Wednesday, 31 May 2006

st george's, hanover square

The younger generation and I popped into St George's, Hanover Square this afternoon. The website's a lot more informative than anything in the church (there was a notice indicating you could go to the church office and buy a guide for a fiver). It was quite a pleasant place, though hard to get any sense of the church's life from the information there.

word snippets

June issue of Word:

- photo from review of documentary about Wal-Mart, with protestor holding banner saying 'Unions: the folks who brought you the weekend!'

- quote from review of Iraq war books: Chris Ayres had his sights set on a cushy number as a financial reporter until he woke up in New York on September 11. The email from the foreign desk said, "Thousand wds please on 'I saw people fall to death etc.'"

Monday, 29 May 2006

sutton house

On Bank Holiday Monday we went to Sutton House, a National Trust property in Hackney. It dates from the 16th century, and there were illustrations and a lovely model depicting that time, when it was a big country house in fields by a tiny village. The original name was Bryk Place, since there were so few brick houses around. It was a good place to visit, and had a good cafe - they obviously use the place for the community a lot.

One of the interesting things about it is the history since the National Trust acquired it in 1938 - it was only opened to the public in 1994, I think it was. They called it Sutton House, but it turned out that Mr Sutton had actually lived next door - it should have been Sadleir House, if anything, although Brick Place would have done fine. They rented it out, it was squatted in the 80s. The wood panelling was stolen and sold to an architectural salvage place, who recognised it and returned it to the National Trust. The NT had decided to lease it to developers to turn it into flats, and local opposition turned it round - possibly including these folk at the Sutton House Society. The NT had left a large section of a mural on one of the walls done by the squatters, featuring a big eye: the caption they've put indicates that 'it's believed to be a symbol of the rock group PSI [or something]' - the 'believed to be' is funny, as if it was a caption to something a thousand years old instead of twenty.

in five years' time with Errol Flynn

Come World War II, Niven returned to the British Army. In one attack, he was said to have rallied his men with the cry: 'Come on you chaps. It's all very well for you - you'll only have to do it once. I'll have to go through it all again in five years' time with Errol Flynn!'
- David Niven born 1 March 1910, Today's The Day

Saturday, 27 May 2006

lord gregory at sharp's folk club

The finest musical performance I heard last year was an Irishman whose name I don't know doing Lord Gregory at Sharp's Folk Club, with as many grace notes as Martin Simpson's instrumental version, sounding completely natural and unaffected. We were gripped.

I like the Sharp's approach to singers nights, which is to have people sing no more than one song in each half, which means you hear a good range of people and material - if you don't like someone, there'll be someone else along in a minute. I've been there occasionally over the last few years, and have sung on three occasions (Lowlands Away; I Once Loved A Lass and Parcel O' Rogues; and The Brown And The Yellow Ale).

nme, sounds, melody maker

When I was in the Nicolson I used to get the weekly music papers - I used to get Sounds and NME pretty much all the time, and sometimes Melody Maker, very much the poor relation. I'm not sure I got any of them regularly once I went to university. Since then there's been the rise of the monthlies, and I've done my time with Q, Mojo, Word and Uncut. I have subs to Word and Uncut at the moment, and still get Mojo fairly often, but not Q for a long time - I think they moved younger when Mojo came along. I got a copy of NME earlier this year for the first time in years - it was their NME Awards issue and had a cover CD. I don't know how typical it was, being the Awards issue, but it wasn't much like the old NME - light on interviews and features, heavy on celebrity. More like the recently-departed Smash Hits in some ways. I'd have to get a regular issue to really know, though. Maybe next time they have a cover CD that I notice.

cider with roadies

Some notes from Stuart Maconie's memoir, Cider with Roadies (Ebury, 2004). The title's one of the best things about it. I got it out from the library along with Andrew Collins' Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now (follow up to the very good Where Did It All Go Right?) - both were okay, but a bit disappointing. (They both worked on the NME, among other music publications, and now both broadcast on BBC radio.)

- of Noddy Holder, ‘He had a penchant for long multicoloured patchwork jackets of the sort favoured by Dr Who and Jesus’ stepdad Joseph.’ [I note this because of the attribution of the coat of many colours to the wrong Joseph; the stuff you think everyone knows, everyone doesn't know. Interesting to learn subsequently in the book that he actually went to a Catholic school, where he was taught by unfondly remembered Christian Brothers.]

- The best [letters to the NME], which meant the weirdest, ended up pinned on the noticeboard by the editor’s office. Two primary schoolchildren wrote in asking for dishevelled, veteran news editor Terry Staunton’s picture. They ended their crayoned missive with a scrawled ‘we can send munny’. - p210

- Paul Morley, in one of the great asides of pop writing, remarked that [Phil Collins] looked like he was permanently wearing a stocking over his head. This is almost as good as my friend Geoff Stokes’s classic observation that Pete Townshend looks like everyone does when they look in the back of a spoon. - p231

- [Mark E Smith noting Stuart’s Dixon’s cassette recorder] That’s just the kind of gizmo I want. For me lyrics when I’m on the road. A little recorder that takes proper cassettes, not those micro cassette things. I went to buy one in my electrical shop in Prestwich. Bloke offered me one of those Dictaphones that take those stupid little cassettes. I said, ‘No way, pal. I’m on tour a lot. I could be in a hotel in Oslo, Budapest, Eindhoven. I get an idea for a song, I want to be able to use ordinary cassettes. Not have to go traipsing round Tel Aviv or Brisbane for them stupid little ones.’
He said, ‘Don’t be daft, mate. You’re living in the past. Everywhere sells these little tapes now. Everywhere. Get with it, man.’
So I said, ‘OK, I’ll take the machine. And I’ll take ten of the little tapes as well.'
And he said, ‘We don’t sell ‘em.’
MES laughed long and hard and then drank his beer in much the same manner. - p237

Hazel O’Connor’s song ‘Will You’ is about Midge Ure.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006


I had heard this story, but didn't realise the cult was based on the Chronicles of Gor novels, which were knocking about when I was in school - I remember starting one (knowing me, it would have been the first in the series) and ending up just skimming through it (I find it very hard not to finish a book I've started, however awful), it was just rubbish. The most surprising thing in the BBC news story is that the author, John Norman, was a university professor. This scifi/fantasy website, Strange Words, gives an interesting critical analysis (of the 'we're all for freedom of speech, but...' type) of the books.

Monday, 22 May 2006

then learn to swim, young man, learn to swim

I used to be able to (and could still) recite the text of the swimming ad recorded in this article about public information films, to no one's entertainment but my own.

Similarly, to the delight of no one, I have been known to sing the old Grampian ad jingle, 'With toys and gifts and stationery / It's the biggest small shop on the Dee / That's Allan's / Of Banchory'.

I refuse to allow this kind of material to be pushed out of my brain to make room for more important/useful information.

'whoever insults the one true church deserves to be killed'

An interesting/peculiar article by David Aaronovitch in The Times on interfaith relations in a parallel universe.

missionary hats

A correspondent in the London Star wrote that she asked an English missionary friend, who works with American missionaries, whether there was any difference in attitude towards missionaries between the American and English peoples.

This was her reply: ‘If an American sees a missionary she says, “There goes a missionary, I must buy her a new hat.”

‘If an English person sees a missionary she says “There goes a missionary, I must give her my old hat and buy myself a new one.”’

- Baptist Times 18 May 2006, from the ‘Fifty years ago’ section of Baptist Times Gone By.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

songs I've played on repeat recently; punk and (the) mod

The Sundays - Can't Be Sure.
Simon and Garfunkel - Blues Run The Game (bonus track on Sounds of Silence).
The Passions - I'm In Love With A German Film Star.

The Passions I knew from first time round, early 80s, in school. I remember also in the University Union cafe it was on the jukebox and I used to play it pretty much every time I was in there. The first time I bought a CD for the sake of one song it was a punk compilation, for this song. I told Martin Hickey this, and he said he'd got the single at the time for the drum sound (he was a drummer). It's probably the song I've listened to on repeat for the longest stretch.

I suppose now you'd buy a single track online for 99p or whatever. But you'd miss the rediscoveries and new discoveries you make in buying a whole album, especially a Various Artists compilation. So because I bought History of Punk Vol 2 I got a number of other splendid things, familiar and unfamiliar, chief among which was Dead Cities by The Exploited, which I'd never heard before but is exactly my memory of what punk sounded like when it was first around (and which almost nothing subsequently described as punk which I'd heard sounded like, so that I had begun to wonder if I had imagined it). The ironic thing, of course, is that Dead Cities dates from around 1981, rather than 77/78. That kind of punk is now called thrash, apparently.

We used the Sex Pistols album as part of a gaelic action song play for the local Mod (it ended with fans of punk and gaelic music grooving together, as I remember it, and I'm pretty sure Calum and Ivor at least were wearing black binliners; it was Calum's big brother's tape). It was featured twice; the best way to do this being to play a bit from one side of the tape then turn it over to play a bit of whatever was on the other side in that place. I remember teachers being very concerned that neither excerpt was inappropriate - understandably. That must have been P7, which I guess made it 1978.

fopp's suck it and see policy

Fopp's suck it and see policy - we'll refund your money if you don't like it - is surely not long for this world. I was in recently and was behind someone returning £60-worth of CDs; he'd written 'unwanted' on the 'reason for return' space on the form. After he'd gone, one tillman said to the other, 'Straight onto the ipod'. The other said that he used to have a customer who came in buying and returning £200-worth a week, until the manager put him on a blacklist.

As it turned out I returned one of the CDs I bought that day, but I don't think they suspected me of dodgy doings. It was a Gang of Four Best Of - I was interested as they were being cited as an inspiration for some of the key British guitar bands around today, like Franz Ferdinand. I can see that in the choppy guitar style, but, as I wrote in the 'reason for return' space, 'No Tunes!'. I got my fiver back, and bought four ELO albums in two £6 double-packs - plenty tunes there.

Friday, 19 May 2006

nikki iles quartet

This Thursday's QEH Foyer concert was by The Nikki Iles Quartet - more unremarkable jazz.

lincoln's inn chapel; southwark cathedral

Last week the younger generation and I visited Lincoln's Inn Chapel and did a proper visit to Southwark Cathedral.

One of the unusual things about the Chapel is that it is on the first floor; the ground floor is the undercroft, just pillars open on all sides. A nice place rarely visited - old box pews (dating from 1623 when the place was rebuilt) and the main stained glass window being made up of coats of arms. John Donne was a preacher there, and there is a tiny memorial to him squeezed into the bottom corner of one of the windows, just his name and a couple of other words at an odd angle. One of his famous lines relates to this chapel: 'For at least a century it has also been the custom to toll the bell between 12.30 and 1.00 p.m, when news of the death of a bencher is received; and over the ages many a barrister has sent his clerk to find out who it is that has gone to his fathers. It is possible that the custom goes back to the days when Dr John Donne was Preacher to the Inn, and that it is an echo of this custom that is to be found in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, first published in 1624. It is in one of these Devotions that are to be found the fine words which (in modern spelling) run: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”'

The Cathedral ('the oldest Gothic building in London') had a range of notable memorials and such, some of them still painted. There was one to Lancelot Andrewes, one of the senior KJV translators. While we were in, a school choir and small band arrived and practiced for a school remembrance/thanksgiving service which was to follow shortly. The organ pretty much drowned everything out. The sound of a large church organ must have been awesome in the centuries before, say, the industrial revolution; what other sound could have approached it in volume? Thunder and heavy weather; church bells.

mnemonics and the mousetrap

Mnemonics and acronyms stick with you a long time. Anna's email address reminded me that I knew what her initials *really* stood for. In Sec 1 or 2 Hardy and Strawberry devised phrases for which the names on our sports bags were the initials: I expect I will remember forever - but can't repeat - what Puma and Adidas stood for.

(Puma and Adidas, incidentally, were set up by brothers (German?), one of whom left the original firm after a falling-out to establish the rival company. Adidas from Adi Dassler, being the original firm. I'm pretty sure.)

Also on Sec 1 or 2 Mairi Maclennan told us about going to see The Mousetrap on a family holiday in London; she told us, at our urging, who the murderer was, we being secure in the knowledge that we'd never go to see it or that if we did we'd have forgotten it by then anyway. It didn't spoil my enjoyment when I saw it two or three years ago that I could still remember what she'd told us.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006


Eighty Indians were murdered for their scalps. They were members of the Raritan tribe who'd dared to attack Dutch settlers. Governor Kieft of the New Netherlands had offered a rival tribe 'ten fathoms of wampum' for every Raritan scalp they brought back and it set something of a precedent. Settlers started bounty hunting too and earned large amounts of money by virtually 'clearing' New Jersey and Southern New York of Indians before the Pilgrim Fathers even set sail. The awful irony of the situation was that while the Indians did bring back the odd head, arm or leg as a trophy, scalping was never an Indian custom. It was introduced by the white man and popularised by Kieft's bounty.
- February 25, 1641; Today's The Day

the printing of the king james bible

Some form of text [of the King James Bible] was handed over to Robert Barker ... Barker's printshop began to apply its own level of chaos to the production process. It seems to have been a sort of anarchy. Either two editions were produced one after another; or both at the same time and sheets from each edition were bound together in single volumes. As a result no copy of the 1611 Bible is like any other. And they were riddled with mistakes. The Translators had intended that any word inserted to improve the sense should be printed in a different face. In fact, that principle became confused early on and if a word is in italics in the printed Bible, there is often no telling if it is in the original Greek or Hebrew or not. Marginal references to other relevant parts of the Bible are highly inaccurate, particularly in the Psalms, where references are made to the numbering system used in the Vulgate, not the numbering system in this Bible itself.
Calmly elegant Bibles in Roman typefaces had been in production in France and Switzerland for decades. This Bible, looking back to an imagined antiquity before the modern age, was given a heavy, antique feel with its dense blackletter typeface, a 'Gothic', non-Roman typeface, and a certain airlessness on the page. ... Even at its birth, this was sold as the Bible of Old England.
And it was littered with misprints, 'hoopes' for 'hookes', 'she' for 'he', three whole lines simply repeated in Exodus, and alarmingly 'Judas' for 'Jesus' in one of the Gospels. ... When, finally, in the nineteenth century, Dr F Scrivener, a scholar working to modern standards, attempted to collate all the editions of the King James Bible then in circulation, he found more than 24,000 variations between them. The curious fact is that no one such thing as 'The King James Bible' - agreed, consistent and whole - has ever existed.
- p225-226, Adam Nicolson, Power and Glory

Monday, 15 May 2006

reunion 2

The day after my previous post about the reunion, some prints of most of the group photos arrived in the post courtesy of my mother. Still quite a few faces I didn't recognise; but it shouldn't be so surprising that so many of them 'just' look like 'Lewis people' - what grown-ups looked like when I was wee. The accompanying article in the paper did say the general view was that in appearance the girls had fared better than the boys, and I don't think that was just gallantry. I think proportionately more women turned up for the reunion than men.

The photo of the group from Point was most interesting, of course; made me realise that in some ways I might have been more likely to go to a smaller reunion from primary/junior secondary days - that subdivision hadn't occurred to me in thinking of the Nicolson reunion. Of course, a number of our classmates went to the Castle rather than the Nicolson. From our Bayble primary group of fourteen, now thirteen since Domhnull Iain died, coincidences I know of are that two out of six boys went on to be policemen (Ivor and Alasdair Iain), two went on to be at least partial househusbands (Ivor and me, although Ivor went the whole hog and went full-time at home), and two live in the same nice south-west London suburb (Anna and Angus - not far on the train from Waterloo near us). I've seen Kathleen, Anna and Noreen since coming to London; Linda and Ivor since leaving school; and I don't think I've seen Calum, Angus, Alasdair Iain, Marion, Sandra, Lorna or Isobel (and I hadn't seen Domhnull Iain) since we were in school. Funny old world.

gnarls barkley

The Gnarls Barkley single, Crazy, was the first to reach No 1 on the strength of download sales alone. More surprising than that, I like it a lot. Probably because it's got quite an old-fashioned sound to it. I may see them on Later this week; I missed years of Later, but I have managed to see it quite a lot in the last year or two.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

ruth kelly and heterophobia

There were a couple of interviews with Ruth Kelly this week - and I remember one a while ago in the Guardian - pursuing the line of questioning of whether she thought homosexual acts were sinful, essentially to draw out or imply that she was prejudiced against homosexuals because if she's a devout Catholic (which she seems to be) then she must see such acts as sinful.

But if she's a devout Catholic, it's pretty reasonable to assume that she also thinks heterosexual sex outside marriage is sinful. Doesn't the same logic therefore imply that she is prejudiced against heterosexuals who are sexually active outside marriage?

I often think about that when the issue of the Christian view of homosexuality comes up in articles or journalism, while the Christian view of heterosexuality never does. Is it because people think that heterosexual sex outside marriage isn't really an issue with Christians any more, or because it doesn't occur to them because they're so focussed on the former issue, or simply because it's not a political issue? Maybe I'm missing something; but it seems odd to me that people (either defenders or attackers) don't seem to notice this.

Friday, 12 May 2006


The Gazette printed the photos from our class reunion a couple of weeks ago. Their colour reproduction is so awful that it's hard to make out who anyone is - you might suspect a conspiracy, designed to force you to buy the prints so you can actually see the photos properly, except that it's always like that. And don't get me started on the proofreading, especially in The Hebridean - it's just depressing.

From what I can make out from the photos, we chaps have collectively lost a lot of hair, and if I'd been there I think I'd have doubled the number of beards.

I wonder how quickly at a reunion you slip back into the positions and relationships of twenty years ago, whatever the changes and experiences you'd undergone since then. Would the same people still make you feel superior, inferior, intimidated (physically or psychologically), awkward, comfortable, humorous, and so on. I wasn't there, so I can't really know. But I do know that the experience of going back for a year (to the Castle) after four years away at university was a strange one - something about being back in the same place as my schooldays, I could feel the change and growth of the time away (which on the whole were for the better) seeming to evaporate and be replaced by the old feelings and attitudes and view of life. And then London called to the faraway towns.

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

life-size barbie

I was talking to Douglas on Sunday night, when he was trying out his new Tomb Raider game, featuring the oddly-shaped Lara Croft. I remembered that some artist had made a life-size Barbie model which was very frightening. A subsequent Google revealed that several places in America now use life-size Barbie models to demonstrate the dysfunctional body image Barbie creates. The best page I found was Vanderbilt University's Wellness Resource Center, which also came with some splendid facts about life-size Barbie: she would have to crawl to support her top-heavy frame; she would only have room for an esophogus OR a trachea in her neck (she could either eat OR breathe . . . we guess she must just breathe); she would wear a size 3 children's shoe; if her waist was 34 inches, she would have a 45-inch bust, 44-inch-long legs and be six foot nine-and-a-half inches tall.

(PS as Douglas remarked, you take your life in your hands searching the internet for 'life size barbie'. We can thank the good people at Google for their SafeSearch filter options.)

Monday, 8 May 2006

london stadiums and western isles population

Stadium capacities:
Wembley 76,000
Arsenal 38,500
Chelsea 42,449
Crystal Palace 26,309
Millwall 20,146

Population of the Western Isles in 2001: 26,502 (1991 29,600)
Western Isles electorate in 2005 election: 21,576

Which means that I've been to several football matches as part of a crowd bigger than the electorate or population of the Western Isles. Even Millwall's nearly as big as the electorate. I find that a little hard to get my head round.

faith a comfort in bereavement

People (with or without faith) sometimes talk about faith being a comfort at times of bereavement; but that's only true if every friend, family member or loved one you've ever had is a believer. Faith is a challenge rather than a comfort at the death of someone who isn't a believer. It's much easier at such times for those who believe that death is the end.

agatha christie and 3-2-1

On 3-2-1 with Ted Rogers they used to give clues to the prizes in the form of riddles - the riddle clue you held onto until the end was the prize you got. The booby prize was dusty bin, and the thing with the riddles was that they could all equally well be unravelled to reveal dusty bin as a good prize.

I've read eleven Agatha Christies so far this year, and that's what they put me in mind of. In many of them you could equally well have said that the killer was A, B or C rather than D, and it would be equally plausible from the mass of clues and motives presented.

Some people praise her for laying out all the information, and that you just miss the key details in the mass of stuff, but others say she conceals information from the reader, and I think the latter's the case.

It's interesting how often characters make reference to detective fiction, usually saying how such and such is like you read about in books, or would only happen in a book. One character even referred to the author Agatha Christie.

And what I find more annoying than is reasonable is how she talks about things like a pause, a smile or a look lasting 'a minute or two' when she means 'a moment or two'.

But there were a couple of lines in Death on the Nile, which I finished today, which I rather liked:
Man having finished interviewing a witness/suspect:
"'What a poisonous woman! Whew! Why didn't somebody murder *her*?'
'It may yet happen,' Poirot consoled him."

And an apparent rogue to the elderly relative of a girl he'd just unsuccessfully proposed to:
"He leaned back in his chair, gazed at the ceiling, whistled, crossed his disreputable knees and remarked: 'I'll be calling you Cousin yet.'"

But such lines are few and far between.

Saturday, 6 May 2006

beatles cover version base camp - altitude 115

I reckon there are 186 Beatles originals. Having been through my CDs, I reckon I own cover versions of 115 of them. Seventy-one seems a lot still to get.

The song I have most covers of at the moment is Hey Jude, in 12 versions; after that 10 Yesterdays and 9 Eleanor Rigbys and And I Love Hers.

the crack

Our (council/ex-council) estate's tenants and residents association meeting a few weeks ago was what you might call lively. Among other things, one man complained that the big signs the police had plastered up on the raided crack house in the block at the end of our road - signs saying 'CRACK HOUSE' - would be bringing down our property values.

And yet I wouldn't swop our inner London squalor for - well, for anywhere at the moment. Takes all sorts, eh?

Having my mother down and going out in the evening a few times gave me again that fine feeling of hopping on the bus after whatever it was and being home putting the kettle on while other people are still waiting for their trains home at mainline stations.

Tuesday, 2 May 2006

pull yourself together

We were watching New Tricks tonight, me b&w washing up, Bethan in colour in the sitting room. Bethan rushed in to get me to come into the sitting room to see that Richard Brier's kitchen curtains were the same as our sitting room curtains. We hugged each other for joy. The fact that he turned out to be the murderer didn't diminish our happiness.

Doctor doctor, I keep thinking I'm a pair of curtains. (I think that was one of the jokes I heard at James's gang show in Thurcaston, he was the doctor seeing a stream of patients with unlikely ailments, and acquitted himself well.)

Monday, 1 May 2006

celeb spots

Before Christmas, crossed Regent St and met Andie McDowell coming the opposite direction. Earlier this year saw Mike Leigh at the RFH shops. A few weeks ago crossed Long Acre against Catherine Tate. Pretty sure I crossed Shaftesbury Avenue with Daniel Craig last year. Apparently I cross the road a lot.