, and says to him: hasten after him, overtake him, do not leave his side (... and no woman can attach herself more closely to the man she loves than sorrow).
- p78, Journals of Kierkegaard

Monday, 21 March 2005

unmellow music

Musical diet too mellow? Part of what one can do about getting more 3-minute pop/rock songs into your musical diet, it seems, is go to Fopp and buy three 2-CD compilations for £5 each, entitled Brit Awards 2004, Crash - Indie Anthems 1982-2004, and (I can hardly bring myself to type the word) Sk8er Rock.

Most of the songs I quite liked were actually ones I'd heard before. My favourite track which I hadn't heard before was Nice Weather For Ducks, by Lemon Jelly, but that was from an album I'd eventually have bought anyway, as I've got and like their first album. And it was decidedly mellow. I could spin it into an appreciation of dance music, I suppose.

We'll see what I think on a second listen.

Two of the albums supplied phone numbers you could ring to download ringtones of tunes on the CDs. This is the modern world, and I remain immobile.

waltzing matilda

edited from a newsletter of an Australian Christian worker overseas: 'Each week the foreign English-speaking missionaries meet together for fellowship and Bible study. ... Each month we have a fun night as well, so this month we had Australia day. I cooked meat pies and pavlova, and taught them about cricket. I also taught them Waltzing Matilda, which they thought was great until I explained the words, and they discovered it was a song about a thief who committed suicide.'

standing on one leg

For the rights of understanding to be valid one must venture out into life, out on the sea and lift up one's voice, even though God hears it not, and not stand on the shore and watch others fighting and struggling - only then does understanding acquire its *official sanction*, for to stand on one leg and prove God's existence is a very different thing from going on one's knees and thanking him.
- p68, Journals of Kierkegaard, 1834-1854

sugar factory

They took us [prisoners of war being escorted across Germany] to an area of the town where there had been a sugar factory. A landmine had dropped on it and you would scarcely credit the configuration the explosion had left. The hole it had made was big enough to bury a church in - and half full of black treacle from melted sugar. Two thirds of the way round the crate were tall rocks of sugar solidified like toffee. They allowed us to eat and drink as much as we wanted and it is a wonder we did not burst. I do believe that there could have been nothing better for restoring strength and energy to needy bodies.
- Angus Campbell, p252, St Valery: The Impossible Odds; Bill Innes (Ed).

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Ricky Ross + Andy Thornton + Cara Winter

Nearly a month ago now (on Friday 25 February) I went to The Troubadour Club with Alistair and his friends Andy and Scott to see Ricky Ross, Andy Thornton & Cara Winter. Andy Thornton was the main motivation for the other three coming down from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Newcastle respectively; they've been following his career for a long time. I'd never knowingly heard of him before Alistair asked if I was interested in going along (a Christian artist, quite involved in Greenbelt). Andy Thornton and The Restless Horizon seemed to be behind it, a series of three gigs in which Andy was the second string, partly promoting the Make Poverty History campaign. The gig was sold out, and obviously, understandably, most of the folk were clearly Ricky Ross fans, but all the acts were well received.

The Troubadour is a venue I hadn't been to before. In the basement below the cafe, it's U-shaped (without the soft corners) - door bottom-left, bar in left leg, performance area (if it was raised at all it wasn't much) bottom-right, audience looking at you from two directions. It was seats round tables and walls, none of which we got, but we got a fairly good stance at the bottom of the emergency exit stairs up to the street, on the inside corner opposite the stage. In between songs you could hear the music from upstairs, but it didn't intrude during the songs.

Cara Winter was pretty ordinary, I thought. She put me in mind of Kate Bush a little and Tori Amos more so, but only in respect of style rather than talent. Rambling piano and melody lines which never really led anywhere, and intense teenage girl poetry lyrics. Her website says 'influenced by musicians such as Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and Tori Amos, 19 year old cara's music has been described as emotive, questioning, evocative, heart-felt and pictorial - her debut album ‘butterfly’ features songs written during 2004 and draws on her A level studies in Philosophy, English and Religious Ethics for inspiration...'. Which at least is fair warning. She did tell an interesting story of how she was listening to a tape of one of her own songs in the car to see how it sounded and found the car speed was becoming erratic, and realised it was because she was pressing the accelerator pedal at the moments she'd have been pressing the piano pedal.

(Cara played piano (with a bongo player and a chap singer on a couple of songs); Andy played guitar (bongo man on one); Ricky played mostly piano and a little guitar (with Andy on one of the encores).)

Andy Thornton was quite good. Alistair had sent me a CD of his, The Things You Never Say, which I thought sounded too much like Bruce Cockburn - too much, not because I don't like Bruce Cockburn but because I'd rather it sounded more like Andy Thornton. He sounded more like Andy Thornton in the flesh, although still a bit of BC in a couple of the more politically passionate numbers.

Ricky Ross I enjoyed more than I'd expected. While I was never averse to Deacon Blue, I was never a big fan of them or his voice. Also, I saw him on the South Bank, solo piano, supporting Capercaillie a few years ago, and it didn't grab me. But he played and sang very well. It made me think of Giles Smith book, Lost in Music, about his tiny musical career in his youth, and how one musician in their area stood out - Nik Kershaw. They could just see that as a musician he was in a different league from their efforts, whatever they thought of the music he played.

Ricky mentioned that he and Andy used to be flatmates in their early days. I wondered what they thought as they reflected on their different career paths, and the impact that chance, luck and apparently insignificant choices and events had made on the journeys they'd made.

It's often not the most talented people who make it in the arts - be it music, acting or writing - but those with the most self-belief and determination.

Alistair stayed at our house that night - it was a lovely, clear, cold day (the younger generation and I had spent some of it in the snow in Greenwich Park) - and in the morning the younger generation shamelessly tucked into his breakfast before he headed back north. I'm glad he was able to come down, and that he took me along.

The Deacon Blue/Ricky Ross website has a forum, on which a couple of reviews were posted (here's a link which may or may not survive) - which, my goodness, point you here, where you can hear Ricky Ross's performance bootlegged, with songs individually saved. I haven't tried listening to them, although I should see how we the audience sound on The Germans Are Out Today and Dignity. Being linked from what is part of the official site, and having a note on the bootleg site that RR has made a correction to one of the other setlists on the site, suggest that the bootlegs aren't minded.

Monday, 14 March 2005

portrayal of families on TV

'Almost everyone I know is from a non-nuclear family,' he says. 'And from what I gather, it won't be long before stepfamilies outnumber conventional ones.'

But is TV giving us a skewed impression of family life? In reality, it seems, the figures don't bear Booker's assertion out. According to the National Office of Statistics (from its latest, 2003 report), every year some 150,000 children under 16 see their parents get divorced. And while this is far higher than in 1971, when it was 82,000, it doesn't mean that broken families are the norm in Britain today.

Indeed, a report by the National Family and Parenting Institute has some harsh words to say about the way in which TV drama ignores the average family. 'The family structure still most prevalent in society [75 per cent of families] does not feature highly,' concludes the 2002 report, entitled 'Soaps and the Family'. An inevitable consequence is that these TV programmes cannot be said to address the question of how the stresses of everyday life are dealt with by the 'average family'.

'Over-presentation of divorced families and single motherhood leads, particularly among heavy viewers, to the belief that family breakdown is inevitable.'
- Radio Times, 5-11 February 2005

inordinate horror at sin

'Inordinate horror at sin is not excessive horror - for no horror at sin can be excessive. It is rather the horror that discriminates in my favour and other's disfavour, horror not at the sinfulness of an action, but at its strangeness. It is the horror of offended taste rather than offended holiness. This is particularly pertinent in matters of sexuality.'
- from Holiness and Sexuality: homosexuality in a biblical context (David Peterson (Ed); Paternoster), quoted in a review of the book in Evangelicals Now, December 2004.

what they'd like us to like

The 'critics' choice' box in the Music section of Time Out always makes me smile.

'What we like, as opposed to what they'd like us to like,' they subtitle it.

Well, yes, if you consider 'they' are the big record labels and pop svengalis. But if 'they' are the people who seek to determine what's cool, fashionable and hip this week and to persuade trendy publications of that determination, then no, I'm afraid you do like exactly what they'd like you to like.

only from the air

Henning Wehn came to England three years ago to undertake a marketing project for Wycombe Wanderers Football Club. 'I experienced the full English hospitality right from the start,' Wehn explains exclusively to TO. 'Thanks to two elderly gentlemen.' One had pictures of Spitfires and Hurricanes littering his desk. The other, who wore a pullover emblazoned with the Royal Air Force logo, was delighted to hear where Wehn came from: 'You're from Hagen? I know Hagen! But only from the air.'
- Time Out, 9-16 March 2005. Henning Wehn, a German comic, was the winner of the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year.

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

DLT not dead

As John quite rightly points out, I appear to be implying that Dave Lee Travis has died; I didn't mean to, I meant when he does... Good job nobody else reads this weblog.

Tommy Vance has died, though. I remember listening to his Friday Rock Show on Radio 1, sometimes inside, sometimes out in the cold Lewis night with my friends. I was never as much into heavy metal as some of my friends (and most of the boys in our year), but I'd listen to any kind of music, pretty much.

And now as well as rebuying my old record collection on CD I find myself buying my schoolfriends' record collections (of their varying hues) as well. I never thought I'd be buying a Joy Division album, but there it is.

desolation row

The passing of Dave Lee Travis won't be marked with the same public response that John Peel's was, but the first time I ever heard Desolation Row by Bob Dylan - and still the only time I've ever heard it on the radio - was on Dave Lee Travis's show. I can still remember which radio it was - our kitchen radio, but on the sitting room side of the hatch, me being in the sitting room. Possibly a Saturday morning. It made a big impression.

I eventually picked up Highway 61 Revisited on tape a few years ago, second-hand, but the younger generation pulled the tape out of it last year when it was in the cassette radio in her bedroom, so I now have it on CD, which I bought on New Year's Eve in Fopp.

They're selling postcards of the hanging, apparently.

Since You've Been Gone / The Magic Roundabout

The first four 'lines' of the intro to Rainbow's Since You've Been Gone (da-da-da, duh-duh, da-da-da, duh-duh) are the same as the first four lines of the Magic Roundabout tune (da-dadilada, duh-dudiluduh, da-dadilada, duh-dudiluduh), just with longer notes.

regret the error

Regret the Error is an interesting website which documents corrections from print and online news sources (mostly US).

An extract from their first post, last October:
'What happened forty years ago, two months ago and then today that requires no less than two corrections? Answer: Media coverage of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964. When it was passed all those years ago, Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader was heavy into not covering the civil rights movement. So on the 40th anniversary of the Act's passing on July 4 of this year, the paper published this amazing apology: "It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission."'

Monday, 7 March 2005

Erica and Cees's website

Erica and Cees's website. It would be more interesting if I could speak Dutch, but whose fault is that? I can understand the photos, though, many of them (I know from their Christmas letter) are of their new house being built.

For whom the closing-time bell tolls

Interesting article by Ian Jack in The Guardian of Saturday 12 February: 'For whom the closing-time bell tolls: Will changing pub hours civilise our drinking habits?'

I read an article by Ian Jack in an old Granta recently about the IRA Gibraltar killings, and realised I often enjoy his articles (he often writes in the Guardian, and now edits Granta). I should see if he's written any books.

neutral cows

There were small farms in the forest clearings [on the Alsace-Lorraine front, ahead of the Maginot Line, in 1940] but these were now deserted as the occupants had fled to the west on the outbreak of war. The livestock were abandoned in the surrounding pastures and our Uist C Company rounded up two milk cows which they tethered beside the company position. For a few days they supplied the company with fresh milk but then on two successive mornings the cows appeared to have been already milked. The Uist boys blamed the Foyers D Company for this and two of their men volunteered to sleep beside the cows but were shocked on waking up during the night to find two German soldiers milking their cows!
- Gregor Macdonald, in St Valery, The Impossible Odds; Bill Innes (ed); Birlinn, 2004; p48.

Illustrates the porous, indefinite nature of front lines, not like the solid black lines shown on campaign maps.

life and soul of the party

I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; wit poured from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me - but I went away - and the dash should be as long as the earth’s orbit ---------------------- and wanted to shoot myself.
- Soren Kierkegaard, March 1836; in The Journals of Kierkegaard 1834-1854; Alexander Dru (ed & trans); Fontana, 1958; p50.


When we both went part-time one thing we wanted to do was use our Saturdays more interestingly, as we could get most of our chores and shopping done through the week. We reminded ourselves of this a few weeks ago, and went to Whitstable and Reculver, which we enjoyed (although the Roman remains at Reculver were less substantial than we'd realised; the pics are of church towers which stand next to them, and which were bought by the nation rather than demolished in order to remain a useful landmark for those at sea; Whitstable was interesting at the shoreline - which was fine as it was really the sea Bethan wanted to see that day - but less so inland).

This Saturday we went to Rochester, which was a good day out - an hour away, a castle, a cathedral, an interesting old high street with a number of Dickens connections. A neglected visitor destination (this is the City of Rochester website), I suspect, being in the middle of the Medway Towns (Chatham, Gillingham etc) maritime-industrial conurbation; if it was on its own in a rural setting it would be a popular destination. We did encounter a number of presumed tourists - Rochester leans heavily on its Dickens connections (although interestingly the Dickens Centre has closed, obviously quite recently). The shops and the pedestrians' fashions suggested an interesting combination of quite low and quite high disposable incomes.

Tuesday, 1 March 2005

Lord of the Rings - DVDs and music

I've recently finished watching the extras on the Return of the King DVD; so I've seen all the extras on the DVDs now, plus each film twice (once with the directors and writers commentary).

(Douglas, I suspect is right to wait for the 27-CD box set; in the commentary they regularly refer to scenes they haven't included even in the extended cuts; they jokingly refer to the 25th or 30th anniversary edition, but I guess something will happen, and it will be sooner than that.)

The people on the extras enthusing about the books, rather than the films themselves, made me feel like reading the books again. Well, not that exactly; more like I felt like I would like to have them ahead of me to read for the first time, not again. I don't anticipate reading them again. I'm not in general a re-reader.

Only one thing really annoyed me about the films. It's clear, both from the extras and the finished films, just how much effort they put into making everything realistic and authentic in the context of Middle Earth. Everything, that is, except for the light classical Hollywood score. How hard would it have been - and how much more atmospheric - to design traditional music to reflect the different peoples? The only time they did use traditional music was in Hobbiton - in the Shire, essentially a rural idyllic England - and they made it Celtic.

And they won Oscars for the music in the first and third films.

I don't know, the things I get worked up about.

panoramic london

A website with 360 degree views of London. Here's one of the Elephant and Castle.

An Caladh

A new Hebridean weblog, from Berneray - another couple moving up.

Make Poverty History? Heretic!

I've heard and read that some people say that because Jesus said 'the poor you will always have with you', then you shouldn't try to end poverty, but I've never actually heard anyone say it. Until today. The Make Poverty History campaign is unbiblical, apparently, because of this.