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.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

a saturday

I had a lie in (Saturday is usually my lie-in day, Sunday Bethan's) after staying up very late reading (old Guardians, mainly), while baking went on in the kitchen. Cheese on toast for lunch. To Spitalfields City Farm with friends - our first time to that city farm, pleasant enough, and the children enjoyed it which was the main thing. Then all to Brick Lane for a curry with other friends - ran the gauntlet of people trying to drag you into their curry house (all of which seem to have been declared the best something by somebody) and chose Preem's, which was fine. I don't know how skewed the on-street demographic - young, white, trendy - was by the presence of the London Tattoo Convention and an Oxjam event, but the area has got trendy and redeveloped in recent years; we haven't been here much - we have had a Brick Lane bagel before, but not a curry - and certainly not since the redevelopment of the Spitalfields market area. It still maintains it poor immigrant community status, however, as evidenced by the Brick Lane shops and restaurants and also the Brick Lane mosque, with its history of religious use including being a Huguenot chapel (first) and a synagogue, reflecting different waves of immigration, the latest being Bangladeshi.

Then home, and too late to get a Guardian, so had to read an old one. As my father used to say to my mother, 'Just read yesterday's and pretend it's today's'; like mother like son - although we differ in that I can't throw a paper out if I haven't read it, which is why my pile is so big. And we were pleasantly surprised that Match of the Day was on relatively early, but there turned out to only have been two games today, which might have had something to do with it.

hamlet in dracula

An unexpected reference to Hamlet in Dracula:

Let me be calm, for out of that way lies madness indeed. I begin to get new lights on certain things which have puzzled me. Up to now I never quite knew what Shakespeare meant when he made Hamlet say: ‘My tablets! quick, my tablets! ’Tis meet that I put it down,’ etc
for now, feeling as though my own brain were unhinged or as if the shock had come which must end in its undoing, I turn to my diary for repose. The habit of entering accurately must help to soothe me.
- Dracula, p39; Brandon edition, 1992

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

sleepy lagoon

Learned in this week's Radio Times: 'Eric Coates's Desert Island Discs theme tune Sleepy Lagoon was inspired by a view of Bognor Regis.'

Monday, 1 October 2007

shakespeare at newington butts

I read Walking Shakespeare's London by Nicholas Robins today. The last Shakespeare location in the last walk was Newington Butts, a reference I don't think I've seen in anything I've read on our local area before.

The walker is directed to 'Newington Butts, the site of archery targets and what was probably the first playhouse built south of the river, a dim forerunner of the Rose and the Globe, about which we know next to nothing. It may have been a proper amphitheatre like the Globe or it may have been a converted inn. It was probably in business from 1575. Strange's Men, one of the early theatre companies for which Shakespeare worked, were ordered to stop playing at the Rose Theatre in 1592 and to transfer for three days a week to Newington Butts. This was a bad idea and the order was rescinded "by reason of the tediousness of the way", something you'll probably appreciate. Indeed, although in 1594 the theatre was used by a combined troupe of the Admiral's Men (the main company at the Rose) and Shakespeare's own Lord Chamberlain's Men, the Newington Butts playhouse never really caught on. The company's daily taking for some early Shakespearean fare such as The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus were a miserable 9 shillings. It was too far out of the way.'

He places it on the map essentially where the Drapers Tenants Hall is now, but I presume that's just an approximation.

Of course, now that I know to search for '"newington butts" shakespeare' in Google, I get 838 hits, including the ever-impressive (on matters of uncontentious fact) Wikipedia, a US Shakespeare Online, a Jstor article preview, Bartleby, and an article on Newington and Walworth history from 1878 on British History Online. And via Wikipedia, an 1870 photo of Newington Butts from the oddly-named Ideal Homes site.

The 1878 history article suggests that 'The exact site of the abovementioned theatre is not known, but it was probably very near to the spot where now stands the "Elephant and Castle" Theatre, on the south side of the New Kent Road, near the railway station.' I guess that's where the Coronet Theatre now is. I don't know whether the Newington Butts info hadn't come to light then, or whether Newington Butts reached up to there (through where the roundabouts now are, to meet Newington Causeway?). (Later: looking at one of our old A-Zs, Newington Butts did run up the front of where the Met Tab is, but didn't join up with New Kent Road - Walworth Road did.)

The 1878 article also says that St Mary's Newington, which was also across the road from us on Newington Butts, is where Thomas Middleton was buried (Wikipedia says he lived in Newington Butts); a contemporary of Shakespeare, he wrote, among others, A Mad World My Masters, which I saw at Shakespeare's Globe, and some also think he co-wrote Timon of Athens. St Mary's was knocked down in the 19th century to widen the road.

The London Park Hotel Tower which will be going up across Newington Butts from us over the next few years, on the site of, of course, the London Park Hotel, will, as part of the various amenities it comes with, have a theatre in it to house the Southwark Playhouse, bringing theatre back to Newington Butts (and a handy two-minute walk from our house - we're looking forward to that). We saw a very good Cinderella several years ago at the old Southwark Playhouse, as part of a too-small audience.

The SE1 Forum site has a thread on the London Park Hotel site development, including a link to two sets of photos taken recently (illicitly and probably dangerous) inside the current derelict building - here and here. Fascinating.