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.