Monday, 21 August 2006

titus andronicus

I saw Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare's Globe last Monday with Daphne. I thought it was really good, and wondered why it wasn't produced more often. The gore, probably, and perhaps other productions are more grim and humourless; the Globe seems to draw out humour.

Bethan would have liked the plot-heaviness (rather than people standing around chatting or soliloquising) but not the gore, of which there was plenty. They always get fainters in the Globe, especially from those standing in hot weather, but the rate apparently increased for TA. They had an awning for the first time, which added to the closed-in gloom of the play (the stage was just draped in black).

Douglas Hodge as Titus (a battle-trembled veteran tipping over into madness), Geraldine Alexander as Tamora (powerful manipulating Goth), and Shaun Parkes as Aaron (cheeky charming chappie who turns out to be wholly amoral, which makes for an interesting audience response - probably a difficult role to decide what to do with, as he's the only black character and thoroughly nasty) were really good. Titus's brother reminded me too much of David Dickinson, and the Emperor too much of Brian the Irish air steward from Big Brother, but I got over that.

Some reviews: The Independent. The Guardian. Daily Telegraph. The Times. Daily Telegraph interview with Douglas Hodge.

PS The now-redesignated SB found this blog posting from someone who fainted at a performance. If her blog wasn't written in pale blue on slightly less pale blue I'd read a few more of the posts.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

july heatwave

It was the hottest July since records began - to adapt Bob Dylan, I didn't feel so hot then. In fact, I don't know if I'm just getting acclimatised, or if there was more movement of air than there has been at other hot times, but I didn't find it too bad - I think I only slept downstairs with the back door open twice this summer, and that as much for Bethan's benefit as mine.

It was really hot when I came down to London first in July 1989 - I was having cold showers every day, having never had a cold shower before in my life.

church signs

Some pictures of church signs, mostly outside US churches.

Given that it's on a 'church sign generator' site, and they're easily photo-manipulatable, they might not all be genuine, but there's some pretty good ones there (equally, some are cringeworthy and some are just unpleasant).

hitler's bible

I'm not on a WWII kick, but here's another story I came across today: Hitler had printed a Nazi version of the Bible, which, among other things, changed the commandments and removed all references to the Jews. Here's the story in the Daily Record and the Daily Mail. It's news because they've recently found a surviving copy.

british library; black voices

We were visiting the British Library primarily because I saw that they were having a free lunchtime concert in the open area outside. It was a female a cappella gospel group called Black Voices, and they were pretty good (we arrived a bit late because of our church visit).

Afterwards we zipped around the exhibitions, temporary (No1 albums exhibition and newspaper history exhibition) and permanent, in a way only designed to make you want to see them properly. I did pick up some full replicas of some old newspapers, which I'm looking forward to reading (as if I didn't have enough old still-to-be-read newspapers in my pile already).

st marylebone; king charles the martyr

On Friday, in between feeding some not very hungry ducks in Regent's Park and visiting the British Library, we popped in to St Marylebone Parish Church. There were another couple of visitors sitting down, and a man came in to pray. The building itself was attractive enough, nothing out of the ordinary, and I got no sense of what the church itself might be like (there is a cafe and a healing and counselling centre in the crypt).

Unexpectedly, to me anyway, Charles Wesley is buried there: he was organist there for a while (their website says, 'During his last illness Charles Wesley sent for the Rector of St Marylebone, The Revd John Harley (of the family after whom Harley Street is named), and said: "Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard."'). Stainer's Crucifixion was written for the choir there, and Charles Dickens lived nearby and had his son baptised there. The fact that Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were married there is marked. The fancy chandeliers, which we noticed, came in the Sixties from the Marylebone Council Chamber, which was closing.

The church website also gives an explanation of the origin of 'Marylebone': 'This is the fourth church to serve this parish. The first, circa 1200, dedicated to St John the Evangelist, was the parish church of Tyburn and stood in the vicinity of the present Marble Arch. In 1400 it was demolished and a new church built nearer to the village of Marylebone. This was on the site of the memorial garden at the north end of Marylebone High Street. This church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, by the bourne; the Ty bourne being a stream running from what is now Regent's Park down to the Thames. In course of time the dedication became St Mary le burn, corrupted to St Marylebone.'.

On Saturday, while in Tunbridge Wells, we visited King Charles The Martyr Church (which gives a clue of position on the Civil War), which was a more interesting building by virtue of being almost square inside. When the congregation was getting too big, they extended the church by knocking down a side wall and extending it virtually identically widthways, the fancy ceilings in particular emphasising this. They had a brass plaque to mark where Queen Victoria used to sit in the gallery. It's been reoriented internally three times (the business end was initially at the north, then the west, now the east) - I guess it's probably too late to go for the fourth to make the complete set. And the man in the church said that Christopher Robin Milne used to go there, making it Winnie the Pooh's church. It was the first permanent building in Tunbridge Wells, part of the initial development by an entrepreneur who saw the commercial possibilities of the chalybeate spring.

Monday, 14 August 2006

guenter grass

What's perhaps more surprising than that Guenter Grass was a member of the Waffen-SS is that it's only come to light now, and that by his own revealing of it. I guess an awful lot of records were destroyed in mainland Europe during and after the war.

Sunday, 13 August 2006

my schools and schoolmasters

They [leading teachers of the Dissenters in Cromarty] said very strong things against the Church of Scotland, in a place where the Church of Scotland was much respected; and it was observed, that while they did not do a great deal to convert the irreligious to Christianity, they were exceedingly zealous in their endeavours to make the religious Baptists.
- Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters, p451

With the two great facts of the Irish Union and the Irish Church before me, I could not petition against Roman Catholic Emancipation. I felt, too, that were I myself a Roman Catholic, I would listen to no Protestant argument until what I held to be justice had first been done me. I would have at once inferred that a religion associated with what I deemed injustice was a false, not a true, religion; and, on the strength of the inference, would have rejected it without further inquiry; and could I fail to believe that what I myself would have done in the circumstances, many Roman Catholics were actually doing?
- p453

Saturday, 12 August 2006

angus macneil

Two bits on Angus MacNeil from The Guardian and The Observer, related to the police investigation into cash for peerages which he seems to have kicked off. They're treating him a little like Mr Smith Goes To Washington.

I used to think of Calum MacDonald as my other MP, but not Angus now; I've been away too long.

Friday, 11 August 2006

polio; neil young moon

The July 2006 Word had a feature on music and film artists who had suffered serious illness in their childhoods. The most striking thing about it was the number of cases in which polio was the illness: Steve Harley, Donovan, Neil Young, Alan Alda, Ian Dury, Francis Ford Coppola, Joni Mitchell, Mia Farrow and Donald Sutherland. Polio was quite a scourge.

There was also an interview with Neil Young in the same issue in which it was revealed that 'since 1971 Neil Young has plotted all of the important events of his creative life by the lunar calendar'. He said, 'When I was in my early twenties I started noticing that the times when we cut the wildest rock and roll, I'd go out of the studio and there would be a full moon. then I noticed that when the moon was waning things would fall apart.'

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

experimental archaeology; prehistory theories

This BBC report demonstrates how valuable experimental archaeology is, and also how often archaeologists resort to 'ritual' as their explanation for everything.

'... it was found that a dead rabbit had been left in the replica by a cat. She said it could mean that animal bones found in real cairns were not the remains of ceremonial offerings, as thought, but left by other creatures. ... Another theory about cairns may also have been exploded after archaeologists knocked down their mock-up. It was noted that the stones collapsed in a pattern previously thought to be evidence of ceremonial closing of the cairn.'

I remember a few years ago seeing a programme where they tried to replicate the lifting into position of one of the Stonehenge stones, which helped people to realise that the mysterious little holes there was evidence for around the stones were probably made by wooden props and levers during the lifting process. Which seems obvious when you think about it, but you don't think about it.

You learn to be sceptical about theories relating to prehistory when the accepted interpretations (always stated as straightforward accepted fact) of both the Carloway broch and the Callanish stones have completely changed during your own brief lifetime.

Monday, 7 August 2006


Despite the temporary absence of the other two, I went to Fruitstock on Saturday, as we had thought we might. Fruitstock is a free event designed for families, with live music and children's entertainment and food and some other stuff, put on in Regents Park by the people who make Innocent fruit smoothies. It was the fourth one - I don't know how I've missed it before now. There was lots of stuff for children, and it's certainly something we could go back to.

I got there after half two, in time to hear most of The Puppini Sisters, who I was particularly keen to hear. I wandered around within earshot while The Whisky Cats were on, and then went back to the stage for Nouvelle Vague. I was able to stand right at the front both times, without any trouble - most people were happy sitting on the ground all over the park with picnics and blankets, so much so that they had to remind people from the stage about the kids area, where there was plenty room for more kids.

The Puppini Sisters' thing is Andrews Sisters style stuff - both stuff from the era and cover versions of modern stuff including Panic, I Will Survive, Heart of Glass and Wuthering Heights. They're very good, and the cover versions work well, getting to the heart of the song and bringing something new rather than just being gimmicky. More Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain rather than Mike Flowers Pops, say. You wonder what confluence of factors brings a group of people together to decide that's the musical style they're going to go for at just a time that they will be picked up and become popular.

The Whisky Cats, as the Fruitstock site puts it, 'an utterly infectious mix of swing, jazz and ska that make you dance and smile'. They were okay, in a way that reminded me of the bands I didn't like at the Hebridean Celtic Festival - dance music being played for people who aren't dancing, a bit tedious and pointless. Grumpy old man.

Nouvelle Vague's thing is punk and new wave classics done in mellow or cabaret jazz style. They had three vocalists who did different kinds of songs. The mellow jazz woman's voice was as bland as the arrangements, and that was far too near the 'ironic' end of the covers scale. The cabaret jazz woman went for over-the-top full-on renderings of her songs, and they worked pretty well for that (Bela Lugosi's Dead, Guns of Brixton, Human Fly, for example): it made me think most of The Doors being fronted by Grace Slick or Julie Driscoll or some other big-voiced Sixties hippy chick (which was also the look she was going for). The male guitarist did an underwhelming Heart of Glass and a pretty good Don't Go. Other songs they did, that did nothing for me: Ever Fallen In Love, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Too Drunk..., I Just Can't Get Enough, Killing Moon, Dancing With Myself, Blue Monday, This Is Not A Love Song, Teenage Kicks (I wouldn't have remembered these all, I'm picking them off the CD tracklistings on their website).

With the Puppini Sisters you wanted to hear the whole song; with Nouvelle Vague you heard one verse and chorus and thought, 'Okay, I get it; now do another one'.

The programme kept well to time, so I left there at six (leaving Norman Jay and Arrested Development for other ears than mine) and paid my first visit to the Camden branch of Fopp in time to buy a fistful of cheap CDs before it shut at seven and I made my way homewards.

imitation pearls before genuine swine

The Bonzos weren't interested in being in the charts - we subscribed to the view of Albert Grossman about The Tremeloes: y'know, 'Imitation pearls before genuine swine'.
- Neil Innes, Mojo, July 2006

killing joke split over non-musical differences; national anthem

I'd found a prophecy that talked about an island at the end of the Earth. It split the band: Geordie and myself believed it was an actual place, the others believed it was an island of your soul. I wanted to carry out spiritual research into the sacred geometry of Iceland, so I did a runner.
- Jaz Coleman, Mojo, July 2006.

The same article also says that he rewrote New Zealand's national anthem, changing the words from English to Maori, and that after some controversy this became the official version.


When I was 12 years old my mother worked at a thrift store. And she took toys and clothes from the thrift store that no one wanted and she would take them over to the church. People from the neighbourhood would come into the church and they would thank God for these wonderful toys and clothes. My mom would be like, 'You *saw* me bring them, you saw me bring them to the d... church! Don't thank God! Thank me!' I suppose I've inherited that kind of attitude toward religion.
- Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips, Mojo July 2006

story from whisky galore filming

I think I've heard this story, from the filming of Whisky Galore, before. It's near the end (p140) of Roger Hutchinson's Polly: The True Story Behind Whisky Galore:

When there was contact between the two groups [islanders and filmmakers], it was usually the 'fillums' who found themselves impressed. Monja Danischewsky was in a local house one day when its owner returned home from working on upgrading the island's only road.

'I believe you're Russian?' he inquired of Danischewsky. The producer said that he was.

'Then I'm wondering,' the man went on, 'if you can tell me why jealousy is such a recurring theme with Tolstoy's heroines?'

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

the rival monster; compton and roger; writing accents

I've recently read The Rival Monster by Compton Mackenzie, which I picked up secondhand in Shrewsbury in a nice old Penguin edition (here's the very one). For someone who was so prolific and popular in his day, he's not remembered for much: Whisky Galore, because of the film, and Monarch of the Glen, because of the TV series. Rockets Galore, a sequel to WG, was made into a film too, which I'd never heard of until recently. The Rival Monster also features characters from those books.

Roger Hutchinson has written a book about the story behind Whisky Galore, which I've just read and was good, and a few related articles in the Free Press, including this one that was particularly scathing of The Monarch of the Glen TV series, which seems to have taken little from the book but the title. Here's his article about Rockets Galore.

Whisky Galore was another of those 'comedy classics' which left me cold when I read it (when I was in school, I think - I remember it was a library paperback with a plastic cover; I think they'd only recently started having paperbacks in the library rather than exclusively hardbacks; the slippery slope of the thin end of the wedge), and I didn't really take to The Rival Monster either, neither funny nor particularly well-written I thought.

I have mixed feelings about when people try to represent accents and speech patterns in how they spell reported speech, a practice going back to Scott and Dickens at least. I think it's often patronising (this is usually the case in relation to the Highlands, Lillian Beckwith comes to mind (this, incidentally, is a website about the house she stayed in)) or an affectation (James Kelman, Irvine Welsh - although I remember talking to Alison about that and her knowing someone who really appreciated it, a book written in her language and accent that she could understand, which is quite unlike my experience of written representations of my accent). Compton's isn't intended to be patronising - and certainly the Highlanders are in general the wise ones and the incomers the unwitting unwise - and it's a nice way to recreate the familiar accent in your head (sentimental in my old exile age?) but I'm still uneasy.

The Rival Monster did have a lovely drawn map of the islands of Todday etc, which I, sad to report, took a photo of (possible thin end of the wedge of another list/collection, of fictional maps).