Sunday, 30 April 2006

southwark cathedral concert; shut de door

Passing through Southwark Cathedral to the cafe a week last Friday, mum, the younger generation and I stumbled across a concert by a visiting school/college choir from the USA, the Hamilton-Wenham Choir from Massachusetts. They were pretty good; spiritual music old and new. Their last song was a spiritual, 'Shut the door, keep out the devil' - or, as they announced and sang it, 'Shut de door, keep out de devil'; perhaps I'm oversensitive in wincing when people feel the need to retain the 'traditional negro' pronunciation when they sing spirituals.

john williams trio

The free concert the younger generation and I saw at the QEH Foyer this Thursday was by The John Williams trio - JW the saxophonist, rather than guitarist or filmscore composer. It was pleasant enough, but I'm sorry we seem to have been hitting the jazz ones rather than the folk or world ones lately.

Saturday, 29 April 2006

my man godfrey

On my birthday we watched My Man Godfrey, an old film we picked up on a £1 DVD in a big Tesco at York on holiday. Here's the info on it on IMDB and allmovie. Someone went to some trouble to put some of the zippy dialogue on imdb.

I'd never heard of it before, but it had two well-known stars in it, William Powell and Carole Lombard. William Powell I'd never seen before The Thin Man at New Year, and he was excellent in both; I'm not sure I've ever seen Carole Lombard before at all. The film was really good, I thought, and it was clearly well thought of at the time - in the 1936 Oscars it was nominated for best Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Screenplay. (And I see in the IMDB trivia section that 'This is the only movie to ever get Oscar nominations for writing, directing and all four acting awards without being nominated for Best Picture. It's also the only movie to ever get those six nominations and lose them all.') Despite the proliferation of tv channels showing films, and video rental shops, most older films are rarely shown or available. I have to see more of these.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

the producers

We went to see The Producers on Monday, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The main cast has completely changed from those mentioned in most of the reviews (and the reviews seem hard to find as it was reviewed so long ago - people don't often re-review, however many cast changes there are). The Guardian. BBC. The Times. A BBC summary of other reviews. Here is a re-review from The Guardian, which is the cast we saw. It was okay, but pretty crude; the songs added nothing (and you couldn't hear a lot of the words), and I never thought the film was so great anyway; but it was certainly an appreciative audience. The tap dance with the zimmer frames was the best thing.

27 days

For twenty-seven days a year my brother and I are the same age. And yet there were two years between us in school. Funny old world.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

crocodile attack

This, from 19 Feb 1945 in Today's The Day, seems implausible:
The worst crocodile attack in history took place on an island in the Bay of Bengal. In the battle for Burma, over 1,000 Japanese soldiers had been trapped in the mire, cut off from rescue and pounded with artillery and mortar fire by the assembled British forces. As darkness fell, another 'army' of huge and voracious crocodiles was attracted to the swamp by the smell of blood on the tide. All night long the British troops could hear the turmoil in the water as the huge reptiles snapped up the quick, the injured and the dead. By morning the battle was over and just twenty Japanese survivors could testify to the victory of the strangest allies the British have ever had.

PS The Guinness World Records site confirms it.

Alanbrooke and Churchill

[A quote from a colleague, Major-General Sir John Kennedy,'s diary] Brooke found it an invaluable rule never to tell Churchill more than was absolutely necessary. I remember him once scoring out nine-tenths of the draft of a minute to the Prime Minister, remarking as he did so, 'The more you tell that man about the war, the more you hinder the winning of it.'
- Alanbrooke's diary, p154

Hamlet

Saw Hamlet at the New Ambassadors Theatre on Wednesday with my mother, starring Ed Stoppard and Anita Dobson. Reviews in The Independent. Daily Telegraph. Another Daily Telegraph. The Guardian. The Observer. Another Guardian. The Times. Ed Stoppard article in the Independent. Double reviews are because it toured first before coming into London.

My mother enjoyed it very much - her first Hamlet - and the reviewers liked it, on the whole (a good straightforward production with a fine Hamlet). I wasn't so keen. I thought Ed Stoppard rushed a lot of his lines, as if he had a lot to get through, and was quite mannered. I didn't think Anita Dobson was much cop as Gertrude, and the Ghost and Claudius had their over the top moments. Horatio, as in most productions, was pretty good; perhaps being the archetypal best friend is a straightforward role to play, or perhaps there's simply little room for interpretation to mess it up. Polonius doubled as the gravedigger, and was good as the latter but played the former as the usual insensitive dullard (Polonius was Michael Cronin, who I remember from being the gym teacher in Grange Hill, which is a terrible shame). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when first seen were tossing a coin, a nod to Ed's dad's play. I didn't know before reading the reviews that Alice Patten, Ophelia, was Chris's daughter; she looked more like Gwyneth Paltrow than anything, but was good when mad, with bonus points from me for singing sweetly in tune rather than out of tune (which all mad people do, if productions of Hamlet are to be believed). And they did justice to the opening scene, which I think is a great opening, straight into it.

Meet it is I set it down: no leg-room in the New Ambassadors circle.

hughenden manor

Last Saturday we visited Hughenden Manor, a National Trust property near High Wycombe, former home of Benjamin Disraeli. It was quite interesting, but the most interesting thing about it, they didn't make much of - that during WWII it was codenamed 'Hillside' and was used by the Royal Observer Corps for interpreting aerial reconnaissance photographs. On their small display on it they had a German document listing key Luftwaffe bombing targets, inside and outside London, and Hillside was the No 1 target on the outside London list.

Perhaps they don't make much of it because, as the BBC news item indicated, it only came to light last year. I remember when they started making a few programmes about Bletchley Park a few years ago, there were some folk who'd worked there who only then told their families that that's where they'd worked during the war.

the code of the woosters; film of the book; birdy

I read The Code of the Woosters, reckoned to be PG Wodehouse's best novel, as a second chance, since I didn't like the book I read (part of at least) when I was in school. I can see why people do find it funny, but it still left me cold. What I found made it funnier for me, in fact, was imagining Hugh Laurie reading the lines. A case of the screen adaptation being better than the book, although that's always a subjective judgement. I'd certainly watch plenty more episodes of the Fry/Laurie Jeeves & Wooster series, but I don't think I'll read any more of the novels. I'm enjoying his autobiography trilogy though.

I remember seeing Birdy when I was at university and thinking it was a very good film; a fellow student who was packing fish with me that summer (Alison Paterson, I think was her name) said she didn't want to see the film, because she loved the book so much she thought the film wouldn't be good enough. I subsequently read the book, and thought it was rubbish. I wonder what I'd think of the film now, especially as it stars Nicholas Cage, who I've hated in everything I've ever seen him in since. It had a Peter Gabriel soundtrack which made no impression on me, but which I often used to see cheap and second-hand.

Thursday, 20 April 2006

king of the hill

Discussing condemned man's last meals, Dale says, 'What I'd do is order the world's rarest truffle. Then while they're out looking for it, tunnel my way to freedom. Of course, then I'd miss eating the world's rarest truffle. Hmm, quite the quandary.'

Hank Hill to a Christian rock musician: 'Don't you understand, you're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse.'

A good episode of a very good series, which they throw away at 2 in the morning now; I videoed a couple of episodes this week, but don't always (Futurama similarly we used to enjoy, but don't feel strongly enough to chase it around the schedules with our video recorder. Over the years a number of comedy series we have quite liked have disappeared into the middle of the night; we have unpopular tastes obviously). Also an episode surpisingly positive about faith. From the man who blessed us with Beavis and Butthead.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

glorious!

Bethan and I went to see Glorious! on Monday evening, starring Maureen Lipman, about Florence Foster Jenkins, who had a terrible voice but quite a lot of money. We enjoyed it quite a lot. Its last week, attendances declining, we were bumped up to fourth row stalls; a small but appreciative audience. Some reviews: The Independent. The Guardian. The Daily Telegraph. The Times. And an article in The Guardian by Maureen Lipman.

Sunday, 16 April 2006

henshed halifax

When we were on holiday near York a couple of weeks ago we went to the Yorkshire Air Museum. The highpoint of the visit was seeing the reconstructed Halifax, a large section of the fuselage of which had spent several decades as a henshed in Grimshader - I got a closer look because I told the man I was from Lewis. It was an interesting place, that we'd go back to if we were in the area. As it wasn't summer yet, most of the aircraft were still stuffed into the hangar, but that only served to emphasise exactly how big the Halifax was - the clearance was only a couple of feet at either wing-tip.

I'd say it had showed up how little I remembered from my time in the Air Training Corps, were it not for the fact that I was well aware during the time in the Air Training Corps that I was taking nothing in.

Whatever one thinks about the Allies' policy in WWII of bombing civilian targets, it seems unjust and hypocritical that there was no campaign medal for the airmen who carried out that policy. As this BBC news link reports, Bomber Command lost 55,000 members of aircrew, almost half of its serving members, the highest loss rate of any major branch of the British armed forces.

long sermons

Laurence Chaderton, the moderate Puritan leader, once paused after two hours of a Cambridge sermon. The entire congregation stood up and shouted, 'For God's sake go on!' He gave them another hour.
- p182, Power and Glory, Adam Nicolson.

beauty map

Jeremy Beadle's Today's The Day records the birth of Francis Galton, scientist and traveller, on 16 February 1822. 'With the use of statistics, he ... compiled a Beauty Map of Britain showing that all the most attractive girls lived in Aberdeen.'

Saturday, 15 April 2006

the old country

My mother being down, Bethan and I are having a few theatre outings. On Friday evening we saw The Old Country, by Alan Bennett, at the Trafalgar Studios, starring Timothy West, English Touring Theatre Company production. Here are a few reviews: Daily Telegraph. Another Daily Telegraph. Guardian. Independent. Another Independent. Times. Sunday Times. I wonder how many of those links will still work in six months. Interesting to see the wide variety of opinions, particularly the very different views on which of the performances are good and which aren't.

We thought it was okay; well-written, as you'd expect, but not much to it really. The funniest thing was the people behind us coming in and one of them being disgruntled to find they'd been sold tickets in the back row (we were second-back, being cheapskates), Row Q - she said, 'When they said Row Q, I thought there'd be R, S, T...' She didn't mind being in Row Q so much as being in the back row. (She hoped they'd be able to see and hear fine, and I'm sure they were; there were certainly no subsequent grumblings.)

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

hall of remembrance

I've been to the art gallery section of the Imperial War Museum with the younger generation a couple of times now, and have wondered about the proposed Hall of Remembrance which is mentioned in the captions to a few of the WWI paintings (mentioned as the intended destination for the painting). I asked an attendant about it once, but he didn't know, so a few days ago I emailed the question through their website. I got a really detailed answer today, which I was surprised and impressed at:

Thank you for your enquiry. The Hall of Remembrance was never actually realised as a building. When the War Artist Scheme was initially started it was initially concerned with documenting the war. The scheme then evolved into creating a collection of smaller, informative documents of war, surrounding a core of larger canvases to express the artists' feelings on the subject and to commemorate the sacrifice of the nation. Initially it was suggested that this could be housed in a special wing in the Tate and then the idea of a 'hall of remembrance' was developed as part of the government's reconstruction plans. I think that Richmond Hill was one of the proposed sights and Charles Holden the proposed architect. It was proposed as an art memorial with artists being commissioned to paint specific paintings in a specific size (based on Ucello's Rout of San Romano). Even this was not stictly adhered to. Eventually as a result of financial. political and personal arguments Lord Beaverbrook who was by then more or less responsible for the scheme proposed that the work went to the IWM, which had already been set up and had been officially collecting paintings since 1917. Although the museum's proposed sight was first Hyde Park and then opposite Westminster it temporarily opened its doors in Crystal Palace, moving to South Kensington when environmental conditions proved impractical at Crystal Palace. In 1936 the museum moved to its current home in Lambeth Rd.

If you would like more information about the scheme you can read about it in 'The War Artists' by Meirion and Sue Harris 1983, published by Michael Joseph Ltd in association with the Imperial War Museum and the Tate Gallery. Unfortunately the book is out of print, but you might be able to buy it second hand.

myspace

I started signing up 'friends' on myspace in earnest today - partly prompted by John's encouragement, partly because I worked out a good reason to do it, which is to hear tracks by some of the bands from Lewis that I've been reading about in the Stornoway Gazette over the last couple of years. I'm amazed at how many Lewis-related sites I've already found with tracks on. Being able to search by 'within X miles of postcode' helped me get quite a few, if not directly then from among the friends of Lewis-based users.

But the first 'friend' I actually signed up was The Pipettes, a kind of punky retro girl group from Brighton who I'd heard of but had forgotten the name of until Mark Lamaar played a song of theirs on Saturday. They weren't quite as good as I'd hoped - not enough harmonies on the tracks there - but the 'proper singing' bit on Your Kisses shows that at least one of them has a lovely voice when they let it go.

Sunday, 9 April 2006

samuel ward's diary

[On King James Bible Translator, Puritan Samuel Ward's diary]
The little manuscript notebook opens with some notes on a sermon by Laurence Chaderton. But then, undated, there is the plunge into the agonies of the Puritan mind:
'Prid, Desire of vaynglory, yea, in little things. Wearisomnes in Godes service. Non affection. No delite in Godes service. No care of exhorting my brethren. Non boldness in the confessing of Godes name. No delite in hearing Godes word, or in prayer, or in receyving of the Sacramentes. Shame in serving God.'
Poor man! Ward's own high standards make for an ever-present sense of failure. But one must be careful in reading this. For a preacher to weep in the pulpit was considered in the seventeenth century a sign of God's grace. It was an essential part of Protestant theology that in order to be saved you had to know you were damned. Behind the breast-beating - as every anti-Puritan play and libel endlessly repeated - there is an undertone, a subtle recognition, that these appalling failures are steps towards deliverance. For the Jacobean divine, as for the modern alcoholic, the road of regret always led to the palace of salvation.
There is no doubt, though, that it is more than a pose. The confessions are real, shaming and often ridiculous enough for there to be no hint that this is a public document. It is an endoscope into one of the Puritan Translators' hearts. Ward, to his own horror, is bored by one of Laurence Chaderton's sermons. He gets angry with Mr Newhouse, his tutor, for the inordinate length of his prayers. Carnal desires sweep over him. ... The Puritan is no saint: that is his sorrow; he is aware of it, and that is his gift. 'I must learne to desyre more after the Sundays than the Mundayes,' Ward wrote, and to restrict 'thy overmuch delite in these transitory pleasures of this world'. Nothing about which he could feel pleased gave him any pleasure. He was much too brilliant for his own good and reproached himself for 'My overmuch quipping and desire of praise thereby'. It is surely significant that he flicks like this from 'my' to 'thy' and back again, alternately owning and disowning himself and his sins, both judge and accused in the court of his own conscience.
- p126, Power and Glory, Adam Nicolson.

I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

Sites which stream whole old albums - I don't want to download them, I just want to hear them, and if I like them I can go and buy them at Fopp for a fiver. It starts to seem wasteful to buy too much back catalogue which only get played once to discover that no, it's not really my thing, especially with groups with a long catalogue which I would really quite like to hear and which sit in Fopp's racks, tempting me (early Genesis being their latest swathe). I guess it'll come, if it's not there already. Grown ups don't borrow albums from each other, it seems, which was a chief childhood way of hearing other albums; that and sitting in each other's bedrooms listening to each other's albums, which grown ups of my acquaintance don't do either. I came across a prog rock site (hurrah!) a couple of days ago - progarchives.com - which seems to have quite a lot of individual tracks for a very broad whack of artists, but that's something at least.

Which trivial wish puts me in mind of the old joke about the Washington Post asking foreign ambassadors what they would wish for for Christmas. The French ambassador said world peace. The Russian ambassador said an end to world hunger and poverty. The German ambassador said a cure for the world's major diseases. The British ambassador said a new pair of slippers.

pushing happy meals through the bars

'Do you know what really shocked me?' she says. 'the children didn't believe me that the chicken legs actually came from chickens! They wouldn't eat them because they'd only been given chicken nuggets. that really made me feel sad, and quite angry really.'
And some of the parents were, apparently, furious. 'They felt that their children weren't getting enough to eat,' says Sands. 'They'd stand at the railings and push McDonald's Happy Meals through the bars.'

- from an article in Evening Standard, Wednesday 5 April, about Nora Sands, the canteen lady featured in the Jamie Oliver School Dinners series, who's got all zealous herself about improving school dinners.

Reminds me of a shock survey around the time of that series or before, about children's ignorance about food, like not knowing what chips were made of.

Saturday, 8 April 2006

west wing

I've watched the West Wing pretty faithfully, although I've missed whole series because they were on Sunday (and/or possibly on non-freeview/terrestrial), including the one after the assassination attempt, the one when John Goodman was president and I think the one after his daughter was kidnapped. I like it a lot, as do the critics, but I often wonder what the UK critics' reaction to a similar series set in Downing Street would be - a dream liberal leader surrounded by altruistic staff working for the good of the country, no infighting, politicking, sleaze, and not an unpleasant character among them. They'd slaughter it.

eriko ishihara

On Thursday lunchtime the younger generation and I saw Eriko Ishihara at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in a free foyer concert. A jazz trio (piano, drums, double bass), mostly standards, pleasant and unremarkable.

marty

Marty, for which Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar, was meant to be a failure, so that its producers could write it off as a tax loss. (Not unlike Springtime For Hitler). From 24 January in Jeremy Beadle's Today's The Day, that being Ernest's birthday. I haven't seen Marty yet.

guilty musical pleasures

There have been a couple of compilations recently of 'guilty pleasures' - naff tracks, or artists, you would be ashamed to admit you like - and it's a staple of interview/questionnaires. I don't think I have any guilty pleasures in that respect; I'm pretty shameless in liking a wide range of music which I happen to think is good.

But I was thinking recently that if I do have a guilty pleasure it's liking songs whose lyrical content I disagree with, or which I can't sing along with without judicious silences. Sex, religion and politics being the main themes in question, I suppose; mostly religion, and swearing.

I can't sing along with the title of 'Bat out of hell' (I feel slightly uncomfortable even typing it - I'm such a prude). I remember that one of my university flatmates (David), a Christian, got rid of his copy of that album when he was in school, when he found himself going down the road singing to himself, 'If I've got to be damned you know I want to be damned, dancing through the night with you'. I can sing along quite happily to The Trees, by Rush, which is an excellent song but always struck me as peculiarly right-wing. I don't know what they meant by it, but I see that the good people of America who have commented on it on songfacts.com certainly rejoice in its rightwingness.

(If you had to identify genres, you'd think of heavy metal and country & western in relation to rightwing politics. Are there any rightwing folk songs?)

Friday, 7 April 2006

broadsword and the beast, and digressions

Today I got an email from Alex and a phone call from Douglas. It's our school reunion next week, as it happens; we're at that time of life, with most of our class turning 40 this year, I reckon.

I sent Douglas a package yesterday, second class, which he got today, which was impressive. It contained a phone charger, a tenner sponsorship money, and a Jethro Tull CD, Broadsword and the Beast. Douglas was expecting the first item but not the other two; I suspect he thought he was being offered some mysterious assignment, the CD containing some encoded instruction and the tenner being a measly downpayment for his services. I upgraded my CD for a Fopp fiver recently to a version with bonus tracks, hence the gift.

It's a mystery to me how the album surfaced into popularity among us at school. Aqualung was certainly known - I think Alex had a copy, which I certainly borrowed.

(Digression: a Fopp fiver got me Aqualung on CD a couple of years ago, again with some extra tracks - I've noted before that I'm not just rebuying my old record collection on CD, but much of the record collections of my schoolfriends. I remember reading of some research on when one's tastes in various fields 'set', and for music it was late teens; I always thought I'd never be like that, but would continue to be getting into new music, but I find that my collection, though expanding, is still predominantly of the kind of music I was listening to in my late teens; and most of the music which is new to me which I find I like is not contemporary (or is contemporary, but traditional - folk). I read a bit in Word recently where Bill Wyman said he had pretty much given up listening to new music as he just heard all their influences - 'oh yes, so you've heard that album too' kind of thing.)

But I'm not sure if Broadsword was a hit compared to the several albums which had preceded it. As Douglas said tonight though, the cover and some of the songs tied neatly into the fantasy line we were pursuing at that time. (Quick check in big fat reference book: certainly no singles from the album, if there were any, charted; the album was on the charts longer than any album since Aqualung, but only reached 27; the previous run of albums had reached 25,27,17,20,13,25,...) I'm not even sure it's that popular among fans (allmusic gives it 1.5/5; the reviews on amazon.com are harsh to say the least). Well, I still like it.

I don't remember who got the album first; it may have been Douglas.

(Digression: the two people I knew in school who really liked Genesis were Douglas and Martin Johnstone, who had both come up from the Central Belt. I don't know if this was significant. Maybe that's just the music liked by their circles of friends down there, rather than, say, heavy metal or indie, which were the two primary alternatives in my circles. I tended to have older (not more mature) tastes, maybe because I owned fewer records and listened to the radio more, maybe because when I did buy I mainly bought second-hand.)

Douglas said reading the lyrics really brought schooldays rushing back to him. I certainly remember it being played at a party in Alex's back room, and dancing to Slow Marching Band with Catherine. Funny the things you remember.

Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Monday, 3 April 2006

troops out

It is possible to have been against the invasion of Iraq but also to be against the precipitate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

There was an album title, possibly Cowboy Junkies, which I rather liked, Whites Off Earth Now.