Sunday, 31 December 2006

the gathering storm; the acceptable face of sf

Churchill borrowed some of his biggest ideas from HG Wells. Winston Churchill was a “closet science-fiction fan” who borrowed the lines for one of his most famous speeches from H. G. Wells, a Cambridge academic has discovered. Dr Richard Toye, a Lecturer in History at the University of Cambridge, has found that the phrase “The Gathering Storm” – used by Churchill to depict the rise of Hitler’s Germany – had in fact been conjured up by Wells decades earlier in The War Of The Worlds, which depicts an attack on Britain by Martians. And he has also spotted stark similarities between a speech Churchill made 100 years ago and Wells’ book A Modern Utopia. Tellingly, just two days before Churchill gave the speech in Glasgow on October 9 1906, he had also written to Wells to enthuse about the book, admitting “I owe you a great debt”.
- I saw this story in the Independent, but it's always hard to burrow into their subscription archive to link to articles, so here's the original press release on the Cambridge University website.

Of course, in the early twentieth century science fiction was perfectly acceptable subject matter for 'proper' writers. Earlier this month I read an SF collection, 17xInfinity, an old 60s paperback, which included stories by EM Forster and Rudyard Kipling.

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Full Dark House

Read Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler, which wasn't as good as I'd hoped. I might persist though; and an earlier book of his, Roofworld, is one I'd noted a long time ago as one to read.

FDH was set in a well-researched wartime London, and had this interesting fact (on p31 of my library paperback): 'The first bomb to explode in London was not dropped by the Germans but planted by the IRA, and aimed at the most prosaic of targets - Whiteley's emporium in Bayswater.'

Friday, 22 December 2006

the ballad of lucy jordan

'At the age of thirty-seven she realised she'd never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.'

It was probably a little earlier than that that I realised I didn't need to save my letters and emails for future biographers.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

sitting straight 'bad for backs'

BBC News says: Sitting up straight is not the best position for office workers, a study has suggested. Scottish and Canadian researchers used a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show it places an unnecessary strain on your back. They told the Radiological Society of North America that the best position in which to sit at your desk is leaning slightly back, at about 135 degrees.

- hurrah, that's how I often look when on the computer, both at home and work. I'm ahead of the research.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

calvinist romance - the best kind

James Eglinton has a splendid image at the top of his blog, The Metro Calvinist, an imitation old US magazine romance magazine cover. The magazine's called Calvinist Romance, and the guy is saying to the girl, 'Baby, your name must be Grace, because you're irresistible.' James got it off a now-departed blog.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

welcome to holland

Having just been introduced to Iain D Campbell's blog, the most recent post is very interesting, an item called Welcome to Holland, by Emily Perl Kingsley (who I'm not familiar with):

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

snopes stories

Another article from Snopes, this time detailing some of the stories which are obviously jokes but which people have sent to them asking if they were true; some of the stories are pretty good, as is the fact that people think they might be true.

"romantic-comedy behavior gets real-life man arrested"

Are stalkers just people who take to heart the perversity of celebrity culture? Or are they indistinguishable from "normal" romantic lovers except in that their passion is unrequited? Bran Nicol's sharp treatment of the idea of stalking in modern culture takes a while to say what the Onion headline he cites so brilliantly sums up: "Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested". But we also learn of narcissistic personality disorder, notorious stalkers who killed, and a dubiously evocative alternative name for the phenomenon: "interpersonal terrorism".
- from a review of a book on stalking in The Guardian, Saturday 18 November 2006.

I got an Onion book once, Our Dumb Century, which was quite funny but I realised quite quickly that you didn't have to read any of the text of the spoof articles, just the headlines.


Keeping one's head above water isn't sufficient when swimming among sharks.

Why did the girl in Jaws have dandruff? Because she left her head and shoulders on the beach.

How do you play mobius strip poker? Like regular strip poker, but twisted.

Sunday, 17 December 2006


I've got a feeling that the minister of Back Free Church having a blog is one of the signs of the end-times; so quake in your boots, because, just as Sheena said, here it is.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Khruschev is a fool

[Nikita] Khruschev, however, never minded a joke at his own expense, and in fact once related to Kennedy the story of a man who ran through the Kremlin shouting, 'Khruschev is a fool.' 'He was sentenced to twenty-three years in prison,' said the premier, 'three for insulting the Party Secretary, and twenty for revealing a State secret!'
- April 17, Jeremy Beadle's Today's The Day

chester himes

I read two Chester Himes crime novels recently, A Rage in Harlem and The Real Cool Killers; they were okay, but not good enough to make me want to read the third book in the omnibus edition I had (The Harlem Cycle Vol 1 - Payback Press, a Canongate imprint, although the only time Canongate's name appears, on the info page, it's got an extra 'n' in the obvious place).

The most interesting thing in it was this, in the introduction by Melvin van Peebles, who had interviewed him as a journalist when they were both living in Paris (and whose name is bigger on the cover than Chester Himes's):

He pointed to the two neat piles on either side of the typewriter and explained that before he started one of his 'detective stories', or 'action novels' as he insisted on calling them, he would count out 220 pieces of carbon paper and 440 pieces of typing paper. He would then place a sheet of carbon paper between every two sheets of typing paper so that way he would have an original and a copy of each page that he completed. He would then put the untouched pile on the right hand side of his typewriter and begin to bang away. After he finished typing a page he would put it face down on the pile at his left.
'What's the significance of 220 pages?', I asked, fascinated. 'Are you into numerology or something?'
'Numerology my ass,' Chester laughed. He explained that his contract with the publisher required that he deliver a manuscript of at least 220 pages. 'When the pile on the right hand side begins to get low I know it's time to start winding the story up.'

horror films

I'm not big on horror films really, but the only two films I've watched on Film4 so far have been supposedly horror - R-Point and Nightwatch. Nightwatch in particular I enjoyed a lot; I liked R-Point too, although they had a little interlude with American actors who weren't very good, which made me wonder if perhaps the Koreans weren't very good actors but I just didn't realise it. Perhaps I can only continue to think I don't like horror films by reclassifying all the ones I do like as not really horror. I don't think I can pull that off with Alien, though.

(A constant theme of David Langford's Ansible newsletter is how often mainstream or literary reviewers or writers who want to praise or recommend a science fiction book, film or TV programme will do so by saying it's not really, or transcends, or is better than, science fiction. I remember reading something similar by someone talking about a literary author's book which featured a device or technique which had been used before in crime fiction - I forget what it was - but which was hailed as radical or innovative because it was literature rather than genre fiction.)

Alex puts it well re The Exorcist - disturbing and unsettling, but not 'scary'. I should say I did think The Exorcist was a good film.

I thought I'd have watched a lot more on Film4 since it went Freeview; I've still got Lost In Translation on video, which I videoed in the first fortnight. Bethan saw it at The Big Scream, the Clapham Picture House's screenings for parents with children under 1; the only film I saw there, I think, was Super Size Me.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

hook, line and sinker

Watched the third of our York Tesco £1 DVDs last night, Hook, Line and Sinker, 'a zany adventure featuring one of America's most beloved comedy duos', Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, who of course I'd never heard of before. The sound and visual quality wasn't great, but it was okay - had a few good lines. Certainly no less funny than the Marx Brothers films that I have persevered with but never 'got' - we watched A Night At The Opera recently and I still really don't find them funny.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

a canticle for leibowitz (plus bonus exorcist digression)

Inspired by its appearance in the Top 50 list referred to below, and by Alex's mention of it as one of the favourites from those he'd read off the list (and the fact that Tlon were selling a copy for 75p), I read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr.

It was okay. For me the most interesting thing about it was the premise that in the aftermath of an apocalyptic atomic war, the survivors would turn on and destroy every body and object of authority, as sharing responsibility for bringing the world to this state, except for the church (and just the Catholic church, at that) - I can't imagine that anyone writing today would make that projection. So that when we join our future history we have what is essentially a medieval world in which all learning and knowledge and education sits with religious orders in monasteries and abbeys. And the church is treated sympathetically rather than satirically. It's the kind of book which might, unexpectedly, have been looked on favourably by the Catholic church, in much the same way as The Exorcist was.

(The film of The Exorcist got an award from a Catholic organisation, I forget which. I saw the film relatively recently - certainly some time after having watched Mark Kermode's documentary about it. Strangely enough I didn't find it that scary, and I wondered if the reason why so many people do is because its characters deal with the existence of spiritual evil and a spiritual battle in a perfectly accepting, matter of fact way, rather than a sensational, standard horror movie way. Perhaps it is that idea of the existence of a spiritual world which involves evil which people find most scary; perhaps it has less of an impact on people like Christians who believe that already. Or I might just have been desensitised by everything I'd read and watched up to that point. I should )

An interesting exchange from near the end of the book (p272 of 313):
- 'If I thought I had such a thing as a soul, and that there was an angry God in heaven, I might agree with you.'
- Abbot Zerchi smiled thinly. 'You don't *have* a soul, Doctor. You *are* a soul. You *have* a body temporarily.'

The copy I got is a US edition from 1988; I'm sure I recognised the cover. Not sure how it got over here; its rippled state suggests it may have floated over. There's an ink stamp in the back that says 'Property of Paul Dwyer Catholic High School'. A quick Google suggests that the only school of that name is in Oshawa, Ontario. The first two lines of the printing history of the book are: Lippincott edition published October 1959, Catholic Digest edition published September 1960.

Walter Miller's Wikipedia entry reveals that this was his only novel published in his lifetime, that he was traumatised by his involvement in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, that he was a Catholic, and that he shot himself; it has links to a couple of interesting articles also.


the princess and the pea

Nice cartoon in current Private Eye of mum reading to child at bedtime from The Princess and The Pea, captioned (more or less):
'Oi, David,' said Princess Posh, 'have you seen that pea I was saving for my dinner?'

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

cover DVDs

British newspapers gave away 54m DVDs in the first quarter of this year, roughly as many as were bought in shops.
- Guardian, 26 August 2006

employing married women

The eighth of December 1951 [the day he was born] marked the 10th anniversary of America's entry into the second world war. Until that time, half of the 48 states had laws making it illegal to employ a married woman.
- extract from Bill Bryson's autobiography, reproduced in the Guardian, Saturday 2 September 2006.

on film in afghanistan

Gruelling mountain marches, extreme temperature swings and dogged battles make Kunar the most physically punishing war for US troops since Vietnam. The Guardian joined one patrol that had walked 28 days, each man lugging a 40kg backpack. Several soldiers said they preferred their previous deployment, in Falluja, Iraq, because conditions were better there.

Money and videos play a large role in the fight. Locals recruited to target Americans must produce footage to ensure payment, said several officers and local officials. Survivors have the strange experience of watching attempts on their lives. Last April Lieutenant Brian Farrell drove over a roadside bomb that destroyed his Humvee truck. He escaped with a light wound but two months later relived the attack through the internet.

"I never wanted to be famous," quipped the fresh-faced 25-year-old, whose comrades poke fun about his "movie stardom". [Click here to see the video, filmed by insurgents, of the attack on Lt Farrell's vehicle.} But the joke is short-lived. Lt Farrell's regiment has suffered 156 casualties, including 19 deaths, since it deployed last March. Lt Farrell's own platoon counts two dead and six wounded.

- from an article on Afghanistan from the Guardian, Monday 4 December 2006.


An article on Rona from the Guardian of Saturday 26 August.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

captain's log supplemental

Further to the previous post re top 50 sf and fantasy books:

- I don't know how the list was come up with. Sometimes dodgy lists have titles which all turn out to be published/distributed/sold by the list-presenter, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. It seems a well-rounded list, which suggests it's not a 'readers votes' list (no ballot-stuffing by Discworld- and Potter-lovers), although the high placing of Mists of Avalon (and Sword of Shannara's presence) is a bit perplexing.

- I notice that titles 11-50 are in alphabetical order of title, so I guess the first ten are the 'top ten' and these are 'the rest'.

- Like Alex, there are some books on the list I'm just not sure if I've read or not. Alex recommends I Am Legend in particular, which I've read good things about before and must seek out.

- The only book on the list I started but couldn't get anywhere with was big fat Dune. Wizard of Earthsea is the only book on the list I haven't read but own.

- I note it isn't a 'best' list but 'most significant', which is quite a different thing. A book can be significant and important but not very good, like Frankenstein, say. Or Duchamp's fountain, which is significant and important in the history of art, but is rubbish - indeed, not even art (therein lying the importance of it being accepted as art).

- A lot of the best science fiction is short stories, I think, so won't appear on these kinds of lists (apart from Dangerous Visions). Robert Sheckley's novels were ordinary compared to his splendid short stories - probably my favourite science fiction writer, if push came to shove.

Dear me, just another list for me to keep and try to work my way through.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

top 50 sf and fantasy books

The Science Fiction Book Club's The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002, in order:

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

- I think I've only read fourteen of them; shocking.

sharpe by name

Another quote from a recent Fiver:
Lee Sharpe has failed to live up to his surname by getting a pub quiz question about himself wrong. When asked to name the youngest player to represent England U21s before Theo Walcott, he scribbled down 'Michael Owen'. The answer? 'Lee Sharpe'.

ken macleod

Iain Banks, in his whisky and car book, gave a couple of mentions to his old friend (school friend, I think) Ken Macleod; one of the things he mentioned was that whereas Iain had ground away at several novels before getting a publishable one, Ken got it right first time; another was that Ken's parents were Free Presbyterians.

I'd seen Ken MacLeod's books before, and I think I came across his weblog first when I was searching for the origin of the phrase 'work as if you are living in the early days of a better nation' - he's clearly an old lefty.

Last night I was watching the second part of a documentary on British science fiction, The Martians And Us. Ken MacLeod was one of the talking heads, and when I heard him speak I thought he must have done some growing up in Lewis. Sure enough, a websearch revealed he was born in Stornoway and lived in Lewis until he was ten. Two links came up to entries in his blog - here and here.

I'll have to read something of his.

world cup podcasts; the pundit queen

I've been listening to David Baddiel and Frank Skinner's world cup podcasts, only four or five months late - it's all come flooding back. (The Word magazine podcast is the only other genuine podcast I listen to; I also do Mark Kermode's film reviews and The Now Show.) They're amusing and with good analysis. Speaking of good analysis, here's the quote of the day from last Thursday's Guardian football email, The Fiver:

"Football's a difficult business and aren't they prima donnas?" - Her Majesty the Queen offers her surprisingly erudite opinion on the state of English football to Premier League chairman Sir David Richards.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

jesus is not a republican

Jesus is not a Republican - an interesting article by an American evangelical academic who is not right-wing.

tapioca time bomb

A freighter carrying tapioca nearly sank when a fire in its hold (and the water used to extinguish it) cooked the cargo.

- Snopes is a very good site for sorting out internet myth from fact, but this is a story which turns out to be true.

Friday, 24 November 2006


Have you heard about the new world record score in Scrabble? Michael Cresta scored 830 points during a game at the
Lexington Scrabble Club in Massachusetts on 12 October 2006. His words included "quixotry", which itself claims a record as the highest recorded single turn, scoring 365 points. "Quixotry": the state or condition of being extremely idealistic, unrealistic and impractical.

- World Wide Words newsletter, 4 November 2006.

what were they thinking?

What were they thinking? Really, it's just hard to conceive how no one thought that publishing a book (with associated tv programme) by OJ Simpson called If I Did It, describing how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend, if he had done it (which obviously helps to demonstrate that he couldn't possibly have done it, since the way it happened isn't how he'd have done it), might not be a good idea.

Which puts me in mind a little of the exchange between policemen in the film Jagged Edge, where one says the killing of the wife is so brutal that her husband couldn't have done it and the other says that because it looks that way, that's the way he'd kill his wife if he was going to.

Monday, 20 November 2006

langford's skrapbook

Some extracts from a miscellany, called skrapbook, compiled by Dave Langford for the UK magazine The Skeptic, first published in The Skeptic vol 18 no 3, Autumn 2005:

• Terry Pratchett reminisces about strange encounters in the days before he reached best-selling fame:
"I remember, as a journalist, patiently investigating the claims of some apparently perfectly normal people who had, once you worked out the details of the glowing hemisphere that they had seen, watched the sun set."
(In correspondence, 1991)

• Diana Wynne Jones, a leading children's fantasy author whom genre insiders rate much higher than J.K. Rowling, sings the praises of Alternative Medicine:
"I don't think I've ever been so ill so long and so bizarrely. I mean, I know ridiculous things are always happening to me, but who else in your acquaintance gets themselves poisoned by a homeopath? My agent kept ringing me up and protesting, 'But they mix it with water so many times that they don't give you enough to poison you!' Yes, they did. Did you know that in the back-to-front world of homeopathy, the more times you dilute a given poison, the more potent it is said to be? The one I went to kept bleating that she knew I was likely to react strongly, so she only gave me a very low potency -- in other words, she gave me quite a hefty dose of some obscure poison, and my body, being unacquainted with Looking Glass World medicine, promptly went on the blink for three months. I feel quite sorry for it."
(In correspondence, 1991)
-- Which reminds me that after an uncritical BBC programme on homeopathy in the 1980s, the SF author Bob Shaw (sadly no longer with us) sent a wide-eyed letter to the Radio Times asking whether, by the theory of Dilution Is Strength, you should give children twice as many pills as you would take yourself. He was severely dealt with in the letter column. Any dilution or addition made by a layman, it seems, would not be a true homeopathic process and would not count; and the kids should get a half pill just as in real life. The logic of all this is elusive.

• Again in the world of science fiction, I've been hearing about the Seattle-based rock band Blöödhag which promotes books, and whose lyrics are all about SF authors. For example, this haunting couplet from the song "Alfred Bester":
When Campbell fell under L.Ron's spell
Alfred said, "[something awful]."
Of course Bester, an author with a living to earn, said nothing of the sort when John W. Campbell -- the incredibly influential editor of Astounding SF magazine -- fell for Dianetics in the 1950s and started babbling things like "It was discovered by L. Ron Hubbard, and he will win the Nobel Peace Prize for it." Bester describes the embarrassing lunch with Campbell that followed:
"Suddenly he stood up and towered over me. 'You can drive your memory back to the womb,' he said. 'You can do it if you release every block, clear yourself and remember. Try it.'
"'Now. Think. Think back. Clear yourself. Remember? You can remember when your mother tried to abort you with a buttonhook. You've never stopped hating her for it.'
"Around me there were cries of 'BLT down, hold the mayo. Eighty-six on the English. Combo rye, relish. Coffee shake, pick up.' And here was this grim tackle standing over me, practising dianetics without a license. The scene was so lunatic that I began to tremble with suppressed laughter. I prayed, 'Help me out of this, please. Don't let me laugh in his face. Show me a way out.' God showed me. I looked up at Campbell and said, 'You're absolutely right, Mr. Campbell, but the emotional wounds are too much to bear. I can't go on with this.'
"He was completely satisfied. 'Yes, I could see you were shaking.' ..."
(Alfred Bester, "My Affair with Science Fiction", 1975)

elizabeth taylor and montgomery clift

Trouper of the week: She has faced viral pneumonia, a brain tumour and incurable heart disease, but this week Liz Taylor proved that you can't keep a good hoofer down - abandoning her wheelchair, at the age of 74, to swim with the sharks off Hawaii. This unassailable gumption will not surprise long-term Liz-watchers, who know her for more than just her murky friendship with Michael Jackson and her eight short marriages. In 1956, for example, on leaving a dinner party at Taylor's home, her good friend Montgomery Clift slammed his car into a phone pole, breaking every bone in his face (among many life-threatening injuries). While the other guests phoned for an ambulance, Taylor ran to the scene, crawling through the back door of the crushed car and over the seats to reach him. Cradling Clift's head in her arms, she noticed him moaning and motioning to his throat, where parts of his broken jaw had lodged. Taylor promptly reached deep into his mouth and pulled them out, thus saving his life. With guts like those, sharks probably don't seem very frightening at all.
- Guardian, Friday 22 September, 2006.

king james bible: the public response

The book crept out into the public arena. Being only a revision of earlier translations, and not a new work, there was no need for it to be entered in the Stationers’ Register, which recorded only new publications and so, in addition to this most famous book having no agreed text, it also has no publication date. ...
Everything that could have been done for it had been done. Something approaching three hundred and fifty scholar years had been devoted to its excellence; the Crown and state church had given it their imprimatur; a laudatory preface and dedication, by permission, to the king, had been included. Any publisher would have hoped for the most enormous success.
They didn’t get it. Some critics thought its dependence on a kind of English which seemed sixty or seventy years out of date (although its English was in fact a form no one had ever spoken) made it ridiculous and bogus. Hugh Broughton, a cantankerous and aggressive Puritan Hebrew scholar, who had wanted to be part of the great committee, sending papers and suggestions to Bancroft, but barred because of his incivility, lambasted the translation for its errors and its slavish following of the old Bishops’ Bible. In the opening words of his Preface, Miles Smith had predicted such a reaction. ‘Zeale to promote the common good’, he had begun - and there is no phrase which encapsulates more precisely the ideals of the project - ‘findeth but cold intertainment in the world.’ Broughton castigated the Translators. Their understanding of Hebrew was inadequate; where they had stumbled on something worthwhile, they had usually relegated it to the margins. These worldly divines, he said, were interested only in promotion in the church and crawling to royal authority. Blasphemy, most damnable corruptions, intolerable deceit and vile imposture were terms scarcely bad enough to describe the depths of their degeneracy. ‘The late Bible’, he wrote, ‘was sent to me to censure: which bred in me a sadness that will grieve me while I breathe, it is ill done. Tell His Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches . . . the new edition crosseth me. I require it to be burnt.’ ... The Geneva Bible continued to hold its position in English affections, at least partly because it was so useful for its notes and appendices, a guidebook to the world of the divine. It continued to flood off the presses ... Then, in 1616, the king put a halt to it, or at least attempted to: no more editions of the Geneva Bible were to be printed. The King James Bible ... was to become, by order, the only English Bible. [But Dutch editions were produced for the English market well into the 1630s] The King James Bible languished on the side, a royal project, whose language it seemed was not the language of the people.
- p227-228, Adam Nicolson, Power and Glory

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

freckleton air disaster

This from a set of interviews in Saturday's Guardian's magazine with Archibald McIndoe's guinea pigs - so incidental really, but a story about a tragedy I'd never heard of before:

I was stationed at Kirkham in Lancashire when the accident happened. It was August 23 1944, and I was off duty with three mates when a terrible storm blew up. We got caught right in the middle, so we made a run for it to our local cafe, The Sad Sack Snack Bar. Meantime, an American B-24 Liberator bomber had taken off on a test flight when it hit the storm and came down . It crashed through the snack bar and continued on, through the infants' wing of the local school before coming to a halt. Sixty one people, including 38 children, were killed. It was the worst air incident of the war. Ironically, at that time the rest of the country was celebrating - Paris had been liberated and victory was finally in sight.

This page on the Imperial War Museum gives some more details, and the location.

And this page gives a great deal of information.

billy bragg on multiculturalism

But after the interminable debate this summer about George Cross flags during the World Cup, many themes and references Bragg rehearses feel fairly well-trodden. Towards the end he does focus on one - multiculturalism - for long enough to propose what might be an interesting argument. Class, he says, is a social distinction which still exists but no longer acts as a barrier to achievement: "So perhaps we should think of a multicultural society in the same way as we perceive our present classless society, as an evolutionary process which does not necessitate the abolition of cultural differences or the assimilation of one group into another. The multicultural society would be one in which ethnicity, like class, no longer matters."

- from a not very favourable review of Billy Bragg's book, The Progressive Patriot, by Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian, Saturday 11 November.

the rough congregation

Looking at the site of a church near Crowborough, East Sussex, Forest Fold Baptist Chapel (in Ashdown Forest), this on its history page made me laugh:

So rough looking were the original worshippers [in the 1830s] that when a Mr Sedgwick came from Brighton one Sunday to preach he commented afterwards, “Well, Doggett, I never preached to such a congregation as that before. I did not know how the time went, as I was afraid to let them see I had a watch”.

Monday, 13 November 2006

lord mayor's show and fireworks

We went to the Lord Mayor's Show on Saturday - my and M's first time, Bethan's second. My childhood memory of the Lord Mayor's Show is of Saturday morning children's programmes being cut short to show it - I resented it, and had no interest in watching it. I don't have much more interest in watching it now; but we thought M'd like it, and she did. We had our congregation's traditional vantage point on the elevated area next to St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street - I checked on Thursday night that the space was still accessible through the back gate.

It was cold, and longer than I'd anticipated. It was quite a range of floats and bands. The most peculiar was a prostate cancer charity float, carrying a steel drum band playing Total Eclipse of the Heart, accompanied by smiling waving women, presumably secure in the knowledge that they'd never have to call on the charity's services.

We went back out to the fireworks at 5pm, watching them as last year from Southwark Bridge, which is a bit further away (the fireworks barge is between Blackfriars and Waterloo) so a bit quieter, fewer people and still a good view.

Oddly enough, we saw the dreadlocked Victor Lewis-Smith twice, in two separate places - walking below us at Cole Abbey, and passing us on a south London back street after the fireworks.

‘imagine is not about peace but oblivion’

Fan of the Beatles and solo Beatles as I am, I thought this item in the January 2006 issue of Word magazine by Andrew Harrison about Imagine (headed The Worst Song Ever, in a feature on The Worst Of Everything) hit the nail on the head in many ways:


Imagine is so routinely and unthinkingly acclaimed that it’s become one of rock’s sacred artefacts. Official anthem of Amnesty International. Top of C4’s 1000 Best Singles. Rolling Stone’s third-best single of all time. Sign-off at the end of every other Lennon-related fansite and source of the title for George Galloway’s auto-hagiography I’m Not The Only One. It is taken as read that this three-minute four-second song, released on October 24 1975 from the album of the same name and going to number one shortly afterwards, is the very pinnacle of what music can aspire to. It’s not so much a song as a hymn. Dislike it and you dislike rock and roll itself. You should probably go and stand in the corner with Britney Spears, Hitler, Simon Cowell and all the other agents of bummerdom.

I’ve always detested Imagine and, I think, with good reason. Has anyone listened to it lately? I mean *listened*, not genuflected before it. The irony of wealthy rock stars whingeing about the invidiousness of private property has been noted before but Imagine takes it to a whole new water-brained level. Lennon invites us to imagine absolute nothingness - not just an absence of heaven, hell, nations or belief, but no future or past either. It’s a manifesto for self-erasure from a man who’s bored of the world and everything in it, bar Yoko. I hear that rumbling sententious piano, see that white room in my mind’s eye (song and video are indivisible - and anyway, what kind of robot would want to live *there*?) and I can only think of Lennon’s heroin years. Imagine is not about peace but oblivion.

And its idealism is really a sneering contempt for anyone with convictions, or a reasonable desire of betterment in the material world, dolled up in groovy Apple Corps threads. Lennon just can’t stop his self-righteousness from peeking through (‘Imagine no possessions/*I wonder if you can*’). The song reaches its fatuous zenith in the final verse, where plain-speaking John employs the skills of the expert propagandist-rhetorician. ‘You may say I’m a dreamer’ (honest disagreement rubbished as cynicism) ‘but I’m not the only one’ (dissenters cast as an irrelevant minority) ‘I hope some day you’ll join us’ (offer salvation) ‘And the world will live as one’ (if you disagree, the world’s continuing woes are *your* fault). It’s creepy and culty and self-satisfied; a recipe for emptying your mind and filling it with Lennon’s hippy totalitarianism. I don’t just hate it. I fundamentally, violently disagree with it. And I hoestly believe it’s the worst song ever written.

You may say that I’m a dreamer - and maybe I am the only one. But let me refer you to a friend who has a terrible fear of flying. The least reassuring thing she could imagine when flying out of Liverpool John Lennon Airport into the teeth (she thought) of certain death was its new motto: ‘Above us only sky’.


- On solo Lennon in general, I often think also that people who think Paul McCartney was the MOR one has never listened to John Lennon’s solo albums, which contain much less of interest than PM’s of the same period. Plastic Ono Band is excellent, Imagine has its moments, but Mind Games, Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy are on the whole unremarkable MOR pap, and Rock and Roll and Sometime in New York City (and Live Peace In Toronto, which I don’t know if it counts, but was in a box set of LPs I had) are just rubbish.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

guy's chapel

Today on the way from Surestart at the Chipper Club to catch the RV1 for toasted panini at the South Bank and then playgroup at Coin Street, we bought a racing car, an I'm A Little Teapot book and two large counting jigsaws at the Guy's charity portakabin, we popped into Guy's Chapel, where a student was practising on the piano very pleasantly and there was a nice sculpture of Thomas Guy.

Interesting info on Thomas Guy from that King's webpage:
'Thomas Guy (1644-1724) was an eccentric and controversial philanthropist. He made a huge amount of money by printing Bibles illegally. He was particularly concerned for vulnerable people, though he was sometimes accused of being self-serving in the kind of help he gave.

'However, most of all, he is remembered for an act of extraordinary generosity. He 'got lucky' through his investments in the south seas, and cashed in his shares, before the 'South Sea Bubble' burst. At the time he was a governor of St Thomas' Hospital, which was then located on the London Bridge side of St Thomas' Street. He hated to see poor people who were not fully well, and people with mental health problems, being discharged before they were healed (see the magnificent sculpture in the chapel, which shows Guy rescuing a vulnerable person from the gutter). So with his huge wealth, he decided, in 1721, to found a new hospital from which no one would ever be turned away. He died soon after dedicating his money to this cause.

'You can still see the original hospital: The Collonade was built first, with the two little courtyards on either side of it. The front courtyard followed, with the statue of Thomas Guy in the centre. This part of the complex was completed in 1780. It is a little gem of Georgian architecture, and there are hopes to restore it to it's orginal glory.'

This walk on the Lost Industries site covers Guy's and a lot of other interesting stuff in the area that we regularly walk through, with some good links also.

beatles on the balcony

The last time we were at the National Portrait Gallery, a few Saturdays ago, we saw this exhibition, The Beatles on the Balcony, which was interesting. I spent most of the rest of my time there following M around as she did running circuits through the galleries as if doing speed art appreciation.

I read a few years ago that the UK was unusual in having portrait galleries, in London and Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

the ungentlemanly art of killing at distance

The prosecution of mobile operations with artillery and firearms demanded, therefore, a change in the cultural attitude of Renaissance armies. Though they had admitted gunpowder technology to their traditional practices, they had not adjusted to its logic. Like the Mamelukes who bore down, sword in hand, on the firearms of the Egyptian sultan’s black slaves, they were still trapped in an ethos which accorded warrior status only to horsemen and to infantry prepared to stand and fight with edged weapons. Fighting at a distance with missiles was beneath the descendants of the armoured men-at-arms who had dominated European warmaking since the age of Charlemagne. They wanted to fight from horseback, as their grandfathers had done, and they wanted such infantry man as accompanied them to bear the manly risks of standing to receive cavalry at point of pike. If guns had to take their place on the battlefield, then let it be behind ramparts, which was where missile weapons had always belonged. What the horse soldier did not want to see was the sturdy footman reduced to the level of the cunning crossbow mercenary: what he wanted to do even less was dismount and learn the black art of gunpowder himself.
The force of this face-to-face tradition [as opposed to killing at distance by spear, bow or gunpowder] provoked the warrior crisis of the sixteenth century. The attitude to crossbowmen of Bayard, chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, is well known; he had them executed when taken prisoner, on the ground that their weapon was a cowardly one and their behaviour treacherous. Armed with a crossbow a man might, without any of the long apprenticeship to arms necessary to make a knight, and equally without the moral effort required of a pike-wielding footman, kill either of them from a distance without putting himself in danger. What was true of the crossbowman was even more true of the handgunner; the way he fought seemed equally cowardly, and noisy and dirty as well, while requiring no muscular effort whatsoever. ‘What is the use, any more,’ asked the biographer of the sixteenth-century warrior Louis de la Tremouille, ‘of the skill-at-arms of the knights, their strength, their hardihood, their discipline and their desire for honour when such [gunpowder] weapons may be used in war?’

Yet, for all the protests of the traditional warrior class, it was clear by the mid-sixteenth century that firearms as well as cannon had come to stay. The arquebus and the heavier musket, both fired by a mechanism which brought a slow match to the priming-pan by the release of a trigger, were efficient weapons, the latter capable of penetrating armour at 200-240 paces. The foot-soldier's breastplate was of decreasing value as a means of protection; even more ominously, so was the horseman's full armour. By the end of the century it was no longer worn, and cavalry itself was losing its decisive purpose on the battlefield. That purpose had always been equivocal; the effect of a cavalry charge had always depended more on the moral frailty of those receiving it than on the objective power of horse and rider. And once the horseman encountered an opponent who could muster the resolve to stand, as the Swiss pikemen had found, or a weapon that could bring a rider to the ground with certainty, as the musket could, the right of the knightly class to determine how armies should be ordered, and to retain an equivalent social pre-eminence, was called into question. In France and Germany, the aristocracies held out against the pressure 'to dismount in order to stiffen foot soldiery', but the facts of life were not on their side, and neither were the state paymasters, who increasingly wanted value for money. In England, Italy and Spain the traditional military class were readier to scent the changed direction in which the breeze was blowing, to embrace the new technology of gunpowder and to persuade itself that to fight on foot might be an honourable calling after all.

p331-334, John Keegan, A History of Warfare

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

youtube: weeping ukulele, weird al does palindromes dylanly

Two videos on YouTube, tipoff from Rocking Vicar.

This is Jake Shimabukuro playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps on a ukulele in Central Park, which is quite pleasant.

And this is Weird Al Yankovic doing a pastiche of Bob Dylan (115th Dream-ish tune, Subterranean Homesick Blues video) in which every line is a palindrome, and is tremendous. I need to seek out some more Weird Al (there may be much more on YouTube - I've already come across Amish Paradise); Eat It still sticks in my mind, and he bears repeated listens I think. Unlike the Barron Knights.

Those palindromes in full:

I, man, am regal - a German am I
Never odd or even
If I had a hi-fi
Madam, I'm Adam
Too hot to hoot
No lemons, no melon
Too bad I hid a boot
Lisa Bonet ate no basil
Warsaw was raw
Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Rise to vote, sir
Do geese see god?
"Do nine men interpret?" "Nine men," I nod
Rats live on no evil star
Won't lovers revolt now?
Race fast, safe car
Pa's a sap
Ma is as selfless as I am
May a moody baby doom a yam?

Ah, Satan sees Natasha
No devil lived on
Lonely Tylenol
Not a banana baton
No "x" in "Nixon"
O, stone, be not so
O Geronimo, no minor ego
"Naomi," I moan
"A Toyota's a Toyota"
A dog, a panic in a pagoda

Oh no! Don Ho!
Nurse, I spy gypsies - run!
Senile felines
Now I see bees I won
UFO tofu
We panic in a pew
Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo
God! A red nugget! A fat egg under a dog!
Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

too young to write your memoirs?

The BS Johnson question must be asked: aren't you rather young to be writing your memoirs?
Franzen scrunches up his face and thinks hard for a good minute. (This is a habit he has.) 'Only if you consider it likely that something more interesting is going to happen to me in the second half of my life than happened in the first,' he says, eventually. 'I'm doubtful about that.'
- John O'Connell interviews Jonathan Franzen, Time Out, 18 October.

niall ferguson

Interesting article by Niall Ferguson on pardoning of WW1 soldier pardons. I've just started watching his War of the World series, which I've got backed up on video. I enjoyed his series on the British Empire, which some people thought was too right wing and re-revisionist - he thinks the British Empire was a good thing - but I was with him on it. His War of the World series thesis is that the twentieth century was one long conflict, driven not by ideology or nations but by race.

the ipod plant

Thirty-two thousand staff live on-site at the plant in China where iPods are made. (BBC)

just read yesterday's and pretend it's today's

'just read yesterday's and pretend it's today's' - that's what my father used to say to my mother when she was going to buy today's paper not having touched yesterday's. I've taken after my mother in that regard, and have a tottering pile of newspaper backlog. If I lived on my own I'd be one of those old men found crushed under one of his toppled piles of papers, several months after the toppling. 'Just read December's and pretend it's today's.'

philosophy leaves everything as it is

'philosophy leaves everything as it is' - a book review in the Guardian quotes Wittgenstein as having said this.

Monday, 30 October 2006

whipped into a frenzy of moderation

Another quote from David Langford, from an article on HG Wells:
Returning from fiction to real life in the wake of these novels: Wells was now a literary success. A tangible result of the resulting affluence was that in 1899-1900, he had a fine new home built specially for himself and Jane: Spade House at Sandgate, Kent. His recurring utopian dream of a socialist World State inevitably led him into politics, and in 1903 he joined the gently socialist Fabian Society (which, as unkind people remarked and Wells happily agreed, had plenty of nubile female members). The Fabians had named themselves for Fabius Cunctator, the Roman general who used shrewd tactics of delay. They wanted a gradual, almost imperceptible introduction of socialism into English politics. A traditional gibe was the supposed Fabian rallying call as the crowd was whipped into a frenzy of moderation:

"What do we want?"
"Gradual change!"
"When do we want it?"
"In due course!"

ansible: thog quote; evil cs lewis

For a stretch of several years David Langford's articles were the best thing in several magazines I read (roleplaying and Amstrad). I've already mentioned him here. Now he seems to have almost everything he's ever written on his website. I've got a lot of catching up to do (and doubtless I'll end up with a list of fantasy and sci-fi books I'll want to read).

Here's a couple of things from his Ansible newsletter of January 2006 (I thought January's as far back as I should start).

Thog's Masterclass [bad quotes from fantasy and sci-fi]. Dept of Nose Noises. 'But the younger man had a nose for trouble which Acevedo had learned to trust, or at least listen very carefully to.' (David Weber in Changer of Worlds, 2001)

The devout website exposes [here] `the darker and esoteric meanings of the Chronicles of Narnia', including the author's vile profanity: `The word "ass" appears in 4 of the books. Being British, it probably did not mean the same to him as it does to Americans (as a swear word), but he could have left it out, especially since he only used it four times and did use "donkey" in other places. However, considering the filthy state of his mind, it is possible that he thought this cute.' Other parts of this analysis are, shall we say, less balanced.

music in shops; watt repellent

Two CDs I've bought because they were playing it in the shop:

Different Trains, by Steve Reich. I think it was Electric Counterpoint that was playing. It was a music shop in Milton Keynes, on the day we had a coach trip up there when my then employers were looking to relocate to the area and were giving staff the opportunity to go us and see the area. I remember visiting the giant MK shopping centre (I think I got a couple of second hand books and/or tapes on a stall outside also), and a depressingly tiny show house in a new estate. We relocated to Bletchley in the end. Don't play it much as minimalist, repetitive music does Bethan's head in.

Echoes from Africa, by Abdullah Ibrahim. I heard most of it, I think; it was in Top Floor CDs, in the Elephant & Castle shopping centre, which closed earlier this year. Also pretty repetitive, changing harmonies and phrases over repeated patterns, but more bearable to people of a sensitive disposition. I'd like to get more of him, but he's recorded so much and it's difficult to know which would be most like the one I like.

I was playing my Lemon Jelly CD last week when the Rollses were down, and not only did no one else in the room like it, one of the children came down from the bedroom to ask us to turn it down. There's something wrong with the world when that happens, surely.

Another of my CDs - League Unlimited Orchestra's Love and Dancing - also drove my other sister-in-law out of the room last year.

book titles

Two books I can think of that I wanted to read because of their titles:

'We have met the enemy, and they are partly right', by Tony Campolo - about philosophies and world-views in relation to evangelical Christianity. The chapter on Kierkegaard made me want to read more Kierkegaard.

'If on a winter's night a traveller', by Italo Calvino - read it, didn't like it.

kierkegaard in copenhagen cathedral

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher-theologian, once described how he went into the great cathedral in Copenhagen and sat in a cushioned seat and watched as sunlight streamed through stained glass windows. He saw the pastor, dressed in a velvet robe, take his place behind the mahogany pulpit, open a gilded Bible, mark it with a silk marker and read, 'Jesus said, "If any man be my disciple he must deny himself, sell whatsoever he has, give to the poor and take up his cross and follow me."' Kierkegaard said, 'As I looked around the room I was amazed that nobody was laughing.'
Tony Campolo, It's Friday, But Sunday's Comin'; Word, 1985; p111

'I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight'

There are such things as laughless jokes, what Freud called gallows humour. There are real-life situations so hopeless that no relief is imaginable.
While we were being bombed in Dresden, sitting in a cellar with our arms over our heads in case the ceiling fell, one soldier said as though he were a duchess in a mansion on a cold and rainy night, 'I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.' Nobody laughed, but we were still all glad he said it. At lease we were still alive! He proved it.
- Guardian, Saturday 14 January 2006

Saturday, 28 October 2006

quartered safe out here

The George MacDonald Fraser memoir was good. It did have some ‘reactionary old man’ passages, but I didn’t mind them really - someone who has fought their way through a war has earned the right to say what he thinks about issues relevant to his experience, and much of what he says is valid. An interesting perspective on the atomic bombs, saying, understandably, that those who wish they hadn’t been used are wishing the death of more allied soldiers, and that he values the lives of himself and his colleagues, and crucially his children and grandchildren, more than any number of others; so the issue in retrospect is obvious, but ‘I have a feeling that if - and I know it’s an impossible if - but if, on that sunny August morning, Nine Section had known all that we know now of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and could have been shown the effect of that bombing, and if some voice from on high had said: “There - that can end the war for you, if you want. But it doesn’t have to happen; the alternative is that the war, as you’ve known it, goes on to a normal victorious conclusion, which make take some time, and if the past is anything to go by, some of you won’t reach the end of the road. Anyway, Malaya’s down that way... it’s up to you”, I think I know what would have happened.’

Another example he gives of how knowledge isn’t what it could be is of one respectable historian wrote that a particular weapon, the piat, was never used in Burma, but in fact GMF himself used it. I knew the Japanese were well-known for not surrendering, but I hadn’t realised the depth of it - the rumour that a man might have surrendered was big news; in one hospital more than a hundred wounded had committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. The odd but not unusual experience of two sections going into an action or area essentially side by side, and one having its strength reduced by half while the other encounters no one.

It made me realise I know very little of the war in the East (awful POW experiences, and It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum), and should read something more about it. I often see the statue of Slim on Whitehall.

Stanley ‘had been in the o.p. with Wells, and when Jap arrived they had cut out for the wire. Stanley had made it into the perimeter, only to find that there was no sign of Wells. So he had slipped out again, without a word to anyone, when the fighting was at its height, into the Jap-infested dark, to look for him. By sheer luck he found him, near the o.p., dying of bayonet wounds; there was no way of helping him, but Stanley had stayed with him; he could have sought cover for himself, but he didn’t. I suppose he brought the dead man in at dawn, but my informant - who was not Stanley himself - wasn’t sure of all the details: he had only learned the bare facts months later. ... whenever I hear the word “hero” loosely used, as it so often is of professional athletes and media celebrities and people who may have done no more than wear uniform for a while, I think of Stanley going back into the dark.’

‘My parents knew I was in Burma, and that (with the possible exception of air crew) it was generally believed to be the worst ticket you could draw in the lottery of active service. Those months must have been the longest of their lives; whatever anxieties the soldier may experience in the field can be nothing to the torment of those at home. I don’t know how parents and wives stand it. Perhaps family experience is a help: every generation of my people, as far back as we knew, had sent somebody to war, and my grandmother’s comment on Chamberlain’s speech on September 3, 1939, had been simply: “Well, the men will be going away again.” Her uncle had served in the Crimea, her brother had died in the Second Afghan, two of my aunts had lost sweethearts in the Great War, my father had been wounded in East Africa, and two uncles had been in the trenches; probably it was a not untypical record for a British family over a century, but whether it made my absence easier or harder to bear, who knows?’

A fellow soldier was shot in a battle and actually shouted, ‘They got me! The dirty rats, they got me!’

A Highland and a Gurkha unit go into action next to each other against a Japanese position in trees. ‘One of the Highlanders told me later that when they came out again they found the ground before the position littered with Gurkha rifles: most of them had gone in with kukris alone.

‘There was another occasion when a Gurkha platoon close to us held a position against two companies of Japanese who wouldn’t take no for answer, but kept coming time and again, yelling “Banzai!”; the Gurkhas just stood fast and stopped them until the position was littered with Jap dead. When the Gurkhas were finally withdrawn it was discovered that they hadn’t a single round of ammunition among them.’

‘It’s all in the point of view: armchair strategists can look at the last stages of a campaign and say there’s nothing left but mopping-up, but if you’re holding the mop it’s different.’

Monday, 23 October 2006

darling buds of may

This is an interesting story from the Guardian, from someone who has a good case for suggesting that his family on holiday was HE Bates's inspiration for the Larkin family.

good old l ron

We had a diversion from Queen Victoria Street on our way to church yesterday. It turned out to be the opening of the Scientologists' new London HQ (in a building originally built for the British & Foreign Bible Society).

Links to reports in the Guardian, Observer, Times and Independent.

Clambake is a pretty comprehensive Scientology-rebuffing site.

I saw their logo on the outside of the building on the way home from church last week, but it was so enormous, garish and cartoony that I took it for a filming prop.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

milton jones

While my mother was down and available for childminding at very reasonable rates this month, Bethan and I managed to get out on three evenings.

On the first we saw Milton Jones at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden on Wednesday 4th. Our first time in that theatre - a small one above a pub. We'd seen him before, at BBC radio recordings of one of his comedy series, The House of Milton Jones. We liked him a lot - Bethan tends to steer clear of live comedy because of the swearing and crudity (which you can't always reliably gauge from their tv and especially radio appearances), but we felt on safe ground with Milton Jones. The Very World of Milton Jones series was excellent; if it had been scripted by himself, I have a feeling that perhaps it would have been viewed as a classic series, but it was written by a team of non-performing writers, so no sense of one genius author, like Spike Milligan (who it probably most closely resembled, with a bit of ISIRTA perhaps).

Like a slower, more surreal Tim Vine. (We've got Tim Vine's DVD, which is really good. Last time we looked, the Milton Jones radio series weren't out on tape, which was surprising.)

We went midweek, and thought he'd be safe from drunk hecklers, but there were a couple of women in the front row (it was almost full, but still only about forty people there) who just kept talking to him, which he weathered very well.

who by?

I don't think they'd have bothered printing it if it was inaccurate, but there was a letter in last week's Radio Times saying that on Newsnight, when talking with Jeremy Paxman in relation to his new book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins said, 'I have not been put on this earth to be comfortable!'. I'm sure there's little than annoys him more than people who push his buttons by saying that he's a man of great faith, but he is, it's just not faith in God.

tesco - how did this happen?

An article in a recent Evening Standard about Tesco had some interesting stats, including:
- it has 30% of Britain's grocery market, nearly twice that of Asda and Sainsbury's
- it has 250,000 employees, making it the biggest employer after government

marvellously honest work

Before the tour began, the guide (Michael, a charming, middle-aged actor resting between jobs) asked if anyone needed the loo. One girl put up her hand. "I do," she said, "but I won't - I don't like weeing in public toilets." There was a pause. "Excellent," beamed Michael. "I can see we're going to have some marvellously honest work out of you this afternoon." I love actors.

- Lucy Mangan acts as a chaperone to a school group visiting Shakespeare's Globe in last Saturday's Guardian.

wim wenders' favourite book

according to last Saturday's Guardian Weekend's Q&A, is Eugene Peterson's translation of the New Testament, The Message.

some local colour

Two local stories relating to Saturday 14 October 2006.

Memorial unveiled to victims of Blitz entombed in park shelter
The mass grave of scores of unidentified victims of one of the worst civilian disasters of the Blitz, forgotten except by those still living in the surrounding streets, will finally be marked today.
The memorial is in Kennington Park, south London, where a 50lb German bomb fell directly on to a trench shelter on October 15 1940. That night, rescuers dug as the walls fell in around them, but only managed to remove 48 identifiable bodies of the estimated 104 victims. The rest were covered in lime, and the trenches filled in on top of them. They still lie buried below the grass.
The complex of shelter trenches, like those dug in several London parks, were lined with timber, and later with thin concrete slabs, roofed with timber and earth. They flooded from the start and there were always doubts about their strength.
The tragedy is not in any accounts of the worst civilian disasters of the Blitz. However, in the streets around the park, it remains vivid oral history to this day.
Kay Coster, a guest of honour at today's ceremony, only learned the details in the years before her father's death in 2002, after decades when he could not bear to speak of it. James Holland was 14 when he rushed to the park with his parents. They both died, and he was the last person dragged out alive, badly injured.
- The Guardian

Clubber critical after shooting
A man who was shot in the head when he was caught in the crossfire of a shooting outside a club is in a critical condition.
He was hit when a man opened fire near the Ministry of Salsa nightclub in Walworth Road, south London. Moments earlier the gunman had shot another man who had left the nearby Ivory Arch club. He was shot in the buttock and is in a stable condition. As the first victim fled the gunman chased him and continued firing. During the chase in the Elephant & Castle area, he shot the second victim, a 26-year-old man, in the head. The injured man was taken to hospital where he is in a critical condition. The first victim, aged 28, made his own way to hospital and is in a stable condition. Detectives from Operation Trident, the Metropolitan police initiative to fight gun crime in London's black communities, are investigating the case.

Lots of police tape up on Sunday (outside Ivory Arch and Ministry of Salsa), even more by Monday morning (all the open space between the shops and the entrance to the subways), but gone by Monday evening except just outside the Ivory Arch. The yellow police incident boards from last month's serious assault outside the Ivory Arch were still up. Never been to the nightclub, but they do good Indian takeaways.

biblical literature

Bonkers article in last Saturday's Guardian, which I won't dignify with a link, from a senior Anglican cleric talking about the 'obviously' gay relationships in the Bible. David and Jonathan, of course, but also Ruth and Naomi, which was a new one on me. A completely anachronistic, non-contextual reading of the text. Reminds me of the CS Lewis essay, possibly Fern Seeds and Elephants, where he writes about idiot theologians who talk about the mythical nature of the Bible writings, and says no, I know mythical literature, and this isn't it, if it is it's many centuries ahead of its time, the people writing it are writing non-fiction, historical literature.

pick up boot

This from a Guardian article about father and son actors Timothy and Sam West. I've definitely seen this story before. Sam speaking:

We share quite a lot of tastes and sensibilities. But we are quite different as actors. When we worked together 10 years ago in Henry IV, he was Falstaff and I was Hal so we were on stage together in the first scene and I picked up his script and he picked up mine. At one point I had written, "palliate the follies I can neither avoid nor deny". At the same spot, he had written, "pick up boot"!


I've still got somewhere a page of quotations appropriate to me that SB gave me when we were at University. Two I remember are 'He said he was against it' and 'Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy it'. Oh, how I've changed, eh?

Friday, 13 October 2006

george macdonald fraser

Douglas lent me the first Flashman novel recently. Although I really enjoyed George MacDonald Fraser's short stories about life in the postwar army - and they were as good when I reread them recently in The Complete McAuslan before lending them to Douglas - I had never been interested in the Flashman novels, mainly I think because I have an aversion to historical fiction (why read a fictional version of a historical event rather than a non-fictional account, is my general rule) and in particular the idea of basing them on an unpleasant peripheral character in another work of fiction. But I've learned that these are very well researched, and it was fine.

I've just started reading Quartered Safe Out Here, which is his memoir of his time in the war in Burma, and it's shaping up well. He's written a later volume about his screenwriting career, which will be interesting too, although by all accounts those bits are interspersed with 'old right wing man railing against the government and political correctness' passages, but I'm sure I could put up with those.

I've no idea how I came across the McAuslan stories in the first place, during my schooldays - probably picked one up at a sale of work. It's quite often pretty random what you discover and what passes you by.

QSOH has at its start a section from Kipling's Gunga Din:
You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out here,
An' you're sent to penny fights an' Aldershot it,
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the blooming boots of 'im that's got it.

In First Year English at Uni one of the set books was a volume of Kipling short stories, which I enjoyed. Accounts featuring interviews/contributions from ordinary soldiers make clear how often they are operating in combat on little food and no sleep, and no idea of the bigger picture.

From GMF's introduction to QSOH: 'With all military histories it is necessary to remember that war is not a matter of maps with red and blue arrows and oblongs, but of weary, thirsty men with sore feet and aching shoulders wondering where they are .... I must emphasise that at a private soldier level you frequently have no idea where you are, or precisely how you got there, let alone why.' He understand much more now, having read military histories, of where their little activities and actions fitted into bigger strategy and circumstance.

One of his reasons for writing his war memoir is 'to assure a later generation that much modern wisdom, applied in retrospect to the Second World War, is not to be trusted. Attitudes to war and fighting have, as I said earlier, changed considerably, and what is thought now, and held to be universal truth, was not thought then, or true of that time.' He's scathing of the revisionists and the fashionable and the backward imposition of the modern worldview on the past. Later generations, he says, 'have a tendency to envisage themselves in the 1940s, and imagine their own reactions, and make the fatal mistake of thinking that the outlook was the same then. They cannot see that they have been conditioned by the past forty years into a new philosophic tradition, requiring new explanations; they fail to realise that there is a veil between them and the 1940s. They want to see the last war in *their* terms; they want it to conform to *their* notions. Well, it won't.' Such modern views are false, and also dangerous, because they 'may be taken as true by the uninformed or thoughtless, since it fits fashionable prejudice. And that is how history is distorted. You cannot, you must not, judge the past by the present; you must try to see it in its own terms and values, if you are to have any inkling of it. You may not like what you see, but do not on that account fall into the error of trying to adjust it to suit your own vision of what it ought to have been.'

anytime soon video

One of my favourite new songs from last year, Anytime Soon by Marshmallow, has this sweet video.

from this week's private eye

Late Church School News
The Church of England today confirmed that it will in future be opening up 25% of spaces in its classrooms to the children of parents who actually believe in God. 'Formerly, of course, 100% of places at our schools went to the children of parents who attend Church grudgingly every Sunday so as to avoid having to send their children to local rubbish state schools. This we now accept was discriminatory and (cont p94)'

Nice cartoon of 'Green Tories' carrying placards saying 'Cars for the rich only', 'No foreign travel for the poor', and 'It's holidays in Blackpool for you, Johnny pleb', being told 'Um, perhaps we need to stress the green a little more, and the Tory a little less'.

Thursday, 12 October 2006

the mysterious appeal of garrison keillor

A Prairie Home Conundrum: the mysterious appeal of Garrison Keillor is an interesting article from online magazine Slate. I've enjoyed what I've read of him - although Lake Wobegon Days took a bit of getting into - and I've been enjoying the Prairie Home Companion that they've been doing on BBC7 on Saturday lunchtimes.

astroturf in the tunnel

The covered lane that joins the dressing rooms with the pitch usually consists of nothing more than a pair of white-painted breezeblock walls and a concrete floor that is generally covered with Astroturf as if the players, like young cattle, need to be lured out of their cosy bedding by the prospect of fresh grass.
- Harry Pearson on the tunnel, in Guardian’s football season guide of August 2006.

cd sales

More than a quarter of all the CD albums bought in Britain during last year were purchased in a supermarket.
- The Guardian, 9 September 2006

the capital punishment lottery

I missed Genius on R4 last week, with Dave Gorman, but I learnt of one of the ideas - which amazingly wasn't considered Genius - from the Radio Times: The Capital Punishment Lottery. The names of everyone who has voted to bring back the death penalty are stored until someone is wrongfully executed. A draw follows for a pro-capital punishment voter's name to make up for the innocent life that's just been taken.

rushdie on kipling

His literary enthusiasms embrace problematical writers - from a colonial point of view - such as Conrad and Kipling. "Lord Jim is a book that I kind of hated but couldn't get out of my head. The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' is awful, but unforgettable." Similarly, he has had "many of the difficulties with Kipling that a lot of people from India have, but every true Indian reader knows that no non-Indian writer understood India as well as Kipling. As a child I loved the Jungle Books, long before I realised that there were ideological problems with them. If you want to look at the India of Kipling's time, there is no writer who will give it to you better."
- Guardian, Saturday 30 September 2006.

everything about nothing, nothing about everything

They say of people who specialise, especially academically, that they learn more and more about less and less until eventually they know everything about nothing. I can see the appeal of that - it's nice to have a sense of control over and understanding of even a tiny part of the wide world - but have always tended to the opposite, of being interested in too many things, so that I'm learning less and less about more and more. I am approaching the point at which I will know nothing about everything.

best top 10 album chart ever?

For 40th birthday reasons I found out the UK Top 10 Albums from 8 October 1966, and found it contained four albums that regularly appear in 'best ever' lists, including two - Revolver and Pet Sounds - that often top such lists:

1 Soundtrack Sound of music; 2 Beatles Revolver; 3 Walker Brothers Portrait; 4 Beach Boys Pet sounds; 5 Spencer Davis Group Autumn 66; 6 Various Stars charity fantasia Save the children fund; 7 John Mayall/Eric Clapton Bluesbreakers; 8 Herb Alpert Going places; 9 Kinks Well respected Kinks; 10 Bob Dylan Blonde on blonde.

The Save the Children album isn't available on CD; the others are or probably will be eventually. Sound of Music clogs up the album charts for a large part of the mid-Sixties.

For comparison purposes, here's my birthdate chart, which isn't nearly so good:
1 Soundtrack Sound of music; 2 Monkees More of the Monkees; 3 Monkees Monkees; 4 Beach Boys Best of the Beach Boys; 5 Tom Jones Green green grass of home; 6 Walker Brothers Images; 7 Four Tops Four Tops live; 8 Seekers Come the day; 9 Trini Lopez Trini Lopez in London; 10 London cast Fiddler on the roof.

It's harder to find charts - as opposed to No1s - than you might think. Album charts courtesy of this site - the most extraordinary thing about which is that it's been done by a woman. I'm not sure which chart she used, but it's good enough for me.

Monday, 9 October 2006

ted nugent

Some of Ted Nugent's views are a bit scary, but this is funny.

'And yes, he did make the comment in a May 2006 interview conducted by a British journalist Robert Chalmers for The Independent on Sunday, the expanded Sunday version of the UK newspaper The Independent:

'"What do these deer think when they see you coming?" I ask him. "Here comes the nice guy who puts out our dinner? Or, there's the man that shot my brother?"

'"I don't think they're capable of either of those thoughts, you Limey asshole. They're only interested in three things: the best place to eat, having sex and how quickly they can run away. Much like the French."'

maps in fantasy novels

An interesting article on maps in fantasy novels.

'I would also be much intrigued if anyone had ever managed to get any help from the map of the underground city of Menzoberranzan in R. A. Salvatore's Homeland, a map with a note which speaks for itself: "Only major stalagmites are shown for clarity."'

favourite geek joke

(Nerd has fallen out of favour rather, hasn't it? We're all geeks now.)

There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who don't understand binary and those who do.

(There are two types of people in the world. Those who believe there are two types of people in the world and those who don't.)

Which puts me in mind of another number joke I might have put down here before:
What did the 0 say to the 8? Nice belt!
(I saw in a review of the paperback of The Stornoway Way that that joke's used in there too.)

winchester - jane austen

While in Winchester, visited, as on previous visit, the two Jane Austen sites - the cathedral where she's buried and the house nearby where she spent the last few weeks of her life.

As with so many 19th-century authors, it was taken for granted at the time that she was a Christian (as the inscriptions make clear) and is taken equally for granted today that she wasn't. I think there is a resistance today to the idea that someone with an artistic soul could have been really a Christian, but rather was constrained by or keeping their head down in or rebelling against the Christian sea in which they found themselves swimming.

Friday, 6 October 2006

goodbye, blog: the friend of information but the enemy of thought

Very interesting article from Christianity Today about blogs - the author had hoped they heralded a revolution in exchange of thought and ideas, especially via the 'comments' facility, but they haven't.

'Debate after debate — on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity — either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.'

And an interesting comparison to the Reformation and the invention of printing: 'As I think about these architectural deficiencies, and the deficiencies of my own character, I find myself meditating on a passage from a book by C. S. Lewis. In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as "that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation." For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, "could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure." Instead, thanks to the prevalence of that recent invention the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.'

gulf stream myth

This article from American Scientist (no idea how reputable that is) asserts that the idea that Britain's climate is kept warmer by the Gulf Stream is a myth.

Monday, 2 October 2006

execution more expensive than life imprisonment

Interesting Guardian article on possible shift on views on death penalty in America, for pragmatic rather than moral reasons (my reader will be interested to know that that reflects my own view - in favour of the death penalty in principle, but not in practice). Interesting that some anti- campaigners seem peeved that it's miscarriages of justice which are changing minds and that not all their fellow anti- campaigners are against it on moral grounds. Most interesting, counter-intuitive, fact: 'A typical capital case costs at least three and a half times as much as lifetime incarceration. New Jersey has passed 60 death sentences, overturned 50 on appeal, and still not executed any of the 10 men left on death row. Having spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars executing nobody, it's expected to abolish its death penalty this year.'

Saturday, 30 September 2006

the mcluhan test

The privilege of browsing is, however, still allowed, if less comfortably than it used to be. This relates to the unique feature of the bookshop: you can sample before you buy (or not). A large proportion of walk-in customers do not know what they want precisely, and will have bought nothing when they leave. They will, none the less, have fingered and sampled the produce, and taken their time doing it. A bite here, a bite there. Despite a growing pressure to make bookshops more like In-N-Out Burger, it is still possible to browse. Dust jackets, blurbs, shoutlines, critics' commendations ("quote whores", as they are called in the video/DVD business) all jostle for the browser's attention. But I recommend ignoring the hucksters' shouts and applying instead the McLuhan test.

Marshall McLuhan, the guru of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), recommends that the browser turn to page 69 of any book and read it. If you like that page, buy the book. It works. Rule One, then: browse powerfully and read page 69. If maps are useful, so are charts. Bestseller lists weed down the mass of available novels to the 20 or so that everybody is reading - but almost certainly will not be reading in a few months' time. The trick is not to get into the game late, but to pick the rising titles near the bottom, or to check out what is on the list of the other major English-speaking country before they arrive on your shores.
- from one of John Sutherland's Guardian articles on reading novels.

the head teacher's customers

I've just recorded an interview with a head teacher about school meals. He referred to his pupils as "customers".
- Eddie Mair on 18 September.

bullet-proof hymnbook

Our hero's death is repeatedly defied, in one instance by a bullet-proof hymnbook. "I'm not surprised," says the local sheriff. "Some of these hymns are terrible hard to get through."
- from Guardian review of a stage adaptation of (the film of) The 39 Steps.


I've put more of the links from my 'online reading' folder in my Favourites onto this page to make it more likely that I'll look in on them once in a while - some of them I haven't looked at for many months, so hopefully they haven't become too unpleasant in my absence.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

just like the war on drugs

'This war on terrorism is going to rule! I can't wait until the war is over and there's no more terrorism!'
'I know! Remember when the U.S. had a drug problem, and then we declared a War On Drugs, and now you can't buy drugs any more? It'll be just like that!'

- I saw this line in a cartoon not long after September 11th 2001, and it stuck with me. I won't link to it, because the cartoons there in general are pretty sweary (and just not so good) and I'm such a prude (you can refind it easily enough, as I did to quote it right, with a search on key words), but this one hit the nail on the head.

the first black president of america

Question on BBC1's Test the Nation: "Who was Winston Churchill - A rapper, US President, The PM or King?"
Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend, Danielle Lloyd: "Wasn't he the first black president of America? There's a statue of him near me - that's black."
- quoted on BBC's sports quotes of the week page, 4 September.

Monday, 25 September 2006

that pope speech in full

The pope caused a fuss - ongoing, latest bulletin here - with this 14th-century quote: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The BBC story helpfully gave a link to a 'speech highlights' page, which in turn gave a link to a full speech page. The quote turns out to be not from a speech about terrorism or violence, 'religious' or otherwise, or even Christianity and Islam, but a much more interesting speech (given at a university where he used to teach) about faith, science, reason and the nature of God. For example:

'The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.

'At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?'

Conclusion: 'In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.'

There's also an interesting non-critical para about the Reformation in the full speech (which is a pdf and I'm not going to retype here).

The quotation is from an illustration which is perfectly reasonable in the flow of the argument. In fact, the illustration could have been worked without the quotation; ah well, live and learn, eh?

And that's the first time I've read a speech by a pope. Ah, the internet. And ah, the media.

the pram in the hall

The pram in the hall is not the enemy of good art. Cyril Connolly said it was, but different writers respond in different ways. The arc my character follows in The Sound Of No Hands Clapping is in thinking, initially, that having children and being married is an impediment to success as a writer. That the time you feel obliged to spend with your wife and children encroaches on the time you should be spending writing a book. But at the end of the book I change my mind about that and realise that without the order and stability of family life, I wouldn't be able to write anything at all. I'd just be a hopeless drunk.
- Toby Young, The Word, October 2006

Friday, 22 September 2006

a previous life on Barra

One of the many sound ideas pioneered by the Romans was a grammatical form which expected the answer no. Even as you asked the question, you already knew the reply. How useful this would be today. Turn to your Radio Times, children. Spooks (BBC 1): "Is the country under siege from sinister forces at the heart of the establishment?" No, it isn't. Don't be silly. The Boy Who Lived Before (Channel 5): A five-year-old recalls a previous life on Barra. "Will a trip to Barra provide positive evidence?" No, it won't. Not only is he five, he is on Five.
- the splendid Nancy Banks-Smith, in Tuesday's Guardian. As Danny Baker often says, 'That's an hour of my life I won't get back.' Still, I was reading at the same time, and saw some footage of Barra, where I've not been yet.

Monday, 18 September 2006

american imports on telly

In the first half of this year, 24% of C4's primetime programmes were US imports. In 2001 the figure was only 17%, but five years before that, it was 21%. Perhaps more tellingly, in the first half of 2006, Five also showed 24% US shows; BBC1 screened 9%, BBC2 8% and ITV just 2%. But ITV is planning to add more US dramas shortly.
- Radio Times, 16 September 2006

inside the 80s

From the September 2006 feature in Word on The 80s:

By the end of the 80s a new generation appeared, a generation born in the 60s and 70s, already saturated in pop culture. By the 90s, the sheer ever-expanding size of the available music catalogue meant that the emphasis was no longer just on the newest releases. Jimi Hendrix could seem just as 'new' to an enquiring teenager as any product released that week. Rock music had become a classical form; virtually every new record - whether consciously or unconsciously - now referred in some way to rock's past.
The 80s was the last decade when everything was different. It was the last time pop music was fresh and full of possibility.
- William Shaw

My granddad, a lovely man and always very smart in a suit, I met him once outside Waterloo station and he refused to sit in the same carriage as me. I was wearing ballet slippers, white socks, wrap-around Iranian Cossack-type trousers, tight at the ankles and baggy with a flap like Aladdin up the front and a silk shirt with Greek imprints, make-up and a headband. And this was only going to see my Mum and Dad down in Pontins.
- Tony Hadley

Altered Images fell out really badly. It was so severe ... we didn't really speak until recently, trying to sort out money, because Altered Images' money remains in a bank account in Glasgow, because we couldn't agree on how to split it. So we were never paid. Anything. It's gone on for so long now it'll probably all go to lawyers.
- Clare Grogan

from glory to golgotha

The third temptation in the desert revolves around the question of a sign: if the Lord throws himself from the pinnacle of the temple, the angels will bear him up and he will sustain no injury. It is often assumed that what is envisaged here is some demonstrative portent to impress others with the glory of Christ. But as Barth points out, there were no others present. The sign was a sign for himself, for his own reassurance. The temptation was of the utmost gravity: to say, 'The real question is my own sonship - to make sure of that and forget all else and all others and all service until that is absolutely clear'. It is a temptation to which all of us are liable and to which the only answer is the attitude of John Bunyan, prepared to die for the gospel, 'come heaven, come hell'.
- p48

If for us to live is Christ, then declares Paul, to die is gain. What an extraordinary thing to say! But Paul meant it. He had a desire, a strong desire to depart this life. Why? Not because of world weariness. He had learned to be content. It was again, Christ. For most of us, death is terrifying because it separates us irreparably from those we love. For Paul, it was different. Christ was the One he loved above all else and above all others. Death would not separate him from Christ. It would bring him closer, infinitely closer. He would see Christ better, hear him better, understand him better, serve him better.
What effect will death have on the bond betweeen us and the thing we love most? - What we might call, for all practical purposes, our god?
- From Glory to Golgotha; Donald Macleod; CFP, 2002

The only thing that annoys me about CFP is their habit of producing new editions of Donald Macleod's books with extra chapters in; twice now they've done that on books I've bought and hadn't yet read.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

is that jon wilde?

Uncut has introduced an interesting new feature where they reprint an article from NME or Melody Maker from days gone by, with a bit of a comment on it from the original author/interviewer. The August 2006 one was by Jon Wilde on Guns N' Roses from a 1987 Melody Maker. He wasn't impressed, and he says in his comment:

When the piece eventually came out in Melody Maker, Guns N' Roses were in town to play the Marquee. Two of them, Axl and Izzy I think, were so enraged by the piece that they turned up at the offices of Sounds with the idea of beating the ---- out of me. According to the receptionist they sat in the office and waited for me for two hours. Whenever anyone came in the door they'd say 'Is that Jon Wilde?' and no one had the presence of mind to tell them I didn't actually work for Sounds and that in fact they were in the wrong building all together.

Monday, 11 September 2006

looking for jack mcconnell

As a wee bonus, while looking for other stuff about The Stornoway Way to be annoyed by, I found this from the Sunday Herald of 24 July 2005:

A transcript of a call received last week at the Gnats’ HQ in Edinburgh, which seems rather to suggest that something has gone aglay between the ruling party at Holyrood and Westminster:

Man: Hello, I’m calling from David Blunkett’s office, my name’s Trevor.

Gnat: Eh right, OK, how can I help?

Trevor: I’m trying to send a fax to the First Minister – is it Jack McConald?

Gnat: Yes, something like that.

Trevor: Can I just check I’ve got the right number – is it 0131 ...?

Gnat: You know this is the Scottish National Party you’ve called?

Trevor: Yes, that’s right.

Gnat: You DO know that we’re a different political party to you?

Trevor: (confused) Ehm, right, right.

Gnat: And therefore you won’t find Jack McConald here because he’s not a member of the Scottish National Party?

Trevor: Oh! Right. I see. So where should I call?


Our visit to Lewis this time coincided with Faclan, the first Hebridean Book Festival. They had some good events lined up, and it would be worth planning a visit around again, but the only one we went to this time was disappointing - Mairi Hedderwick. The title of the session was revealed after we'd bought the tickets, suggesting that it would be her travel books featured rather than Katie Morag, and sure enough. There were some other people there with children as well as us, so she did make a wee token effort at the start, but the first thing she said to the children was that sometimes she got a bit fed up of Katie Morag, which was ungracious (and ungrateful, since I guess KM bankrolls everything else she does). She was talking about the illustrations in her books, but rather than having the images displayed on some kind of screen, surely not beyond the wit of man, she was just holding the books up at the relevant page for us to squint at. I didn't warm to her.

I'll get Donnie Foot's autobiography of childhood when it comes out, I'm sure. I'm reading Adam Nicolson's book on The Shiants (which his family owns), Sea Room. And I'll have to read Kevin MacNeil's book The Stornoway Way eventually, although the (favourable) reviews I saw really put me off - describing a radical mythbusting approach heavy on alcoholism, depression and the dead hand of the church, suggesting that the reviewers had never been exposed to any other art produced by islanders since these themes are common to the point of tedium. (Of course, it's also a bit chastening when someone younger than you from your homeland has written a book and you haven't.)