Monday, 17 December 2007

terrorism books

Dying to Win: Why Suicide Terrorists Do It by Robert A Pape (Gibson Square, £18.99)
At the University of Chicago, Pape has compiled a database of all acts of "suicide terrorism" around the world from 1980 to the present day: Hizbullah, Tamils, Sikhs, Chechens, al-Qaida and so on. What he finds may surprise ranting theorists of a clash of civilisations. Suicide terrorism is made more likely by a confluence of three factors. First, a military occupation of (or a direct military influence over) a homeland by a democracy. (The US military bases in Saudi Arabia were long Bin Laden's primary grievance, before they were mostly evacuated in 2003.) Second, a religious difference between occupier and occupied: the difference, rather than the content of any religion, is what counts. (Al-Qaida-type bombers overwhelmingly come from states under US military influence, not from countries with the biggest populations of "Islamic fundamentalists".) And third, "community support for martyrdom", including a supply of volunteers, who are generally well educated and not among their society's poorest.


What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Terrorist Threat by Louise Richardson (John Murray, £12.99)

From a more sociological perspective, and using a wide variety of detailed case studies, Richardson arrives at a conclusion also supported by Pape: that people who commit suicide terrorism are not, by and large, crazed religious maniacs but rational actors, choosing a tactic that they suppose will further their particular political ends. ... She praises Tony Blair's first, unscripted speech in response to the July bombings of last year, in which "he spoke calmly of crimes and police work"; and makes some hard-headed statistical points: "The probability that terrorists will kill as many Americans as drunk drivers [will] in any given year is tiny." Possibly the most intelligent and readable contemporary one-volume account available.

- extracts from a couple of reviews by Steven Poole of books on terrorism in the Guardian of 9 September 2006

whim of iron

That Betjeman in middle age was able to divert his waning creativity as a writer into a brilliant career as a broadcaster and proselytiser was yet another sign of his eccentric talent, his "whim of iron".
- from a review by Simon Jenkins of AN Wilson's biography of John Betjeman in the Guardian of 9 September 2006

Saturday, 15 December 2007

santa's pin number

A simple joke from Friday's Now Show:
- What's Santa's pin number?
- 0-0-0-0.

Satan's pin number, of course, is quite different.
(And I can never hear the Iron Maiden classic without singing to myself '6-6-8, the neighbour of the beast'.)

they found him dead

Just started reading my third Georgette Heyer detective story and already wondering why I bother with the Agatha Christie chewing gum (of course it's the ease, and The List) - so much more wit and warmth, so much better written. Interesting to see in the Georgette Heyer Wikipedia entry that she thought her first detective story, Footsteps in the Dark - my disappointing second read of hers, after the good Detection Unlimited - sufficiently poor that she later asked the publishers not to reprint it. Also interesting that, as this brief newsletter item says, she was considered the Queen of Crime for a time, but is now remembered primarily for her historical novels. I think I am going to enjoy tracking down her nine other detective stories.

Friday, 14 December 2007

calm down

The gentlemen of Liverpool can't both keep complaining about being caricatured in the media as workshy criminals and also keep burgling their football players every time they play away.

away in an awesome manger

Away in an awesome manger: The Nativity story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith but can be a big hurdle for a bunch of skeptical New York teenagers.
- interesting article by Garrison Keillor in Salon of 5 December

jobcentre plus

Do as I say, not what I do: Four hundred and ninety-seven Jobcentre Plus staff have been sacked over the past year after failing to turn up for work.
- from the Guardian's Backbencher email of Wednesday 5 December.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

religion and politics in america

In America, meanwhile, 'those with no religious beliefs are shut out from political power. Earlier this year, a secularist group offered $1,000 to the highest-ranking politician in the land who would publicly proclaim no belief in God. This turned out to be Peter Stark, a Democratic congressman from the San Francisco area. He is the only congressman, of 535, who professes no belief in the Almighty.' This from an Economist article of 11 December on the religion and politics in America. British Christians must read this with baffled incomprehension, especially old lefties like myself who see nothing Christian about American politics and policy. 'An unbelieving president still seems an unlikely prospect.

'On the other hand, only 53% of Americans still say they would not vote for an otherwise well-qualified atheist.' 'Only'? I'd take a atheist Labour candidate over a Christian Conservative candidate every time, other things remaining equal. Funny old world.

christianity and islam again

It seems superflous to note another article on the difference in treatment of Christanity and Islam in the media, but here's another one, this from Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph of Saturday 8 December. Accompanied as usual by a long tail of unthoughtful comments, and incorporating, as it's the DT, a bash against the BBC licence fee.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

the return of the native

In 1987, fed up with how miserable London had become, Jon Henley turned his back on England. Now after 20 years of living abroad, he is back. But there are a few things about New Britain that he finds positively baffling ...
- entertaining article from the Guardian of Monday 10 December.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

fiver news

Two interesting news snippets from yesterday's Guardian Fiver:

Jolly family man Neville Southall has successfully sued his daughter for £55,000 worth of trophies. Southall gave the memorabilia to her when she was 10, but now wants them back. "I'm devastated," his daughter Sam said. "I idolised my dad. I don't know how I'll pay the costs [which amount to £5,000]."

A match in Peru had to be abandoned at the weekend after Sport Ancash midfielder Efrain Viafara used his big, fat backside to control the ball, a move the opposition interpreted as an insult. "If they had sent off Viafara none of this would have happened," said Universitario captain Mayer Candelo.

religion and public life

An interesting set of articles from The Economist of 1 November about religion.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

letter b

Interesting Guardian item on the reissue of early Sesame Streets on DVD labelled 'These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child':

'It's not the psychedelic nature of the programme in its 70s incarnation that worries, but the behaviour it might encourage. Children dancing in the street! Grown men reading storybooks to kids - for no apparent reason!

'Cookie Monster is the number one problem, not because he is a monster, but because he eats cookies (encourages obesity), and when his addiction takes a special stranglehold, the plate (might hurt). His alter ego, Alistair Cookie, used to smoke a pipe before eating it, which, Sesame Street producer Carol-Lynn Parente explained to the New York Times, "modelled the wrong behaviour", and so Alistair was, tragically, dropped, and he now probably munches down on pipes in bitterness in illegal pipe dens.

'The clearly depressed Oscar the Grouch is another problem: "We might not be able to create a character like Oscar today," said Parente, which is possibly one of the most depressing sentences I have read in my life.

'For those of us reared on Sesame Street, the degree to which the show is embedded in our psyche is hard to overstate. My favourite segment was the 1979 one when the Muppet band the Beetles, suitably mop-topped, if a little fuzzier of face than the originals, sang their poignant ballad Letter B (sample lyric: "When I find I can't remember/What comes after A and before C/ My mother always whispers, 'Letter B'," and yes, I am quoting from memory).'


SB's been listening to Wimoweh/Lion Sleeps Tonight. Nothing matches Karl Denver's extraordinary and tremendous version of Wimoweh. I remember years ago Dannies Baker and Kelly suggesting that some football team should adopt it as their run-out music, in order to really strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. There's a live version of it on YouTube, with Roy Hattersley on lead guitar; everything's on YouTube. Karl Denver was a merchant seaman from Glasgow. I've got a Best Of, which is proof than an artist can produce one stupendous song and nothing else of any real value.

Saturday, 1 December 2007


Yesterday afternoon changed my mind about getting the bus home from Oxford Circus and got the tube instead. In walking from the bus stop north of Oxford Circus to the steps down into Oxford Circus tube - a walk of about twenty seconds - I passed coming the other way separarately first Alistair McGowan and then Steve Punt. Whenever you see someone off the telly around there, you assume they're going to or coming from the BBC.

house prices

Our house seems to have tripled in value since we bought it nine years ago. This isn't especially good news, since so has every other house in London. I don't know how first-time buyers manage, especially if they're single and working in the charity sector, say. A third of a million for a two-bed ex-council smaller than the two-bed council I grew up in; that's just nuts. Needless to say, we couldn't afford it now; we could barely afford it then.

a letter of comment

_Kip Williams_ channels Jeanette Winterson: 'I enjoyed the latest issue, and the note about Ms Le Guin. / Of course, though, this is not a letter of comment. Please make no mistake, though it is a letter and it comments (see above), it is not one of those shallow "gosh-wow Flash Gordon" LoCs that dwell tediously on the minutiae of ... I don't know ... margins or staples or something. No, it deals fearlessly with real human issues and emotions, using, perhaps, some elements also found in letters of comment, but in a much more real and relevant and humanly worthwhile sort of way. / I could go on about the differences between this and letters of comment, but as I haven't really read any, I can only presume that I am blazing new trails in literature with this humble missive, which owes nothing to anything that has come before. Behold the future! / Well, I'll let you get back to your letters of comment now. I expect they must seem silly and shallow to you now, but carry on.'

- a nicely-done letter from David Langford's November Ansible, on the back of Jeanette's denial (as per usual with writers and critics of literature) that there is nothing of SF in her new book (which of course there is).

back on silver street

Jeremy Muldowney (Letters, October 27) is mistaken when he says that in my In Search of Shakespeare I suggested that Shakespeare's landlady was Catholic. If he had troubled to read the book, he would have found the story of Shakespeare lodging with the Mountjoys, a Huguenot family, in some detail - a tale which has been well known since Charles Wallace published it in 1910. As for the "vigour" of my research, he would have also found a reconstructed map of Silver Street, and references to material which had hitherto been largely unexplored by Shakespeare biographers, including the St Olave's Parish register, the Barber Surgeons Archive, Ralph Treswell's property surveys for the Clothworkers company, the Carriers Cosmographie and other documents and texts pertinent to Shakespeare's time there - even including the unnoticed floor plan of the house itself. These have since been used by a number of writers, including Charles Nicholl (whose book I have much enjoyed).

As for Shakespeare's religion, I assumed that he was a conforming Protestant in his period in Silver Street - but as is well known there is a great debate over this, and to be a lodger in a Huguenot house ( with a home address in the Midlands) on the face of it might have allowed some latitude to anyone who wished to keep his private religious beliefs to himself.

- Michael Wood defends himself in the Guardian letters page of Saturday 3 November.

Friday, 30 November 2007

roger the provoker

Q: You said after your first solo tour that your show was a Pink Floyd show except that it had a different drummer, guitar and keyboard player.
A: Did I say that? How very provocative of me.

- an exchange from a Roger Waters interview in May 2007's Uncut. He's dry. Reading a couple of interviews with him in the last couple of years, he seems to have managed to mellow without losing his confidence or self-belief, which is a nifty trick.

And listening to King Crimson, as I am now, reminds me of that interesting view I read that Pink Floyd were successful and have endured in popularity because they were less talented musicians than other progressive rock groups. The other day I compared prog to punk; today it's definitely jazz.

bohemian rhapsody fc

The funniest thing I've heard for ages was just now doing the washing up listening to Dannies Baker and Kelly's football podcast, when their backroom boy Alex Constantinu sang a version of Bohemian Rhapsody in which all the words had been replaced by footballers names that sounded like the real words. A tremendous effort.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

calvinist or catholic

On Silver Street
Some years ago, Michael Wood argued that the nationality of William Shakespeare's landlady in Silver Street could be seen as evidence that Shakespeare was a covert Catholic: French citizens living in London were exempt from the dictates of the "Elizabethan Settlement", and so perhaps an English lodger might get away with discreet attendance at mass. It is therefore amusing to be told by Charles Nicholl that Mrs Mountjoy and her family were Calvinists ("The gent upstairs", October 20). Clearly Charles Nicholl has worried away at the documentary evidence with rather more vigour than Michael Wood.
Jeremy Muldowney
York Shakespeare Project

- letter in the Guardian Review of Saturday 27 October following up the Shakespeare on Silver Street article

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

'if you can't say something good...'

Another Guardian book review, from 27 October this time, reminded me of this quote by quoting it: 'too bad Clinton never met the waspish Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of another US president who famously said: "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here beside me."'

darwin's angel

Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Riposte to The God Delusion, by John Cornwell (Profile, £10.99)
The current religion-vs-atheism "debate" is not exactly the same thing as the "war on terror", but a kind of sideshow satire of it. Cornwell here takes on celebrity god-mocker Richard Dawkins in the persona of an "angel", a device that immediately reveals itself as insufferably twee. We get a few theoretical defences of the idea of God (there must be a first cause, etc); and a defence of theology on the grounds that, like literature and music, it is the work of the human "imagination". I suppose that if all believers treated their stories as fairytales Dawkins would find nothing to complain about.
Cornwell is on firmer terrain when musing on Dawkins's awesome self-regard and - most crucially for a champion of empiricism - his methodological slackness. The best chapter is quite devastating: on Dawkins's assertion that "Love thy neighbour" means only "Love another Jew". This claim is based on a single paper by an anaesthesiologist, which as Cornwell shows is markedly selective in its biblical citations. The anaesthesiologist in question is also notable for having claimed that anti-semitism "is to be expected" given "the competitive attributes of Judaism". Dawkins calls his paper "remarkable". Well, I suppose "remarkable" is one word for it.
- a short review by Steven Poole in the Guardian of 24 November 2007; it does indeed sound insufferably twee.


I've downloaded my first set of ad-free tracks from We7 - a Beatles covers album and a couple of the Sex Pistols tracks. I'm amazed at how many more albums there seem to be available on there now. A lot of listening and downloading to be done. Motorhead and early Status Quo stacks have caught my eye and await, but in the meantime I've downloaded a batch of stuff pointed to by Alex as worth a try - King Crimson, Pete Bardens, Kamelot and Sammy Hagar. It's only hard disk space that's restricting me at the moment.

common sense

'You want to give us some donations in other people's names? That sounds like a terrific idea.'

'She got her class to vote on a name for the bear, and they gave it the name of one of the boys in the class? How sweet! Wait a minute, what did you say his name was? Hang on, I'll get my whip.'

People can be such twits.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

john laurie

Got and read an old book on Saturday, Hamlet Through The Ages, featuring production photos, paintings and drawings, with just a few notes. The most interesting thing, apart from the photos of Alec Guinness doing it which made you wish you'd seen that (and the editor's tetchy introduction at how little trouble theatre companies take to preserve any kind of record of their productions, even having the temerity to turn him down when he offered to do so), was the fact that John Laurie was Hamlet at Stratford in 1927 and for the Shakespearean Company at the Old Vic in 1929 (the next year it was John Gielgud). I knew he'd been a Shakespearean actor, and he's in at least one of the Olivier films, but didn't know it had been to such an extent. I remember in a Dad's Army documentary someone saying that initially he was humorously dismissive of it coming to such a pass that he was having to be in something like Dad's Army, but that with success and longevity he got over that. It's the curse of the stage actor, though, that you'll be remembered for, if anything, tv or film roles, however minor or incidental you viewed them in your career. And Dad's Army is it for John Laurie. Doomed, indeed.

PS Googling online for more info on John Laurie with a variety of searches, after posting this, and on about my tenth variation, the first hit that came up was this blog. That's fast.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


The thing that's annoyed me about CLC for years, and I can't believe they ever did it and still do it, is that they order their biography/autobiography section not by subject, or by author, or by the several dozen options you would choose, which would mostly still be poor choices, before the one the went for, which is alphabetically by book title. Their shelving system throughout isn't great, but that section's the pits.

CLC, unlike WEC, haven't got the option of turning that final initial from Crusade into (for) Christ, since the first word is Christian. Looking on the WEC site just now, in fact, I couldn't easily see WEC spelled out anywhere.

CLC, like other Christian bookshops, is subject to an amazing amount of shoplifting, and has signs up everywhere saying there are cameras and there will be prosecutions. It seems that God tells some people that he wants them to have that book, and he knows they're too poor to pay for it so it's okay to steal it. It's marvellous, really.


Apocalyptic, an old IVP Tyndale Paperback (1973) by Leon Morris read more like a thesis than anything, and was mostly about extra-biblical apocalyptic writings (saying in fact that most of what we think of as apocalyptic literature in the Bible isn't truly apocalyptic in style). But I liked this bit from near the end, on p98-99 (and how good to read a book where you can describe p98-99 as near the end):

It was not only the way of forgiveness that differentiated the Christians from the apocalyptists, but the fact that there should be forgiveness at all. In the New Testament sin looms always as a problem, in fact as *the* problem. It is sin that separates man from God and which must be overcome if man is to be saved. Through all the disputes the theologians have had over the way the atonement is to be understood there has never been any doubt that in some way Jesus did accomplish atonement. Forgiveness is available. Men may now turn away from their sin and find their forgiveness and their peace in God. it is a grand gospel to preach to guilty men.

But the apocalyptists were not proclaiming a gospel. Their only interest in guilty men was that they should be punished. They divided all mankind into the good and the bad. The good, they thought, God would vindicate and deliver from the oppression of their enemies. The bad he would overthrow and utterly destroy. There was no place for repentant sinners in such a scheme. As C Ryder Smith put it, in apocalyptic 'There is no doctrine of the salvation of sinners, no idea that God would find a way by which bad men might become good . . . the dominant idea was that God will save good men from trouble, not that He will save bad men from sin'. This difference in emphasis must always be kept in mind when the relationship of Christianity to apocalyptic is being considered. In their attitude to sinners they are saying two very different, even contradictory things. Apocalyptic is not a fit vehicle for conveying the truth about forgiveness.

Nor is it really useful for helping men see the Christian attitude to this world in which we live. The men of the New Testament were convinced that God had broken into this world in the coming of Jesus. As we have already noticed, this has consequences in terms of forgiveness and salvation. But it also has consequences in terms of how we should regard this world. Many writers have spoken of Christianity as world-affirming, and this points us to an important truth. It is a faith that looks to God to act in the here and now. And it looks to its adherents to seek to realize God's will in the here and now. A meek resignation of this world to the powers of evil is never a part of Chrisianity. The apocalyptists were sure of the ultimate triumph of God and in this they are at one with the Christians. But they surrendered this world to the powers of evil and saw no hope for it. In this their world-view is out of harmony with that of the Christians and there is no way of bringing them together. One of the most fruitful of modern insights is that which speaks of 'holy worldliness' and sees the duty of the Christian as that of living for God in this world, not simply of awaiting 'pie in the sky'. But there is no way of fitting this into the world-view of the apocalyptists.

don't let me be misunderstood

To me there's a really odd, but small, sickly lurch in pitch in the organ on The Animals' Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, as if the verses and the refrain had been recorded at slightly different pitches and the tape of the organ had to have its speed changed to match. I expect if I was a hardened Animals fan I'd know all about this.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

invisible serfs; hamlet asides

I've read a number of John Sutherland's books of essays on 'puzzles in classic fiction'. They are often annoying, because in many cases they treat seriously a discrepancy which is obviously just a continuity slip-up by the author and build rather elaborate towers of explanation to account for them, but they're almost always entertaining because in writing about the issue they give interesting insights into and reflections on the culture, society and author.

Here's an interesting point from the essay on Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, and how she managed to do her shopping trip in the West End so quickly. The explanation is that there must be an unmentioned taxi:

'The reason why Woolf does not mention the taxi is to be found, I think, in her and Mrs Dalloway's class habits when in town. For "upper-middle-class ladies" in 1923 to take a mile's walk to a florist's to save a servant's legs was unusual to the point of eccentricity ("What a lark! What a plunge!" Clarissa thinks as she sets out on her stroll). The wife of Richard Dalloway, MP, would routinely hail a taxi when shopping in Bond Street, or have some shop assistant do it for her. The act is so natural that there is no need to mention it: any more than one need mention that there are pigeons in Trafalgar Square - or that there are underpaid, unidentified servants who keep things shipshape in the Dalloway household. (When she was writing her famous polemic about a room of one's own and £500 a year, the Woolfs had two live-in female servants, Lotte and Nellie, who earned £76 per annum between them. They did not, one suspects, have rooms of their own.)

'In his essay on Tolstoy, the Marxist critic Georg Lukacs argues that in reading Anna Karenina or War and Peace, we should always insert into the narrative "the invisible serf". That is, we should visualize (as the novels often do not) the vast servile infrastructure which made the principals' drama possible. Similarly, in Mrs Dalloway we should recall the "invisible taxi" - the fleets of carriages (they used to be called "horseless"), the armies of servants (now sadly thinned by post-war democracy and insubordination), the attentive shop assistants (only visible when, like the luckless Miss Pym with her cherry-red hands, they are ludicrous or clumsy) - all of which exist to make Clarissa Dalloway's life bearable.'

I saw one production of Hamlet which made a point of this, the stage always bustling with servants coming and going and whispering. It was at the official Edinburgh Festival, in the Church of Scotland Assembly Rooms, I think; I'm pretty sure I was there with Chris. David Threlfall was Hamlet. All I remember are the servants and that I was tired and on the verge of sleep on a couple of occasions. Another time I will look online to see if any review or article survives of that (I tried recently with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Hamlet I saw which had Simon Russell Beale as a very foppish Osric - I remembered him when I saw him next, years later in London - and found little. The only other things I remember easily about the RLT production were that Laertes kissed Ophelia in a way that at least suggested incestuous desire, and that the costumes were, I think, WWI-ish)

mind the gap

Saw the Salcedo crack and the Bourgeois spider at Tate Modern a couple of weeks ago; the way we came in meant we didn't get the warning to mind the crack in the floor which was the only thing there to see, yet we didn't fall into it. Extraordinary preservation. Art can be dangerous.

Proximity and free entry mean that the Tate Modern and the Imperial War Museum are our most regularly-visited museums. Not sure what effect this will have on us all.

the three stages of santa

Read what I presume is an old line in the winter issue of Tear Times: 'Your life, it's been said, consists of three stages: you believe in Father Christmas; you don't believe in Father Christmas; you are Father Christmas.'

I remember reading several years ago a quite amusing item drawing parallels between Santa and Satan (their names being anagrammatic being just the start of it). When I tried looking for it, or a version of it, online last Christmas, a depressing number of hits were from Christian sites (mostly American) making the parallel seriously (and some of the others were being satirical of what crazy Christians might do, not realising that the crazy Christians had indeed got there already).

scribes and reincarnation

Not sure if I've heard this view before, the idea that the scribes believed in reincarnation, as John Calvin says in his note on John 9:34; I think I've heard it before, but it might have been Calvin earlier in this same commentary.

a bloodless substitute for life

Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life. It seems a pity to sit like the Lady of Shalott, peering into a mirror, with your back turned on all the bustle and glamour of reality. And if a man reads very hard, as the old anecdote reminds us, he will have little time for thought.
- from R L Stevenson, 'An Apology for Idlers', in Penguin Book of English Essays, p195

wyre law; caisteal mhic creacail

I've been to the wreck near Portnaguran a few times over the years, with its distinctive finger pointing to the sky. Unimpressively to a small boy, it wasn't a ship of war but a trawler, the Wyre Law, which ran aground in a storm in October 1952. Here's a photo of it on the panoramio photo website.

The photographer, Macshockian, also has a photo of Caisteal Mhic Creacail, the rather dispersed remains of a chambered cairn which isn't far away, just further along the Broad Bay coast, the other side of Flesherin, but which I only came across relatively recently on holiday with Bethan. When you're there you can see patterns in the stones, lines of walls and entrances, but they're not really apparent in the photos I took. Here's some more photos, from the Western Isles Archaeology Service (who also have photos of the Uig beehive dwellings - as well as the Callanish stones and Carloway broch, of course - which I've never seen). And here is the tiny amount of official notes on the RCAHMS (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) site about it, from visits from 1914 (written up in 1928, it seems) and 1964 (reminiscent of Earth's 'Mostly Harmless' entry in the HHG).

more on bible translation

In 1768 a Dr Edward Harwood, a Bristol Presbyterian, published a version of the New Testament which aimed, he said, 'to clothe the idea of the Apostles with propriety and perspicuity', replacing the 'bald and barbarous language of the old vulgar version with the elegance of modern English'. ... [An example of his translation, Peter's words at the Transfiguration] Tyndale had translated his stumbling words as the slightly odd, 'Master here is good beinge for us,' which was perhaps a mistake, perhaps an attempt to convey Peter's confusion. The King James Translators had him say simiply, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here.' Harwood, reaching high for propriety and perspicuity, managed to turn the apostle into a frock-coated, bewigged and slightly obsequious 1760s estate agent, exclaiming, 'Oh, sir! what a delectable residence we might establish here!'

The nineteenth century veered the other way. By 1870, it had become obvious not only that the manuscripts on which the King James Bible had been based were no longer the best available, but that the Joacobean Translators had made many mistakes in translation. The first major revision of the English scriptures was set in train but Victorian England was so enamoured of Jacobean word forms and the rhythms of the King James version, that the translators were urged to make their new translation as much like a Jacobean text as they could. The King James Bible had been, at least in the mainstream, unchallenged for 270 years, eight or nine generations. Its language, archaic even in 1611, derived from a form of English current in the mid-sixteenth century, had come to seem like the language spoken by God. As a result the Revised Version, finally published in 1885, although introducing some very odd translatorese by following the Greek word order ('Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth') also introduced a string of Jacobethanisms which had not been in the 1611 text: howbeit, peradventure, holden, aforetime, sojourn and behooved all appeared in the new Bible, nineteenth-century changes posing as the real oak-panelled thing, as if a team of London solictors suddenly appeared for work in ruffs and doublets.
- Adam Nicolson, Power and Glory, p232-233

arthur alexander

I've got an Arthur Alexander best of, primarily to get Anna, the song covered by The Beatles on Please Please Me, and there are at least two others there that were also in their repertoire, Soldier of Love and A Shot of Rhythm and Blues. It's remarkable how unremarkable an album it is; hard to see why he captured the imagination in particular. The arrangements are pedestrian, the voice is ordinary, the songs don't seem anything special. Another of life's mysteries.


The reaction to Israel's victory over Russia on Saturday was interesting; you got the impression that England had therefore qualified, not that it was simply back in their own hands. I'm a supporter by marriage, so I hope not to see them lose tonight, but many eggs have already been counted.

Later: as they say on my Only An Excuse tapes, 'dear oh dear oh dear'.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

my first sermon; my second sermon

I used to have these Millais paintings on a pair of postcards: My First Sermon; My Second Sermon. The model was his daughter Effie, I read in a Guardian article just now, which reminded me of the paintings.

Monday, 19 November 2007


Interesting New Scientist article on CamelCase - full article in this blog post.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

'the chuckle brothers'

"No more 'Dr No': meet the new Ian Paisley": Interesting article from the Independent of 15 November on the transformation of Ian Paisley: 'Sceptics said it would never last. As promising as the new dawn in northern Irish politics appeared earlier this year, could Ian Paisley really keep up his astonishing transformation from hardline Unionist to cheerful, co-operative colleague of lifelong republican enemies? More than six months on, his critics appear to have been confounded. Radiating goodwill and an unanticipated talent for give-and-take, the man formerly known as "Dr No" has been saying an unreserved "yes" to a whole host of people and places that he would once have roundly denounced, extending the hand of friendship to Irish nationalists and senior Catholic figures alike.'
'Mr Paisley has thrown himself into his new role with all the larger-than-life gusto he once devoted to chastising exactly this kind of bridge-building activity. Fire and brimstone have been replaced by sweetness and light and, what's more, it does not even appear to be an effort for him: after years as a rebellious outsider, he is clearly enjoying his new status at the top of Belfast's political tree.'
'Next month he is off to the US with Martin McGuinness to push for investment. The Paisley-McGuinness relationship is the most striking of all: they get on so well, sharing jokes together in public so often, that they have been tagged "the Chuckle Brothers".'

still more on the delusion

Interesting article on p24 of the November Monthly Record, yet another response to The God Delusion, this time by a Christian turned atheist turned Christian again, Daniel O'Hara. One of the interesting things is pursuable refs to critical reviews from non-Christians, as well as Christian material.

more contemporary calvinism

There are many reasons why people are quite frankly fed up with Calvinism, and the mention of the word ‘reformed’ simply drives them into despair. Over the last 30 years there has been an infl uence within our denomination which came from foreign soil. Our classic Scottish Calvinism was diverted into a syncretistic blend of independent Puritanism and fundamentalism. The warm fi re in the middle of our homes was swept out and the goodness of the music was taken away. Many were intimidated by the tall dark men who acted liked sponges, who soaked up all our joy. The implied subtext of the godly life was a life devoid of so many of the good things that God had given us freely to enjoy. Joshua Harris observed in meeting a group of reformed people for the first time, “I’m sorry to say that they represented the doctrines of grace with a total lack of grace. They were spiteful, cliquish, and arrogant. I didn’t even stick around to understand what they were teaching. I took one look at them and knew I didn’t want any part of it.” Many of our readers can relate to that. There was also the replacement of a living Calvinism with a cultural Calvinism. What do we mean by that? This is where there are sets of mores and attitudes which are expected and therefore are enforced by the wider community, but they have no biblical or theological basis. What is behind the ritualistic pressing of communion tokens into the hand? Why is there an exalted view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper but a cavalier view of baptism?


There will always be a gap between the church and society. In our services of worship we expect to experience the transcendent and to be brought to levels of joy and solemnity that the world cannot match. John Piper said, “They’re not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their heart sing.” The Calvinist, however, knows that life is religion and that there is no area of society over which God does not claim absolute sovereignty. It was Calvin himself who said that our task was to make the invisible kingdom visible. In Calvin’s Geneva, alcoholism fell dramatically, public health was improved and asylum seekers were welcomed and ministered to in the name of Christ. Alistair MacGrath points out that in Calvin’s day, Geneva was known as ‘the wonderful miracle of the whole world’. Calvin himself said that neglecting the poor was sacrilege. The church driven by such a world view will be both missional and merciful. If we look at our history, our founding fathers of 1843 had such a view. If we want to look for models of contemporary Calvinism within our own tradition, we need look no further than Thomas Chalmers, who revived the office of deacon and is a benchmark for any mercy ministry. Perhaps in these days we ought to look more to our 1843 roots than to 1900.

- two more extracts from David Meredith's article on contemporary Calvinism in the Monthly Record of October 2007

Friday, 16 November 2007

the specials

According to the frank assessment of their former bass-player [Horace Panter], The Specials were 'a band that stood for unity and racial harmony but split up because they couldn't stand each other.'
- Uncut, October 2007

pope john xii; edward jenner; margot fonteyn; anne boleyn

'The Christian Caligula' Pope John XII died, aged about twenty-seven, after a riotous reign of nine years. John was a sex-mad gambler who kept gangs of thugs to do his dirty work, violated female pilgrims and was said to have turned the Lateran Palace into a brothel. He plotted against the Emperor Otto, mutilated priests who upset him and once ordained a bishop in a stable. AD 964.

- from Jeremy Beadle's Today's The Day for 14th May. You have to ask, to put it mildly, what were some of those medieval popes thinking?

On the same day, much more positive yet in some ways almost as extraordinary, in 1796 Edward Jenner made his first vaccination against smallpox. 'Twenty years earlier, Jenner had heard that milkmaids didn't get smallpox because in the course of their work they got cow-pox - which made them immune. So he took "some matter" from the cow-pox infected hand of one Sarah Nelmes and inoculated eight-year-old James Phipps with it. Two months later, he infected him with a virulent strain of smallpox and yet the boy survived. This dangerous, not to say rather brutal, experiment validated a technique that was soon saving thousands of lives.' You wonder if Mr and Mrs Phipps knew exactly what was involved.

And May 18th 1919 is when Dame Margot Fonteyn was born in Reigate. 'She changed her name at the outset [of her career], taking her half-Brazilian mother's maiden name Fontes, but when the family objected to being associated with the stage, she changed it again to the next name in the telephone directory.'

May 19th, 1536, Anne Boleyn had her head chopped off, by sword at her request rather than axe, and 'Rombaud of Calais, the greatest swordsman in the world, was specially imported for the task'. Rombaud 'removed his shoes and stood behind her left shoulder, while his assistant made a noise to distract Anne's eyes to the right, at which moment Rombaud decapitated her with one giant sweep from the rear. The sad truth is that even if Henry's charges of adultery had failed she would still have lost her head. Henry planned to use her sixth finger and third nipple as proof she was a witch.'

'so good that...'

'... Hazlitt's own confession, from his essay *On going a Journey*, which is so good that there should be a tax levied on all who have not read it: ...'
- from Robert Louis Stevenson, 'Walking Tours'; Penguin Book of English Essays, p187

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


A week last Saturday we walked down Sackville Street and walked along Piccadilly. Reading Dracula that evening, characters went along the same two streets. The joys of living in London.

Finished Dracula now; a much better book than Frankenstein, but starts better than it finishes. Interesting how much of it is set in England, including London, and how little Dracula appears in it, and how angelic the two female characters are, and viewed as such by the men. The journal/letter/diary format works fine (one of the advantages of it is that, not knowing the story, you can't be sure which of the heroes are going to survive and which may die, as several contribute to the narration). There's a lot of talking and planning, and only a little of places where they're not seeing something obvious to the reader. And the final pursuit is very long and yet the final conflict is very short. I'd try more Bram Stoker, although I doubt much is in print apart from The Lair of the White Worm.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

the eyes have it

The Backbencher is loth to bring up the dreaded decade-old "Demon Eyes" campaign, particularly since it did Tony no harm at all. But she does worry that Chris Huhne's PRs have taken the wrong message ( from Labour's 1997 landslide.
- from the Guardian's Backbencher political email, 7 November. The photo made me laugh. Short-dark-haired woman front left is one of the local councillors for our ward, Caroline Pidgeon; I've had the feeling she hopes to be going places.

(Don't know how long the pic will survive, or the whole site post-leadership-election. It's a large group photo without red-eye enabled on the camera.)

bonkers julie burchill

Q: And now you've 'found God'.
A: You don't find God. He finds you. It's all part of trying to make myself less of a brat. I really don't want to be a 50-year-old brat. I have cut down my drink and drug intake massively and I have become a Christian. But there's that nasty little imp inside there that only needs the slightest provocation and - bang - off it goes. I am a good-hearted person but I want to have a squabble. In the autumn I am going to train as an advocate for Age Concern. Maybe I'll just try to make trouble on behalf of the old folk.
Q: You've given away more than £200,000 since the sale of your house. Why are you so keen to point that out in the book?
A: Because it makes me look so fing good, that's why. And to shame other people. In America, as people get richer, the amount of giving goes up. It's not the same here. I made a fing million in the '80s and it all went up my nose. Rich people need to be shamed into giving more money away. And people need to know how generous I am now too. I'm fing briliant I am.
- from an interview in Word, May 2007, 'uck's omitted.

postman's park incident

When we got to church yesterday morning Postman's Park was taped off, with a police car outside it and blue tarpaulin at the Watts memorial. When I went along in the evening there were police outside each gate, still there out the front when I left (after locking up, a bit more unnerving than usual, especially as I'd thought earlier during the service that I'd heard someone upstairs and had a look around), and another blue tarpaulin on the railings on the Little Britain side (which may have been there in the morning too). One person who asked was told that it was 'a murder - er, a fatality'. Someone came in the church in the evening and asked if we knew if the cctv camera on the building opposite worked; we guessed it didn't, as it's been empty for a while. I haven't found anything on it online since, so either another killing in London isn't significant enough to make any kind of news outlet, or they're requesting no coverage for some reason. Or it isn't as serious as we thought it was.

key question in american church circles

Old but interesting article by Carl Trueman - which Sheena referred to ages ago - on how often one of the first questions he is asked in Christian circles in America is where his children go to school. (The expected answers, apparently, are either Christian school or homeschool, not the one they get and seem to disapprove of, which is state school.)

Monday, 12 November 2007

shakespeare on silver street

So little is known about Shakespeare that you can get away with writing a whole book on a tiny deposition he made in a court case. Here's an article on it from the Guardian Review of Saturday 20 October.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

books by the yard

First, though, we meet Whyte on his yacht in Monaco and get a tour of his loudly opulent stately home, which leads to my favourite quote of the week, as Whyte announces: 'This is the library...them books cost [appalled voice] £200 per foot.'
- from this week's Radio Times' preview of The Secret Millionaire (square brackets theirs). I remember in a fancy country pub with Douglas, him telling me that the books lining the wall undoubtedly hadn't been lovingly collected but bought by the yard.

contemporary calvinism

'Scotland will never be free until the last Church of Scotland minister is strangled with the last copy of The Sunday Post' is the famous view of Tom Nairn, the leading new left thinker concerning contemporary Scotland. Nairn is not alone in thinking that the shadow of Calvinism has prevented the full bloom of artistic and intellectual creativity in Scotland and has in fact led our nation to develop in an 'abnormal' way. Many in the elite believe that Calvin was simply a crazy guy who burnt people. However, it is not all bitterness and pessimism among the chattering classes as far as the legacy of Geneva is concerned. Every Scot should read and digest Carol Craig's brilliant assessment of Scotland, The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, where she argues that our religious heritage has certainly helped Scotland by giving us a sense of mission, purpose and a collective social responsibility. Craig is equally helpful in pointing out the damage caused when Calvinism goes dysfunctional!
- extract from David Meredith's article on contemporary Calvinism in the Monthly Record of October 2007

a difference calvinism makes

What difference does it [Calvinism] make? Every difference. If George Bush for example, weere a Calvinist, then we would not be in the mess we are in Iraq just now. He, and the Neo-Cons would have understood the doctrine of Total Depravity and not based their policy on the flawed theology of Arminianism. President Bush announced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that "our responsibility to history is clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil". Talk such as this, along with "the axis of evil" means that, as John Gray states in his fascinating book Black Mass - Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, "the peculiar quality of the view of the world that came to power in the Bush administration is not that it is obsessed with evil. It is that it does not finally believe in evil." The view that all the Iraqis need is a bit of money, liberal democracy and then evil will be eradicated is biblical nonsense. Again to quote Gray; "In Augustinian terms, the belief that evil can be destroyed, which inspired medieval millenarians and resurfaced in the Bush administration, is highly unorthodox." If Tony Blair had adopted an Augustinian approach we may have been spared British involvement in the disaster that is Iraq. Hundreds of British and American troops, and millions of Iraqis, are now paying the price for that unorthodox theology.
- from David Robertson's editorial in the October 2007 Monthly Record

Saturday, 10 November 2007

family fun

Today, as last year, we were at The Lord Mayor's Show and its attendant fireworks. I'm not fussed about fireworks, and really don't like parades (last year was my first Lord Mayor's Show, and that was one too many); but I'm in a minority, and it's good to have fun together and not always be a churl. The high point of the parade was the Museum of London's float, depicting the Great Fire, to the musical accompaniment of Johnny Cash singing 'Ring of Fire'. And it burns, burns, burns.

grounds for imprisonment

'If you think that our humanistic system is capable of imprisoning you for no reason,' says a secret policeman to a quivering suspect in the film's opening sequence, 'then that alone is grounds to lock you up.'
- a quote from The Lives of Others in the review of the film in The Word.

half-term break

While we were staying near Rye for two nights during half term, we visited the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and went on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway from New Romney to Dungeness. And we went to Camber Sands, but pulled no mussels from shells.

the hebrewdes

In an item from 'Down all the days' of September/October 2007, the Stornoway Gazette's memory lane reprinting of material from old Gazettes through the decades, there's this peculiar mention in an item from 13 October 1939: 'a Nazi professor of history some time ago stated that the Hebrides was a Jewish settlement - the real name being Hebrewdes, and that Lewis was merely a corruption of Levi's Island.' It's told seriously in the item, but seems hard to believe, and I don't think I've seen reference to that claim before.

(Searching on 'Hebrewdes' now, I see someone on a bonkers message board suggesting it, clearly as a joke, but a subsequent reply indicates that Hebrideans were probably originally Atlanteans. The only other hit is also a bonkers message board, of a different kind, a more baffling reference to evil big business drug companies. Next time someone is bonkers enough to search on it, they'll find this bonkers site too.)


We saw a fox in our garden this week for the first time for ages. An early-morning sighting from the back bedroom last weekend, then yesterday afternoon one spent quite a while in our garden three times - once going 'out', as I imagine it, heading across our garden east, then coming back, but having to wait and then go back east again because the dog next door was out in their back garden, then coming back through a final time and heading west. The first and last times it stood about on the lawn, the last time rooting about in it a bit. It was mostly in the vegetation at the bottom of the garden. The middle visit is when I got my photographs - although through glass, so not great - while it just stood at the bottom by the compost bin and waited; it saw me, and just looked at me, not bothered.

Last summer we saw three or four of them in the waste ground by London Park Hotel one afternoon, and the derelict LPH may have been where they lived; if so, they're losing their home, as the LPH gets pulled down. But there are probably a number of unmaintained gardens around here, as well as bits of 'public' undergrowth tucked away in corners and between walls, in which they could easily make a home undisturbed.

Country dwellers, especially fox hunters, think city dwellers have an overromantic view of foxes. I don't think we do - although doubtless some people put out food for them, as they do for pigeons or squirrels, which are equally pesky - but it's nice to have a bit of wildlife around.

The anti-fox-hunting movement was always interesting because it wasn't a single movement at all. There were those opposed to it because of cruelty to animals, while there opposed to it for class reasons, and a range in between. They are certainly pests, but it's hard to believe that hunting was the most effective way of exterminating them. Control the vermin by all means, but don't turn it into a sport; deriving entertainment from death must drive some ice into your soul. And whatever people would say about the whole rural community being involved, it was certainly a class-driven thing. Surely the only reason it persisted while bear-baiting, dog-fighting and cock-fighting were outlawed was that it was a pursuit of the upper classes.

It always, oddly, puts me in mind of the APC split from the FPs over the Lord Mackay issue, where you got the impression that one part of the new APC saw this as an opportunity to change while the other part had split on this single issue of principle and had no desire and saw no reason to change anything in their church. Which wouldn't make for a very stable new denomination.

Friday, 9 November 2007

stopped clocks

Stopped Clocks, an interesting site, mostly photos of stopped clocks, mostly in London so far.

as you know, jim

Things which annoy me in stories (mostly fantasy stories): implausible diary entries (people writing - or first-person-thinking - things that communicate something to us but which they’d realistically never write/think; it's hard to pull off a novel in diary form); in fantasy, people having significant dreams or mysterious encounters which they don’t mention to others; people having conversations in which one person says something significant which the other doesn’t pick up on and follow up/question - which they would, really - but which we understand; someone explaining to another character something they would already know, for our benefit (more common on screen).

fantasy novels in fantasy worlds

I wonder if there's a fantasy novel set in a world where their fantasy novels are our history books. There must be, surely. Not an 'alternative history' world - of which there are a number, in and out of sf/fantasy, like Philip K Dick's The Man In The High Castle - but a full-on fantasy.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

adrian belew

In seeking out stuff on We7 to listen to, in my constant restless quest for new musical experiences, I asked Alex if he'd spotted anyone from his own collection with material on there, and he mentioned a few. I tried Side One and Side Two - both from 2005 according to Wikipedia - by Adrian Belew first, who I hadn't knowingly heard before in his own right. I see from the Wikipedia entry that I have at least one performance of his on CD, on 'God Shuffled His Feet' by Crash Test Dummies, and I will certainly have heard him on David Bowie material and Paul Simon's Graceland.

I don't think I'll be keeping them, but they were good to hear; I'm on my second listen, and I'll certainly give them a third run-through. I didn't take to his voice, and there's not much you can do about that - there's little more subjective than whether or not you like or dislike someone's singing voice, and in my experience it's rare to change your mind about liking someone's voice (although in most cases you can understand why people like someone you don't, and vice versa). Ironically, although many of the tracks are instrumental, the tracks I was liking best were usually ones he then began to sing on. Something that struck me about some of the tracks was how the guitar noise being produced (and I use 'noise' non-negatively) wasn't that far removed from what you might have heard on some punk and post-punk material; the difference in feeling, if not actuality, was of planned/structured versus accidental/chaotic. Prog and punk in similarity shock.

Next Alex-inspired We7 stop probably King Crimson, although I have certainly heard them before. I remember Dannies Kelly and Baker talking about how they used to joke about some bizarre future world in which songs like 21st Century Schizoid Man were used in adverts, and lo and behold the time came when it was used to advertise a car. And of course my other KC micro-fact is the unexpectedness of Robert Fripp being married to Toyah Wilcox.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

ah yes, he loves himself with passion tenderer still

I was singing this to myself a couple of days ago, and something SB wrote gave me cause to track it down in 'print' (internet-sourced, so full accuracy not guaranteed)

Pooh-Bah: To ask you what you mean to do we punctually appear.
Ko-Ko: Congratulate me, gentlemen, I've found a Volunteer!
All: The Japanese equivalent for Hear, Hear, Hear!
Ko-Ko:'Tis Nanki-Poo!
All: Hail, Nanki-Poo!
Ko-Ko: I think he'll do?
All: Yes, yes, he'll do!

He yields his life if I'll Yum-Yum surrender.
Now I adore that girl with passion tender,
And could not yield her with a ready will,
Or her allot,
If I did not
Adore myself with passion tenderer still,
With passion tenderer still!

Ah, yes!
He loves himself with passion tenderer still!

unstructured notes on live music

I remember having a conversation years ago with some folk and saying that I didn't see the point in going to a classical music concert, since it's going to be exactly the same as on a recording of it; Anne said that she felt the same about gigs.

I still feel largely the same about classical music, although I do go. Apart from the buzz of being at a live concert, if you're not an expert on particular performers, conductors and ensembles, the main advantage over CD is I suppose the dynamic range possible. I think probably the classical work I appreciated most in concert was Ravel's Bolero, where you get a better experience of the increase in number and volume of instruments from single snare drum to full-on orchestra finish.

Generalisations: best gigs are ones at which you are standing, where you are close to the stage, where the venue is no bigger than an old-fashioned theatre, where you do most singing, where there is a range of artists, where there is a variety in musical arrangements. Of course I can think of exceptions to all these generalisations without pausing for thought.

Sitting often creates distance, makes you feel remote from the experience. But perhaps that feeling is because if you are standing then you tend to be down at the front, or you are part of a mass of standing people, and the physical experience is greater.

The times I saw The Corries in Aberdeen are probably among my favourite gigs. Theatre, seated. As I said to someone once, they shared with Queen the knowledge that the more the audience sang the better the concert was. They were also blessed with two very good but very different folk voices, which also combined well, and they were also multi-instrumentalists, allowing a wide variety of arrangements. As Alex says, audience participation and interaction is a big thing.

Our two times at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park were also among my favourite gigs. We spent more time in the small tent than the main stage, but could dot around from one to the other. Each time we saw about a dozen acts, some new to us, some not. I think a factor in the rise of the outdoor festival, of which there are so many more now, is the rise in price of single-artist concerts: you can easily pay £25-£40 to see one headline act plus support, when for the same cost or just a little more you can go to a festival and see a couple of sure-fire favourites, some you quite like and discover some others.

When the gigs are so expensive, why not just buy the CDs? As Alex said, in many of those expensive cases, you already own the CDs. With an artist you're less familiar with, it's more cost-effective to take a punt on a couple of CDs than getting a concert ticket - yet in reality, you probably wouldn't buy the CDs. In fact, the internet has really helped in hearing more tracks of artists new to you.

My favourite recent gigs are probably the singers nights at Sharp's Folk Club - small, cheap, friendly, singing along, hearing songs old and new, a variety of performers (mostly good, and limited to one per half).

They Might Be Giants gigs are good because they are different every time, a sense of spontaneity, different arrangements from the albums, they engage with the audience. My first gig when I went to university was The Stranglers; I remember being puzzled that there was a group of folk who before the next song would start singing what the next song was going to be. They were people who were following the tour, and knew the set list. I still don't get why people want to do that, especially with artists who stick to their arrangements and set lists.

A perfect reproduction of the album and the hits seems pointless, yet people seem to want that. Bob Dylan is different every time, and unpredictable, but has gone through phases of being disappointing and a caricature of himself. Of course, I think the thing with Bob Dylan is that the recorded version is often just the way he happened to play it that day; another day it would have been quite different, and he doesn't feel bound to it in any way.

There is the 'being in the same room as a legend/hero' thing. I probably feel like that about The Everly Brothers, who did sing as well as they ever did. Perhaps to an extent Paul Simon, one of my first concerts in London - also, however, my first Arena gig, and I found it very peculiar and disappointiing. The sound quality was perfect, and I had a good if distant view, but it all felt quite remote - like I wasn't there, but watching it on telly. Neil Innes and The Rutles at the 100 Club, that was a good one of those 'legend' ones - standing, small venue, near the front, songs I've lived with for a long time. Bob Dylan at the Brixton Academy, yes; and he did Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather, my favourite, in recognisable form. But realistically, I'd never go to most legend/hero concerts unless I actually won tickets do to so; thinking about it, Paul McCartney might be the only artist in that category for me now.

There is certainly an atmosphere to being at a gig, although I can't think of an example of one right now where the atmosphere made a big positive difference to me; the Paul Simon one was an example of absence of atmosphere, as experienced by me anyway. Reading the views of Runrig after the Heb Celt Festival gig of theirs I was at was interesting; they thought it was a great gig with a great atmosphere, at least partly because the audience was so buzzing and noisy, which was what made it not a good experience for me, people seeming less interested in the performance than talking and letting each other know how great it was to be there. Atmosphere is easier to spot when it isn't there, I guess.

Monday, 5 November 2007

'stop saying things like "obsessed" and "unattainable"'

Watched Film Connections about Gregory's Girl this evening. Learned that the 'Caracus' scene at the end was off-the-cuff, as the production person had misspelled the sign accidentally. They played a clip of the revoiced version they did for America, because they thought they wouldn't be able to understand the accents - it was horrible.

I remember Barry Norman defining a cult movie as one from which people constantly quote lines at you. That's Gregory's Girl. See me, speaking lines at the screen every time a clip comes on.

thames foreshore

There are a number of places in central London where a lot of the Thames foreshore is revealed at low tide, and many of them have access points, although in most cases there's usually a locked gate to dissuade casual explorers. This lunchtime however I discovered Horsleydown Old Stairs, right near work, just east of Tower Bridge, which lead you nicely down after you go through a building (the gate, locked open today at least, is at the street end of the building).

Here are some photos taken by someone just over two years ago.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

hilariously historic

The previous quote reminds me how much I'm annoyed by the preceding of words which have a sounded initial 'h' with 'an', like 'an historic', 'an hilarious'. It's just wrong. I don't know, the ridiculous things that get an person annoyed.

os mutantes

Uncut May 2007 had a feature on groups which had had reunions of greater or lesser success. I'm sure they only included Os Mutantes so that they could include the reason they split up in the first place: 'Os Mutantes were two brothers from Sao Paulo - Sergio and Arnaldo - who formed the world's greatest psych-rock band, defined "Tropicalia", caused riots and got into acid. Then they split up, citing an hilariously minor squabble over guitars as the cause. "I wanted him to play the Gibson Les Paul," said Arnaldo, "the guitar of Jimmy Page. But he insisted on a Fender." Arnaldo ended up in a psychiatric hospital and tried to commit suicide. When he went to visit Sergio many years later to patch things up, he saw a row of Fender Strats in Sergio's hallway and fled in fury.'

mark radcliffe on interactive radio

Another danger is that it gets too interactive. I think radio is in danger of over-relying on email and text - it can be very funny if it comes naturally, but I hear so many programmes that say, with a hint of desperation, 'Text us what you've got left in the back of your fridge.' Actually, why don't *you* think of something to say, instead of doing that? That would be much better.
- Word, May 2007

then he kissed me

Interesting fact from a review of a book about Phil Spector in May 2007's Word: The Crystals' 15-year-old vocalist, LaLa Brooks, sang Then He Kissed Me before she'd even had a boyfriend.

'but they all go bananas when you say that'

n Gray's vision, utopian ideologies are dark comedies of unintended consequences. "Paul Wolfowitz believed it would be a self-financing war. The price of oil would drop to $20 or $10. They would be welcomed, there would be no guerrilla war. But it was a post-colonial fantasy."

He sees Blair as having "a belligerent belief in war as an instrument of human progress. I don't doubt the sincerity of either his religious beliefs or his belief that this war could have achieved the goals he thought it could. When we see mendacity in him it's because his conception of truth is different. Truth for him is a sort of prophetic revelation of the way the world will be."

Britain was better, he argues, when our leaders had a realistic sense of the country's limitations. "The concept of decline has disappeared from history or public debate. That's why a lot of people find my views so hard to take. In Britain after the second world war, although we emerged as victors, the debate was mostly about managing our decline. Now the idea is that if you can spot a decline you can stop it. If you say American power is in decline, which it is, it's thought to be reversible. But it's not."


A decade later Gray, who had already tilted at Francis Fukuyama's end of history thesis, wrote False Dawn, which flayed the pretensions of US global dominance, and argued that unregulated American capitalism would produce not a super-efficient, wealth- generating global market, but anarchy. It was thanks to his critique of liberal humanism Straw Dogs, however, published in 2002, that Gray attracted a large audience. His scorn for progress was now delivered in hardboiled prose: "For the ancients, unending labour was the mark of a slave. The labours of Sisyphus are a punishment. In working for progress we submit to a labour no less servile." It was a truly grisly diagnosis of the human predicament (Adam Phillips reckoned the book "shows us what it would be like to live without the distraction of consolations").


Black Mass is no less aphoristic, but is even more incendiary. Its title expresses the idea that the secular ideologies that have shaped our history since the Enlightenment, ones ostensibly based on rejecting traditional faiths, were actually expressions of repressed religion. Witness Marxism, free-market fanaticism, transhumanism, and (this is where the book is, in the current climate, particularly inflammatory) militant atheism.

He argues that the utopian faith in progress towards harmony is a Judaeo-Christian inheritance. This isn't a new thought. In History of Western Philosophy (1945), Bertrand Russell held that Marxism's allure to oppressed peoples could be explained by the idea that its key terms were parallel to old religious concepts. Russell set them out in a table: "Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism. The Messiah = Marx. The Elect = The Proletariat ... Hell = Punishment of Capitalists."

Gray supplies a gloss: religion, supposedly banished from western thought, has returned in a perverted form as a black mass of political and scientific myths. He is especially hard on evangelical atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who believe "that you can radically alter the world by altering people's beliefs, that conflicts in the world come from people's beliefs. I think instead they come from conflicts in humans' needs, including the needs for food and water. And oil. The idea that you can cleanse the world of evil by converting everybody to or from something is a very Christian idea. The psychological and metaphysical needs that used to be satisfied in faith are not repressed any more than sexual needs were in Puritan culture. I have no religious beliefs, but one of the things about the religious traditions of Europe and the west is that they've been constantly mocked and challenged. So they understand that their beliefs are problematic and semi-mythical. Most religious thinkers realise - some creationists don't - that their faiths are not alternative scientific theories, but something different, whereas Dawkins, Dennett, and others are ruled by myths that they've never interrogated. But they all go bananas when you say that."

Gray, one suspects, likes to make Dawkins go bananas. He is a natural contrarian. Surely, though, Dawkins isn't a crypto-Christian? "You'd think not." But, reading The God Delusion, Gray found in it the following sentence: "We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators." Gray writes: "In affirming human uniqueness in this way, Dawkins relies on a Christian world-view." Gray also attacks Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great. "One thing I've noticed is that evangelical atheists have an extraordinary capacity for blind faith. I can't imagine Pascal making the kind of grotesque error that Hitchens has made over the Iraq war."

In Black Mass's most compelling chapter, Gray analyses the role of the oxymoronic concept of "faith-based intelligence" in providing justification for the war. The Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon unit set up in 2002 by Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, became the chief source of claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. It was a neo-con outfit, designed to convince the White House of the necessity of invasion so that their dream of exporting American democracy could be realised. Its methodology was deductive rather than empirical. "They had a methodology that facts can never be trusted, that you already know in advance what the truth is, and you know it by an occult method ." So the very lack of evidence of any WMD became an assurance that they must exist, and of the need to invade.

Gray - finder of worms, uncoverer of bitter ironies - feels at home in this epistemological hall of mirrors. He grasps the unintended consequence of the neo-con disinformation: "After Iraq, everyone knows that the only way to be safe against American attack is to possess the WMD capability Saddam lacked." The world has become more dystopian because the Americans sought to impose their version of utopia in Iraq. "That is how utopian projects always end," he says, with a grim chuckle. "In farce or tragedy, or both."

- extracts from (actually, most of) an interesting article in the Guardian of 7 July 2007 on John Gray. Features the modern use of the word 'evangelical', more and more common, to mean evangelistic (I suspect originally, and perhaps still, 'evangelical' is being used in error for 'evangelistic' in any case), preachy, zealous, passionately committed to persuading others of the rightness of one's position, without implying any religious content to that position.

enjoying god in america

It is very easy to enjoy God in America for the very simple reason that, in America, God is all too often the All American Boy. In England at the end of nineteenth century, at the height of Britain’s imperial power, there was little doubt in the minds of many that God was surely an Englishman; or, if he wasn’t actually English, he certainly embodied all the values which England liked to think she represented: fair play, a straight bat, a stiff upper lip. So in America at the start of the twenty-fi rst century, at a point in time when America’s international political power and infl uence knows no rivals, there is a tendency in the Christian culture of America to see God as, well, representing all that Uncle Sam holds dear; and that is not just freedom and democracy, but individualism, consumerism, and entertainment. Thus, anyone who has ever had the dubious pleasure of being exposed to American television can testify that much of the Christian programming found there actually represents straightforward, secular American values expressed in the language of Christianity. Indeed, there is a sense in which European secularism at least has the virtue of being transparent and even honest: as European society has abandoned Christianity, so it has abandoned Christian language and the public rituals of the church. In America, by contrast, the content of Christianity has by and large vanished; but the language and public rituals – prayer, church-going, the constant references by politicians and sports stars to God – have remained stubbornly in place, only now they have become the very religious idiom of very secular values.

Thus, when you switch on the Christian channels in the US, or visit a typical Christian (or even secular) bookstore, you can find plenty of guidance on how Christianity can help you to slim, make money, get fi t, and generally feel better about yourself. In other words, the kind of typical individualist selfhelp that is of the essence of the American way has shaped
the very way in which the gospel is understood. And it flows even into churches that really do strive to place Christ and the Bible as God’s revelation at the very centre of their corporate lives. The intrusion of entertainment values (an obvious problem) and sickly sentimentalism (a more subtle but no less deadly intrusion) into the form and content of worship and sermons are merely the most obvious problems. Nobody, not even those who strive to be most faithful, are immune from the undetectable carbon monoxide of the wider culture.

- an extract from an article by Carl Trueman in the September 2007 issue of the Monthly Record.

munros and shakespeare plays

I sometimes think that perhaps Shakespeare plays are like Munros. People climb the Munros because they are over three thousand feet, although some of them are unremarkable, and neglect some tremendous hills because they are under three thousand feet. People see, and perform, all of Shakespeare's plays todays - some frequently, some less so - but how many of his contemporaries' plays are better than some or many of those plays but rarely seen or performed today just because they're not by Shakespeare? (And how little we see from between Shakespeare and the twentieth century.)

Saturday, 3 November 2007


Mum and I went to see the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Macbeth at the Gielgud Theatre on Monday. It's a sell-out, with rave reviews. It was quite good (my mother enjoyed it more than I did), but I don't think it deserved the raves it got. Patrick Stewart was good, as always. The most memorable moment was the long, long pause after Macduff was told that his wife and children had been murdered. It was set in an equivalent of Stalin's Russia, drawing out the elements in the play of fear, tyranny, mistrust and power corrupting. The stage set was mainly the kitchen in the castle. The three witches were peculiar, not in a good way; there were bits where they were talking to a background of electronic sounds which made them sound like a electronic low-budget post-punk girl group from the early 80s. The scene with Malcolm in England, describing how evil a king he'll be, is as daft as ever, and the porter scene as bafflingly unamusing. Probably what the production made me think most was how difficult it is to decide how to play Macbeth and what his character arc is; should he start sympathetic, or is he always ambitious; his vacillation and relationship with his wife; is he driven mad by ambition, or what he's done, or has he always been unstable?

Some reviews. Daily Telegraph (Chichester). Guardian (post-transfer reviews round-up). Guardian (post-transfer). Times (post-transfer). Evening Standard (post-transfer). Evening Standard (Chichester). Daily Telegraph (post-transfer). Independent (post-transfer).

The Independent review makes the interesting point that it's more of a classic on the page than the stage, and mentions the only other two successes they've seen as the Antony Sher one and the BBC one with Ian McKellen. I saw the Antony Sher one, as it happens, at the Young Vic I think. The thing I remember most about it is when Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth they should go to sleep the both laugh hysterically, because obviously their consciences and bad dreams are leaving them unable to sleep - a theme also drawn out in this production.

Reading the programme afterwards - and I tend not to read all the programme essays, if there are any, beforehand now if it's a play I know - it made similar points to something someone said on an In Our Time on R4 with Melvyn Bragg that I listened to recently, about the divine right of kings. It was written and performed around the time King James had come down from Scotland to be king in England also; this was a time when witches weren't just a fantasy plot device but considered real and dangerous - indeed King James had written on witchcraft and overseen witch trials; and that at that time to kill a king wasn't just to kill a man but to kill God's appointed. It also says King James would have considered himself one of those in the line of kings descended from Banquo. It also, interestingly, suggests that performances at public theatres were like rehearsals for court performances: 'Technically speaking, every public performance at the Globe or the Rose was a rehearsal, a burnishing of the repertoire in readiness for the next summons to play at court on a festival night.'

Friday, 2 November 2007

banksy rat

For some reason I was thinking about Banksy today, and suddenly wondered if something I took a photo of ages ago near Charterhouse Square was supposed to be one of his. This is a picture of it, and suggests it is. Seems a lot of fuss about not much, the whole Banksy thing. People now wonder if all kinds of graffiti they see is a Banksy; although the first question should be, do I like it.

Later: to clarify, it's not that I think they're rubbish. They're perfectly fine, post-Laura-Ashley stencilling; I liked that rat sufficiently to take a photo of it. It's the fuss about whether some piece of graffiti is a) one of 'his' and b) if so, the outcry if someone decides to paint over it. It's not commissioned art, it's graffiti; if he wasn't prepared to have it destroyed, he wouldn't put it where he puts it. And it's certainly not doing him out of any income; he does very well, thank you very much, on all the stuff he does produce to sell, not least thanks to all the free publicity generated by the fuss about his graffiti.

health and safety

The thing I don't really get about the police being found guilty of breaking health and safety rules when they killed Jean Charles de Menezes, is that the verdict seems dependent on the fact that they recklessly endangered *other* innocent members of the public, not Mr de Menezes in particular (or at all?), by the way they went about it. But doesn't that mean that if the man the police had pursued and killed actually been a suicide bomber, they would have been equally liable to prosecution for breaking such rules? It all seems quite odd.

The BBC News site has a step-by-step graphic of events. You watch the dots close in to their awful conclusion, while willing it not to be happening.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

return of fopp

Fopp was taken over by HMV after its closure. Just a handful of stores reopened a while ago, but none in London. But then Bob mentioned last weekend that he'd been in the Cambridge Circus Fopp - they'd come to terms with the landlord there. So I had a visit on Wednesday afternoon - 9 CDs, 7 of them double, for less than thirty pounds (almost all VA compilations; along with cover CDs, cheap Fopp compilations are my main source of new music on CD; I figured most of the proper albums I had my eye on would still be there next time). It was good to be back.

And on the way from there to get soy sauce in Chinatown I passed Peter Capaldi.

free music update

Salon have stopped their weekly free tracks, but there's still an archive to trawl through; I think I'm only up to the Cs with it and Podbop. Free Music Friday turns out to be primarily Christian music; despite this, some of the tracks are actually quite good, and I've kept some of them.

I registered with We7 ages ago, and they've just now got off the ground with a full-on service. It's a bit unwieldy to browse at the moment, without relying on the download charts or searching for specific things. The main selling point for those who don't want to buy - and you can buy - is that you can download tracks for free but have to listen to a short ad before each track, and that a month after you download it you can redownload it without the ad. Actually, the main selling point is that it seems to be packed with material that you'd actually want to hear.

I downloaded three albums last night - a VA Beatles Blues cover version compilation, a collection of David Bowie's early Pye singles, and one of the various alternative versions now available of the Sex Pistols first album (a selection which contrasts nicely with Alex's first batch, dipping into the prog pool). The Beatles covers I'll keep for my collection, although we'll see how the ad-free process goes, as I don't see there's been a record kept on my profile of what I've downloaded. What I'm finding with the Sex Pistols ones is actually how unannoying the ads are, when you're just listening to albums because you'd like to hear them, not because you intend to keep them (which'll be one of my main uses of We7, if I get into it). No Future UK is by no means as good as the released version (rougher, not in a good way), I reckon, although people often went on about how much better the earlier versions were than the released version. Like many of these things which find a wider release in the digital age, the rarely-heard gems lauded by the privileged few turn out to be rather disappointing.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

'like the fine ladies at the opera'

Van Helsing to John Seward: 'You are clever man, friend John; you reason well, and your wit is bold; but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplate by men's eyes, because they know - or think they know - some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young - like the fine ladies at the opera.'
- Dracula, p179 (various 'errors' are sic, supposed to reflect the Dutchman's broken English)

calvin on john 8:6-11

'"But Jesus cast down his eyes." By this gesture He showed that He despised them. Those who suppose that He wrote something or other are mistaken, in my opinion. ... Christ intended, by doing nothing, to show that they were not worth listening to. Just as if anyone, while another was speaking to him, were to trace lines on the wall with his finger, or turn his back or show by some other sign that he was not attending to what was being said.'

- I haven't got much value out of my Calvin on John 1-10 (I'm not sure I'll even read the second volume, and will get rid of them both), but I did like the simplicity of this interpretation.

I was pulled up short over the page where Calvin says 'Those who deduce from this [the fact that Jesus says 'Neither do I condemn thee'] should not be punished by death must, on the same reasoning, admit that inheritances should not be divided, since Christ refused to arbitrate between two brothers.' He continues arguing against this interpretation, and later says 'the Popish theology is that in this passage Christ has brought in the law of grace, by which adulterers may be freed from punishment.' It comes to your mind that in Calvin's day, adultery was indeed still punishable by death. Of course, in the 16th century heresy was still punishable by death (and not just across major religious divides), Christians could be put to death by both Catholics and Protestants for being baptists rather than paedobaptists. Interesting time, the Reformation.

I don't think the mere fact of what you believe is a crime in any western democracy today, not until you promote or act criminally on the basis of that belief; far right views, including holocaust denial, come to mind as an example.

the wedding at cana

Sometimes just the Bible reading in a service sets you thinking more than the sermon (which isn't necessarily either a bad thing or a black mark on the preacher). John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. What did his mother think Jesus would do, when she told the servants to do whatever he said? Why did she think he could do anything? Why did he say his time hadn't yet come, yet then responded? Is that meant to be at least partly humorous - the power of a Jewish mother? Does verse 10 imply that the miracle came after the guests had already had too much to drink?

Saturday, 13 October 2007

oral history

We've moved out of the era of first-hand accounts of experience in the first world war, and haven't got long left of the second world war. You still see people in documentaries being interviewed on significant happenings in their youth in the 50s and 60s. I don't know what future documentary makers will be asking those of our generation about in 25 or 30 years time. Could it be that we haven't really lived through anything collectively significant as a nation in the last twenty years?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

god and those who claim to be god

His [ie Renfield's] attitude to me was the same as that to the attendant; in his sublime self-feeling the difference between myself and attendant seemed to him as nothing. It looks like religious mania, and he will soon think that he himself is God. These infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being. How these madmen give themselves away! The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow.
- an interesting observation from Dracula (p97), which is turning out to be a good, still creepy book.


On Saturday evening, 6 October, in Tesco's, I saw my first Christmas trimming in a shop of the year, low key but there all the same, by a new section with boxes of biscuits, boxes of chocolates and advent calendars.

Monday, 8 October 2007

everything I know about indiana without looking

Bruce and PJ, new in church, are from Indianapolis, Indiana. What did I know about Indiana 'without looking', I wondered. I could think of the Indianapolis 500. I knew of the place Gary, Indiana, but couldn't for the life of me remember in what connection. There's also a song called 'Indiana Wants Me', which I don't like. And that exhausted my knowledge of Indiana, without doing any research. That's not very impressive.

A look at Wikipedia revealed that the undoubted reason I'd heard of Gary was that that's where The Jacksons came from.

The first fact I shall try to add to my vast pool of knowledge about Indiana is that Kurt Vonnegut was from Indianapolis; the second is that so is Dan potatoe Quayle.


Richard Branson has sold Virgin Megastores to a management buyout team, who will rename the chain Zavvi. I think it was the Word podcast who made the point that we may see a lot more new businesses and products with made-up words for names in order that they can buy domain names that haven't already been taken. Although, having said that, seems to have already gone.

last fm

My listening profile on Last FM isn't very accurate, since I don't tend to listen to CD on - or download CDs onto - my computer, I mostly just listen to Last FM radio stations generated using appropriate tag/like/listener choices depending on mood or circumstance (which I do a lot, particularly while working - I do like Last FM). Which is why The Shadows have appeared for ages as my fifth-top artist because I listened to one of their CDs on my computer once. I didn't mind about that at all. But then a couple of days ago I got my first email from Last FM offering me suggested tracks to download free or for money (and suggested upcoming gigs in my area) based on my listening. So I've started a very gradual process of playing some of my CDs 'into the record' to see what I get offered.

hug bob

Thing is, you don't ever touch another man's hat. Particularly if that hat belongs to Bob Dylan, who signed up the Kings of Leon to open the latest leg of his Never Ending Tour. In fact, you just don't ever touch Bob, period. 'At the end of the tour,' singer/guitarist Caleb Followill recounts, 'somebody said, "Bob want to tell you guys 'bye." So we were waitin' around and there was all these people - friends and whatever. He came through shakin' hands, "It's been a great tour." And when he came up to us, Nathan pulled him in and hugged him!' Caleb is laughing so hard he can't finish the story.
Nathan ... takes over: 'He walked up to the other three guys, and I guess he felt like he had to hug them too, so he kinda went...' Here Nathan mimics a half-hearted embrace and a look of mild distaste.
Matthew Followill was last in line: 'I accidentally knocked his hat off,' he confesses.

- from an article on Kings of Leon in April 2007's Uncut. This made me laugh. Bethan asked what it was. I told her she wouldn't think it was funny, and read it out to her. She didn't.

news quiz and princess diana

I was chair of the News Quiz at the time Princess Diana died. The studio audience was always slightly younger than the average Radio 4 listener, but was still a handy cross-section of Middle Britain. We noticed that jokes about Fergie always got a laugh, but anything that seemed disrespectful of Di was met by a sharp intake of breath. That changed between 1996 and 1997 - we forget now that the public was beginning to lose patience with her playgirl life. (A letter in the Guardian that summer said: "I read that Princess Diana is to have a holiday. How can they tell?")

This was the time she brushed up her image with the landmines campaign. But when Alan Coren said on the show, "I don't know anything about landmines or Princess Di, but I do know you'd be mad to poke either of them", there was a moment's stunned silence, followed by a huge howl of delighted laughter.

That was recorded on the Thursday night. The show went out on Saturday lunchtime, and the joke - slightly to my surprise - stayed in. That night there was the fatal crash. The producer came specially in to Broadcasting House to lock the master tape in a safe so that it could never, ever be broadcast again.

- from Simon Hoggart's column in the Guardian of Saturday 1 September 2007

conan doyle's photos

This review of a biography of Conan Doyle in the Guardian of 22 September came with a photo, sadly not reproduced in this online version, of Conan Doyle at home in 1930, which shows a sad and fascinating array of 'spiritualist' photos on the wall behind him - photos in which the spirits of the portrait-sitter's departed loved one also appeared. To the modern eye, they're gross fakes, but in those still early days of the mysteries of photography people grasped the possibility of the new technology capturing the spiritual, eager to do so after the great losses of the first world war. Conan Doyle was, of course, also taken in by the famous fairy photos.

Some links to the fairy photos here. I didn't get a good enough Google image search to link to for the spirit photographs, but the surprising and depressing thing I found was that in the links I did turn up in the searches I tried were ones which accept them as genuine, and it seems the same is true of the fairy ones. Extraordinary.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

veet petite

Here was their opening email: "We are conducting a survey into the celebrity top 10 sexiest walks for my client Veet (hair removal cream) and we would like to back up our survey with an equation from an expert to work out which celebrity has the sexiest walk, with theory behind it. We would like help from a doctor of psychology or someone similar who can come up with equations to back up our findings, as we feel that having an expert comment and an equation will give the story more weight."

I replied. "Are there any factors you would particularly like to have in the equation? Something sexual?"

"Hi Dr Ben," replied Kiren. "We would really like to include the thigh to calf ratio, the shape of the leg, the look of the skin and the wiggle (swing) of the hips ... there is a fee of £500."

There was survey data too. "We haven't conducted the survey yet," Kiren told me: "but we know what results we want to achieve." That's the spirit! "We want Beyonce to come out on top followed by other celebrities with curvy legs such as J-Lo and Kylie and celebrities like Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse to be at the bottom eg - skinny and pale unshapely legs are not as sexy. I will find out when we will have the results of the survey for you. Are you pretty free this month?"

So. Clarion Communications do a survey, but they've decided what the result is. Then they bring in Cambridge. Then they put out a release headlined: "Jessica Alba voted sexiest walk: with the figures to prove it." Nice. Who did the survey? It was an internal email sent around the company.

- from another excellent Bad science column, in the Guardian of Saturday 1 September 2007, on product puffs masquerading as scientific studies, and how they're acquired.

women after the war

Nearly three-quarters of a million young British men died in the first world war. Their loss was also that of a generation of young women who had expected to marry. Virginia Nicholson's subject is this generation: the single women of the 1920s and 1930s. Even before the war, there were more women than men, but Nicholson's focus is the years when the disparity in their numbers was greater: the 1921 census revealed that women exceeded men by 1.75 million. Headlines shrieked of a 2 million "surplus".

Most singletons had to earn their own living. Domestic service and factories were the largest employers of women during this period. Clerical work was on the increase; teaching was a key occupation (during the 1920s, 80% of Oxbridge-educated women taught). With medicine and teaching among the professions requiring women to give up work on marriage, women who wanted to stay in them had their single status confirmed.

- extracts from review in the Guardian of 1 September 2007 of Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War.

uncut's gigs

The October Uncut has a feature on 50 best gigs - although it's very unsystematic, they just seem to have asked a bunch of musicians and music journalists what their favourite gig was, and printed fifty of their responses. A lot of the choices are 'I saw them before they were famous at a small venue' type.

No surprise that I wasn't at any of them.

Of the bands mentioned, I've seen only U2 (I won tickets to see them at Wembley Stadium, around 1992 I think), Bob Dylan (at the Brixton Academy and at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park) and Van Morrison (another Fleadh, and the Hebridean Celtic Festival).

Of the venues mentioned, I've been to the Hammersmith Odeon/Apollo (the most frequently mentioned in the feature - I can remember Runrig twice, and Riverdance), the 100 Club (The Rutles and Echoes of Ellington), the Albert Hall (various classical, plus Runrig, The Cranberries and The Everly Brothers that I can remember), the 12 Bar (a tiny folk venue, we went with John and Penny and I don't remember who we saw there - I'll have it written down somewhere), the Wembley Arena (Paul Simon), the Camden Roundhouse (a production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre), Ronnie Scott's (the Woody Herman band), Brixton Academy (Bob Dylan, as above, supported by Elvis Costello), and the Astoria (recording of a not-very-good comedy programme for a satellite tv channel)

No real help on the question of what makes a good gig, something I've been reflecting on. Things like, as I asked Alex in a comment on his post-Rush-gig post: 'what makes a good gig? Why do we go when we could buy two or three more CDs by the artist for the price? Do we hope for faithful reproductions of the CDs, or reimaginings and reinventings - hearing what we're familiar with or hearing something new? Being in the same room with our heroes (even after they've passed their prime - not thinking of Rush, obviously)? The atmosphere of being in the audience?'

Alex gave it some good thought in a follow-up post. I'll hopefully post on it myself before too long.