Tuesday, 24 January 2006

my favourite girl

listen closely,
I guess
that I have not got long.
you'll tell her
she's my favourite girl
in all the world.

Can I
make her happy?
I guess
that I have not got long.
you'll tell her
she's my favourite girl
in all the world.
In all the world.

- King Creosote, My Favourite Girl

grace among the bluebells

There are two little clumps of bluebells in our lawn; they appeared since we came to this house, from where I know not. They're not currently in flower, of course, but they are special to us; God's little gift, grace, a special little place in the lawn.

the drive to the airport

It has been said that the most dangerous part of travelling by air is the drive to the airport. I've seen that (in an article in Encounter with God by Douglas Gresham, in the days when I worked on EWG) being paralleled to life before and after birth.

Monday, 23 January 2006

precious Indian ink

A rather uncontemporary cartoon in Private Eye made me laugh out loud last week. Senior Nazi in black saying to senior Nazi in white (grey), 'Also, Herman, it forces enemy cartoonists to use more of their precious Indian ink'.

everybody loves the kiwis

Mossad agents come in all shapes and sizes, but most are young men in their late 20s and 30s. They often travel on forged or stolen Canadian and New Zealand passports ('Everybody loves the Kiwis,' a Mossad agent, or 'katsa', explained to me a few years ago).
- Simon Reeve, Radio Times, 21-27 January, p25.

2005 CDs - notes

The Dinning Sisters and Underworld were also in last year's selection.

(Underworld are the only artist from last time I've bought a whole CD of subsequently, so far, although I probably got Legendary Vocal Groups partly because the Dinning Sisters were on it, and I'm getting a compilation CD with more Felice Taylor on it (she hardly recorded anything) with some Christmas money.)

Most of the tracks, again, are from Various Artists CDs.

Other Christmas money is going on a 3-CD set of the Chordettes, one of my favourite discoveries of 2005.

I've heard In The Hall Of The Mountain King before, of course, but never featuring the choral sections.

Given some of the other Hang On The Box song titles, I suspect it's a good thing you can't make out the lyrics of Yellow Banana; it's easy to swear in foreign languages, where there's not the same sense of taboo.

A double CD of The Best of the Humblebums was the surprise success purchase of the year, bought from the counter box in the local newsagent ('£3, 2 for £5).Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly duo, although it's hard to believe they're playing on each other's tracks they're so different. It's clear who had the musical and lyrical talent. Billy Connolly seemed to have come from nowhere into comedy, so that although I'd heard of the Humblebums I hadn't realised they'd gone for so long and recorded so much. Complete reinvention without reference to the past I don't think is possible any more in popular culture. Alvin Stardust had a completely different career in the 60s, as Shane Fenton if I remember rightly. I guess part of the issue now is that the record industry are much less likely to stick with an artist for the long haul if success doesn't come quickly enough.

Kings X are an American Christian heavy metal band who I'd heard of but never heard before; the track was on an odd continental CD.

The League Unlimited Orchestra CD drove Naomi out of the sitting room.

I was listening to Mike Harding a couple of weeks ago and he played a song by Cherish The Ladies called 'Fair and Tender Ladies', which is a traditional song, and recognised the tune, and worked out eventually that it was pretty much the tune of Like A Motorway, by St Etienne.

2005 CDs

These are the track listings of the two CDs I burned of the favourite songs which I heard, having bought, in 2005 for the first time.

It's All Too Much The Beatles Yellow Submarine Songtrack
Basin Street Blues Chordettes, The VA Legendary Vocal Groups
Sentimental Journey Chordettes, The VA Legendary Vocal Groups
Come Let Us Go Back To God Cooke, Sam & The Soul Stirrers My Gospel Roots
Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone Dinning Sisters, The VA Legendary Vocal Groups
Our Mutual Friend Divine Comedy, The Absent Friends
Yesterday Gaye, Marvin VA Motown Meets The Beatles
In the Hall of the Mountain King Grieg, Edvard Peer Gynt
Yellow Banana Hang on the Box VA Rough Guide to China
Lish Young Buy-A-Broom Tim Hart & Maddy Prior Heydays
Patrick Humblebums, The Best Of
My Favourite Girl King Creosote VA Word 0512
Not Just for the Dead King's X VA Rocky Paths
Seventeen Ladytron VA Crash! Indie Anthems 1982-2004
Up With People (Zero 7 Remix) Lambchop VA Further Beyond Nashville
Ochoin A'Mhaighdinn Lawrie, Gregor VA Seo Seinn 2005
Hard Times League Unlimited Orchestra, The Love and Dancing
Nice Weather For Ducks Lemon Jelly VA The Brit Awards Album 2004
Norwegian Wood Lindo, Willie VA Trojan Beatles Tribute Box Set
The Family Who Prays Louvin Brothers, The VA Further Beyond Nashville

Mo Nighean Donn Bhoidheach Maciver, Norrie VA Seo Seinn 2005
I Don't Believe You Magnetic Fields, The VA Word 0504
Anytime Soon Marshmallow VA Word 0504
Good Lovin' McFerrin, Bobby The Best of
Morgan Jones O'r Dole Murphy, Julie VA Datgan
O Death Pace Jubilee Singers VA Across The Tracks
When The Tigers Broke Free Pink Floyd Echoes: The Best Of
Like A Motorway Saint Etienne Smash The System: Singles 1990-99
Willing Conscript Pete Seeger VA Rough Guide to American Roots
Pahadi Shivkumar Sharma, Brijbhushan Kabra & Hariprasad Chaurasia VA Rough Guide to Himalayas
Guitar Boogie Smith, Arthur VA The Country Roots of Rock & Roll
Rank Stranger Stanley, Ralph & The Clinch Mountain Boys VA Further Beyond Nashville
Today Has Been OK Torrini, Emiliana VA Word 0503
Merle's Boogie Woogie Travis, Merle VA The Country Roots of Rock & Roll
Proud Mary Turner, Ike & Tina VA The Woodstock Generation CD3
cowgirl Underworld 1992-2002
Tam Bain's Lum Vatersay Boys, The The Road To Vatersay
Dear Someone Welch, Gillian Time (The Revelator)
Parchman Farm Blues White, Bukka VA The Story of the Blues
There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight Williams, Hank Hank Williams: The Greatest
White Summer Yardbirds, The VA The Woodstock Generation CD2

Sunday, 22 January 2006


Hangovers can only be avoided by staying sober, Exeter University researchers have concluded.
- What we've learned this week column, The Guardian, 31 December 2005.

free fruit

Some Scottish schools are refusing to hand out free fruit in case children choke on pips and die.
- What we've learned this week column, The Guardian, 14 January 2006.

Friday, 20 January 2006

gorgeous george

There weren’t many highpoints in world events in 2005, but you didn’t have to like George Galloway to love his barnstorming appearance before that government committee in the USA. ‘I have met Saddam Hussein the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns.’ And so on.

the porridge principle

Would Porridge have been better, funnier, if it was more ‘realistic’ - that is, more bad language, more unpleasantness, more violence, more grimness? No; but if it were being made today, it would be more of all those things, and worse for it. The principle applies to many things in culture today and the way they’ve ‘progressed’ in realism over the last thirty years.

myrna loy

The best thing I saw over the holiday period was the old film of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Thin Man, starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. Myrna Loy and Clark Gable were acclaimed at one point as the king and queen of the thirties, but although she remains known as a prominent actress of the past, I guess most people, like me, would be hard-pressed to name think of any films she was in apart from the Thin Man series (which I'd like to see more of; there's a box set on Amazon, I see). Partly a reflection of the transience of fame, partly a reflection of the fact that it’s hard to see many old films any more. on tv or video rental. I think online dvd rental is going to make a difference to this, from what I’ve seen of the availability of old films to rent on Amazon (including the Thin Man boxset). I suspect that may tempt me to sign up eventually. And I shall feast my eyes on oscar winners and nominees from the thirties and forties. (Because obviously once I've seen all the winners in the main creative categories I'll want to see all the nominees. Although Myrna herself was never even nominated for an oscar.) And the poor younger generation will be able to have a chapter in her book thirty years hence on her awful childhood, telling how she was only allowed to be exposed to films, books and tv produced long before she was born.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

newton webcam

Came across this webcam in Newton Street, Stornoway, just last week. I don't know how many other webcams there might be in Lewis, but it's nice to look at this one from time to time - usually through raindrops on the window, which is strangely evocative.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

a trouble shared

a trouble shared is a trouble doubled

history of warfare: trains and horses

The mobilisation of 1914 justified all the efforts the European gneral staffs had put into the perfection of railway organisation for war in the forty preceding years of peace; enormous armies - 62 French infantry divisions (of 15,000 men each), 87 German, 49 Austrian, 114 Russian - were picked up from their peacetime garrison-places and decanted on to the field of battle, together with several million horses, within a month of the outbreak. Once arrived, however, they found that the almost miraculous mobility conferred by rail movement evaporated. Face to face with each other, they were no better able to move or transport their supplies than Roman legions had been; forward of railhead, soldiers had to march, and the only means of provisioning them was by horse-drawn vehicles. Indeed, their lot was worse than that of the well-organised armies of former times, since contemporary artillery created a fire-zone several miles deep within which re-supply by horse was impossible and re-provisioning of the infantry - with ammunition as well as food - could be done only by man-packing.
Of course, the loss of mobility presented itself more urgently in a tactical than a logistic form: in the heart of the fire-zone, infantry could scarcely move at all, and then at catastrophic human cost; not until the introduction of the tank in 1916 were units of men able to manoeuvre once again while in direct contact with the enemy. The logistic dimension nevetheless dogged armies throughout the First World War, not least because the effor to win superiority within the fire-zone by increasing the weight of fire delivered demanded an ever larger trans-shipment of munitions between railhead and guns, which could only be undertaken by horses. As a result, horse fodder became the single largest category of cargo unloaded, for example, at French ports for the British army on the Western Front throughout the period 1914-18.
The problem reappeared in the Second World War, when the German army, deficient in motor transport because the German engineering industry had to devote its resources to manufacturing tanks, aircraft and U-boats, and in any case because it was chronically short of fuel, actually took into service more horses than it had done between 1914 and 1918 - 2,750,000 as opposed to 1,400,000.
John Keegan, A History of Warfare; Pimlico, 1994, p307

power and glory

Power and Glory, about the translating of the King James Bible (the only great work of art ever created by committee, it is commonly said), was probably the most interesting book I read last year. Quotes to follow, but the two general things which I learnt in more detail than before were the extents to which the translation drew on previous translations and the translators were not a body of Reformed men. (I think I’ve got a note somewhere of a quote from one of Samuel Rutherford’s letters where he is disparaging and suspicious of many of the other ‘Westminster divines’ who were working on the Westminster Confession of Faith and associated materials.)

‘A puritan is such a one’, the London lawyer John Manningham wrote in 1602, ‘as loves God with all his soul, but hates his neighbour with all his heart.’ Anyone who took a stricter line on the demands of scripture than the person speaking could be labelled a Puritan. The critical division between extreme and moderate was on the question of royal authority: moderate Puritans accepted the authority of the church, and of the king as its head, even if they cavilled over points of doctrine; radical Puritans denied the authority of that state and would in the end rather separate themselves from the royal church than accept doctrines which they loathed. It was not the conventional modern conflict of freedom against authority, nor even a struggle for freedom of conscience or belief. This was not the age of toleration: it was a conflict of different visions of authority. ‘Let them chant what they will of prerogatives,’ Milton would write much later, ‘we shall tell them of Scripture; of custom, we of Scripture; of Acts and Statutes, still of Scripture, till . . . the mighty weakness of the Gospel throw down the weak mightiness of man’s reasoning.’ That was written in the heat of the Civil War, but if not so polarised, at least in embryo, that division between the rival claims of divine and worldly authority is apparent in the first decade of the century.

It was a difference of emphasis that split the 'Puritans'. It was the very fissure which James and Bancroft quite deliberately and very adroitly managed to deepen in the first years of the reign, when they expelled those eighty or so Puritans from the church between 1604 and 1606. For James, it was effective and practical politics: a means of achieving unity and uniformity in the church by excluding a small proportion of extremists.

Those Puritans who were engaged on the new translation of the Bible were by definition moderates. They had accepted the royal commission which no dyed-in-the-wool Separatist could ever have done.
- p124, Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible; Adam Nicolson, Harper Collins, 2003.


I have now downloaded my first podcast, from They Might Be Giants website. It frightens me how many podcasts I could sign up for.

Thursday, 12 January 2006

the great leap forward

onto broadband happened tonight. Managed to set it up alright (initially tried with USB cable which then didn't work at all, and the computer gave me no options to make it work, but then tried with ethernet cable, which I didn't even realise I could use, and that worked). Downloaded some software upgrades in the twinkling of an eye, which I'd failed to download multiple long times before. Hurrah. What now, eh?

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

lion, witch, wardrobe

There's not much to do in Shrewsbury for a birthday treat over Christmas; what we did was see an early matinee on Boxing Day of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. First time we'd been to the cinema for ages. It was okay. The youngest child was very good, the others less so - it was like they were 'acting' and she was just pretending. Bethan thought Aslan's voice was like one of those 'coming soon' voices off trailers - it was Liam Neeson, and he was trying hard to be significant. Tilda Swinton was excellent, exactly the right person for the white witch with her strange, spooky face; you couldn't take your eyes off her. Usually the kind of things she's in aren't the kind of things we want to see. A quick shufty at IMDB suggests that we've never seen her in anything (not having seen Vanilla Sky or Adaptation, the only likely ones). The fantasy landscapes/battles suffer, as so many things now will, by coming after the achievements of the Lord of the Rings, and some of the effects were surprisingly clunky.

Alex's weblog

The first blog I've come across by an old school friend: Alex Matheson's A View From The West. Rather more football-related material than I'd have predicted.

Friday, 6 January 2006

bad samaritan

A genuine call reported on Nee Naw:
8am on Christmas Day:
“Nee Naw Control, what’s the problem?”
“I’ve just passed a man on the road. He appears to have fallen out of his wheelchair and he’s got blood all over his face.”
“Are you with the patient now?”
“No, I can’t stop — I’m on my way to church and it’d make me late…”

- something I found interesting in the comments on this post was the majority assumption, on no further evidence than the text above, that the bad samaritan was a hypocritical Christian zealot (which of course it might well have been) rather than, say, someone making their only visit to church of the year.

the teeming streets of London

In a spoof documentary about Sherlock Holmes which I watched last night (‘This is Genius: No Place Like Holmes’ - a very good take off of the styles of people like Peter Ackroyd and Jonathan Meades) there was this line, which I’ve heard variations of before I’m sure, but which made me laugh last night: ‘These streets [of London] have always teemed with highwaymen, thieves, grave-robbers, conmen and prostitutes - or Cockneys, as they’re known to the rest of the country.’

margarine, canned meat, army logistics and napoleons

In A History of Warfare by John Keegan, I was reading last night a section on the importance of logistics and supply, and it said that margarine was ‘invented under competitive rules set by Napoleon III to find a substitute for butter for his soldiers in the 1860s’.

Coincidentally, today I read in this week’s Time Out that Nicolas Appert, a Frenchman, ‘in 1804, devised a method of preserving meat by heat-sealing it in metal cans. he won a prize from Napoleon for his efforts’.

The margarine sentence in Keegan actually begins, ‘Military diet was revolutionised in the middle of the nineteenth century by the appearance of canned meat (as early as 1845, though by a process that threatened lead-poisoning to those too dependent upon it, and the cause of many deaths in Franklin’s Polar expedition), evaporated milk (1860), dried milk powder (1855) and margarine’. No mention of the 1804 devising, which makes me wonder about it.

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Agatha Christie

At Christmas I read an Agatha Christie, Partners in Crime, which was okay. There are/were a stack in Shrewsbury, as Naomi did as much secondhand buying of them in her youth as I did. She was much better at reading them, however; I read only a few of the dozens I bought at sales of work. Seeing them there and in the secondhand bookshops and charity shops made me quite nostalgic: some of the covers are particularly fine, especially the Fontana paperbacks of 60s/early 70s I think, lovely typeface and coloured drawings.

I was looking online to try to get some idea if there’s any consensus as to which are her best. There doesn’t seem to be much, apart from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’ve got a feeling that that was in fact the first one I ever read. It’s famous for its revolutionary and for its time controversial solution; it’s always entertaining to see people writing about it while trying not to give the solution away. One which came up a couple of times was Murder on the Orient Express, so I got that out of the library on Friday and finished it on Sunday night. Reading it when I knew the solution was interesting - an interesting experience, but not that interesting a read, because what becomes apparent is the extent to which everything is stripped out except the plot and the puzzle - little in the way of rounded characterisation or description or interesting thought life of character or narrator, which is of course one of the criticisms of her as a writer, but it works in its own right. Reading, say, an Ian Rankin novel of which you knew the solution would be a much more satisfying and enjoyable experience; there’s more to it than just the puzzle. The other thing about reading it knowing the solution is that you can see just how preposterous the actual solution is, when you’ve got it in mind all the way through as you read the mass of detail of what all the suspects say.

The Orient Express I got from the library has a full list of titles. From that list, the only ones I’m confident I’ve read, in addition to those mentioned above, are And Then There Were None (read on a previous Shrewsbury visit), the ABC Murders (both of which came up a couple of times in online lists), The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, and The Labours of Hercules. Looking at the plot description on the Wikipedia site, which was quite informative with a good list of titles, however, made it clear that I’d read The Mysterious Mr Quin, and I suspect I’d find that I’ve also read a load more, including The Man in the Brown Suit, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, Sad Cypress, Dead Man’s Folly and Poirot Investigates. I also read Cat Among the Pigeons, despite there being a hefty chunk of pages missing from the middle...

I could chomp my way through a stack of them quite easily, I think, before I got too sick of them. I’m halfway through Murder in the Mews now, which is one that was on our shelves. It would certainly bump up my total for the year. My list of books finished in 2005 (what, you don’t have one?) totalled less than forty books, which isn’t very impressive: if I live until 65 that’s just around a thousand books to go at that rate (perhaps fewer than we’ve got in our house now). Better choose carefully.

The Orient Express library copy also made clear that one of the reasons books are longer now than they used to be is that they use a bigger typeface with greater leading. Perhaps I’ll be glad of that when I’m even blinder than I am now.