Monday, 27 February 2006

twenty-five new pence

It was not a Scotch, but an English mason, who, when engaged, at the instance of a bereaved widower, in recording on his wife's tombstone that a 'virtuous woman is a crown to her husband,' corrupted the text, in his simplicity, by substituting '5s' for the 'crown.'
- Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters, p395.

science fiction short short stories

Have just finished my latest pocket-size paperback for use when out and about - 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, a 1978 Pan paperback edited by Asimov, Greenberg and Olander. I guess the other pair picked the stories and Asimov's just there to get someone famous's name on the cover; he prefaces each short story with an annoying one-liner, more often than not giving away the point of the story.

It's the kind of relatively innocent old science fiction book that I feel I should squirrel away for when the younger genration's older, uncertain that books like it will still be knocking about in secondhand bookshops and charity shops. The two major flaws in this plan are: a) if I did that with everything I think I should save for when the younger generation's older, we'd need to rent some kind of storage facility; b) I'm living in some kind of dream world if I think the younger generation will want to read about 1950s visions of the future rather than about ponies and princesses.

It was rather a mixed bag, but the story that I'll remember is Fire Sale, by Laurence M Janifer. The devil appears to an American General and says, your Russian opposite number (and there's the story dated quite nicely) has promised he will burn alive the thirteen hundred residents of one of his own villages if I will kill you: can you make me a better offer for his death? The American considers the possible morality of a better offer, in the context of wartime sacrifice, then decides on this angle: he wants me dead because without me he thinks victory will be quicker; if the war is shorter, that will be less to the devil's liking; so don't kill me, and the war will last longer. The devil accepts this as the better deal.

final quote from 21 songs

Politesse comes to seem like the most important and attractive of virtues when you enter the midnight worlds of P Diddy and D12. P Diddy’s The Saga Continues... and D12’s Devils Night ... come equipped with parental-advisory stickers, and these warnings, let me tell you, mean business. Anyone who has lived through Deep Purple, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Cramps, Grandmaster Flash and Nirvana could be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing out there with the potential to alienate in the way that our music antagonised our parents. We have become acccustomed to sonic ferocity (and it was that, as much as anything, that terrified a generation raised on Frank Sinatra and Pat Boone and to songs that contain every conceivable obscenity, covert and overt endorsement of drug use, and sexually explicit language. Despite all this, an hour in the company of P Diddy (formerly Puff Daddy, or Puffy, or Sean Combs) is a dismal, sordid experience. We have been told often enough that to disapprove of gangsta rap is pointless, middle class and smug, like disapproving of modern urban life itself. Nevetheless, one is entitled to feel queasy about the enthusiasm for and endorsement of the gangsta life on The Saga Continues...
... Listening to the fourth track [on Devils Night] ... was, I think, the single most dispiriting moment of my professional life so far this millennium.
This, of course, is more or less the entire point, and it gives pause. When one is confronted by The Saga Continues... or Devils Night, any complacency one might have felt about pop music’s no longer having the capacity to alienate or irritate heard-it-all-before liberals evaporates. By comparison, the Sex Pistols’ nihilism seems thoughtful and politically engaged.
... We should have seen this coming. Ever since Elvis, it has been pop music’s job to challenge the mores of the older generation; our mistake was to imagine ourselves hipper and more tolerant than our parents. The liberal values of those who gew up in the sixties and seventies constitute an Achilles’ heel: we’re not big on guns, consumerist bragging or misogyny (where are the people who objected to Bruce Springsteen’s use of the phrase ‘little girl’ when you need them?), and that is the ground on which Eminem and his crew choose to fight.
- p223-226, 21 Songs, Nick Hornby

cast eye on that cast iron

O would before
That Thomas Moores,
Likewise the late Lord Boyron,
Thim aigles sthrong
Of godlike song
Cast oi on that cast oiron!
- a verse from a mock heroic Irish tribute to the Crystal Palace, written by W M Thackeray and excerpted in Poetry of Place: London, edited by Barnaby Rogerson. The last line is the only one I liked.


"I get the impression life hasn't always been easy for the intense, intelligent (Stowe followed by a degree in French at Edinburgh) young man who is about to make his mark on the West End stage in that most difficult and demanding of roles: Hamlet. 'I'm terrified,' he says, marching up and down. 'It's a bit like being a soldier in the First World War. I've just survived three months at Ypres, which was going on tour with this production [with the English Touring Theatre; they racked up 60 performances], but now I don't really want to go to the Somme.'"
- Ed Stoppard, Evening Standard magazine, 24 February, p23. (square bracket material in original text)

Worthy of Private Eye's Luvvies column; in fact, I sent it in.

distant drums

I picked up a double CD Jim Reeves best of in Woolies for a fiver (well, 3 for £15, strictly speaking; my 3 involved 8 CDs). I remember in primary or junior secondary on one of my visits to my friend Neil's, a son of the manse, he had a record player and the only record I remember him having was a Distant Drums single. I remember him miming to it at 33 and at 78, impressive and amusing. Ah, the skills lost with the advent of compact disc.

Sunday, 26 February 2006

christ church southwark

The only carol service I got to last year was a lunchtime one at Christ Church Southwark, which we'd often passed in the car but we'd never been in.

The service was fine, and featured the Portcullis Singers, a small amateur group who made an admirable effort at quite a range of choral pieces. It wasn't that well attended, but I met someone I knew from work there, unexpectedly; the minister also spoke to us on our way out.

Christ Church is Anglican, and has an interesting set of windows depicting local trades, companies and organisations, nicely reproduced on their website. We'd often seen white-robed African-background women going into the church on a Sunday morning, so had thought that the building was perhaps sublet to a pentecostal church, but nothing in the literature or the makeup of the congregation when we were there suggested either any sublet or a particularly African-background congregation - although come to think of it, we haven't seen the white robes recently.

I learn from their website that the mural behind the altar depicted Wall Street and was originally produced for a National Theatre production. I'm sorry I didn't see the Wapping Memorial Sculpture, commemorating the struggle of print workers against Rupert Murdoch.

Friday, 24 February 2006

cabinet war room location

The headquarters [the Cabinet War Room] was deep down in the basement of the building [the Office of Works] and covered over with a thick apron of reinforced concrete. As part of it was under the large well in the centre of the building, thiis well was filled with several layers of anti-submarine nets to explode bombs on the way down. All offices were well fitted out with special ventilators, telephones, message conveyors, map rooms, etc. It was in every way an excellent battle headquarters, with only one fault, namely its proximity to Winston!
Alanbrooke's diary, his later note on 4/1/41.

I've been, and no doubt will be again - London, full of history under your feet. More recently, we visited the HQ in the cliffs beneath Dover Castle. We had one of our anniversary weekends in Dover, which only really has the two things: the Castle and the cliffs, both of which we did. It was a nice visit. Just last week I noticed Alanbrooke's statue on Whitehall.

the me decade

I once asked Peter York, the venerable Father of the Sloane Ranger, what era he would visit if he had the chance. He replied: 'Oh, the 1980s, without doubt - I was absolutely huge then.'
- Will Self, Evening Standard, 23 Feb 2006.

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

sense of smell

Who'd have thought that I'd see the day where I could tell the smell of one filled nappy from another, but when the lady at the library session said that was one of her boys, I knew it wasn't.

Queen Catherine de Valois

Tudor Mummy Queen Catherine de Valois died in the monastery of Bermondsey on 3 January 1437. She was buried with much pomp and circumstance in Westminster Abbey, where according to the custom of the time, her wooden effigy was carried before her coffin, dressed for the occasion in ‘a satin mantle, surcote and tunic, all furred with ermine’. Henry VII redesigned the Abbey, pulled down the chapel and had Catherine’s body placed in a wooden box, where its ‘badly apparelled’ state was left open to the curious gaze. She remained indecently exposed for 200 years and it was a favourite game for the boys of Westminster School to steal bits of her skin and bone. She was reburied in 1776, but it wasn’t until Dean Stanley learned of her rough handling in 1878 that she got a more seemly and final resting place beneath the ancient altar slab in the Chantry Chapel of Henry V. One of her most famous visitors in her time in the outside world was the diarist Samuel Pepys, on his thirty-sixth birthday. With schoolboyish glee, he boasted in his diary that after bribing the keepers, ‘I had the upper part of her body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting on it, that I did kiss a Queene.’
- Jeremy Beadle’s Today’s The Day

Queen Catherine de Valois was Henry V's wife. This snippet was particularly interesting to me because I'd been researching Bermondsey Abbey for an article.

Tuesday, 21 February 2006

p g wodehouse

We've been watching and enjoying the repeats of Jeeves and Wooster with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (clearly born to play J&W); I didn't see it the first time round - I suspect it was on on a Sunday, though I'm not sure I'd have been interested if it wasn't. It's interesting watching that and then House, in which Hugh Laurie also stars but as a very different character.

I'm reading Wodehouse on Wodehouse, a one-volume collection of his three autobiographical works, which I first saw at Genevieve's and subsequently picked up second-hand somewhere without really looking for it. I'm just finishing the first volume (chronologically), Bring on the Girls; I've been surprised how much some of the humour reminded me of Spike Milligan, though I don't know if that genuinely dates to the period being covered (20s-30s) or the period of publication (mid-50s).

I think I read some or all of a Jeeves book when I was in school and didn't think it was funny at all. I picked up The Code of the Woosters second-hand recently, supposed to be his best book, so we'll see what I make of it now.

Another 'classic comic novel' I read when in school and didn't find funny at all was Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis; perhaps it was only funny at the time of publication, or to people in the academic world where it was set, or to older people, or to English people; it seems unlikely I didn't find it funny because it was beyond my experience, though, because of course most of the things I did find funny were beyond my experience.

Other comic novelists who come to mind who didn't make me laugh either around then include Tom Sharpe, Leslie Thomas, Guy Bellamy and Terry Pratchett. (I remember a review by David Langford of a book about comic SF/Fantasy in which the author, with 'stupefying editorial courage' (the phrase stuck with me), omitted Terry Pratchett because he didn't find him funny.)

Sunday, 19 February 2006

the big garden birdwatch

The younger generation and I did the Big Garden Birdwatch on the Saturday morning of the relevant weekend. We saw a robin, a blackbird, a couple of sparrows and a couple of wood pigeons, which is a fairly typical haul for our garden. We often see more sparrows, but don't often see a robin outwith the winter; in addition we see tits, and magpies, and that's about it. The bird I remember in our garden most at home growing up was the starling, but I don't think I've ever seen one in our garden here.

undressed altars, buying and selling servants

Looking on beyond the ten commandments in Exodus 20 the other day, a couple of things struck me. 20:25 says that the altar should be made of undressed stones, that using a tool on it would defile it, which put me in mind of the Henry Moore altar in St Stephen Walbrook, and made me wonder if it was to be undressed so that it could be associated with no man, only God.

And then when it starts to get into detailed laws in Exodus 21, the first ones are about buying and selling servants, including Hebrews, which seems a bit out of the blue, yet apparently unremarkable. I don't know if 'servant' is a coy translation for 'slave', or if there is a technical distinction; I'll need to look that up.

calvin on john, one page in

On the first page proper of the commentary, it was interesting to see that he started a sentence on the interpretation of the text 'I think', which you rarely see in modern commentaries - people tend to either speak definitely or set out the options with passive authority. As Bethan said, there weren't so many commentaries around then, to set the 'form' of how one did them, and they did things differently then anyway. How differently is also made clear on that first page, where he dismisses another theory in a sentence beginning, 'Servetus, that most arrogant and worthless Spaniard, imagines...'.

Thursday, 16 February 2006

st george's cathedral; imperial war museum

On our way to meet friends at the Imperial War Museum today, the younger generation and I visited St George's Cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral of Southwark. Bethan and I had visited it before - we had a guided tour, with a bit of behind the scenes footage, so it was probably one Open House weekend. There were no matches for the candles, so I guess there was always one lit one so that you could light another; most of the stands I noticed only had one lit); I noticed that a couple of different stands had different prices for their candles, but I don't know if this was accidental, merciful or related to candle size. (Bethan on her Spanish holiday last week was in a church where the candles were electric and you put your coin in a slot to turn a candle on; we'd seen that before, in this country I think.) Three interesting things: it stands on the place in what was St George's Fields where the march which led to the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1780 began; the man who rebuilt it after it was bombed out in the war deliberately incorporated the variety of styles that you'd expect to find in an ancient cathedral in order to give an impression of age; and the designer of the original, Pugin, who was also involved in the houses of parliament, spent his final years in the Bethlehem Hospital ('Bedlam'), the mental hospital which, as any fule kno, was housed in the building which is now the Imperial War Museum, just across the road. (Wikipedia has an article on the Bethlehem Hospital which gives full details of all its travels.)

We go to the Imperial War Museum quite a lot, because it's free, it's near, it's got secure room to roam, and there's a playground in the park. I've never been in it as busy as it was today, but it's half-term.

I don't have many strong associations of books and music with place - although I probably have more than I think, if I put my mind to it - but I distinctly remember reading the end of The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks sitting outside the front of the Imperial War Museum, in my early London days - probably my first year, during one of my two short spells living in St Thomas' Hospital accommodation. (I don't think I did lots more in 'my early London days' compared to after I got married, it's just that it's easier to pinpoint the dates: the long years of marriage have just been one happy blur - although I guess now the younger generation will start to give me more milestones and period identifiers. (I heard someone say a few days ago, I forget who, 'you don't know what happiness is until you get married - and then it's too late', which I thought was rather good. Although completely untrue, of course.)

1932/33 best actor oscar

I watched The Private Life of Henry VIII last week, for which Charles Laughton won the best actor oscar in 32/33; I didn't think it, or he, was very good. The other two shortlisted actors - only three that year - were Leslie Howard in Berkeley Square, which I've never seen, and Paul Muni in I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. I saw that when I was in school, and thought it was very good then. Innocently mixed-up in a diner hold-up and wrongly imprisoned, and then, as the name suggests, escapes. I remember the end; sneaking a last meeting with his girlfriend, speaking out of the shadows; 'how do you live?', she asks; 'I steal', he says. If I remember anything about Henry VIII it'll be Charles Laughton's hammy performance and Elsa Lanchester's rather good turn as Anne of Cleves, as not ugly but smart enough to make herself undesirable. Elsa Lanchester, most famous for being Bride of Frankenstein, was born in Lewisham, I discover from imdb; I knew she was married to Charles Laughton.

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

guerrilla gardening

I only read the right-wing rag the Evening Standard for work purposes, and don't usually bother picking up the extras, but last week I picked up the magazine and it had an interesting article about Guerrilla Gardening - people doing voluntary/illegal gardening on neglected public spaces by night, mostly near us in the Elephant and Castle.

Alanbrooke, Churchill and God

Every day that passes must at least be one day less of this war. But there are times when the madness and the folly of war choke one! Why human beings must behave like childen at this stage of the evolution of the human race is hard to understand. At any rate it proves that we have still got to go a long way on the road that leads to perfect human beings. And yet through all its destruction, uselessness and havoc I can see some progress. Progress that could never be achieved without the upheaval of war. Long standing institutions and social distinctions are shattered by war and make room for more modern methods of life. Those that would never release what they hold in peace, are forced to do so in war, to the benefit of the multitude. Ultimately I suppose that human beings from much suffering will become wiser and will appreciate that greater happiness can be found in this world by preferring their neighbours to themselves!
- 19 October 1940, Lord Alanbrooke's diary.

Lord Alanbrooke's diary makes clear he had a strong faith in God, although how that worked itself out is, reasonably, not a strong feature of the diary. what is interesting his how often even for such a senior military figure at such a time of crisis he was able to have Sunday off and go home to his family. I remember a discussion on the Free Church message board in which there was a difference of opinion as to whether Churchill was a Christian or not; I remembered it recently when I heard a bit of his secretary's diary being read (on R4, R7 or Oneword), and he remarked on a visit they made to a church around the end of the war, which he noted as unusual, being something like the only time he had known of him going to church.

translation and repetition

I've just finished John L Mackay's commentary on Jonah-Zephaniah. It was good, but not for devotional use, really, despite the series it is in (CFP Focus on the Bible) - it's more Tyndale than Welwyn, say. (Dale Ralph Davis on Joshua in that series was good for personal study, but that difference may be due to the different nature of the Bible books.) Good for looking up particular passages. The most interesting thing is how often he indicates that the translators have translated the same word or phrase, where it recurs in a short space, in a different way, presumably for variety, which I think is a shame. Translators obviously aren't folk music fans, as folk ballads never shy from repetition.

I'll try a Welwyn commentary next; sad to confess, I can't remember exactly which of the ones I've got I've already read.

(Later: concluded, with Bethan's help, that in fact we'd done all the Welwyns we've got, so decided to tackle Calvin on John, a two-volumer I picked up cheap years ago. Oddly enough, I remember Mhairi Macmillan at university recommending him on the Psalms; it's the remembering out of the blue that's odd, not the recommendation.)

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

st paul's covent garden; theatre museum

We popped into St Paul's Covent Garden last week - 'the actors' church' - which I'd never been in before.

The same afternoon we popped into the Theatre Museum; I went in there in my early days in London, 89/91, and I'm sure it was a small place; now it's a vast underground labyrinth with a full programme of activities. Definitely worth going back to, and free.

Monday, 13 February 2006

formula one

I fall into the sub-group of men who, when thinking about the handling and manouevrability of a Maclaren, is thinking of these rather than these. They really are very good, you know.

Thursday, 9 February 2006

heavy words lightly thrown

The Jacobites, as Alexei Sayle noted, have joined the Garibaldis and the Bourbons in the great pantheon of rebels who inspired the marketing of biscuits.
- p70

The RSPCA was famously set up (1824 and becoming Royal in 1840) long before the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 1889 and no royal patronage). Something that Philip Mundella, sponsor of the Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of, Children Act 1889 alluded to when he said he was ‘anxious that we should give children almost the same protection that we give . . . domestic animals.’
- p130

In 2003 Mothercare released a CD of nursery rhymes which made all the endings happy so that , for example, Humpty-Dumpty was put back together again.
- p190

- Heavy Words, Lightly Thrown; Chris Roberts; Granta, 2005. A book about the meaning of nursery rhymes. Not as good as it thinks it is, or sets out to be; full of notions which it acknowledges are spurious, and lengthy diversions.

circle line

I once stayed on a train all the way around the Circle line. I had time to kill, between shopping on High St Kensington and going to the cinema on High St Kensington. It took about an hour. Oh, my wild young days.

Thursday, 2 February 2006

mansion house; st stephen walbrook; georgia mancio; st margaret's westminster

Yesterday with work I was in Mansion House for the first time, for a meeting in the Egyptian Hall. always interesting to see inside a building you don’t normally get into. An impressive hall, and a lot of Dutch/Flemish paintings in the other rooms and stairways I saw - I like the winter scenes. I saw a painting in the basement of the National Gallery once that I really liked, a winter scene of a small castle with a frozen moat. It was probably Dutch/Flemish too, but next time I went - probably years later - it wasn’t there. I could probably find it by judicious searching, catalogue or online, but the keywords would throw up hundreds of pics; I like to imagine I'd recognise it when I saw it.

On the way back to the office from the Mansion House I popped into St Stephen Walbrook, which we’d been in before on a guided walk. I’m not sure how the layout worked, with its circular layout, before it was re-laid out after war damage, with curved pews circled around the large Henry Moore altar at the centre and the pulpit outside the circle, but it’s not practical as a working church (in my terms) now. The booklet says, ‘Neither the liturgical ideas of Wren’s time, which called for a pulpit more impressive than the altar, nor the artistic ideas of the nineteenth century, allowed glorious use of the space under the dome for a central altar.’ Quite.

Today the younger generation and I had lunch and a free lunchtime concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer. The Georgia Mancio Quartet - piano, double bass, guitar and voice. As the South Bank What’s On puts it, ‘fresh from winning first prize at the Brussels International Young Jazz Singers’ Competition, stylish vocalist Georgia Mancio performs songs from Brazil, Chile, Italy and the Great American Songbook’. I didn’t know beforehand who was on.

Later in the afternoon the younger generation and I visited St Margaret's Westminster, tucked under the wing of Westminster Abbey across the road from the Houses of Parliament, which we’d also been in before on a guided walk. The most interesting/funny/annoying thing in its guidebook (which is pretty much reproduced in this St Margaret's subsection of the Westminster Abbey website) was the explanation of why there’s a church there at all, right next to the Abbey. ‘The great church [the Abbey] was to be the centre of life for the monks of Westminster. Following the Rule of St Benedict, they would assemble at fixed times throughout each day to worship God by singing what is known as ‘the Divine Office’. That was their duty - ‘office’ comes from the latin word for ‘duty’. This was their main task in life, so they called it Opus Dei - ‘God’s work’. Nothing was allowed to disturb them in carrying out this basic duty. However the monks of the newly-founded monastery of St Peter in Westminster were disturbed by the people of Westminster who came to hear Mass. So the monks set about building a smaller church next to the Abbey where the local people could receive all the sacraments and ministrations of the Church, and leave the monks in the Abbey undisturbed.’