Wednesday, 31 January 2007

defunct brewery liveries

An article I'm editing led me to this splendid site with listings of where you can see defunct brewery liveries on mainly pub and ex-pub buildings around the country, with many photos. There's no interest so niche that no one is devoted to it, and the internet lets them off the leash.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

fareshares/infoshop

Fareshares/Infoshop on Crampton Street is our local hippy shop, which reminds me of a shop I used to go to on King Street in Aberdeen. I've bought veg, a book and agitprop postcards there.

Nice to get agitprop postcards again (M helped me to pic them):
- '... and so I went to India on a journey of self-discovery, and discovered that actually, deep down, I'm a conformist yuppie who thinks the third world is an emotional playground for the rich'
- a rat race one
- one about terminator gm seeds (those things are just awesomely awful)
- 'If ordinary people behaved like British Aerospace' (salesman sells better knife to mugger - 'These alloy blades are an affordable high-tech means of delivering lacerations to a selected target ...' 'Well, if I didn't sell them, someone else would.')

They're all Gathered Images postcards.

You'll be amazed to learn that they don't like the regeneration that's happening across the road and elsewhere in the area.

michael caine's birthplace; shady old lady

While looking for a good site to record the fact that Michael Caine was born not far from here, in St Olave's Hospital, Bermondsey, I discovered Shady Old Lady, a site showing interesting London locations. Most of the most popular ones are birth and death locations.

Monday, 29 January 2007

love will keep us together/tear us apart

A lovely cover version of Love Will Tear Us Apart by Susanna And The Magical Orchestra from a Word cover CD will probably make it onto my 2006 CD. Much better than Nouvelle Vague's version. I've no recollection of what Paul Young's version was like; I expect I preferred it to the original, as I liked Paul Young's voice and didn't Ian Curtis's (and was almost certainly unhip enough to say so). I remember someone at school said they no longer liked Joy Division once Paul Young had made that cover version - too far overground, obviously.

I remember reading somewhere, relatively recently, that the title at least was inspired as a response to Love Will Keep Us Together - a song which made no real impression on me until it was used excellently in Get Over It, a high school rom-com of the kind I'm anachronistically devoted to. In the pre-credit sequence, our hero is having a lovely romance, then she dumps him at her front door. The credits start (I'm pretty sure) as he trudges away miserably to the sound of the song and an ever-increasing carnival parade. The rest of the film didn't really live up to this. I thought someone might have posted it on YouTube, but there's only someone's brief compilation of their favourite bits from the film, none of which are the opening credits.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

church.co.uk

On Thursday M and I had our lunch in the cafe at church.co.uk's earthly location (as opposed to their longer-standing cyber-location). Church.co.uk came out of Steve Chalke's work with Oasis and Faithworks. There was some controversy a couple of years ago as Steve Chalke seemed to have moved from the view that Christ took the punishment for sins on the cross, which is quite significant for such a prominent evangelical; I haven't been keeping up with my Christian periodicals so I don't know where things are at with that now, but I got the impression that the 'agree to disagree' and 'unity through silence' options were the ones which were being taken. There must be some middle ground between that and the constant splitting over minor things.

It's a building/church with an interesting history ('On June 8th 1783 Christ Church began its life under the name Surrey Hall. Its leader, Rowland Hill, was a well-known figure in London life. The Church was to become the birthplace of the Bible Society, Shaftesbury Society, the Ragged School Movement and several other significant Christian initiatives. William Wilberforce and friends made Surrey Hall their central London base and many of the anti-slavery meetings took place there.'), although only the tower ('donated by Abraham Lincoln’s family and friends to thank the church for their inspiration and support in the battle for the emancipation of the slaves in America') survived the Blitz.

It was a reasonable cafe, set up in the church space, and they had books and games - M and I played her first game of Snap there. I can't find, on a cursory search, an online photo of the interior, which had interesting pews and window (got a postcard of it, the Pilgrim Window, two advancing lines of 'pilgrims' from various periods of history).

john a mackay

When I reproduced that quote from FF Bruce about John A Mackay I didn't realise he was one of the Lima Mackays - here's his obituary from Theology Today.

working model

As the great and the good - from Sir Trevor McDonald to Oona King - drank champagne and toasted the happy couple in the impressive River Room, Falconer said a few words praising his charge and stealing a classic line from Lammy's maiden speech. 'His mother had dug out an old Year 11 school report which said: "Your son is a model pupil. Unfortunately, he is not a working model."'
- from an Observer article of 25 January 2005 on David Lammy reproduced on David Lammy's own website. (I came across it in researching an article about Broadwater Farm, which is an interesting place.)

Saturday, 27 January 2007

big garden birdwatch 2007

We did the Big Garden Birdwatch this morning (here's last year's account).

This year we had just one of our blackbirds, two blue tits, two great tits, seven house sparrows, seven feral pigeons, two dunnocks and one blackheaded gull (which we couldn't count as it was flying over - we're counting the pigeons which were sitting on the opposite roofs). I think we've probably had dunnocks in with the sparrows before but haven't had the knowledge to pick them out, but helpfully this year in advance of the thing they sent us a sheet with the fifteen most commonly seen birds last year and the dunnock looked familiar, and so we had a book out while we were looking and sure enough that's what we had. We didn't have either of our local wood pigeons, one of which we did see later, nor a robin, wren or magpie, which are our other common visitors. We're seeing great tits more often, and have seen coal tits.

weeding out the bookshelves

Not only has the internet led to a decrease of newspaper and magazine clippings about the place, a significant number of my reference books are redundant. A better use of libraries instead of always buying is having an impact on the fiction shelves in particular (as is the putting into practice of the fact that I rarely re-read anything so needn't keep a lot of books I've read unless they're valuable for reference).

And since discovering last week that the 9 litre Really Useful Boxes fit perfectly in the space between our wardrobe and the outside wall I've been buying them and putting our photo wallets and albums into them. I've a horrible feeling the stack will reach the ceiling before all the photos are in.

Friday, 26 January 2007

our day out, including St Mary Le Strand and St Clement Danes

The nursery ladies were on a course or something this morning, so M and I had a full day together. Fed the ducks in St James's Park, watched the soldiers forming up and marching off musically from St James's Palace for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Down to the Strand (swinging past Australia House, it being Australia Day, but it was closed, it being Australia Day; plenty flags out, but they might be out all the time) and visited the two churches in the middle of the road - St Mary le Strand and St Clement Danes. Had lunch at the Somerset House ice rink. Went to Borough Market. Visited Margaret in her new flat - M was her first visitor (apart from those helping her move in).

The churches both have entries on Wikipedia - Mary here and Clement here. Clement's also on the BBC's H2G2 site, here. As well as the controversial Bomber Harris statue, Clement Danes also has one in front of it of Gladstone, with whom I feel a spurious ancestral connection thanks to the chance nicknaming of my great-grandfather and my place in the dynasty as 'one of the Gladstones'. Clement Danes is full of RAF stuff, but I don't feel the fellow feeling with the RAF that I should as an ATC boy - nor the fellow feeling with the Navy (for which St Mary le Strand is a significant church - the Wrens in particular, although sadly it's Clement Dane's that is a Wren church rather than this one) that I should as a Highland island boy. I would certainly have been a plodding and doomed infantryman. Interesting Wikipedia fact re Mary le Strand: 'Bonnie Prince Charlie is alleged to have renounced his Roman Catholic faith in the church to become an Anglican during a secret visit to London in 1750.' Clement Danes was more attractive inside; looked old, although completely gutted in the Blitz so all new; Mary's ceiling was too heavy on the plasterwork, but I did like the blue glass windows (no windows at all on the ground floor level).

Sadly while I noticed the huge aisle at St Clement Dane's, I didn't notice that the pews were telescopic, enabling them to fill most of that space (but why do they need the wide aisle? Parades?). Dane's dates from the 9th century, when Danes did indeed live in between the cities of London and Westminster.

I was certainly aware of H2G2 before Wikipedia, the BBC trying to fulfil Douglas Adams's vision of a guide to life, the universe and everything with user-generated content, as Wikipedia. People sometimes credit Douglas Adams with predicting the internet on the basis of HHG, but if anything he predicted the CD-Rom - portable but static content.

you have been watching

On the closing credits of Croft and Perry sitcoms it used to say 'You have been watching' and then the actors names appeared beneath that. I never made the connection, however, and took it as a complete statement. I remember watching Dad's Army and not really understanding why they told me at the end, 'You have been watching.' Perhaps they were making some philosophical point: yes, I have been watching, haven't I? I was a great deal older before I realised what they were saying.

The Comedy Connections tonight was about It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, which has a theme tune which, like Dad's Army's, takes me back to happy childhood.

The funniest thing said was by Jimmy Perry, who was an actor who'd come up with a script, his first, about the home guard and showed it to David Croft, who was in a senior position in the production staff of whatever he was in at the time: 'He said it was good and perhaps we could work together on it... I'd have worked with Hitler!'

Thursday, 25 January 2007

the velvelettes

I picked up a Best of the Velvelettes for £4 before Christmas, and it's really good. 'Best of', is a bit of a misnomer, though, as it's virtually everything they ever recorded. Needle In A Haystack was number one (US, I guess), according to the sleeve, and yet they never released an album. It's funny the way some music careers go. He Was Really Saying Something I also know of course, first from the Bananarama version, but two of the other standout tracks are A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush) and Save Me (My Ship Of Love Is Sinking) - the latter, amazingly, was unreleased before this compilation in 2001.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

shoes and wishes

7.6 million British women - roughly a third - own more than sixteen pairs of shoes.
Approximately £3m a year is thrown into the world's wishing wells.
- from the 'what we've learned this week' section in The Guardian of 2 December 2006.

footballers' neighbours

This is O-Central, one of the new developments happening near us in Elephant & Castle. A few weeks ago the Evening Standard reported that Rio Ferdinand, who's a Peckham boy, has bought one of the flats, and yesterday it reported that John Terry's bought two. In both reports it's obvious that they're buying them as investments, not to live in themselves.

There's been an exhibition on over the last few days about the latest stage in the redevelopment plans, showing where they've got to and where they're hoping to get; the current next step is Southwark Council choosing between two business partners. This is the regeneration website.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

hammer horror

The Guardian Guide of Saturday 16 December 2006 reviewed a batch of box sets, including 'The Ultimate Hammer Collection', the review of which mentioned that 1973 was the year in which Hammer released their most successful movie: Holiday On The Buses. It's not in the box set.

pink floyd - enduring through amateurism

Since it's mostly about London in the heady days of the late 60s, Miles is frank about not remembering everything. Of the group's supposed residency at the short-lived Goings On Club in Soho, he writes: "I think I attended them all, but I have no memory of seeing the Pink Floyd play there (which is not to say they didn't)."

Barrett may have been the one with the ideas and the tunes, but Miles dismisses simplistic divisions between the original Pink Floyd and its post-Barrett incarnation. He notes that the group, though tuned in to avant-garde figures such as Cornelius Cardew, always wanted to be rock'n'roll stars. And, with the exception of keyboardist Rick Wright, they weren't going to let their relative inadequacy as musicians get in the way of achieving this goal.

In true punk style, Pink Floyd's improvised psychedelic jams arose as much from a reluctance to master the instruments as from the acid ingested by its leader. One of the band's most famous early numbers, "Interstellar Overdrive", resulted from Barrett's attempt to mimic Love's "Little Red Book". And even with Syd gone and Dave Gilmour, technically a more accomplished guitarist, on board, the group's preoccupation with soundscapes rather than musical virtuosity persisted. The result was that the series of records they produced in Barrett's wake, culminating in that consummate expression of adolescent angst Dark Side of the Moon, may often have been pretentious, but the group has endured because the songs tended to lack the noodling trills and histrionics of Pink Floyd's prog rock peers.
- Guardian, 25 November 2006

the benefits of chess

There was a really interesting piece in the New Scientist, almost exactly a year ago. It told the story of Richard Wetherill, a retired university lecturer who could think eight moves ahead in chess. But one day, he found he could only think five moves ahead and so he went to see a neurologist at University College London's Institute of Neurology to be tested for signs of early dementia and he passed every test: even under a brain imager his brain looked entirely normal. But two years later, he died and when they performed an autopsy on him his brain was riddled with plaques and tangles - the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. Apparently, the disease was so advanced that that amount of physical damage in most other people's brains would have "reduced them to a state of total confusion".
- Guardian, 2 December 2006

more from the 27th kingdom

Valentine moved like a fish through water, accomplishedly, barely stirring the silence. It was a trick nuns learned: to be very quiet in case of still small voices.
-p26

'You may be right,' said Aunt Irene, choosing one of the Danish pastries to which she referred as her *cream passionel*.
-p34

There was really very little that the bereaved could say to each other, since trouble shared was trouble doubled.
p49
[I haven't read this before, but I used to say 'A trouble shared is a trouble doubled', at university.]

She wished she was like Valentine. Valentine, she thought, had nothing and yet had *hilaritas*, while she - with all her things and her people was suffering from *accidia*, that most debilitating malaise. Not fair, she thought childishly, watching Valentine looking at the sky. She was tempted to give all her goods to the poor and see what happened, but decided against it. There was no absolute guarantee that in return she would receive the contentment that characterised Valentine, and she'd feel pretty silly, shivering, naked in the world and *still* unhappy.
-p64

Despite its ambivalence (it would as soon send you down to Davy Jones's locker as bear you safely from hither to yon) there was something reassuring about the sea. Although moon-dragged, it was not girlish, not captious.
-p82

- Alice Thomas Ellis, The 27th Kingdom

(I remember telling Alison years ago I'd discovered Alice Thomas Ellis and that it was good to discover a new author and know there was a back catalogue of books to read and enjoy. I've got plenty of them still to read, some of which I own. They're all pretty slim.)

Monday, 22 January 2007

bad credit rating

Interesting letter to the Guardian money advice guy on 9 December from someone who earns well, pays off their credit cards on time and has never been in debt but keeps getting rejected for credit cards. This is 'due to companies realising they will make nothing from you and others who do not get into debt. The days when you could garner dozens of cards without a problem are generally over.'

rio bravo

Last week's Radio Times' preview of Rio Bravo said that to make his actors seem bigger than they actually were, Howard Hawks had the sets built 7/8th scale.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

more ff bruce quotes

For Paul, as for Jesus, 'religion is grace, and ethics is gratitude'. [quote from Thomas Erskine]
- p31

The vision unveiled in Ephesians has captivated other minds than Paul's. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, no mean judge of religious and literary worth, pronounced this letter 'the divinest composition of man'. And a distinguished figure in the theological world of the twentieth century, John A Mackay, has recorded this remarkable testimony:

'I can never forget that the reading of this Pauline letter, when I was a boy in my teens, exercised a more decisive influence upon my thought and imagination than was ever wrought upon me before or since by the perusal of any piece of literature. The romance of the part played by Jesus Christ in making my personal salvation possible and in mediating God's cosmic plan so set my spirit aflame that I laid aside in an ecstasy of delight Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, which I happened to be reading at the time. That was my encounter with the Cosmic Christ. The Christ who was and is became the passion of my life. I have to admit, without shame or reserve, that as a result of that encounter, I have been unable to think of my own life or the life of mankind or the life of the cosmos apart from Jesus Christ. He came to me and challenged me in the writings of St Paul. I responded. The years that have followed have been but a footnote to that encounter.'

(It may be thought that Dr Mackay must have been a very exceptional teenager, but he was a Highland Scot, brought up to know what life's priorities were and to recognize excellence when he met it.)
- p41

In these defences against Judaism and pagan Hellenism [in Acts] there is not lacking a polemical element; the attack is pressed home into the other camp. It is different with the defence against Roman law; Luke, like most of the New Testament writers, cultivates the goodwill of Roman law and of administrative authority in general through the Empire.

But what of the undeniable fact that Jesus had been convicted and executed on a charge of sedition against Caesar? Luke's answer to this is one which he shares with his fellow-evangelists, although he develops it in his own way. The condemnation of Jesus was a miscarriage of justice ....
...
If in Part I [Luke's Gospel] Luke maintains that, despite the record, Jesus was no rebel against Rome, in Part II [Acts] he defends Christianity against the charge that its progress through the Roman provinces was attended by rioting and breaches of the peace.
- p55

The special aspect of Christ's person and ministry emphasized here is his high priesthood, this letter [Hebrews] being the only New Testament document which expressly refers to Jesus as priest, though others *imply* his priesthood.
- p75

The biblical themes of covenant and election have been strangely misunderstood by some theologians, who have thought that if some are chosen by God, it means that others are left outside the scope of his grace. The truth is different: if some are chosen by God, it is in order that others through them may be brought within the scope of his grace. This was so with Israel among the nations; it is so with the church in the world. 'You are the light of the world', said Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 5:14); using the same figure John in the Revelation says of the perfected church: 'By its light shall the nations walk' (Revelation 21:24). But they can walk by its light only if its light has been preserved undimmed.
- p87

- FF Bruce, The Message of the New Testament

Saturday, 20 January 2007

brandon estate

Brandon Estate, down the road in Kennington, used to be most famous for having a Henry Moore sculpture in it, but now it's regularly used for filming, most notably for Dr Who (we should really take fans visiting us to see where Rose Tyler's flat is), but our favourite is Sean Lock's underrated 15 Storeys High.

reminders of old mortality

How odd that *bones*, reminders of old mortality, should be considered essential to beauty in this perverse age. What of Titian and Rubens? And Michelangelo - no, perhaps not Michelangelo, whose women were really men, cursorily emasculated, with breasts like poached eggs placed randomly on their chests.
- Alice Thomas Ellis, The 27th Kingdom, p21.

more on last.fm

I may never listen to the radio again when I'm online, so much have I taken to last.fm. Instead of similar artist radio for the Andrews Sisters just now, I tried artist fan radio, and have been listening to a sequence Jimi Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers, X-Ray Spex, REM, The Beatles (Rocky Raccoon), Tenacious D and Bad Brains. And one of the nice features is that you can do skip track if you don't like it and it goes straight onto the next one (there's also a 'never play me this track again' button which will work if you're registered) - I skipped Tenacious D because it was very sweary and there was over eight minutes of it to go, not the best soundtrack for typing up tomorrow's order of service.

Friday, 19 January 2007

emmanuel schools foundation

They aren't faith schools and they don't select: Contrary to popular belief, Peter Vardy's three academies are true to the comprehensive ideal.
- interesting article on Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation from the Guardian, Tuesday 5 December 2006.

dbc pierre and rewriting

Was the first part of the novel over-written, asked another. Probably, Pierre confessed, for he had gone over it hundreds of times: every day when he had sat down at his desk, he had begun reading his book from the beginning, and amending as he read. The ending, in contrast, was done just a couple of times, giving ammunition to the blogger on the book club website who thought that the novelist had snatched his ending.
- from an interesting article in the 'Guardian book club' series on DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, from Saturday 9 December.

a wizard of earthsea

I finished A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin a few days ago - another from the 'top 50' list I came across recently, which I already had on my shelf (in an Earthsea Trilogy volume) - and enjoyed it a lot until almost the very end. It was well-written and concise, an interestingly constructed world with a well-realised culture and story premise, written in a way that gave an impression of being an old story but without being archaic, in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on.

I'm not sure if it was originally intended as a children's book, which may be why it's shorter, and less verbose than much fantasy (although fantasy writers today, all imagining they are Tolkien, don't shy away from a series of doorstops). (I get the impression that a lot of fantasy novels today, courtesy of the Potter effect, get funnelled into being children's/youth fiction. Certainly the children's section of the library here is stuffed with fantasy.)

Having told a good story all the way through, the central conflict was resolved in a vague, philosophical way which I found rather disappointing. It reminded me of GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday in that regard (also a good book with a waffly ending). But I'll certainly read the next one in the series.

Since I've mentioned the Potter, I should mention that chapter 3 is 'The School for Wizards'. I don't think anyone, including JK, has ever claimed that the Potter books are original, but there's nothing wrong with that.

The map's a nice one, but not printed well across its two-page spread. I don't have to preserve it with a photo, because it's in several places online, not least on Ursula's own site.

It's been a while since I've managed to read a well-thought-of classic that I actually enjoyed, so that's nice.

Two good lines to close (both about shadow, as it happens, sounding a bit Eastern philosophically):
'Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light?' (p31)
'To light a candle is to cast a shadow . . .' (p48)
(Trilogy Edition, Penguin, 1979)

Thursday, 18 January 2007

stonehenge hospital

Interesting article by Simon Jenkins from The Guardian of Friday 1 December: 'Not a fortress, or a temple, or a calendar. Stonehenge was a hospital: The new archaeological theory as to why huge monoliths were dragged from Wales to Salisbury Plain is utterly convincing'.

We've been on the Preseli hills where the bluestones came from; an interesting place; the way the rocks split make them eminently usable, and if I remember rightly folk reckon that there are ones there which have been prepared for use but not taken anywhere. Some pics among these.

wet and windy city

On this day of high winds and 'scenes of terrible devastation', bad dad took his wee girl down to the South Bank and Hungerford Bridge to feel the wind and see the waves. It didn't seem that bad when we were out, and had no idea of the actual badness till we got home.

On a happier note, they've lifted the hosepipe ban.

I pity the fool

There are many good reasons to like James's blog, but the bonkers Mr T posts are the best.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

last.fm

I've been aware of last.fm for a while, but haven't signed up because I didn't fancy putting my laptop listening online, and thought that was the only way you could use it. But I've just discovered - and these probably aren't new functions - that you can do a guest radio station, just entering a name or two each time you visit and seeing what you get, and that you can listen to radio stations based on registered people's profiles. What I don't think you can do is say I want to hear tracks, or even one track, by a certain artist (you can hear 30s previews of tracks, as you can on sites like allmusic and amazon, and even that's proved helpful at times).

But those radio station options will do me for now - I got some good working music with three searches on Philip Glass, Penguin Cafe Orchestra and then Mike Oldfield. At home I may try one of Alex's Neighbours - since I, being slow of brain, can't work out yet how I can do Alex's (find a Neighbour's user page where presumably Alex will be listed as a Neighbour?) - and maybe I will hear some Phish.

more on 'the new totalitarians'

Alex has posted a thoughtful response to the Tobias Jones article I linked to below, my favourite sentence of which was 'Religion and the religious (though that should perhaps be Faith and the faithful) have done many good things and have provided comfort and guidance to many people the world over whatever their creed' (favourite because of the religion/faith bit).

I made a comment, the surely-avoidably-complicated core of which was, ' I think the interesting issue at the core of it is how a secular society without an externally-defined moral code (which is not to say without morals), but a moral code which places at its heart freedom and tolerance, handles groups within that society which have a moral code (externally-defined or otherwise) which it considers intolerant. And the bigger, philosophical issue of what constitutes, determines and defines morality where some kind of external definition (usually - always? - religious in nature) is not considered valid/justifiable.' A model of clarity, I'm sure you'll agree.

'further proof of shaken nerves and rattled brain'

- that was the splendid title of a review in 1 December's Guardian of a rather mixed Jerry Lee Lewis concert.

equivalent nation in gnp for each state in the usa

I was thinking just the other day about how individual states in the USA are as economically significant as whole other countries, and then just now, courtesy of one of Alex's links, I came across this map of the USA in which state names are replaced by names of countries with an equivalent GNP.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

waiting for the green man

As nations, Japan and Australia could hardly be more different. In 1989 at the funeral of Japan's last emperor, the centre of Tokyo was closed to traffic. But the citizens still waited for the green man before crossing the road. I had always assumed that Oz was the opposite, full of rebellious larrikins who didn't give a XXXX for rules and regulations. But word comes back from the cricket writers (I am indebted to the Telegraph here) that it has become a nanny state that makes the UK seem like Nevada (where the criminal code forbids murder, but little else).

In Brisbane anyone wearing eccentric dress was thrown out of the cricket ground (200 people altogether I'm told). A man with a trumpet was ejected. Shouting nationalistic sentiments, such as "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy" was also a cause for dismissal. A man who sneezed a few times was taken from his seat and warned not to come back until he had stopped. A shoe cleaning machine by the changing room carried a warning: "Beware of serious injury or death."

- Simon Hoggart, Saturday 2 December 2006.

At the Lord Mayor's Show in November a lot of the roads in the City were closed, but walking from the tube to our vantage point it was interesting how people did in general stick to the pavements and cross at the junctions (although I don't think people waited for the green man).

'john lennon's born-again phase'

I saw fairly recently on a Christian website a reference to John Lennon becoming a Christian for a short time during the Seventies, but it wasn't very convincingly referenced. But this article, "John Lennon's Born-Again Phase, an extract from a book by the reputable Steve Turner in the reputable Christianity Today, gives quite a detailed account. I see that older articles are subscription only, so this one will probably disappear behind that wall too, but it's too long to paste all of it here. Some pertinent paras:

This correspondence and his exposure to TV evangelism didn't appear to have any effect until he suddenly announced to close friends in the spring of 1977 that he'd become a born-again Christian. He had been particularly moved by the U.S. television premiere of Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, starring Robert Powell as Jesus, which NBC showed in two three-hour segments on Palm Sunday, April 3, 1977. A week later, on Easter day, he took Yoko and Sean to a local church service.

Over the following months he baffled those close to him by constantly praising "the Lord," writing Christian songs with titles like "Talking with Jesus" and "Amen" (the Lord's Prayer set to music), and trying to convert nonbelievers. He also called the prayer line of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson's program. The change in his life perturbed Yoko, who tried to talk him out of it. She reminded him of what he'd said about his vulnerability to strong religious leaders because of his emotionally deprived background. She knew that if the press found out about it they would have a field day with another John and Jesus story. John became antagonistic toward her, blaming her for practicing the dark arts and telling her that she couldn't see the truth because her eyes had been blinded by Satan.

...

Whatever happened in Tokyo, it marked the end of his personal interest in Jesus. "You Saved My Soul" said that he "nearly" fell for the TV preacher, but that Yoko "saved me from that suicide." So the salvation of the title refers to being saved from God, not by God. Yoko had again become the captain of his soul, the mistress of his destiny. Yet his life didn't improve. He sank into a depression, concerned that his creativity had deserted him and that he had no real purpose in life. The only real joy he experienced came from spending time with his son, Sean.

His life was out of his control. He worried about his health and his eyesight, about making the right investments with his money, about his personal safety. The only way out, as far as he could see, was to pay for the services of people who claimed to see into the future. But then, which ones could he trust? If the advice of the tarot card reader contradicted that of the astrologer, which should he follow? Instead of the freedom he wanted when he broke away from the Beatles, he was now completely enslaved. He couldn't travel anywhere without advice from a directionalist, do deals with anyone without knowing their star sign, or make plans for the future without consulting the I Ching.

...

Vacationing in Florida in the spring, he again watched Jesus of Nazareth on its by now regular Easter showing, but his reaction was completely different from the one he had had two years before. He kept joking that they should just get on with it and fast-forward to the crucifixion. Seaman, who was present with John's sons, Sean and Julian, recalled, "John began working himself up into a tirade against Christianity, saying that it had virtually destroyed what was left of pagan culture and spirituality in Europe-a great loss to civilization." He then announced that he was now a "born again pagan."

Monday, 15 January 2007

a poor distracted wretch, weary of his life

A programme we were watching, Numbers, one of our regular US detective series, made reference to someone being executed on the grounds of a false confession for starting the Great Fire of London, which didn't ring a bell with us, but Bethan found on the BBC site that it was true:

During the investigation a French Protestant watchmaker, Robert Hubert, confessed to having deliberately started the fire at the bakery with 23 conspirators. His colleagues claimed he was unbalanced and the details of his confession changed as flaws were continually unearthed. The Earl of Clarendon commented that 'Neither the judges, nor any present at the trial did believe him guilty; but that he was a poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it'. He was helped by a jury - that included three Farynors - and was hanged at Tyburn.

The Parliamentary committee reported in January 1667 that 'nothing hath yet been found to argue it to have been other than the hand of God upon us, a great wind, and the season so very dry'. Yet with Farynor declaring - as expected - that his ovens had been completely extinguished on the night in question, the committee was as widely believed as the Warren Report, and the cause of the fire became the grassy knoll of late seventeenth century conspiracy theorists.

the new totalitarians

Secular fundamentalists are the new totalitarians: Militant secularists like Richard Dawkins are taking their revenge on us believers for refusing to stay in the closet.
- interesting article in The Guardian of Saturday 6 January by Tobias Jones (who wrote a book I've meant to read but haven't on Italy).

better generation disappearing

As in some kind of science fiction plot involving a time travel mishap writing someone out of history, the past references to the one I once called my better generation (as opposed to my better half) are going to very gradually disappear as I migrate them over to another blog.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

soldiers' uniforms and loss of individualism

Gunpowder drill ... undoubtedly originated in a natural concern of musketeers ... not to wound each other while using their weapons. ... musketeers ranked in close order, especially in the early days when they scattered loose powder near to burning slow matches, threatened to set off a chain of accidental discharges unless all the men performed the many steps of loading, aiming and firing in exact unison. The musketry drill books - equivalents, in their way, of industrial safety manuals of a later age - which were widely printed from the early seventeenth century onward, divide the sequence into numerous precise actions - forty-seven in Maurice of Orange's drill book of 1607 - from the moment when the musketeer takes up his weapon to that when he pulls the trigger.

Still, the seventeenth-century musketeer was an individualist. He may not have chosen his moment to fire, but he probably chose his own target in the opposing ranks. By the eighteenth century, that freedom was disappearing. The musketeers of the royal regiments which had come into existence after the end of the Thirty Years' War ... were trained to aim not at a man but at the mass of the enemy; drill sergeants, carrying an otherwise obsolete half-pike, used it to knock the muzzles of the front rank's muskets to an equal level, so that when the order to fire was given, the bullets, in theory at least, departed at a uniform height above the ground to strike a simultaneious blow across the front of the rank opposite.

The soldier's loss of individualism was made manifest in numerous other ways. From the end of the seventeenth century he wore uniform clothing, as household servants did. The idea of uniform was indeed the same as that of livery. It marked its wearer out as someone in the servile employment of a master and, therefore, as a person of restricted rights and liberties. The sixteenth-century soldier gloried in the diversity of his raiment, often collected by looting; indeed , the Renaissance fashion of slashing the other garment to display the silks and velvets worn underneath had been adopted precisely to demonstrate that a soldier could take fine things as he pleased and wear them with impunity. Their leaders indulged them. 'It was argued that soldiers should be free to choose their own clothes . . . they were thought more likely to fight bravely and cheerfully that way.' Eighteenth-century soldiers were expected to fight not cheerfully but dutifully and on command; to enforce discipline, officers treated their men with a harshness that neither the free pikemen nor the mercenaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have tolerated. They had accepted hanging or disfigurement as the arbitrary penalty for mutiny or murder, but they would not have accepted the regime of statutory flogging or casual beating by which the liveried military servants of the dynastic monarchies were kept in order.

... in Prussia and Russia, where the peasantry was widely enserfed from the seventeenth century onward, outright compulsion applied. Though its organisers might have denied it, we can recognise this as a military slave system, close in character to that of the Ottoman janissary force, recruited by levy and kept in obedience by harsh discipline and an almosts complete denial of civil rights to its members. The style of fighting it practised, that of stereotyped, almost mechanical drill-movements performed in serried ranks, exactly reflected the surrender of individuality its members had undergone.

- p342-343, History of Warfare, John Keegan

to your scattered bodies go

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Philip Jose Farmer, last on that list of top 50 SF/F, courtesy of alphabet. Got it at Tlon on New Year's Eve Eve - I wasn't going to go in, but on my way back home from Tesco's, laden with stuff needed after holiday and before New Year's Day, the owner signalled me to come in, and it seemed churlish to refuse. He gave me a happy new year plastic cup of red wine, and it seemed ditto. So I had a look round while I drank it, and I bought the book, which I'd seen before, and got 50p off so only £1.50.

It sets up a very elaborate context in concept and cast, but is a strangely pointless and cold book - it doesn't really make you care or put any effort into working out what's behind it all and what's going on, or care for any of the characters. I'll not be reading any more of the 'magnificent Riverworld saga'. I haven't liked the little other of his I've read.

on judges 6:30-32

[''The men of the town demanded of Joash, "Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal's altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it." But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, "Are you going to plead Baal's cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar." So that day they called Gideon "Jerub-Baal," saying, "Let Baal contend with him," because he broke down Baal's altar.']

Their enquiries soon implicated Gideon (a secret known to ten men is no secret) and this led to the demand for his death, a suggestion which was met by the sound common sense of Joash. *If* Baal was a real god it was an insult worthy of death to intervene on his behalf (31); a god who was really God could vindicate Himself, without the necessity for human interference. If this advice had been followed by the devotees of the world's religions, not excepting many who claimed to be Christians, the world would have been spared a great deal of torture, bloodshed and untold misery.
- Arthur E Cundall, IVP Tyndale OT Commentary on Judges

cs lewis quote

David quoted from a CS Lewis letter this morning, which reminded me how clearly he wrote (he also quoted a striking passage from Douglas Coupland's Life After God). Then reading last June's Monthly Record this afternoon (yes, doing a bit of catching up), David Robertson also quoted from CS Lewis in an article. The quote, from God in the Dock, is:

'I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by this than by any directly apologetic work. The diffficulty we are up against is this. We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.'

- I've got a shelf-full of CS Lewis, most of which I've read. The ones I've read most recently I didn't like so much; I did wonder if it was because CSL was more 'for me' when I was a student and less so now, but it's perhaps more likely that I've been mopping up the lesser material latterly. I do have a big volume of letters to Arthur Greeves which I should plunge into some day; and other letters would probably be good (I'm not sure what there is now; I read a volume of letters to children a long time ago. Mine are mostly the little yellow Fontana paperbacks, and I've certainly seen a new series of collected works in fewer, fatter volumes in bookshops).

I'm working my way through Douglas Coupland also, who I like a lot.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

the cuming museum

The morning we saw The Snowman, a week last Thursday, we went, for the first time since it moved to its new location in the council building next to the library building where it was before, the Cuming Museum. Still can't do a proper visit with M, but it looks nicely set up. We'd originally intended to go some time before Christmas, after a library visit, but she had been naughty (I think running out of the library building onto the street and around the corner) so we didn't go, and she complained all the way home that she wanted to go to the museum. I'm not sure how much longer not taking her to a museum will constitute a punishment. Well, we can dream.

russian winter festival; npg

We went up to Trafalgar Square this afternoon for the Russian Winter Festival; it was too busy for us really, seemed like everyone Russian in London was there. We didn't even go down into the Square proper to see what stalls were down there, rather than at the top and the side. We caught a snatch of what appeared to be quite a popular Russian boy band doing their well-received bit on the stage.

We went into the National Portrait Gallery instead; Bethan visited the Photographic Portrait Prize 2006 exhibition, while I trailed around with herself upstairs. For a little while we sat on a bench and did questions and answers about the painting we were sitting in front of (I had no idea, but pulled up the list of 'family portraits' on the website, and this was No2 of 389, for some reason) - it was interesting doing that, as it made me pay attention to details that I probably wouldn't have otherwise noticed, like the carpet and the fact that the middle child is actually sitting on a chair; most of the time she was running away from me shouting 'can't catch me I'm the gingerbread man', which was a new thing. Reminding her of the sticky end to which the gingerbread man came made no difference.

We'd have stayed out longer, but she was being quite uncooperative; she's in a big running away phase at the moment.

Friday, 12 January 2007

the queen's birthplace

Learnt from Jeremy Beadle's Today's The Day that the Queen was born in 17 Bruton Street, here; there's an office building on the site now. I'm not entirely sure why I find this interesting.

the phoney war of Christmas

Three articles from the Guardian of 8 December 2006 on the issue of how Christmas should or shouldn't be celebrated in a secular and multicultural society.

'Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, last night accused "illiberal atheists and aggressive secularists" of trying to remove the Christian symbols of Christmas from public life.'

The phoney war on Christmas - Luton council, we are told, has banned people from celebrating Christmas. Birmingham has renamed the season Winterval. A Reading man has been told to take his decorations down. There's only one problem with the 'PC campaign' against Christmas - it's pure nonsense. By Oliver Burkeman.

Mark Lawson - Despite the general view that the US is the global brand-leader in cultural sensitivity, it struck me, having visited the States during many Decembers, that the momentum is the opposite of Britain's: this year, America seems to be celebrating Christmas more lengthily and aggressively than ever. The contrast between the two countries this month raises the question of how this at least theoretically religious festival should be marked in times when religion is contentious. The attempt to reduce celebrations in Britain resulted from a liberal fear that making too much fuss about these winter days off is a form of Christian cultural triumphalism.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

bits and pieces from today

In the morning, me sitting on the sofa, a squirrel darting about in the garden, The Lark Ascending on Radio 3 - a rural idyll in Elephant and Castle. If I'd been reading a good book instead of working on my laptop it would all have been very good. My first time at home while herself was in nursery. For the first few weeks I'll be using this newly-freed time by working, alas.

In the afternoon, sitting in the Bramah Museum tea room, with coffee and cake and someone playing the piano; no book, but M - not so very bad.

On the way from the tea shop to the bus, popped our heads into the Hop Exchange, along the road, for the first time and saw the fine atrium.

Before the tea shop we'd been to the Cathedral and Borough Market, each for the umpteenth time. At the former, for the first time, I noticed at the back the wooden bosses on display from the old wooden roof. A volunteer steward, a lady from Ardrossan, said she'd been told not to point it out to children for fear of frightening them, but she showed M the boss with the devil eating Judas Iscariot; I'm not sure what M made of it. She lifted M up to see into the font too.

wannabe househusband

- I thought you'd wiped this table?
- I did.
- You wiped the bits you could see. That's the difference between a househusband and a wannabe househusband.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

four greatest hits CDs

Beta Band, Darts, Jam, Showaddywaddy. Cheap, one way or another.

Beta Band confirmed that critically acclaimed doesn't always mean any good. It shows how subjective taste in music is, especially people's voices. To me they were wholly unremarkable.

Jam pretty much as I expected; I thought I might hear something I liked in the songs I hadn't heard, but I didn't. I'll hear Eton Rifles and Going Underground often enough on the radio not to need them on CD. Smithers-Jones, the Bruce Foxton song, is my favourite, although I can't listen to it without thinking of Roddy's song over the top of it ('stop off at the coffee pot to buy the victor' and so on). (Roddy did tapes of himself singing funny lyrics over other songs, a lower-tech version of what The Guireans (locally) and Weird Al (internationally) do.)

Showaddywaddy were pretty ropey, not as good as I remember, although they were primarily the memories of quite a small boy. Musically, and especially vocally, they were pretty rough. Not sure whether they were cynical bandwagonjumpers or lucky rightplacerighttimers. (Under the Moon of Love was evocative of my childhood in a non-specific way, and I still liked it, but I'm sure I'll pick that up on a compilation sometime. Their version of Three Steps to Heaven for some reason makes me think of being on the grass outside the back of the Free Church manse with Neil.)

The Darts CD stood the test of time, and is the only one I'll keep. Had the advantage over Showaddywaddy of having good songwriters and very good singers. There's a heart and soul about it. In fact they've recently released a new remastered double CD best of set.

a library in baghdad

The British Library website is full of fascinating stuff, but this diary by the Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive is striking

the macdonald archive

Another lesson I'm learning is that I don't have to be anybody else's archivist. I don't need to keep old magazines or periodicals or newspaper columns. The internet is very freeing in this respect - everyone's putting more and more of their material onto it, both current and historical. Spring clean ahoy? Well, having a child certainly introduces a lot more stuff to make room for. What an inconvenience.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

cnip wheelhouse

An interesting review in the Free Press by Roger Hutchinson of Ian Armit's report on the Cnip Wheelhouse excavation this week. Even though the review's not online (the Free Press's web policy is a bit impenetrable as to what's there or not), instead of saving the cutting, I can link to places like this, this, this and this, which lead you further down the various archaeological paths of the Western Isles.

The internet's certainly cutting down the amount of torn out bits of paper I have knocking about the house - except for the pile of stuff I have waiting to be noted.

Monday, 8 January 2007

dick whittington

On Saturday afternoon we all went to see Dick Whittington at The Barbican.

It's had mixed reviews, but it wasn't too bad. Sam Kelly was easily the best, very comfortable, old school. Roger Lloyd-Pack as the dame had bad reviews in particular; he was alright, but I think the laconic, slow, underplayed delivery that he's known for came across as a bit self-conscious and awkward in this part. We couldn't make out a lot of the song words, and some of the spoken words, but that may have been where we were sitting and certainly in the latter case audience noise was a factor (it's a peculiar form where some lines are written in the knowledge that no one will hear them because when you're saying them they'll all be shouting 'behind you!' or similar). It was written by Mark Ravenhill; coyly, and appropriately, the programme spoke of the play which made his name but didn't name it. Some of the entendres were barely double, but probably many things I watched in my own childhood were like that and simply went over my head.

The two funniest things were: shipwrecked on the coast of Morocco, fearful of the monster which lives there and wondering what to do, kids shout (presumably) suggestions, and RLP decrees that they will go and sit on 'that new piece of scenery and sing a song'. A lone small voice rings out from the audience, 'That's not going to help!'

And the last line, again RLP: 'If you've enjoyed the show, tell your friends; if you haven't, then this is the Old Vic and I'm Sir Ian McKellen.'

Some reviews; the Telegraph's is the most favourable, the Independent's' the least, the FT's has the best line ("Oh yes I will. Oh no you won’t. “The debate will continue,” wrote Martin Hoyle when reviewing a pantomime in these pages some years ago"), and several remark on the key thing which is that the audience seems to be having a very good time, which was certainly true when we were there. The Guardian. The Independent. The Times. The Daily Telegraph. The Financial Times.

And credit to London Theatre Guide, who saved me much searching, not for the first time, by linking to the five reviews above. Theatremonkey is also an excellent site, not so much for the reviews as the very detailed guides to the qualities of the various seats in London theatres, and I often check it out before buying tickets, as I did for this and The Snowman.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

ff bruce 'message of the nt' quotes

Mark is probably indebted to Paul [Romans 10:15 has just been referenced] for his distinctive use of the term 'gospel'. While Mark and Matthew use the word to refer to the message which Jesus preached, Mark is the only one of the four evangelists who describes the story of Jesus itself as 'the gospel'.
- p15

The tradition as Mark received it did not consist only of isolated units - incidents from Jesus' life and teaching. Some of them had already been arranged in some order. The main outlines of the passion narrative, in particular, had been fixed for quite a long time. The narrative was related time and again in public preaching: Paul, for example, says that 'Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified' before the eyes of the Galatians (Gal 3:1). It was repeated in every communion service: 'as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup', Paul writes to the church in Corinth, 'you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes' (1 Cor 11:26) - and he probably means that the taking of the bread and the cup was accompanied by a spoken passion narrative, not just that it constituted in itself an acted proclamation of the passion.
- p16-17

[Paul's] surviving letters come from the second half of his apostolic ministry: he had been a Christian for at least fifteen years when the earliest of them was penned. Thirteen letters in the New Testament are superscribed with his name, but their conventional arrangement bears but little relation to their chronological sequence. In the conventional sequence, letters addressed to churches precede letters addressed to individuals, and within each of these two categories the letters are arranged (with one minor exception - Galatians, although slightly shorter than Ephesians, precedes it) in descending order of length.
- p23

Paul's letters are all 'occasional' documents in the sense that each of them was addressed to a particular situation. None of them was written primarily as a systematic exposition of doctrine - not even that to the Romans, although it approaches more nearly to such an exposition than any of the others. This means that each letter emphasizes those elements in Paul's teaching that were specially relevant to its particular occasion; sometimes, indeed, this or that phase of his teaching may have acquired its form under the influence of the situation addressed.
- p24

When we speak of Paul as mediating the message of Jesus to the Gentile world, the question is immediately raised whether Paul's teaching is a faithful representation of that message or a perversion of it. There is a superstition, widely held and fondly cherished, that the original teaching of Jesus, a message of sweetness and light, was transformed by Paul into a dark, rigid creed, imposed on his converts with fearful sanctions. It is a superstition, because it is maintained in the teeth of the evidence of Paul's own writings, which points to a very different conclusion.
There are, of course differences between Jesus and Paul. Paul was not the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. On the plane of human experience Jesus and Paul, while both Jews, differed in birth and upbringing, in education, in environment, in temperament, in idiom. As for temperament, Paul may beseech his Corinthian friends 'by the meekness and gentleness of Christ' (2 Cor 10:1), but these were not qualities which came to Paul naturally. As for idiom, we have only to compare the luminosity of Jesus' parabolic teaching with Paul's parable of the olive tree (Rom 11:17-24) or his allegory of Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4:21-31) to realize that Paul's strength lay in straight, unmetaphorical argument.
- p24-25

- FF Bruce, The Message of the New Testament; Paternoster, 1972

Saturday, 6 January 2007

after the thin man

This evening started on one of my two favourite presents this Christmas - a box set of Thin Man DVDs from Bethan (the other being a framed photo of Chris and M out in his boat when we were up in the summer) - by watching the second of the films, After the Thin Man, which was quite good and which came with a Robert Benchley short and a cartoon.

And while I'm linking to Google Image searches on actresses, I was struck tonight by how Myrna Loy reminded me of that woman in that sitcom which I never watched (so how do I know what she looks like?)... hang on... Will and Grace... Debra Messing, apparently, who had only previously reminded me of Lucille Ball. Of course the Images search pics of Debra look nothing like either Myrna or Lucille. And I'm too young to be making such associations anyway, surely.

quote on judges

Usually when bits are underlined in books you've bought second-hand, you read the bits and wonder why anyone thought they were worth underlining. This, from my Tyndale commentary on Judges by Arthur Cundall (p67), I can see the point of: 'Joshua, and true men of God of all the ages, are the salt of the earth, staying corruption and ensuring purity. But each generation must enter into its own living religious experience; it cannot continue in the spiritual strength of its past heroes.'

Friday, 5 January 2007

ugly betty and the truth about cats and dogs

Ugly Betty would be a bit more interesting if they'd cast a genuinely at-least-plain actress to play Ugly Betty rather than America Ferrera.

Ashley Jensen, who coincidentally is also in Ugly Betty, well done her, was also in an episode of Extras in which you were required to accept that she was much less attractive than someone she was clearly more attractive than.

And the most significant of many things wrong with The Truth About Cats and Dogs was that it required you to accept that Janeane Garofalo was much uglier than Uma Thurman, whereas she is of course better looking.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

new blogger

The new Blogger has been upgraded from beta, so I'm over on that now (although it won't let me go over for my work one yet for some reason), which involves having to register with Google, who now own Blogger. Among other things the new version gives you the option of having a blog viewable by invited readers only, which I'm not sure you could do before (although your lucky readers have to register with Google to achieve this). I might move the M updates into a private blog. Although doubtless that won't stop thirteen year old girls ten years hence tracking down posts about potty training, in between gadding about in their jet packs.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

impossible to overunderestimate

It's striking how often people say things like 'it's impossible to underestimate' something when they mean overestimate, and vice versa.

have yourself a merry little christmas

I always thought Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas was a peculiarly gloomy Christmas song -

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow.
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

- and here's an interesting article on it from good old Wikipedia.

US spelling

When I was a lad I'm pretty sure UK editions of US books all had UK spellings, but more and more of the time now they don't seem to bother. Ah, modern times.

tales from planet earth

I've not been that fussy about the Arthur C Clarke I've read, including Tales from Planet Earth, which I've just finished, and which I bought secondhand largely because of this little exchange kicked off in the introduction by Isaac Asimov:
- Last year a plane crashed in Iowa and roughly half the passengers were killed while half survived. It turned out that one of the survivors had kept calm during the perilous attempts to land by reading an Arthur C Clarke novel and this was reported in a news article.
- Arthur, as is his wont, promptly Xeroxed five million copies of the article and sent one to everyone he knew or ever heard of. I got one of them and at the bottom of the copy he sent to me, he wrote in his handwriting, 'What a pity he didn't read one of your novels. He would have slept through the whole wretched ordeal.'
- It was the work of a moment to send Arthur a letter which said, 'On the contrary, the reason he was reading your novel was that if the plane did crash, death would come as a blessed release.'

Arthur C Clarke responds:
- As he says, I'm the writer who most resembles him. To repeat a remark I made before, we're both almost as good as we *think* we are.
- One minor correction: I didn't send out five million copies of the Time article Isaac refers to. I sent only one - to Isaac himself, knowing full well that he would pass on the news to the rest of the world.

In the introduction to another story, ACC says, 'In recent years, the total absence of any genuine evidence for life elsewhere has prompted a number of scientists to argue that intelligence is very rare in the universe. Some (such as Frank Tipler) have gone so far as to argue that we are completely alone - a proposition which can never be proved, but only disproved. (Wasn't it Pogo who said "Either way, it's a staggering thought"?)'

And in another: 'I don't think I yet qualify for the cheeky description that appeared recently in an essay deploring the sad state of modern science fiction: "those famous undead - Clarke and Asimov."
'Needless to say, I gleefully sent this to my fellow Transylvanian, with the comment "Well, that's a lot better than the alternative."'

yorkshire puddings and shrewsbury abbey crib service

The Friday before our Christmas holiday I had my first ever stab at Yorkshire puddings. They looked unlike any Yorkshire pudding I'd ever had before, but they were okay. A more notable first was on Christmas Eve, when BM&I went to a crib service in Shrewsbury Abbey. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but it wasn't bad at all - a service of carols and readings, with a couple of helpful references forward to Easter and why Jesus came. Some of the Abbey building does date back to the 11th century and the fictional Brother Cadfael's time, although we didn't have much opportunity to look around; I was there once before on a much earlier visit to Shrewsbury. I never made it to the Cadfael Experience, which obviously didn't get enough tourist trade to survive for very long.

Monday, 1 January 2007

guy goma

I don't know about quote of the year, but the expression of the year was on Guy Goma's face when he was thrust into a BBC News 24 studio and interviewed on live TV about the Apple v Apple court case result, when he had just been sitting in reception waiting to be called for an unconnected job interview.

the pace of success

I am disappointed by the pace of success.
- George Bush on the war in Iraq, quoted in 30 Dec 2006 Guardian's Quotes of the Year section

chinnor

We've stopped in Chinnor once before on the way home on the M40, just on the edge of the Chilterns - tempted by the possibility of a non-service station place to eat by a couple of local tourist attractions nearby on the map, we missed the attractions but found a nice community centre cafe (it was the Saturday of one of England's world cup group matches, on the way back from Montgomery); we saw the sign to the steam railway that we'd missed on the way back to the motorway.

This Saturday on our way home we were going to go into earlier services, but the queue was out onto the slip road (the previous Saturday - Christmas eve eve - on the way up we stopped at the busiest service station we'd ever been in, and ended up, like many others, getting sandwiches and eating them in the car) and decided to go on to Chinnor despite the possibility that nothing there might be open with it being New Year's Eve Eve.

We went to the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway, seeing an enormous number of red kites on the way, and found it not only open but with a steam train about to set off and a platform cafe in an old railway carriage. Two of my finest motorway lunch stops ever have now been in Chinnor.

Here's Chinnor on Wikipedia - Adam Clayton was born there! - and their own village website, plus something on the Chiltern's red kites.

syd barrett and limitless possibilities

I saw a documentary about Syd Barrett sometime after his death and one of his artist friends made a comment about his post-Floyd lifestyle which was interesting (it was so familiar that I thought I must have seen the documentary before, or heard someone else say it, but it could have been that I saw a similar quote from the same person in an article about him. He said Syd would lie in bed and do nothing all day, and he thought the reason was this: there was an infinite range of possible things he could do, creatively, but as soon as he took any decisions or steps in one direction that would narrow his range of options, so he would end up choosing the option of maintaining that range of possible options but, in doing so, achieving nothing.

I can understand that. I can also understand the opposite approach where you overcome this by deliberately restricting your range of creative options with a self-imposed rule or set of rules to spark creativity and activity by focussing your mind. Novels written without using a particular letter, for example, although that's a bit too stunt-like I think. Maybe this will be the year in which I write my great vowelless masterpiece. Hppy Nw Yr.

(I heard Robyn Hitchcock on a Word podcast saying (more sympathetically than this) that most musicians have a number of moments of great inspiration and creativity spread across their career, but all of Syd's were at the start, and there was nothing left to come out.)