Wednesday, 23 May 2007

mussolini's murdered mistress's modesty

I've seen the photo of Mussolini and his mistress strung up upside down after being shot (on 28 April 1945) often enough, but I learned from Jeremy Beadle's Today's The Day that, that having been done, someone tied her skirt around her legs to keep it in place because she wasn't wearing any pants.

spi(ri)t of eden

The Mojo Collection 3rd edition - fat book with a page each on over seven hundred albums which it considers the greatest of all time - says of Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden, from 1988, 'Focusssing on subtlety and restraint, they constructed new, transparent basic tracks [having erased the tapes of the almost complete first attempt at recording the album] and invited guest musicians to embellish them. One was violin prodigy Nigel Kennedy who found it hard to break out of his virtuoso noodling. Friese-Greene made him play less by gaffer-taping together the fingers on his left hand. On another occasion that has entered into studio lore, the team spent a long and expensive day recording a large brass section and kept only the sound of a trumpeter clearing spit from his mouthpiece.'

the venerable bede

The Forgotten English tear-off calendar I had last year says of St Bede (c673-735), 'despite his prodigious scholarship and deep devotion to his spiritual mission, the Vatican failed to name Bede a saint until 1899. The Church has often affixed the honorific "Venerable" to the names of those undergoing the long process of canonization. However, because it was attached to his name for an extraordinary twelve centuries of such limbo, he is known as Venerable Bede even today.'

Monday, 21 May 2007

boeing boeing

We saw Boeing Boeing on Tuesday 17 April at the Comedy Theatre. We thought something featuring the comic talents of Roger Allam, Mark Rylance, Michelle Gomez and Frances de la Tour (the other cast members were Tamzin Outhwaite and Daisy Beaumont) couldn't be bad, and we were right. It was very good.

Reviews: Evening Standard. The Guardian. Guardian interview with Mark Rylance. Observer. Times. Independent. Independent preview. Official London Theatre Guide. OLTG's blog of cast party. OLTG's interview with Tamzin Outhwaite. I've seen quotes from the Telegraph review, but can't seem to find the review itself.

once there was a war

Recently finished my second very good book of the year, Once There Was A War by John Steinbeck, a collection of WWII war correspondent articles he wrote in the second half of 1943. I'd never heard of it before, and I got it in a 1961 compact Corgi edition, so I thought perhaps it wasn't widely available, but it is, including being a Penguin Modern Classic. See several covers here on Wikipedia and here on Fantastic Fiction (which has a wodge of various secondhand editions for sale - it's a nice site which I've come across before, mixture of info and bookselling).

Very good on the details of the experience (and stories) of the ordinary soldier, from leaving home on troop ship from US to UK and then active service; written in the experience, without any hindsight. I'd taken it on our weekend away because it was small and because I thought I'd have freed up a precious 15mm of shelfspace after I'd read and got rid of it, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to keep it. Knowing that The Grapes of Wrath grew out of journalism makes me look forward to reading it more; it's been on my shelf for years, and is on at least the Waterstone's Books of the Century list.

I could have done a lot of quotes. The introduction is interesting on self-censorship and the experience of writing. This is towards the end of the introduction (written in 1958, judging from publication date): 'For what they are worth, or for what they may recapture, here they are, period pieces, fairy tales, half-meaningless memories of a time and of attitudes which have gone forever from the world, a sad and jocular recording of a little part of a war I saw and do not believe, unreal with trumped-up pageantry, so that it stands in the mind like the battle pictures of Crecy and Bunker Hill and Gettysburg. And, although all war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal, still there was in these memory-wars, some bravery, some kindliness. A man got killed, surely, or maimed, but, living, he did not carry crippled seed as a gift to his children.
Now for many years we have suckled on fear and fear alone, and there is no good product of fear. Its children are cruelty and deceit and suspicion germinating in our darkness. And just as surely as we are poisoning the air with our test bombs, so are we poisoned in our souls by fear, faceless, stupid sarcomic terror.'

Two little quotes: 'It is said, and with some truth, that while the Germans fight for world domination and the English for the defense of England, the Americans fight for souvenirs.' '"I like Americans," [the old English woman on liberated Capri] explained, and you could see that she was willing to take any kind of citicism for this attitude.'

There's also an interesting chapter on the experience of conflict, suggesting that one of the reasons returned soldiers don't want to talk about the action they've seen is that they can't actually remember it. The body and mind are battered by the experience, and it's a defence mechanism during and after. 'A woman is said to feel the same way when she tries to remember what childbirth was like. ... Perhaps all experience which is beyond bearing is that way. the system provides the shield and then removes the memory, so that a woman can have another child and a man can go into combat again.'

Sunday, 20 May 2007

london road depot

Now I know that ten Bakerloo Line trains are what sleep at the London Road depot, according to this article.

nestle still killing babies, apparently

It was in 1977 that campaigners first called for a boycott of Nestlé because of its aggressive marketing of formula milk in the developing world. Thirty years on, have Nestlé and the other baby-milk firms cleaned up their act? Joanna Moorhead travels to Bangladesh to find out
- Guardian article from Tuesday 15 May. The answer seems to be no. (Bit of fuss on Netmums - I am a netmum - who have accepted sponsorship from the baby killers for their forum area.)

calvin and ghosts

Still reading John Calvin on John, and part of his note on 6:19 (where the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and are afraid) is interesting, as it seems to imply acceptance of the reality of ghosts: 'The other Evangelists explain as the cause of their fear that they thought it was a ghost. Now it is impossible not to be seized with consternation and dread when a ghost is presented before our eyes. We think either that Satan is deceiving us, or that God is presaging something.'

Saturday, 19 May 2007

daniel handler

A couple of quotes from an interview article with Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, in the Guardian of 7 June 2006:

'Handler and his wife, Lisa Brown, an illustrator, have a son, Otto, who is two. What sort of dad is he? "Apparently, one who goes on tour," he sniggers. "What sort of dad am I? What are my choices?"
'Well, did he change nappies? "Oh yeah. In fact, I was the exclusive changer of nappies for the first, like, two months. My wife had some trouble with her hands in pregnancy." How about getting up in the night? "Otto breastfed for a long time, but I would get up in the morning. And to this day, my wife sleeps a little late and I get up in the morning. It's strange how little is expected of fathers. It used to drive Lisa insane when Otto was tiny, and I would just take him for a walk round the neighborhood and people would say, 'What a wonderful father you are.' Even if I had a bottle of beer in one hand."'

'The money [made from selling 50m Lemony Snicket books] led to what he describes as a strange experience. "We were in a lawyer's office and we had to decide at what age Otto would be given a, you know, substantial amount of money. And they said, '15?' and we said, 'God no!' And they kept suggesting older and older ages until we surpassed our own age: 'People of 33 should not be handling this sum of money. That's absurd!'"'

two facts from word magazine

From an item on firsts and beginnings in Word, of January I think:
- Britain's oldest newspaper is the Glasgow Herald, established in 1783
- Ray Tomlinson was the first person to send an email, in October 1971

queen's four songwriters

I've been wondering if there is a group other than Queen in which every member was an accomplished individual songwriter, measurable through critical appreciation or chart success. Each of the four members wrote at least one top ten hit.

Ah, Ringo, letting the Beatles side down.

living in a no-go area

It has become quite a common way to illustrate how bad an estate is, to say that people won't do deliveries into it. I found out three weeks ago that we live on such an estate, when I tried to order a pizza delivery from Domino's, which is just across the road from the estate and three or four minutes' walk from this house. When I gave them my postcode they said they didn't do deliveries to this area; when I asked why, they said because of robberies. When I went along to order it and pick it up myself, which I should have done in the first place obviously, I got the added bonus that they do buy one get one free on pizzas they don't have to deliver, which it didn't say in the leaflet.

jeanette macdonald's wedding ring

A sweet little item from David Parkinson's film trivia section in this week's Radio Times, re Three Daring Daughters:
'Keep an eye on Jeanette MacDonald's ring finger in this musical comedy, as she wore a special slipcover to hide the wedding ring she had sworn never to remove on her marriage to Gene Raymond a decade earlier. Indeed, she had never even taken it off to read the engraving inside. "You may be sure," MacDonald once said, "that I know every precious word by heart, but I have never read it myself. Gene has told it to me."'

madeleine, and why a story becomes a story

'The British media does not do responsibility. It does stories. : The frenzied reporting of the missing McCann child serves neither the interests of the family nor the cause of justice.'
- Simon Jenkins article in The Guardian, Friday 18 May 2007.

'There were 798 child abductions in Britain in the last period for which figures are available (2003-4), of which most were intra-family but 68 were "by strangers". Of these, a majority were quickly and quietly resolved, by information being available and acted on before the captor realised. Twenty-five of them took longer, in addition to dozens from preceding years. Since the disappearance of Madeleine on May 3, another 450 young people have gone missing in Britain. While many are teenagers, none has received anything like the attention given to the McCanns.'

' have found the coverage of the McCann story prurient and tedious beyond belief. That the BBC should regard it as more important than Brown's ascension to national leadership crumbles my faith in that great organisation. Tabloid values have come to British public service broadcasting with a vengeance and without even the commercial pressure of the private sector. It is like the daily attention given to the kidnapping of the BBC's brave Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, when dozens of other kidnappings, including of journalists, go unreported.'

Friday, 18 May 2007

the neocon experiment

This perfect storm will finally destroy the neocon project: Americans are sick of the unrepentant arrogance of this elite. But the realisation has come at a very heavy cost
- interesting article by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Guardian of Friday 11 May 2007.

jerry falwell

Jerry Falwell died recently. A rather unfavourable article in Salon summed up his legacy thus: 'To the religious life of the United States he made no significant contribution. But to the political life of the country, he made one: He founded the Moral Majority. In so doing, Falwell managed to take something holy -- one does not have to be a Christian to admire the life and teachings of Jesus Christ -- and turned it into something partisan and divisive. Falwell, the quintessential conservative Christian, was always more conservative than Christian. To the extent that history will remember him, it will be as a politician, not as a preacher.'

Another falsehood which came to pass was the idea in the US that to be a conservative Christian is to be politically right-wing. How a country that elected conservative Christian and Democrat President Jimmy Carter could move so comprehensively from understanding that it was even tenable to be a left-wing Christian is puzzling to the outsider.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

a weekend in glasgow

Went up by sleeper on Thursday night, which worked very well; we'd do that again. We visited the Botanic Gardens, the Museum of Transport and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

The Museum of Transport was interesting in that it wasn't just public transport, like the London Transport Museum, but private also. The pedal bicycle was invented in Scotland, they say. (Wikipedia agrees, so it must be true, and also reminds me that another Scotsman, Dunlop, invented the pneumatic tyre.)

The Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens and the Kelvingrove Museum have both relatively recently been reopened after restoration.

At Kelvingrove we saw Fonn 's Duthchas: Land and Legacy, an exhibition on Highland culture. We saw the Uefa cup, the final of which was played at Hampden tonight.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was impressive, and very interactive and child-friendly. The building is very like the London Victorian museums. We only did the ground floor, although I did nip upstairs to see Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross. The Mackintosh & Glasgow Style part of the art gallery reflected the extent to which what had seemed to be the promotion of Rennie Mackintosh style has been spread out, so that much of what people had been given to believe was Rennie Mackintosh style was in fact Macdonald Mackintosh style or Glasgow Style. The Looking At Art and Art Discovery Centre were very good. A couple of Lowrys, and, after Monday's visit to Tate Britain, another Rossetti.

Best of all was seeing Chris, Mairi and Ruaraidh, of course.

what is a cult?

Two interesting and complementary definitions of what constitutes a cult from two cult awareness sites.

- Cultwatch, a US site says:

We define a group as being a cult in two ways (with most cults actually qualifying on both counts):

The group practices mind control. That is, they use psychological, social, and/or moral techniques in order to control people.

The group (openly or secretly) teaches major errors in their doctrine (such as who Jesus Christ is) while masquerading as Christian or compatible with biblical Christianity.We define a cult in two ways.

- The Cult Information Centre, a British site, divides cults into Religious Cults and Therapy Cults, and gives a useful set of characteristics:

Every cult can be defined as a group having all of the following five characteristics:
1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society.
3. Its founder leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.
4. It believes 'the end justifies the means' in order to solicit funds recruit people.
5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society.

- Cultwatch is overtly Christian, and one of their FAQs deals with the 'bias' question quite well:

Since you're Christians, doesn't that make you biased?

Yes of course it does. But the reality is that everyone - you, me, and even the person who claims to be unbiased - is biased.

You see we all have our own beliefs about reality, and we color what we see by those beliefs. Since it is impossible to be unbiased the best we can do is try our very hardest to recognize our bias and try to not let it affect our judgment.

All that we ask of anyone is to carefully read or listen to our information and come to the point where they understand what we are putting forward. Once they understand our position then we ask them to consider it carefully and come to some conclusions. That really is all we can ask of people.

(- It 's always annoying when people say in relation to commenting on a particular issue that Christians are biased and don't have a right to comment, as if no one else was biased. It used to come up regularly in the Gazette, with some councillors saying that Christian councillors shouldn't vote on things like licensing decisions. If councillors who used the bars were also considered biased and weren't to vote, there'd be precious few left in the chamber.)

simon hughes

Bethan shared a bus with Simon Hughes this morning - she had to ask him to move his bag so she could get past. He's our MP, and we've seen him before - I saw him a couple of years ago from a bus at St George's Circus, planting a tree to commemorate something or other, and we and the Gilmours saw him in Covent Garden at an outdoor event, possibly a St George's Day thing, last year or the year before.

Monday, 14 May 2007

three bits from this week's radio times

Patrick Moore met both Orville Wright (who died in 1948, Wikipedia tells me) and Neil Armstrong. We travelled a long way from 1903 to 1969. Equally, Orville was born in 1871 and lived to see the atomic bomb.

Patrick Moore said, 'I was in hospital once having a knee operation and I watched a whole episode of EastEnders. Ugh! I suppose it's true to life. But so is diarrhoea - and I don't want to see that on television.'

The three male detectives in New Tricks, which I'll be watching tonight, are named after West Bromwich Albion's Halford's Lane Stand - Jack Halford, Brian Lane and Gerry Standing.

street survivors

The sleeve notes for Street Survivors, which I got in an expanded version on Saturday for a Fopp fiver, remind me that as musicians' fatal plane crashes go, Lynyrd Skynyrd's was among the most avoidable: the plane simply ran out of fuel. Just awful.

Monday, 7 May 2007

morrison of the bounty

Mention of William Bligh - and there's a plaque on a house where he lived across from the Imperial War Museum - puts me in mind of Morrison of the Bounty, a Lewisman. You can find a surprising amount on James online without trying very hard, including a Wikipedia entry, a reproduction of his journal, an item on a Morrison family tree site and his statement at his trial.

a mostly wet bank holiday monday

I kicked off my day earlier than I'd have liked on a bank holiday, meeting Roddy to give him a set of keys.

After I got home we and Naomi headed out for the Museum of Garden History, which we all enjoyed in our different ways. It's in an old church, St Mary-at-Lambeth (good information here on the Vauxhall Society site. William Bligh's tomb is there. The Guy Fox Children's map of Waterloo, which we picked up there and I'd seen before, had an interesting fact about John Tradescant: 'John Tradescant, a 17th century plant hunter, traveled the world collecting seeds and plants. He mostly chose brightly-coloured flowers, because he had no sense of smell!' Interesting facts from the Guide include that the church has one of only three total immersion fonts installed in Anglican churches can be found - it's still there - and that St Mary's grounds, which are tiny, hold an estimated 26,000 burials.

We had lunch at the cafe in St Thomas's Hospital, in seats looking out across the river at the Houses of Parliament. The cafe - subsidised, good helpings, open to the public - is one of my Londoner's secrets; I knew it first from my first job having been two floors above it (although I don't think it was there at the start) and revisited it regularly a few years ago while visiting for a few weeks.

(When I came down first, one of my Londoner's secrets, which this put me in mind of, was going to the National Theatre on a Saturday morning to get a standby ticket and then going not to the main NT food counter but the small cafe through the door on the corner where not only was the food cheaper (I'm sure) but they had free papers.)

An additional attraction now at St Thomas's is the children's play area in the new Evelina Children's Hospital, including a helter-skelter, which we made use of again today.

Then we went to Tate Britain, where I haven't been for years, and I quite enjoyed. We did justice to Historic British Art (1500-1900) and Modern British Art (1900-1960), while the others also did Turner and some of Contemporary British Art.

I paid homage to the pre-Raphaelites, of course, a number of whose portraits of ridiculously idealised beauties I had in postcard form on my university walls, but the painting I was most impressed with was Portrait of a Lady as a Shepherdess - the satin dress was very realistically rendered; you had to go right up close - which you could do - to lose the illusion, and in so doing it was hard to credit how the brush strokes you were looking at could create that realism at a proper distance. I'm not sure why 'copyright restrictions' forbid the reproduction of a 17th century painting on their own site.

Then on the way home we crossed Waterloo Bridge and spotted as many of Antony Gormley's men as we could.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

irish big brother

I was going to be on the Irish version of Big Brother, but we couldn't find 10 people who didn't know each other.
- Irish stand-up Mary Bourke, quoted in Guardian Guide of Saturday 14 October 2006.


I went to Waterloo this morning to get the Herald to read about the Scottish Assembly elections (and saw the others off for a train to Kew, while I returned home to a pleasant afternoon with the laptop). The most striking thing about it was the coloured post-election map, with the vast geographical dominance of yellow and orange for SNP and Lib Dems above the central belt.

The interesting thing about the spoiled ballot controversy is that no one could complain that their party suffered particularly by it, because to do so would be to say that their voters were proportionally more stupid than people who voted for other parties. Or so I thought, but then in the Herald Tommy Sheridan did say his party had suffered because of it.

First time I've got a Scottish paper down here for years; the Scotsman used to be my preference, but there was more coverage in the Herald, and I don't think the Scotsman's what it was.

The other interesting item I saw in the election coverage was actually about the English local elections, that the Tory candidate who stood in the prime minister's home ward in County Durham 'pulled off the remarkable political feat of failing to pick up a single vote. Sad to say, the would-be Conservative councillor could not even vote for herself as she does not live in the New Trimdon and Trimdon Grange ward but in nearby Stockton-on-Tees. However, one has to ask, what happened to those 10 local people who had to nominate Ms Bowes to make her eligible to stand in the first place?'

Friday, 4 May 2007

side by side by sondheim

Having had my memory jogged, here are some links relating to that production of Side by Side by Sondheim at the Union Theatre - November 2005, I see. Some production photos. A quoted review on the same site as those photos. London SE1 review. The Stage review.

It was fine, sung well; the commentary was very arch, the songs a mixture of well-known and lost. Another new theatre for me.

one pound turbo market

Going through a pile of old stuff found a flier for The UBS Long Weekend at Tate Modern, 26-29 May last year. Here's a link, for posterity, to the bit I was at on the Friday afternoon, the One Pound Turbo Market. We didn't buy anything. That was the afternoon we bumped into Catherine afterwards and popped into the Union Theatre cafe on Union Street (the Union Theatre being where I saw Side by Side by Sondheim with Genevieve).

Thursday, 3 May 2007

rob brydon meets harold pinter

He thinks about telling me an amusing anecdote, then has second thoughts. "I was going to tell you a story then, but I thought it would look so wanky in print..." Oh, go on. He relents. So, we're in the life-story bit, and he was trying to get into Rada. As part of the audition he had to do something modern. "So I did a piece of Pinter from The Homecoming. I now look back on it, and it was a piece laden with a kind of sexual menace. And I was this 16-year-old virgin with no idea, didn't understand it really at all. I did it like an evil Del Boy. And, no, I didn't get in.

Anyway, many years later, Brydon, now established (on the Heathrow travelator, anyway) was in a restaurant with some friends and Pinter was at the next table. Brydon's friends knew Pinter, got chatting, about different kinds of laughter and stuff, as you do when famous playwrights are at the next table, and Brydon chipped in with his thoughts, which Pinter seemed to appreciate. "So, emboldened by his positive response, I thought, I'm not going to waste my moment here with Pinter, I'm going to push the envelope. So I said [adopting distinguished, talking-to-Pinter voice], 'When I auditioned for Rada in 1983, I did a speech from The Homecoming.' He must get this all the time. And I said, 'I didn't get in.' He said: [adopting Pinter voice] 'Oh.' And I said, 'And I can't help thinking that if you'd tried a little harder with the writing, it would have been a different story!' And there was this silence. I thought, 'Oh, you idiot'. And then he went [adopting Pinter laugh], 'Ha ha ha.' And he seemed to genuinely laugh."

And I'm laughing, too. Because Rob Brydon is genuinely funny. Whoever he is.
- from an interview with Rob Brydon in The Guardian of Saturday 28 April.

false widows

Although Bethan has taught me that spiders are our friends, because of all the flies and such that they eat, the unfamiliar little black spider in the middle of the floor last night looked too nasty to let go, so I didn't. And then today I saw stories like this one about the false widow spider, and pictures strongly suggest that 'that's the one, officer!'