Wednesday, 31 December 2008


We had a day at the museums today. Geffrye Museum in the morning, then after lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant next door, the others went to the Museum of London and I went to the Imperial War Museum to the D-Day exhibition, which according to their enewsletter (but nothing on site) is ending in a few days.

In the D-Day exhibition, and heard a dad explaining to his son that this was the story which should be familiar to him from Medal of Honor. Interesting to read that the Admiralty in 1942 asked people to send in their postcards and photographs from holidays in Europe to help them prepare for the hoped-for invasion, and made copies of hundreds of thousands of images sent in. They had some snapshots and postcards there, and you looked at them very differently, looking past the young women on the beach posing for the camera at the shape of the headland behind them. And to read of the Methodist chaplain, first chaplain over I think, Leslie Skinner I think, who made it his business to find all of his body of men who had fallen and have them buried; there was his notebook in which he drew little maps with grid refs of where the temporary burials were so that they could be reinterred properly later, and there was, in his communion set suitcase, a collection of sweet and cigarette tins in which he kept the personal effects of those men (I'm not sure if it was one tin per man).

It's interesting how much museums and history have moved from the big picture delivered by a voice of authority, anonymous or otherwise, to incorporating up front so much raw source material from individuals involved. You need both, of course, really. The most evocative things in the exhibition for me were the letters and diaries - one little diary open at the pages where the soldier had written his tiny daily accounts of the early days of the invasion.

The most interesting thing I saw at the Geffrye Museum was a facsimile of The London Chronicle from something like 1767, a small newspaper recognisable as the ancestor of today's, with opinion, comment, short facts and reports, and stories from London, the country and the world. Interesting to see a whole one rather than just a relevant extract, and it would be fascinating to be able to buy one and pore over it; of course, then as now, very London-centric, so reading about streets and so on still familiar to me today. (A lot of popular history books too have moved to being someone editing together first-hand contemporary records of various kinds, which are always interesting but sometimes you can be suspicious of whether you're getting the big picture right.)

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

is dab the new aps?

I'm starting to wonder if DAB is to radio what APS was to photography - a technological advance which was meant to be the great leap forward being swamped by a greater leap forward. Our digital radio in the kitchen is full of ghost stations which say 'not available' when you click on them, having bitten the dust, and other channels haven't really been coming along to replace them. I think it was David Hepworth who said that no one had really worked out how to make money from it.

BBC7 is the one I listen to most often, mostly for old comedy, which often gives you the opportunity to hear how much of the old stuff isn't funny or is spread very thin, however groundbreaking it might have been at the time. The Burkiss Way and The Navy Lark are deplorable; Hancock and the Hornes (Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken, and a Much Binding In The Marsh I heard for the first time) are tedious and thin (a little Kenneth Williams goes a long way; and it's patronising how you hear nowadays people talking about the sexual humour and slang they smuggled in and people didn't realise what they were laughing at; people knew exactly what they were laughing at). The Goons I always liked, but again the more you hear the less content there is to them, notwithstanding the groundbreaking sound effects. Frank Muir and Denis Norden, however, lived up to their reputation with Take It From Here, which I hadn't heard before and enjoyed. I also enjoyed hearing them on My Music, which I was surprised to hear from the 'first broadcast' dates was still being produced while I was in London; I think I'd never heard it on the radio, only seen it on the telly in secondary years; strange to remember that during those years I read the autobiographies of Ian Wallace, which made me like him more, and Steve Race, which made me like him less. I've had Frank Muir's on my shelf for a few years now, and I think Denis has recently written his (although I remember a few years ago he said he felt that writing one would be superfluous as Frank had already done it, in effect). The only old radio comedy I remember hearing in school days - I think around noon on Sundays, when my father was out in church - were The Goons and I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again. Hitchhiker's notwithstanding, not much of the evening/contemporary comedy was appointment listening.

There was another speech digital station, Oneword, which bit the dust, despite being taken over latterly by Channel Four, whose digital radio plans seem to have come to nothing. They had quite a good film review programme which I managed to hear quite often, but most of the rest of it was broken-up chunks of long talking books, without any 'story so far' recaps or such; very much on the cheap.

Online radio, whether authored or user-generated, seems to go from strength to strength, however. The threefold barrier is I guess finding the stations you might like in the first place out of the thousands available, having to be internet-literate to use them, and having to listen to them on a computer rather than a radio. The person who designs an internet radio which looks and feels like a radio rather than a computer, which can filter on, say, general popularity and personal preferences (perhaps built-in presets - although scanning the radio dial isn't an alien concept to the pre-digital user), which people of all ages and technological ability will use in their kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, will make a lot of money.

enjoying the moment

Some people find it hard to fully enjoy whatever it is their doing at that moment, however enjoyable, because of the knowledge of all of the many other equally enjoyable things they could be doing at that moment but aren't.

Monday, 29 December 2008

'I don't want to die'

Whoever replaces the metropolitan commissioner will inherit a youth knife crime wave that neither metal detectors, stop and search operations, "Broken Britain" headlines or mourning relatives' marches seemed able to arrest. By December 1, 66 teenagers in Britain had met a violent death this year, more than two-thirds of them by a knife, and almost half in London. Accounts of the murders became so routinely gruesome, it seemed scarcely credible that they could involve children, but in the details there could be terrible reminders. Witnesses to one 16-year-old stab victim relayed his dying words: "I don't want to die. I want my mum."
- extract from the 2008 Review in the Guardian of Saturday 27 December

Friday, 19 December 2008

science myths debunked

When it comes to wrapping up on a cold winter's day, a cosy hat is obligatory. After all, most of our body heat is lost through our heads – or so we are led to believe

Closer inspection of heat loss in the hatless, however, reveals the claim to be nonsense, say scientists who have dispelled this and five other modern myths.

They traced the origins of the hat-wearing advice back to a US army survival manual from 1970 which strongly recommended covering the head when it is cold, since "40 to 45 percent of body heat" is lost from the head.

Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll, at the centre for health policy at Indiana University in Indianapolis, rubbish the claim in the British Medical Journal this week. If this were true, they say, humans would be just as cold if they went without a hat as if they went without trousers. "Patently, this is just not the case," they write.

The myth is thought to have arisen through a flawed interpretation of a vaguely scientific experiment by the US military in the 1950s. In those studies, volunteers were dressed in Arctic survival suits and exposed to bitterly cold conditions. Because it was the only part of their bodies left uncovered, most of their heat was lost through their heads.

The face, head and chest are more sensitive to changes in temperature than the rest of the body, making it feel as if covering them up does more to prevent heat loss. In fact, covering one part of the body has as much effect as covering any other. If the experiment had been performed with people wearing only swimming trunks, they would have lost no more than 10% of their body heat through their heads, the scientists add.

The researchers then decided to look at several other widely held beliefs to see if there was any published scientific evidence to support them. In many cases, they found several studies that completely undermined them. "Examining common medical myths reminds us to be aware of when evidence supports our advice, and when we operate based on unexamined beliefs," they write.

Another myth exposed by the study was that sugar makes children hyperactive. At least a dozen high-quality studies have investigated the possibility of a link between children's behaviour and sugar intake, but none has found any difference between children who consumed a lot and those who did not. The belief appears mostly to be a figment of parents' imaginations. "When parents think their children have been given a drink containing sugar, even if it is really sugar-free, they rate their children's behaviour as more hyperactive," the researchers write.

The warning that snacking at night makes you fat is on similarly thin ice, Vreeman and Carroll discovered. At first glance, some research suggests there may be a link, with one study showing that obese women tended to eat later in the day than slimmer women. But according to the BMJ article, "The obese women were not just night eaters, they were also eating more meals, and taking in more calories makes you gain weight regardless of when calories are consumed."

The researchers also have some unwelcome news for those hoping to survive the festive excesses by turning to hangover cures. After an extensive review of evidence for the curative benefits of bananas, aspirin, vegemite, fructose, glucose, artichoke, prickly pear and the drugs tropisetron and tolfenamic acid, they conclude that none has been proven to cure hangovers. "No scientific evidence ... supports any cure or effective prevention for alcohol hangovers," they state. "The most effective way to avoid a hangover is to consume alcohol only in moderation or not at all."

The team went on to show that contrary to popular belief, the Christmas plant poinsettia with it blood-red leaves is not toxic, and that suicides do not rise over the holiday period.

- A story in yesterday's Guardian


Poor Woolies. No shortage of coverage of their demise to link to. Hard to imagine it's biting the dust, just barely making it into their centenary year. I grew up with Woolies of course, as the only 'department store' in town, although I associate it most with buying music, and I guess it will still be particularly missed in town. In our shopping centre here the Clark's factory shoe shop has just been replaced by a 99p store, which will have more of an impact on Pricebusters than it would have had on Woolies, although I guess Woolies really started as the olden equivalent of the £1 store, the five and ten cent store. We shopped pretty regularly in the Woolies here, and we will miss it; I was in yesterday, getting what may turn out to be some final bargains, but it gave me no pleasure to do so; I'd much rather still have Woolies there in the New Year. The ladies on the till yesterday were saying that for the second day running no managers had come in to work, and that one had left last week and took with them the money for their supposed Christmas do. They said there had been bad management, not sure if they meant the company as a whole or just this one. Woolies employs twenty-eight thousand people, according to the Guardian, who will probably all be out of work in a week or two.

With the proposed redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle, there have been changes and uncertainty in the whole shopping centre. Tlon was repossessed again a few months ago, but it actually went through this time, and all the books and fittings were removed about a month ago. It's certainly had an impact on my spending on second-hand books. I get most of my books on holiday now, in charity shops and secondhand bookshops.

barack's birthplace

Why the stories about Obama's birth certificate will never die: Barack Obama was, without question, born in the U.S., and he is eligible to be president, but experts on conspiracy theories say that won't ever matter to those who believe otherwise.
- interesting article from Salon of 5 December, on a conspiracy theory and the way such theorists think. Here's a related article from the 9th.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

a spy in the house of narnia

A spy in the house of Narnia: Salon's Laura Miller on how the imaginative world of C.S. Lewis inspired her love of reading, as well as her career as a critic.
- interesting article in Salon of 6 December on the Narnia books by someone who didn't realise there was Christian content, and was rather disappointed when she found there was. I likewise didn't realise there was anything of that nature going on until the very end of the last book. But as she says, the books work very much in their own right, not just as an allegory.

bbc iplayer

Today's TechnologyGuardian supplement says that the BBC iPlayer is already taking up 10% of UK network traffic.

celeb autobiogs

Two years ago, at a publisher's Christmas party, I asked an editor the traditional question: what were the big books coming up? Making the face of a supermodel chewing kangaroo gonads on reality TV, he confided that because the Christmas hit that year was the autobiography of Peter Kay - selling quicker than mince pies despite the comedian's reluctance to do much publicity - future planning now involved ringing showbiz agents and asking whether their biggest clients had ever thought of doing a book.

Essentially, he explained, the view was that any major entertainer would suffice, but Kay's title had done so well because he was essentially likable and his book optimistic. So the premium signings were personalities perceived as cheerful, humorous, down-to-earth.

"Like who?" I wondered.

"Oh, Julie Walters, obviously. One publisher is convinced that Dawn French is the female Peter Kay. Paul O'Grady, possibly. His show is in that Richard and Judy slot, which we already know sells books."

If he is at the party this year, it might be sensible to get his views on the 2009 Grand National, such was his prophetic brilliance. Throughout this autumn, at least seven or eight of the Sunday Times non-fiction top 10 have been memoirs by television faces. Two weeks ago, Julie Walters jumped over Dawn French to claim the No 1 slot from Paul O'Grady; this week, he vaulted back to the top. By Christmas, the autobiographies of those three entertainers are likely to have sold 1.5m copies between them, with Michael Parkinson heading past 300,000 and Alan Carr chasing fast.

What began as a desperate, Kay-imitating gamble has become a real cultural phenomenon.
- Mark Lawson in today's Guardian; unusually, I'm linking to Guardian clippings on the day. The current Private Eye gives a good review to Paul O'Grady's book, which is surprising because their book pages almost never carry positive book reviews (a fact which the review itself makes reference to).

the baghdad clogger and the smell of bacon

"Strange and unprofessional" was how the head of the Iraqi journalists' union described the actions of the colleague who threw his shoe at George Bush. That's delicately put, and errs, rightly, on the side of indulgence. Ordinarily it would be difficult for a journalist to defend throwing shoes at an interviewee. It casts doubts on your objectivity. Besides, if all journalists went to press conferences and chucked their shoes at anyone who annoyed them, press conferences would become harder and harder to organise.
Much scoffing, ho ho, at news that Burger King is marketing its own body-spray, Flame, which it describes as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat". Personally, I'd prefer to wear the mingled scent of fish and molasses that I get from the Colonel's Original Recipe chicken, but chacun à son goût
It's not such a silly idea, anyway. According to Tania Sanchez, co-author of a fine recent book on perfumes: "The question that women casually shopping for perfume ask more than any other is this: 'What scent drives men wild?' After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer. It is bacon."
- two bits from Sam Leith's column in today's Guardian


The fight for a Hallelujah Christmas victory: X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's version of Hallelujah will be No 1 at Christmas - unless outraged Jeff Buckley fans can sabotage it
- Times, 18 December. I don't like the song at all, especially the overblown versions.

Best bit:
What might assault their [the Jeff Buckley fans] sensibilities even more is the revelation that Simon Cowell is just like them: he loves their beloved Buckley version, too. On a previous series of American Idol (the US equivalent of X Factor), Hallelujah was covered by a dreadlocked contestant called Jason Castro. From his judge's seat, Cowell said: “The Jeff Buckley version of that song is one of my favourite songs of all time.” Castro's performance, and the downloads it prompted, persuaded Cowell to use the song this year in The X Factor. Cowell himself is in Barbados now, relaxing. But his fellow judge Louis Walsh called from Ireland yesterday and revealed that he, too, is a diehard Hallelujah lover. “I have ten versions of it on my iPod - I particularly love kd lang's version. Everybody says Jeff Buckley's is the best version but I prefer Cohen's. Rufus's is OK, too.”

word podcast 70

The Word podcast is always better when Mark Ellen's on it. Three bits from podcast 70.

He told an old joke about a Yorkshire man who was ordering a gravestone for his late wife. Being religious folk, he wanted it to say 'She was thine'. When he came back to collect, he saw that the inscription had been done wrong and that it read 'She was thin'. He said, 'Look, you've missed the E off. I'll come back again to collect it when you've fixed it.' When he came back, he found that the inscription now read, 'Eee, she was thin.'

He asked Matt Hall, who'd recently moved out of London and was now commuting in: 'What's it like in the country? Is it damp?'

He was at a dinner party with Peter Mandelson and while Mark was in the middle of talking Mr Mandelson said 'I must go pee-pee', got up and went out.

They also talked about 8-tracks, the precursor of the cassette which cassettes killed. The only person I remember having one was Ryno in his car. In my youth, I always puzzled as to why anyone would want to buy an 8-track version of an album instead of buying a version with all the tracks on it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

hamlet - tnt production

I saw a matinee of a touring production of Hamlet, by TNT, at the Drill Hall, this afternoon; only on this afternoon and this evening (I only came across it by doing a speculative search on the Time Out website, which I do from time to time), and I couldn't go this evening and had holiday to use up...

A good production, perhaps better than the White Bear all-woman version which was probably the previous best fringe version. (I was working out for someone at the weekend how many Hamlets I'd seen, and I think today's was my fifteenth.) There wasn't any information on the cast or production, but the woman on the desk took my details and said she'd send me some when they got it, which was kind.

A small cast, six or seven, with few props but a lot of singing and music by them; they started off by singing one of Ophelia's songs in harmony, which was a good way to get me onside. A lot of doubling, of course; the doubling of Polonius and the Gravedigger is one which makes sense both practically and characterally (eh?), as both are full of wordplay. The version of the text was one I've only seen bits of done before, I think, less poetic and more melodramatic, with more explication in the second half by both Gertrude and Claudius of what they're thinking (Gertrude over to Hamlet's side, Claudius rotten). I didn't recognise anybody, but found myself making too many comparisons - Horatio a cross between Russell Howard and Andy Kaufman, Claudius a cross between Jonathan Frakes and Bill Bailey, Gertrude just plain Marina Sirtis, Ophelia a young Caroline Aherne, Polonius Tony Haygarth, Hamlet a cross between Heath Ledger and the maths prodigy from Numbers.

Everyone was pretty good. Gertrude perhaps a bit too regal and formal, not expressing much love for either husband or son. Hamlet good, heavy on being upset and emotional and still grieving, perhaps not so good on the humour and lighter tone. Laertes more gentle than usual in the second half in particular, sense of being bundled into plotting Hamlet's murder without really having thought about it (they must have been childhood friends, of an age and close families in the court). Horatio doubled as the Player King and (as Laertes did) one of R&G, who were done quite well as identical silly varsity types. Claudius did an interesting job of cracking up slightly as the pressure got to him; especially interesting in the prayer scene, which is usually done pretty dry but here he was worked up, really stricken with guilt and conscience and a need and desire for forgiveness, which isn't often played as very genuine. Ophelia was pretty good. The reality of the existing romance is emphasised throughout, and the 'I never gave you any letters, get you to a nunnery' done pretty well as the petulance of spurned love; Ophelia wears Hamlet's coat in her mad scene, emphasising the relationship and the unbalance caused by her loved one murdering her father (which, whatever he says to Laertes later, he does deliberately and can't blame on his madness, even if he really is mad at that point, or indeed any point; he's just lying to Laertes there). The Ghost done interestingly in decaying grave clothes, which makes it more gruesome but doesn't fit with the descriptions of his appearance. The whole Fortinbras thing filleted out. Some of the final rapier fight pretty impressive stuff.

Not a point made in this production, but I did wonder if I've ever seen a version where Hamlet doesn't really want to kill Claudius when he finds him at prayer, hasn't the courage, and uses the 'I'll send his soul to heaven' thing as an excuse, a way out of having to do the deed.

The Drill Hall is presented as predominantly a gay venue, but I've been there quite a few times, particularly for BBC radio recordings. This is their page for this production, and this the cast info, don't know how long they will hang around.

I'll find other links later - I know there are reviews of the production, as I came across them but didn't want to read them before seeing it.


Watched most of a brief documentary about Survivors, the 1970s series which has recently been remade. I watched it the first time round - certainly all the first series. Looking at the dates, this means I was watching the first series aged 7 and 8, which surprised me. Before seeing the documentary, the bits I remembered most were the bit in the opening credits, when a businessman walking along rubs his forehead and then falls down, the bit where they take stuff from a supermarket and encounter people with shotguns who consider it's their supermarket, and the bit where the main man leaves the group, on horseback, along with a group of baddies, and gives a special farewell message to one of the ladies in a Scandinavian language, and she says to the others that he'd said that he had smallpox. One funny thing in the documentary was that they showed that the yellow Volvo estate used in the series was exactly the same one used in The Good Life.

Monday, 15 December 2008

nomura house

I passed Nomura House, near church, twice during the day two Thursdays ago, once past the back and then later past the front, and there were photographers outside both times. It was because of this news that Nomura were cutting up to a thousand jobs in London. A Google images search gives an interesting range of photos, including ones relating to this story plus a Flickr photo of the railings.

faraday memorial

A Google Images search for pictures of the Faraday Memorial leads to websites like these:
- a page on Risky Buildings, a site on 'buildings at risk' by the Twentieth Century Society which also lists a number of other London buildings, including my favourite London building, Battersea Power Station, and Milton Court on the edge of the Barbican estate, which we looked at a flat in when we were looking at flats in the Barbican, but I've a feeling they've knocked it down already.
- a page on Nothing To See Here blog, which details off-beat sights in an interesting and well-researched way, also including Postman's Park, the Bermondsey tank (which I haven't yet visited), the Catford prefab estate, the filled-in Grand Surrey Canal in Burgess Park (with a surviving bridge over it) and the 429 Strand defaced statues
- this page on freelance photographer Jason Cobb's blog...
- ... which is obviously related to this London blog which is linked from this Faraday page
- this set of photos on Flickr by Mark Dodds (aka a shadow of my future self)
- this set of pinhole camera photos by Joshua Jaeger
- this small info page on this E&C map-based blog site
- this page on the Cities of Science - London site
- this info page, with a view from the air, on the virtualglobetrotting site
- this article on the new Wansey St block
- and this Peter Ackroyd article on maps of London, which I think was linked from something else, rather than directly

Sunday, 14 December 2008


The Guardian Fiver of Friday 21 November directed readers to this YouTube clip thus: 'Staff at Wolves have had to rearrange brickwork in the crazy paving outside the club's Billy Wright Stand after discovering the Bongo FC-supporting builder who laid them 10 years ago had arranged them to spell 'Blues', the nickname of his club and Wolves' bitter rivals.'

papers and broadcasters

It's an accurate commonplace to point out that while the papers have been having a field day criticising broadcasters in general, and the BBC in particular, over issues of accuracy and content, if the latter broadcast half of what the former printed, they wouldn't survive a week; and also that the criticism of the BBC is simply attacks by competitors.

The current Private Eye gives a good example of the Daily Mail saying 'that "the BBC was plunged into crisis last night after Chris Moyles appeared to suggest Poles make good prostitutes." Outrageous! But from where could the loudmouth DJ have got such an impression? Er, quite possibly the Daily Mail's own "reimagining of how the charming parlour game Happy Families would look today" back in July last year, which featured the uproariously funny Eastern European character "Miss Katya, the blonde escort girl".' Private Eye must have extensive searchable newspaper archives, they're always digging out good old quotes.

monday documentaries

Monday night has been documentary night the last few weeks, with Laurence Rees's WWII: Behind Closed Doors (on Stalin's role, of which a main theme is 'poor Poland', and rightly so) and Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money.

Re the former, this week's Radio Times listing reminds us that 'by the end of the war 800,000 British and Americans had died, while Russia's death toll was 27 million.' We've seen Rees's previous series, 'The Nazis: A Warning From History' and 'Auschwitz: The Nazis and the "Final Solution"'.

We've seen Ferguson's previous series, 'Empire' and 'War of the World'. Although he's pretty right wing, especially economically, his presentation is stimulating, and I was with him on the British Empire not having been such an awful thing as it is now viewed.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

rsc hamlet reviews - tennant/bennett

Stratford reviews. The Guardian ('Claudius insultingly addresses Laertes's problems before those of Hamlet. And, urging Hamlet not to return to university, Stewart has to be publicly reminded that Wittenberg is the place in question' - I didn't get that it was insulting, I thought he was copping out. The impersonating of other characters was good. I didn't notice Ophelia's badly-scarred skin, though the programme notes mention the idea that she'd have been badly nettled gathering up the flowers; they visited a river near Stratford where a girl surnamed Hamlet drowned herself when Shakespeare was a boy). The Times (which reminds me that 'we get no explanation of Hamlet’s failure to reach England and no mention of his morally questionable destruction of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern'). Daily Telegraph (reminds me of ' the Christian imagery of the last act', where two hold him upright with arms outstretched crosslike, to no apparent purpose). BBC and BBC readers. Time Out, and an interview with Mariah Gale. West End Whingers blog (' Mark Hadfield’s comedy northern George Formby grave-digger is a delightful device for making clear that the scene is meant to be funny even though the jokes aren’t' - put me more in mind of Alan Bennett). Matthew Swan blog. John Morrison blog (with a long tail of comments, he doesn't usually get any comments, perhaps someone tipped off the Dr Who fans that he gave David a bad review). Independent. Evening Standard.

Novello reviews - press night reviews are with Edward Bennett, of course. The Guardian (I didn't get the idea that Ophelia was 'highly sexed', nor Polonius's sycophancy and cunning nor Claudius's duplicitousness, nor the sense that Claudius almost gratefully accepts his poisoned drink). The Times. Daily Telegraph. Independent. Evening Standard.

This What's On Stage page has their reviews of both versions.

All the reviews seem to find Claudius a lot less sympathetic than I did.

A BBC page extracting review comparisons between Edward and David.

Three reviews of Hamlet productions from the Times' archives: Sarah Bernhardt in 1899; Laurence Olivier at Elsinore in 1937; Derek Jacobi in 1977.

just in time?

Funnily enough I'd been wondering about understudies, and whether they were meant to replicate the performance of the person they were understudying or to bring their own interpretation; I guess the former, since presumably all the performances should mesh into each other and changing one would unbalance or require you to change the others.

David Tennant missed Monday and Tuesday, the press night, because of a bad back, and now he's getting operated on for a slipped disk on Thursday and won't be back before Christmas at least. I wonder how Edward Bennett will be received. Lots of returns from people who wanted to see David Tennant rather than Hamlet, I guess.

Monday, 8 December 2008

hamlet - david tennant

Well, well. I didn't imagine that I'd really be getting to see the RSC Hamlet with David Tennant, unless there was a massive transport strike or snowfall that meant that all the commuters returned their tickets. But I went along on Friday morning just to see what the dayseats queue was like, and it didn't look too bad. The young people at the front of the queue looked like they had been there all or most of the night, but there couldn't have been more than thirty in the queue altogether. I got there just before half nine, and only three or four joined after me before the box office opened at ten. The tickets ran out about eight people in front of me - I guess they had twenty dayseats, perhaps. They didn't do standing, and put the returns board up so we could stay in the queue for that if we liked; I don't know if anyone did. They did say that they did sell the returns as they came in, rather than holding them until 5 or 6 as some theatres do, but that most did come in in the last couple of hours. I did a bit of shopping, then popped back under an hour later, just after eleven, to see how the returns queue was looking. There was no one in it - perhaps some from earlier had got tickets? - so I thought I'd be the queue for a little while, since I wasn't in a particular hurry, on the off-chance that 11am had been the trigger point for someone to get their tickets back to the office. A lady joined me, and another, then the second lady left, then someone came out from the box office with two tickets, and we each wanted one, and there we were. Centre of Row T in the stalls, £25 as it was still preview week. (In fact, in the event the lady, who was German I think, didn't come back after the interval - either not impressed, or perhaps more likely didn't like how noisy it was around us and badgered the ushers into seating her somewhere else.)

It started at 7.15, and I got there in good time despite only leaving home half an hour earlier. They reckoned it would finish about quarter to eleven, but it was more like five to, and I was home in my pyjamas less than half an hour later, which was very civilised.

It was quite good. Perhaps I'm getting jaded and it's getting harder for me to be impressed by Hamlet productions. It's harder for me to imagine what it's like for someone seeing it for the first time, and there were certainly plenty of those in the audience; there are usually a good number of students - school or university - at Shakespeare productions - but it was wider than that this time, and there were definitely some primary-age children there (the parents must have appreciated the full emphasis and pause he gave to 'country matters', laying it on much thicker than is usually done). There was also more than the usual amount of eating, rustling, shuffling and whispering. And despite the warning at the start about photos and recordings, it was obvious that one person kept taking photos on their phone because the red light was reflected in the mirrored wall at the back of the stage; the ushers obviously saw too, and eventually worked out where they were, so that ended, but it'll be interesting to see how many snatched photos appear online. They may be in places like social networking sites which are harder to reach by googling, which throws up official stuff and some of David Tennant signing stuff after performances.

It certainly got massive applause, cheering and standing at the end. Still didn't match for me the Mark Rylance RSC one I saw so long ago, and which really made me stop seeing Hamlet for a while - I went to a few others after it and it didn't seem worth carrying on going, as nothing was matching up. But I've learnt to appreciate more the incidental pleasures and the way different roles and scenes are handled rather than it being all about the Hamlet. And when I tried to think, well, who would I put second to Mark Rylance above David Tennant, and no one came to mind; which isn't a ringing endorsement, but still...

David Tennant took an English accent, to match his parents (and I'd guess create a bit of distance from Dr Who), and reminding us of his royalty, which reminded me of the Toby Stephens version. The humour and madness were the bits that reminded you most of Doctor Who (or Takin' Over The Asylum, if you want to be all 'I preferred their obscure first album' about it). The humour was certainly a big aspect of this production.

Patrick Stewart was good. Interestingly playing Hamlet's Ghost as an angry, aggressive bully,suggesting that Hamlet might not have a fully accurate picture of his father or his uncle. Claudius often played as smooth but deadly, this one much more genuinely charming and personable, which does make you wonder why he gets so ruthless - murdered unpleasant brother for love, driven to further murder to maintain his position of power. He did start to repeat an earlier line in the closet scene, which was the only mistake I noticed.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were more distinct from each other than usual - often they go the Ant and Dec route, emphasising what is now commonplace to assume that Claudius mixes them up when he and Gertrude use their names the wrong way round. Being childhood friends, they are a bit posh, while Horatio (who was unremarkable, as he often is, seems to be hard to get something out of the role), being a student friend, is not. The implication I guess is that Gertrude's view of R&G's closeness to Hamlet is out of date. Horatio, conversely, came for Claudius's funeral without Hamlet knowing he'd come at all, although presumably he is a Dane himself since he's seen Old Hamlet in life and knows what the preparations of war are about.

Gertrude gave the implication that she knew there was poison in the drink when she drank, which I don't think I've seen before. Ophelia's madness was a bit overdone; it seemed more acted than Hamlet's (which in this one was definitely put on), but at least she sang in tune. They kept quite a bit of the dialogue with the actors about acting. The dumb show was done interestingly; usually you wonder why it's not obvious to everyone at that point what they play's about, but here it was done by the clowns, in a ridiculous clowning way, so that it wasn't. Also interesting that at the end of the play Claudius doesn't give the impression that he has been touched by the play, although it's obvious by then to everyone what Hamlet is alleging. The production kept a few Switzers, but they looked a bit out of place and unintentionally humorous, with their fancy uniform and high marching. The player king marginally more interesting than usual, but still quite a tedious passage. The interval was quite late for a single interval, at the point mid-scene where Hamlet says he'll kill Claudius while he is praying.

Oliver Ford Davies was a pretty good Polonius - not a boring old windbag, but a thinker who gets a bit absorbed in his own thoughts. His value and place in the scheme of things, and the family affection are done well, as they have to be if you are to accept that his death wouldd drive Ophelia mad and lead the people to want Laertes proclaimed king.

I'm reading the Arden edition of Halmet very slowly, and one of the things it makes clear in the footnotes, which I don't remember reading in any programme, is that Denmark had an elective monarchy, so that a king's successor was proclaimed or acclaimed, so that Claudius hadn't usurped Hamlet's rightful place as heir, and that's also why Hamlet at the end can make his nomination of Fortinbras (although it seems obvious that Fortrinbras is going to take control anyway) - although in this production he doesn't, it ends with Hamlet's death, and then Fortinbras comes in, sees, says nothing, Horatio says nothing to him, the end.

The set used a lot of mirrored walls. The opening scene was dark, with the soldiers using torches.

The programme was good, with a lot of info on the production process - I'd pay good money to sit in on the week where they all just sit in a room reading through the whole text and talking about it. The programme makes the interesting point that Old Hamlet was warlike whereas Claudius avoided war by diplomacy.

Reviews in a subsequent post. There'll be a batch of reviews from the Stratford presentation, and I expect a new batch of reviews from the London presentation; and I'm sure there'll be a lot more blogger reviews than usual.


We visited friends in Merstham on Saturday. Googling Merstham brings up an almost archetypal set of English commuter village hits - the first page hits are Google maps, a village community website, the village football team website, the Wikipedia entry (which reveals it's in the Domesday book, and that the village hall was built as a temporary church by Canadian regiments during the war to replace the original church), National Rail's page on the station facilities, a pictorial history website of the area, the cricket club's website, a pictorial guide to the village, the Merstham Model Steam Show site, and an estate agent's site. A Google images search brings up a surprising number of images, including on the first page one from our friends' own blog.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

francis collins interview

The Faraday Institute website reproduces an interesting interview with Francis Collins (who oversaw the Human Genome Project in his role as director of the NHGRI), which first appeared in Third Way in June 2008 in a shorter version.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

snopes stories

From Snopes:

- photos of a house which collapsed a bridge while it was being transported by road. They seem to do a lot more of the 'moving whole houses' thing over there than over here.

- McDonald's discontinued their spoon-shaped coffee stirrers because people were using them as cocaine spoons.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

hamlet - robert mason

On Wednesday I went to see the Frank Theatre production of Hamlet at the Barons Court Theatre, which is in the basement of the Curtain's Up pub, a fringe theatre I've not been to before (and which doesn't seem to have its own website, which is surprising, as the theatre calendar I saw had quite a few interesting things in it).


The production was heavily abridged, and was set in modern day, in a council estate - it says in the programme, although there's nothing in the set, unsurprisingly, to let you know that specifically, being very minimal, but you get the impression of inner-city violence. Modern gangs - criminal or youth - aren't an unusual updating for Shakespeare tragedies, and although I haven't personally come across a Hamlet one before, it lends itself to it perfectly well.

The acting was okay on the whole. Quite a young cast - I wouldn't have been surprised to learn they were mostly students, and the programme indicates that most of them are recent drama graduates. Tony Rowden as Claudius was probably the strongest, and oldest, and was the founder of Frank along with Amy Son, who did the abridgement. Robert Dobson as Polonius was also pretty good, funny and made a fairly convincing second-in-command. Robert Mason as Hamlet was fairly unremarkable; the performance was unusual among most of those I've seen in that much of the madness was conveyes as real rather than just put on. As with the Factory Hamlet of recent memory, there were places where it felt like the cast were remembering and getting through their lines rather than giving them any meaning.

Fortinbras was cut out, not unusually; less usually, so were the gravediggers, the players and Horatio. This meant that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern survived to the end, unusually - pretending they were the players to humour Hamlet, and sharing Osric's and Horatio's lines in the second half. Perhaps the most interesting characterisation was Rosencrantz (James Killeen), who was played as sullen and dangerous, while Guildenstern (Steve Cain) was a tubby, genial, dim sidekick, both gang archetypes. Gertrude (Eilis Jordan) and Ophelia (Michelle-Jane Barlow) were underclass gangster girlfriends, with gangster bling. Rather amusingly, when Ophelia went mad she dressed like a student, in dark floppy clothes. Hamlet and Laertes's (Daniel Addis) duel was a knife fight. Inarticulate rage was certainly an element being conveyed by the young men.

I don't think I'd seen any of them before (and the biogs in the brief programme suggests I probably haven't): Steve Cain looked familiar, but just a type, I think; Tony Rowden looked rather like Andy Parsons. Perhaps I'll see some of them again in the future, but I don't feel that that's as likely for most of them as in, for example, the Hamlet and other productions at the White Bear.

The layout was odd, due to it being obviously a converted cellar fitted out with old cinema or theatre seats around three sides of a stage area at the same level with a back wall and a pillar at the front two corners. Stage area about the size of our sitting room, then an equivalent area of seating stage left (perhaps seven rows of seven seats), half that depth stage right (three rows - I was front row right, beside the pillar at the front right of the stage) and half that depth stage front (three rows). Quite a lot of younger people - mostly girls, perhaps students or friends of the cast. When I phoned up for a ticket on Tuesday they said it was sold out but could fit another in, and it was fairly full, though some didn't come back after the interval and a couple left not long into the second half, which surprised me, as it certainly wasn't bad enough to leave early from.

There's a bit of info on the Barons Court Theatre on this pub theatre website - info, pictures.

The only review I have found so far is this one by a theatregoer on Remotegoat, plus a comment on the Time Out listing page (these comments don't always survive, or persist on the next production at the venue). The Remotegoat review is fairly accurate, especially reminding me that Ophelia is presented, pre-madness, as very robust and strong, and that the relationship with Hamlet really existed rather than being a possibility, although he found Laertes more memorable than I did and I didn't feel the lack of drug/alcohol possibilities not drawn out. The Time Out comment is slightly more positive than I would be, but I'd be in the same direction, certainly on Polonius.

The Mystery Worshipper reports have near the end a question along the lines of 'What one thing will you remember about this visit in a week's time?' For this production, it would probably be Rosencrantz being played as overtly dangerous; it would be interesting to look at his lines and see if you could carry that off in a full production.

If I remember rightly I heard about this production through the Birmingham University list of current and forthcoming Shakespeare productions. It would have been nice if someone at the end had announced that by thus showing our commitment to Hamlet rather than Doctor Who, we would be told a secret box office phone number to get access to a reserve stock of tickets for the RSC David Tennant production. But no one did.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


On Tuesday I went to Sharp's. In the first half sang Jamie Raeburn (didn't do it justice) and in the second half Old Maid in the Garret (did okay). Richard asked me if Jamie Raeburn was from Willie Scott. I had to confess my ignorance of Willie Scott, and that all the songs I knew were from widely available CDs rather than any authentic direct sources. Richard, like several of the others, I'm discovering, has been going to folk clubs since the sixties (for as long as I've been alive), and he heard Willie Scott in the sixties. He said most of the songs/tunes he knows (he sings and plays concertina) he heard at folk clubs. This is the first folk club I've gone to regularly.

On Willie Scott, this from Footstompin (new to me) and this from Dick Gaughan's site - the second time I've been led to his site recently. Nice line from Dick Gaughan page: 'Hamish Henderson once told me that one of his finest moments was when Willie sang him "an auld song" which turned out to be Hamish's own "Gillie Mor".'

the day I shot the queen

On Tuesday the Queen and Prince Philip visited Potters Fields near the office to meet the All Blacks at a giant rugby ball designed to promote New Zealand tourism. David and I went down from the office to see if we could get some photos, always handy to have some file photos of that kind. Without planning it, I found myself in a very good position where the royalty arrived in their cars. I got a few acceptable photos of Prince Philip hanging around with others waiting for his wife to turn up in her car; I got a couple of photos of the queen very close up as she passed me, but they're both soft, sadly, as my camera is getting slow in recovering between taking photos and refocussing. I got photos of them both from greater distance. I guess they are now the most famous people I have ever seen in the flesh.

In our family it has often been said that my auntie Joan looks like the queen, and I can say, without having been thinking about it beforehand, that I laughed as the queen passed me as it struck me just how much like my auntie Joan she really looked in the flesh.

There weren't as many people there as I had expected, but I guess it may not have been particularly widely publicised - I knew of it from the SE1 website, it certainly wasn't a big deal, and I'm sure some of the guys around me were more interested in seeing the All Blacks - and clearly there was going to be no walkabout element. I'd have reckoned it was mostly office workers and builders, along with quite a large press pack and police presence.

Most of the press coverage that comes up on Google are New Zealand outlets - like here, here and here - although I didn't think it was as cold as they made out. And here's a set of photos of the event on Flickr, press pics here.

pigeons and bricks

One award judge [of the e-health Inside IT-related awards] blamed Richard Granger, the former programme director [of the government's NHS IT programme for it being a disaster]: 'Granger kicked out anyone who'd previously worked in NHS IT and decided to design an entirely new system from scratch with people who hadn't worked in healthcare. He believed he could control the whole programme from the centre, without learning any of the lessons from the past. But command and control only works with very simple, linear systems. Throw a brick out of the window and you can predict where it lands. But healthcare is far more complex, more like a pigeon than a brick. Throw a pigeon and you've no idea where it will land. If you're clever, you get people together locally, decide where you need your pigeon and put down bird seed. If you're Richard Granger, you get the pigeon to land by tying a brick to it.'
- from the medical column in the current Private Eye, which also makes the interesting point that the Scottish and Welsh IT systems are more succcessful than the English ones because 'they assume that NHS staff are generally trustworthy and have developed "higher trust" IT systems that are simpler and easier to access, and have managed to gain the consent of patients. Contrast this to England, where no one can be trusted and the media is paranoid about leakage of confidential data. So you've built hugely complex programmes with military grade security to block the few bad people but which take ages to long on to, navigate around or swop user. At their worst, they stop you practising medicine, rather than enable you to do the job better.''

Bob was saying this week about how someone from their firm went to a client to tighten up, at their request, their computer security systems, and then was called back a week later to undo his work because they could no longer to their jobs properly.

(Also in this issue, for the second issue, some stuff on the Oasis-run Mayfield Academy, which doesn't look so good. Related articles (and some long comments tails) here, here, here, here, here (a Steve-Chalke-interview-based Guardian article, which ends 'But if my local school had to be taken out of the control of the community and handed over to some faraway sponsor, I'd rather it was the dynamic, egalitarian Chalke, who knows we are giving him a privilege by letting him run our children's education, rather than the grey Anglicans at the Church of England and the United Learning Trust, who seem to think we ought to be grateful to them'), and Oasis responses here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

jane's london

Jane's London - a photoblog of London details, featured in the the Time Out Big Smoke section this week; here are her Flickr sets (and the Big Smoke blog has some interesting posts and London links).

The site has links to several interesting related sites, including Ghost Signs (photos of wall-painted signs and adverts, in various conditions, mostly in London), Faded London (street details), and a posting about London street signs on Rodcorp (which also has a posting about the Tube map vs actual distances involved.

changing of the guard

Changing of the Guard: What happens to the Religious Right?
- Christianity Today, 7 November 2008

Saturday, 22 November 2008

lucia di lammermoor at zurich opera house

When we were up the mountain for the fancy meal on the Sunday evening during my work weekend in Zurich, some of the other folk there were smoking cigars. That's a bit posh, I thought, and then I remembered that the night before I'd gone to the opera.

I missed a reception at the town hall because of a mix-up over the timings, so I had a wander which took in the Opera House (here is the official website, the English version). I'd seen some listings stuff in the hotel, so I knew there were things on. It was Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti. The man in the box office spoke English, and I asked if they had tickets, which they did, and then asked for the cheapest ticket. It was 35 Swiss francs, which was between £15 and £20 (I forget which side of 2:1 the exchange rate was), so I went for it.

The seat was at the very left hand end of the very back row - although the back rows didn't go all as far round the sides as the rows further forward in the circle I was in, so it wasn't as far round as you might think, perhaps not even 8 o'clock. The view was only slightly restricted, with just the left bottom and top corner cut off, and because of the staging I didn't miss very much - there was a see-through building on most of the left-hand side.

Something I think I've learned about opera staging is that in general it's all about a striking set which doesn't change and then the creation of tableaux within that set - a series of photographs not that large could communicate the stage presentation fairly comprehensively. Something else is that it's perpetually emotional - everything else is cut out, simply singing the emotional extremes.

I didn't know the story, but I got the gist of it. The leads came out through the closed curtains for bows at the end of each act, which I hadn't expected (perhaps I had forgotten it happened). Lucia obviously goes mad during it, and her pieces in that period are impressive (although I don't remember recognising any of the music in the opera). Lucia also kills herself, and that was done very impressively: she was high in the building, above a crowd, and getting more precarious, then out onto a projection, then all of a sudden allowed herself to topple off forwards and disappeared into the crowd, presumably onto a catching net out of sight.

I enjoyed it a lot. Certainly the high point of my trip.

This is the Zurich Opera House page on the Lucia di Lammermoor production in question, but I don't know if the page will survive after the season ends. There appear to be a number of clips of it on YouTube - here is one, and another - I don't know if they were official or bootleg, and they're not necessarily the same singers I saw... let's see... I was there Saturday 20 September, and I think from the listings I saw 'Mosuc, Peetz, Grigolo, Cavalletti, Polgar, Zvetanov, Bidzinski', so it was Elena Mosuc and Vittorio Grigolo I saw; at least one of the videoers, and another site I found, is a big Grigolo fan it seems (and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, he has a Wikipedia entry where Elena doesn't, so perhaps he's a big or coming deal (I see from Wikipedia he's had a popular CD hit in the English-speaking world); I thought she was better than he was, but I know nothing; she has a page here, which may be her management company. This Opera Critic review page has no reviews in English, but does have some photos. The conductor, Nello Santi, was warmly received, and seemed to be old and well-beloved. The free magazine I picked up in the Opera House had an article on him, and one on the production, in German of course, but I kept it for the photos (and the seating plan). The first hit in Google on Nello Santi is the almighty Wikipedia, which tells me that he was to be 77 two days after the performance I saw.


The Question: is 3-5-2 dead? In the latest instalment of our in-depth series, Jonathan Wilson tracks the rise and fall of a tactical survivor
- an extraordinarily detailed article from the Guardian Sport Blog of 19 November

Or, as the Guardian Fiver football email introduced it, 'In the most complicated article about football the Fiver has ever half-read, tactics nerd Jonathan Wilson uses lots of small numbers separated by hyphens to explain why 3-5-2 will never die, in the process also explaining, however unwittingly, why he will die ... alone, surrounded by cats and yellowing copies of the Rothmans yearbook.'

knight rider building

A clip entitled 'knight rider building' from youtube, impressively achieved by turning lights on and off rather than digital jiggery-pokery I think.

barts choir at the albert hall

On Wednesday we went to the Albert Hall to see Bethan and the Barts Choir (and the RPO) doing Carmina Burana, Vaughan Williams Symphony No 5 and Vaughan Williams Toward the Unknown Region. It was very good, although I'm not that keen on CB (which seems to have been on there last month too). They had a children's choir for bits of CB, primary school children, and they were very good, but the fact that one of the bits they were singing in was the sex section did seem rather unsavoury. It's good to have a programme from the Albert Hall with Bethan's name in it. And the lighting of the ceiling and the sound reflectors in blue and red made for some very Pink Floydish photos (I see from this search on Flickr that they use lots of different colour combinations; mine are warmer and fuzzier as I didn't use flash on my tiny camera, and took them much closer up). I got some photos of the choir too during the interval; we won't be able to make Bethan out - second-back row, five along from the right of the organ - but we'll know she's there. Here's a Daily Mail article from earlier this week - actually, might be Sunday Mail - by someone in the choir.

in our time - miracles email

From Melvyn Bragg's post-programme email for the In Our Time of Thursday 25 September, on miracles:

Afterwards in the studio, which we now convert into a Green Room because the Green Room is too long a trek, the programme went on more vigorously than I can remember for many years. Janet Soskice wanted to discuss the basic notion of creation ex nihilo. She pointed out that in the last thirty years metaphysics is back. Heidegger said that metaphysics had had it. Now, Janet says, Heidegger’s had it. Justin Champion said that compared with Hume, Spinoza and Hobbes were much tougher at around the same time. They did not think of a separation between God and nature. There was only nature. And yet we come back to the notion of St Augustine, that everything comes from nature which was, in the Augustine view, the creation and therefore nothing can be a violation of nature, neither a resurrection, nor a disaster, nor a miracle. Janet then said she wished we’d talked about Dante and ‘the love that moves the stars’. I think it was Martin who brought in Daniel Dennett and the idea – which many people have expressed – that the human mind craves meaning. Janet pointed out that it was difficult to confess to being a Christian in America at the moment, partly because the evangelicals were so fierce but also because, in her view, the liberal consensus in America was so dogmatic and all-pervading. Much talk of Richard Dawkins and his book, comparing it with Christopher Hitchens and his book. And then on to the Big Bang and Janet’s view that before the Big Bang there were no laws of nature, as the so far fruitless search for the absolute cause of the Big Bang proves. Scientists, she thinks, are in the same place as religious believers in this. The origins are not self-explaining. Even Martin Rees, she pointed out, doesn’t understand them.

Friday, 21 November 2008


From 28 October:
How soon after a game you've seen a player: story from a previous time of a supporter at Luton going up the stairs at the train station across the road after the match and being passed by Luton player Bontcho Guentchev with his tracksuit on and boots in his hand running to catch his train. Conversely, Izzy never had to wait longer for a post-match interview than for Lenny Lawrence, who used to come out with his own little hairdryer in a little leatherette pouch so as to be perfectly coiffured for the camera.

It was also the day Harry Redknapp went back to Portsmouth, just days after he'd left them for Spurs, to be granted the freedom of the city after their FA Cup victory, which showed impressive nerve.

Mr Ed, the talking horse from the old US TV series, was made to appear to talk by being given a toffee. (Wikipedia says at the start of the article that it was by peanut butter, and at the end of the article that that was a myth and that it was a nylon bit.)

Hardest team you've ever played against: on the old 606, a former Hong Kong prison chaplain rang in to tell him about the time he had to referee a game between a local team and the team from death row.

obama's terrorist friend

Bill Ayers talks back: Sarah Palin called him a terrorist, Barack Obama called him an acquaintance. A Salon editor who knew Ayers back when talks to the ex-Weather Underground member turned Republican talking point.
- Salon, 17 November

Thursday, 20 November 2008

two more city churches

I popped into two more City of London churches this afternoon.

St Botolph without Bishopsgate (official, Wikipedia, Google images) I've seen a few times from outside but never been inside before; a surprising amount of space around it outside too, given its location. Okay, nothing in particular striking, took a few photos, more outside with cranes and gherkin in background in particular. The tennis and netball court next door is theirs, interestingly; there were lunchtime city women playing netball there when I was there.

St Ethelburga's (official, Wikipedia, Google images) was thoroughly destroyed by an IRA bomb and was rebuilt as St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, which from my brief visit seemed to mean multifaith, which seems rather a betrayal or denial of the church's history up until then, as if suggesting that a Christian church can't be a centre for reconciliation and peace in its own right.

local news from se1 website

Iceland store at Elephant & Castle fined £10,000 for rodent problem

Elephant & Castle housing delay "not acceptable" admits regeneration boss - and further details on the slower than planned E&C regeneration

Elephant & Castle: tube station refurb cost is "final major hurdle" to regeneration deal - A final deal between Southwark Council and developers Lend Lease for the Elephant & Castle regeneration project is being held up by negotiations about the cost of rebuilding the Northern Line tube station.

Elephant & Castle roundabouts 'as dangerous for cyclists as all bendy buses' - The London Assembly has accused Mayor of London Boris Johnson of failing on his election pledges by putting a question mark over the removal of the southern roundabout at Elephant & Castle.

Also, we're getting a new supermarket at our end of Walworth Road; unfortunately, it's another Tesco's. And the Clark's factory shop in the shopping centre, sadly closing this month, is being replaced by a pound - no, a 99p - shop: hurrah!

And there's a new 'district' website for the Elephant & Castle, from TownTalk, who I'd not heard of before. There seem to be variety of people who try to produce these, but they rarely seem to take off beyond being local business advertising/directory things, perhaps because they're a big operation trying to do the same for lots of areas without any particular connection or investment in these area. Unlike the SE1 website, which is a one-off and specific, and good.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

this is what it sounds like, when monks clash

Riot police called as monks clash in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
- Times, 10 November

My favourite bit is the ladder:
The feud is only one of a bewildering array of rivalries among churchmen in the Holy Sepulchre. The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built. A ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down. More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse.

ten surprising things darwin said about religious faith

God, Evolution and Charles Darwin: Ten surprising things Darwin said about religious faith
- Times, 17 September

rcs help sway vote for obama, despite white evangelicals

RCs help sway vote for Obama, despite white Evangelicals
- Church Times, 14 November 2008. The notoriously pro-abortion Catholics thwart the single-issue right-wing evangelicals who continue to place themselves in the pockets of the Republicans in return for absolutely nothing on their single issue, but plenty of self-serving un-Christian right-wing policies which seem to satisfy them. (Ooh, Mr Grumpy!)

Analysis of how religious people in the United States voted in last week’s presidential election indicates that the victorious Senator Barack Obama managed, in the words of one Washington analyst, to “narrow the God Gap”, principally by winning over Roman Catholics.
Senator Obama won the popular vote by 52 per cent to Senator John McCain’s 46 per cent. Mr McCain attracted more Protestants (54 per cent against 45 per cent) but fewer Roman Catholics: 54 per cent voted for Mr Obama and 45 per cent for Mr McCain.
Seventy-four per cent of white Evangelicals supported Mr McCain, just 24 per cent voting for Mr Obama; 55 per cent of regular church goers voted for Mr McCain, 43 per cent for Mr Obama. In 2004, the proportions were 61 per cent for George Bush and 39 per cent for John Kerry, a Roman Catholic.
“Obama forged a new democratic faith coalition,” the analyst Steve Waldman told the Wall Street Journal. “To a large degree, he was able to make such progress with these groups because of the economy. Some pro-life voters went with Obama in spite of his positions on ‘values issues’, not because of them.”
The Democrats continue to support legalised abortion, but it is thought that their parallel commitment to strengthening social support for women to encourage them to have their babies enabled Roman Catholics to vote for them. Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, however, that Roman Catholic leaders must remain opposed to the party’s approach.
“Common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good,” he told the New York Times. But he also pledged the support of Roman Catholic bishops in the US, and told Senator Obama: “We stand ready to work with you in defence and support of the life and dignity of every human person.”

how satire changed the course of history

How satire changed the course of history: Forget the crash; it's not the economy, stupid. This election will be recalled for when the titans of TV comedy ruled the world
- Joe Queenan - in the Guardian of Tuesday 4 November - thinks satire won the election for Obama. I don't think so.

more bakerology

More from Danny Baker's 606 on Tuesday 21 October:

Another Bakerology theme, shortest time spent in a football ground. Alan rang in, who used to be fans chaplain at Rushden and Diamonds, season ticket holder, went through the turnstile, picked up his free programme, noticed the date on the programme, realised he had a wedding he was meant to be officiating at, and turned round and went back out without having reached the terrace.

Also on the same night, people who don't know much about football joining in. Watching the World Cup, after Beckham had moved to Spain, Craig's wife asked him why Beckham didn't play for Spain now. Danny's own daughter Bonnie suggested, after a player was stretchered off in the game they were watching, that for people like her, less interested in the game, they should have a camera following him so that you could go with their camera and have an 'ER' going on. Another spouse at her first match asked, ten minutes in, where the commentary was.

Same night, on nearly kits, Mike's parents bought him an England third kit, sky blue, but bought the shorts from the first kit because they said the third kit shorts didn't match.

Another theme, teams made up of particular names. They've done teams of boys names (first names as surnames), girls names and dogs names, tonight looking for surnames that make up whole names, inspired by the first two names on the England team sheet, James and Brown. Martin pointed out Norwich's bookings from last Saturday: Bertrand and Russell. And Charlton's back four once upon a time were Young, Fish, Costa, Fortune.

Dave in Brixton was watching a Pele video and remarked to his friend that it was interesting that Pele was as well known for his misses as for the goals he actually scored. His wife piped up, over her newspaper, 'Why? Who is he married to?"

dragon castle

A review from the Guardian of Saturday 8 November of the fancy new Chinese restaurant that opened up a couple of years ago not far from us, on Walworth Road. It gave the restaurant quite a good review and the area quite a bad one. We got a takeaway from there once; really expensive, and no better than the little takeaway place just round the corner, nearer us. We ate in once, with my mother, quite early evening, so it wasn't very busy, and I saw a mouse gambolling around up the empty end of the restaurant; the food was okay.

I was interested to learn this: 'You need to be quite the telly nerd to recall this one, so let me remind you that Jim [Davidson] once starred (as Jim London) in the ITV sitcom Up The Elephant And Round The Castle, a riot of staggering witlessness most notable for the fact that female lead Marina Sirtis's next TV role was as the psychic Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation.' I saw it once or twice, long ago, certainly before I was ever in London. Wikipedia (of course) tells me much more of Marina's British background, which I didn't know, including that she played the stewardess in the Rossiter/Collins Cinzano ad.

Searching the Guardian site for that review link, I also came up with other positive references, here, here and an Observer review here.

makeshift whistle

A recurring theme over the Danny Baker phone in years has been what you've used instead of something - eg the ball, the pitch, the ref's whistle - in a game of football. On 21 October Darren rang in to say he'd played in a match where the ref forgot his whistle and they bought a sweetie whistle in a shop, which a) dissolved as the game progressed and b) made the sound of a bird tweeting. 'It was like being reffed by Percy Edwards.'

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

bringing the house down

Bringing the house down: In Britain there's long been an obsession with owning property. Prices may wobble but home owners are convinced they'll be rich in the end. It's always been an illusion, John Lanchester argues, but this crash may finally push the property market over the cliff
- very interesting article from the Guardian of Saturday 8 November 2008

Take a step back, and there's nothing inherently interesting about the British property market. Say you bought your house in 1970, and paid the then-national average price for it: £4,378. At the peak of the current spike in prices, that same average house would have been worth £184,431. Congratulations! You've multiplied your money almost 43 times. You're rich, do you hear me? Rich!
Except you aren't, really. Strip out the effect of inflation, and that spectacular sounding 4,300% price rise works out as 2.4% a year in real terms. This is close, in other words, to the historic long-term average for investments regarded as being more or less without any risk at all. That's where the expression "safe as houses" comes from. Pick slightly different starting and finishing points, and the conclusions are pretty much the same - from 1973 to today, for instance, when inflation rates were different, and prices were higher at the start and lower at the end: the result is 2.6% annual growth. That's more or less exactly the rate at which the whole British economy grew over the equivalent period. In other words, house prices performed exactly the same as the economy. So there's nothing interesting to say about them.
And that was the last and most important thing I learned from my first flat. House prices go up and down, but the main thing is not to pay them a blind bit of notice, unless and until you have a good reason to move. I learned that a rising price will not rise for ever; that when prices stop rising, it will be difficult to sell your flat, because the reason the price has stopped rising is because the climate has changed. The money you have in your house is not liquid money; it's not money that can easily be converted into something else other than your house. It's stupid to feel richer because the value of your house has gone up, since the resulting rise isn't money you can use or spend. If you're going to move, you still need somewhere to live, and the cost of that place, too, will have gone up, so there will be no net gain from the increase in your property's value.
70% of the population lives in their own home. This is a much higher figure than in comparable economies in Europe; for instance, only 40% of Germans own their own home.
So that's the first thing that's different about British mortgages: there are more of them. Second, they are bigger: the size of the loan is proportionately bigger, in relation to the value of the house. German banks, for instance, will lend only a maximum of 60% of a property's value.
Another feature of the UK mortgage market adds to that risk: the fact that we prefer to pay our mortgages at variable rates. The US, which has a similar home ownership rate to the UK, is more like us than like Europe: more mortgages, for a higher proportion of the property value, and with longer repayment periods. In the US, though, far more of the loans are at fixed interest rates. British householders are allergic to fixed interest rates; we prefer variable loans. No one quite knows why, since fixed interest rates often make good sense, and have the effect of transferring some of the risk of the loan to the banks. If you have a variable rate mortgage, and the central bank interest rate goes up, you feel it in your pocket; if you have a fixed rate and the same thing happens, the bank feels it. In the US, the two institutions designed to help the banking system to bear the risk of this fixed-rate lending are called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That's the same Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that on September 7 were taken over by the US government in the biggest nationalisation in the history of the world; and the reason they went under was precisely because they were swamped by the cost of these risks.
The rise of the buy-to-let sector - which came into existence to provide places to live for all the people who could no longer afford mortgages, a classic example of how a boom creates phenomena that magnify its own effect - has created a category of investor who won't be able to afford to sit still and wait. Towards the end of 2006, the average investment yield on a buy-to-let property no longer covered the mortgage that had been taken out to buy it. In other words, the average buy-to-let investor was losing money on a monthly basis. The reason for hanging on in there was the hope for capital growth. But house prices in the UK are now in decline. The Nationwide survey for the year to October showed a decline of 14.6%; add the CPI inflation rate of 5.2%, and prices have fallen almost 20% already. So for those buy-to-letters already losing money on the interest payments, capital growth now looks some way off. Depending on what was paid for the property, it may be many years off. If all buy-to-let investors realise this and stampede for the exit at the same time, the UK property market will go off the edge of a cliff.
There would once have been an upside to that. It always happens that during a bubble, first-time buyers are priced out of the market - indeed, it's fear of that happening that causes a lot of people to buy a property in the first place. (I know: that was me, 20 years ago.) Then the bubble bursts, and all the people who couldn't afford a property can, if they can find someone willing to sell one. This time round should be ideal, with all the buy-to-let speculators dumping their investments at the same time, and most of those properties being the smallish flats ideally suited to first-time buyers.
The trouble here is the credit crunch. It is an almost perfectly cruel thing to have happened: just as first-timers get their chance, the banks become paranoid about lending money. Anyone who did not have a mortgage approved is now finding it dramatically harder to get one: mortage approvals are down from 134,000 a month to 33,000.
The bubble was different this time for another reason. On October 27 1986, Margaret Thatcher enacted Big Bang: the end of the rules controlling ownership in the City of London. The result was to make London the financial capital of the world, ahead of New York and Tokyo; and the result of that was to make the City of London, and financial services in general, disproportionately important to the UK economy. The financial services sector now accounts for 20% of the UK economy; it is by a huge margin the most important sector. This has all sorts of effects, and one of them is in the housing market. In a boom, UK house prices are always headed by London, with a ripple effect radiating out from the capital. This time the phenomenon is much more marked, because of City salaries which are cut off from the rest of the economy in a separate wonderland of six-and-seven-figure bonuses. That is the difference between this boom and previous ones: it is, because of the effect of the City, boomier. That means the bust will be bustier. London has become a Manhattan, internationalised in its workforce, cut off from the rest of the country, with a thriving financial sector which no one outside it understands, but which underpins much of the rest of the economy. No one knows what will happen when that whole sector crashes into a wall.

london street signs project

London Street Signs Project: An interesting little website project, now over it seems, in which the photographer gets her friends to dress up appropriately next to London street signs.

second life affair

Divorced - for having an affair in Second Life: The romance was virtual. But the behaviour of David Pollard's character in an online game has cost him his real marriage
- Independent, Friday 14 November

The day after discovering his online affair, Ms Taylor filed for divorce, which is set to be finalised next week. Their virtual divorce went through in the Second Life courts in May. She is so furious that she has already reverted to her maiden name by deed poll.
Mr Pollard, 40, admitted he had been having an online affair with a woman from America, and the pair's characters are now engaged in Second Life. But he insisted that his real marriage had been a "bit of a joke", and that his affair was prompted by his wife's addiction to the popular fantasy role-playing game World of Warcraft.
"Amy never did anything around the house. She just played World of Warcraft all the time. If I wanted to spend time with her I had to ask, but it was always too much trouble for her to come off the game to spend time with me, so the marriage was a bit of a joke."
Ms Taylor's love life has since moved on, but she does not seem to have learnt her lesson. She met her current boyfriend while playing World of Warcraft.

remember the revolution

Remember the revolution?: A nation divided, a king beheaded, a people resurgent: the civil war is one of the most exciting episodes in British history. And yet we seem almost embarrassed about it. Ronan Bennett welcomes a Channel 4 drama that is a rare celebration of that radical adventure
- Guardian, Friday 14 November

the publicity game

Christian group halts book launch: A poet has been forced to launch his new collection in the street after a bookstore cancelled the event because of a campaign by Christian activists. Patrick Jones was due to sign copies at Waterstone's in Cardiff but the shop cancelled the event at the last moment. Christian Voice said the book was "obscene and blasphemous" and called on the chain to remove copies from stores.
- when I saw this story, from the BBC website of 12 November, I thought, way to go to give him some free publicity. I'm not very enamoured of Christian Voice, which seems to be a one-man publicity machine, representing I don't know who.

Then today I saw this, from 15 November, on the BBC website:
Poet 'stirred up' storm over book: A bookstore chain has accused a poet of deliberately provoking a "furore" about his latest collection, forcing the company to cancel its official launch. Waterstone's in Cardiff called off Patrick Jones's book signing after a campaign by a Christian organisation. He has confirmed that he e-mailed his poems to Christian and Muslim groups and to the far-right organisation Combat 18 beforehand.

darren anderton

Darren Anderton: 'I never thought I'd end up in League Two but they all try to play football': One of the stars of Euro 96, Darren Anderton was once known as 'Sicknote' because of his injury record but is still playing – for Bournemouth – at the age of 36
- interesting interview from the Independent of Monday 17 November. Two interesting facts: his last five England caps were won under five different England managers, and he's the only one of the 1996 European Championship semi-final team still playing.

Monday, 17 November 2008

ray lowry

Ray Lowry has died - here's the Guardian obituary, and a follow-up letter with a cartoon reading ('a businessman behind his office desk addressing three others. His nameplate identifies him as Mr Bang. Caption: "I'm sorry Mr Crash, Mr Wallop - but I've decided to go with Olufsen here."'). I knew him from Punch (I used to read them in Stornoway library, and then subscribed for a few years at university at least - mostly the Alan Coren years, another recent death - I've got a couple of bags somewhere stuffed with cartoons cut out from them) and later Private Eye (which I really started buying with the Princess Diana death issue), but it's the NME I associate him with most closely (and he designed the Presley pastiche cover of London Calling).

bluebell railway

On Saturday 8th we went down to the Bluebell Railway, which was good fun, though very wet. An impressive testimony to what dedicated and committed volunteers can do, and the devotion old railways inspire. The three stations currently on the line have been thoroughly restored, to different periods; I don't know how much was originally there, in the way of tin advertising boards for example, and how much was bought in; they're buying and restoring a lot of rolling stock from different periods also. The Wikipedia entry is packed with historical and technical information, another volunteer hard at work.

continued adventures in cartoon readings

From the current Private Eye, a cartoon version of one of the Escher stairs pics, in which illusionary-staired house appear two men, one saying to the other, 'I'm sorry Mr Escher but yes, you will have to fit disabled access.'

Sunday, 16 November 2008


On Tuesday evening I went to Sharp's. It was 11th November, so there were a number of war-related songs. In the first half I sang Pink Floyd's When The Tigers Broke Free (the club is very accepting of things not usually strictly considered folk - more than one might imagine at the home of the EFDSS - and I do think it has quite a folky tune, and of course a familiar folk theme). In the second half I sang Cruel Brother, which I know of course from The Corries; I sang it probably a bit too high and a bit too fast, a combination familiar to anyone who's experienced my precenting. Afterwards someone asked me where that version of Cruel Brother had come from, interested in the tune in particular, and I was able to email him info and a sound file later. He was in fact in my opinion the star turn of the evening - and it was another good evening with a range of interesting stuff - a tremendous guitar player with a good voice, and I found out later he was Matthew Ord, who can be found here on Myspace and in a clip here on YouTube, and here on Myspace as part of Hey Negrita.

When Steve Turner was the guest artist, the third-last time I was there, he mentioned that one of the songs he played he'd first heard sung by Clive, who attends Sharp's, in Manchester, which made me wonder if Clive had been a professional in the past. With the wonders of Google, I found a number of references, including this from Dick Gaughan's official site, where Dick says, 'Before I had gone to London in 1971, I had worked together on occasion with both singer Bobby Eaglesham and fiddle player Chuck Fleming. Chuck had been a member of the ground-breaking JSD Band, had gone south to work with Bob Pegg and the band 'Trees'. In late 1971, I had done a tour in Holland with Chuck, fiddle player Tom Hickland from Belfast and singer Clive Woolf under the name of 'Firewater'. I then joined Boys of the Lough and those three were joined by (ex-Trees and Mr Fox) bass player Barry Lyons and by a Scots drummer called Dave Tulloch (who had worked with Clive in Cecil Sharp House) to form a band which they called Spencer's Feat. Clive then had a very serious stroke which took him out of playing and Bobby Eaglesham joined, with the band name changing to Five Hand Reel. Shortly after this, I was approached but this was during my period of temporary retirement and I declined.'

Also this mention in a thread on forum: 'He-man-cat-thing; in your list of early names re the use of DADGAD for english folk, surely you meant MARTIN Carthy, and somewhere in the list you forgot Clive Woolf, one of the early great folk guitarists, founder member of Spencers Faete, the precursor to Five Hand Reel, which had to replace Clive with TWO people a musician and a singer, after he was laid low by a crippling brain haemorrhage in 75; and also Angus Baxter, another one in the chain of early, London-based experimental folk guitarists.'

There was also a reference I saw which said that he'd been credited on Liege and Lief for his help in his role in the library of Cecil Sharp House. (Ah, here it is, amazingly enough just written on Friday, it seems.)

Interestingly, also mentioned in that first source, the Dick Gaughan, is Bob Pegg, who with his wife Carole were the musicians at the Highland Youth Theatre when I was there. Funny old world. I find that Bob has a site, here, and Carole (I'm guessing this is the right one) has a site here; Bob's in the Highlands and Carole's an expert on Mongolian and Inner Asian Music. I can still remember two of the songs they wrote, one beginning 'Every man is an island, and every woman too, set apart in the vastness of the sea', and another on the mundanities of life after marrying the fairytale prince.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

laurel and hardy with live music

Went to this today at the Barbican:

Millennial Territory Orchestra meets Laurel & Hardy
The perfect Jazz Festival event for families.
15 November 2008 / 16:00
Barbican Hall

Part of Autumn Contemporary Events 08
Part of Barbican Families
Part of London Jazz Festival in association with BBC Radio 3

Tickets: £10 / 15 (Children under 16 free)
A fusion of classic jazz and comic film for the family!

The spirit of the 1920s shines through in the witty arrangements of Steve Bernstein’s versatile nine-piece New York based MTO as they play new scores to 3 side-splitting Laurel and Hardy films; Sugar Daddies (1927) (Cert U), Double Whoopee (Cert U) and Wrong Again (1929) (Cert U).

A jambalaya of traditional jazz, swing and the blues, this is jazz Americana at its rootsiest.

About the films:
Sugar Daddies first appeared in 1927; Double Whoopee – with the added bonus of Jean Harlow – and Wrong Again were first shown in 1929.

Steven Bernstein was inspired to form MTO while working on the score to Robert Altman’s film Kansas City , and the spirit of the 1920s shines through in the wit and sass of arrangements played with tremendous flair by a ninepiece ensemble of New York’s finest. A jambalaya of traditional jazz, swing and the blues, this is jazz Americana at its rootsiest.

Line-up featuring some of New York's hottest jazz talent:
Steven Bernstein Trumpet
Carver Clark Gayton Jr Trombone
Charles Robey Burnham Violin
Douglas Wieselman Clarinet
Peter Noah Apfelbaum Tenor saxophone
Eric Brian Lawrence Bari Saxophone
Rene Alexander Hart Bass
Matthew Peter Munisteri Guitar
Ben A Perowsky Drums


The music was slightly more modern than I'd expected, and the shorts less funny, but it was good fun all the same.