Friday, 29 February 2008

lending tone

It is an old joke, vintage late-Victorian Punch magazine, the time of the second Afghan War, but still one that brings an affectionate smile at the thought of infantry-cavalry rivalry: what is the role of cavalry on the modern battlefield? Answer, to lend tone to what otherwise would be a mere vulgar brawl.
- nice old joke from a Daily Telegraph article of today on Prince Harry having to withdraw from Afghanistan.

earthquakes and explosions

We didn't feel the Lincolnshire-centred earthquake in the early hours of Wednesday, although many people in London did. When the Buncefield oil depot exploded early one Sunday morning in December 2005 Bethan heard that, and the windows rattled.

ricky lost that number

Via Alex, an interesting article by Ricky Gervais - on his website, but obviously from a US magazine called Bestlife, in their 'my defining moment' slot - on 'how I went from Jesus-loving Christian to fun-loving infidel in one afternoon' when he was nine.


Finished Ordeal by Innocence yesterday, another fairly good character-driven Agatha Christie.

My jacket-book replacement was Hamish Macinnes's wee paperback of his own mountain rescue stories, Call-Out - a good read in the familiar mountaineering style of manly banter in the face of danger and grim death.

I was prowling my shelves before selecting it, thinking I should be more systematic in choosing which book to read next when I've finished one of the ones I've been reading. Perhaps one from a different shelf each time, or identify a poorly-read seam. People are sometimes surprised or horrified when I say that of the hundreds of books in the house, I reckon I've only read ten or twenty per cent. Sometimes I've kept an eye out for a book for ages before getting it, and then haven't read it for years; also when you're buying so much in secondhand and charity shops, you buy when you see something, in case you never see it again. Also, because I rarely re-read a book, I usually get rid of a book after I've read it, especially fiction. Yesterday it occurred to me that essentially what I have now is a particularly well-stocked charity shop in our sitting room, ready for whatever reading whim strikes me next.

I remember Cathi saying that she always found herself agreeing with whoever she spoke to last on any particular issue, if they were in any way convincing. I find myself wanting to read on the theme of the last article I've read or documentary I've watched or book I've read. No focus, that's my problem. That's one of my many problems, I should say.

I am going to, once again, make a determined effort to borrow more from library than buy secondhand, and am also going to be more ruthless with non-fiction that realistically I'm not going to refer to again. There's a twinge in the back of my mind that says there will be rebuying as the years go on for the next generation, but keeping things on that basis is dangerous, and also I survived with many fewer books and albums as a child myself.

Another ordeal is nearly over: I'm nearly finished Old Mortality. No more Walter Scott for me, that's for sure. Replacing it in the 'classic literature' slot in my current reading will probably be a Bronte.

Thursday, 28 February 2008


Doing the Lunros, or Lunro-bagging, will be the title of the quirky travel book in which an intrepid explorer visits the highest point in each of the London boroughs.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

how to turn white evangelicals into democrats

Amy Sullivan is a senior editor at Time, a liberal Democrat, and an evangelical Christian. One of those things is not supposed to be like the others, but she argues in her new book that her fellow Democrats need to reach out to her fellow evangelicals if they hope to build an electoral majority. In "The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap," Sullivan describes how Democrats like Gov. Jennifer Granholm have won over white evangelical voters without changing sides on such hot-button issues as gay marriage and abortion. Sullivan spoke to Salon about the importance of language in reaching out to evangelicals, the supposed decline of the religious right, and why Democrats should court religious voters when they are doing so well among an even-faster growing demographic: people with no religious affiliation at all.
- introduction to an interesting interview in Salon of 26 February, titled 'How to turn white evangelicals into Democrats' (the answer being, of course, that a lot of them are already)

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

reasons to believe

Two reviews of John Marks' book, Reasons to Believe: One Man's Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind.

Salon: Are you going to hell? Former born-again Christian John Marks journeyed back into the evangelical America he'd left behind and discovered the promise -- and limitations -- of faith.

Christianity Today's Books and Culture: Salvation Lost, Misplaced: A former evangelical revisits the country of belief and believers.

Monday, 25 February 2008

jack and the beanstalk

On New Year's Eve we went to the matinee of Jack and the Beanstalk at the Barbican. I noticed some of the creative team were from Glasgow - the Citizens Theatre, if I remember rightly - and Andy Gray had also been imported from Scotland to be the dame. Andy Gray was certainly the best thing in it. The contrast with the Hackney Empire panto was particularly noticeable in the songs, which were much more of the 'West End musical' style and so less engaging. There was less of a warm atmosphere in the theatre, though it was nearly full. Andy Gray warmed it up by making much of the coldness ('Are we facing the right way?' 'I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing', and so on.); not sure if it was particularly cold that time, or whether there is something about the venue and the audience that would always make it so; certainly not a sense of being a 'local' production like Hackney. He was best when he seemed to be off script, which says much for his skill as a dame but not much for the script. Mel Geidroyc quite good as the fairy; no one else particularly memorable. The beanstalk and the giant were unimpressive.

Some reviews: The Sunday Times (which interestingly reviews both this and the Hackney one I refer to, Hackney coming off best). West End Whingers. The Guardian. Time Out. Evening Standard. The Stage. Nobody liked it much, really.

carl on christian usa politics

For many Christians in the US, abortion is the issue against which there can be no trade-off. I am, in theory, in agreement with this position. The problem is that it is used by some as a piece of rhetoric to win the large evangelical voting base to the Republican cause. Yet, when one looks at the record of Republicans on the issue, and the many crypto-pro-choice figures who populate the party, the rhetoric becomes less than convincing and serves little purpose other than to kill serious debate about other issues that need to be addressed: street violence, health care, pollution, lobby-group corruption. Abortion is not so politicized in the UK.
... we must beware of making our political choices a badge of righteousness. In the US, there are those who, in my own hearing, have argued that Democrat voters should be disciplined by the church. The flip side of this is that Republican voters can be smugly self-righteous in taking a stand which really costs them nothing, but makes them feel so much better than others. As in all things, let's not make our own actions the source of our assurance of God's favour.
- Carl Trueman, Monthly Record, December 2007 (the whole article is interesting)

the maypole and the column

The Maypole and the Column, an interesting essay by Maurice Hewlett in my Penguin Book of English Essays, found here by the marvel of Google Books. It's about the changing nature of essays, from the maypole, with ideas whirling off a theme or idea, to the column, which simply requires to be filled. I can't see a way to copy and paste extracts, which is fair enough. Bacon said 'There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honour, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me?' Hazlitt, says Hewlett, 'had that bad symptom of the violent lover, that he could only honour his love at another's expense'.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

music, punk and negro

In Sparkling Cyanide (1945), the band at the restaurant where the second murder happened is described as playing 'soft negro music'. A few pages later, a supposed American witness said 'the band was punk - they just couldn't seem to swing it'. The joys of the English language. The solution stretches it rather, but I liked the structure and characterisation - that makes two fairly good Agatha Christies in a row, maybe last year's rotten lot was just a bad patch, although it may also be significant that these two featured neither Poirot nor Marple. (Wikipedia reveals murderer in plot summary.)

The Agatha Christie I've just started now (from the library - there just aren't that many books now that are that old traditional paperback size - in all three dimensions - that fits into my jacket pocket for reading on the move) has a list of her books in the front, and I hadn't realised just how many of her books featured Poirot (about half) or Marple (about a fifth) - they're separated out in this list. Her fictional crime author Ariadne Oliver regrets having lumbered herself with a Finnish detective when she knows nothing about Finland.

milton words

On a page of a Milton 400th anniversary website (born 1608), a section on English words which first appear in his writing.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

interview half-time talk

At the same time as coaching Oxford University, Keown is studying for his Uefa A-licence coaching exams. Though he is coy about his ambitions, the 41-year-old doubtless entertains the odd fantasy which has him delivering the half-time team talk to Arsenal teams at Old Trafford. In which hypothetical case, how much will he try to emulate Wenger?

"Well, you can only be true to your own character. George Graham was very different, so was Graham Taylor and Don Howe, and even watching my university side I sometimes find it hard to keep calm. Wenger keeps all that in check. He knows that when managers rant and rave, it's not for the players, it's for themselves. I've tried to learn from that.

"Also, he doesn't tell you what you're not doing, he reminds you of how good you are. Imagine if I were to tell you now that the first half of this interview has been lousy, that the questions you're asking me are ridiculous, that from now on you really need to make your questions more imaginative. Right, now let's start the second half of the interview. That's taken a chunk out of you, hasn't it? You're thinking, 'he wants me to be good, but he's just told me I'm crap'. It's the same on a football pitch. Confidence can be a brittle thing. You have to show your players you believe in them even when they're not performing, and work very hard on what's going to help them, not what's going to help you."

- an interview with Martin Keown in the Independent of Friday 15 February gave this interesting quote on half-time management style:

cs lewis and tyranny

One of Charlie Brooker's lesser efforts, in the Guardian of 18 February, but a quote from CS Lewis stuck out: 'Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.'

I was interested by the thought that Charlie had read one of CS's theological works, but a Google search to see which of his books it appeared in - it seems to have been God in the Dock - shows that all kinds of journalists and bloggers have taken up the quotation in arguing against some kind of 'political correctness' or moral motivation. It seems unlikely that they're all using it in the way CS meant it, or that many of them read it in CS in the first place.

vince cable

The cult of Cable: Vince Cable was right about Northern Rock, he stood up for human rights by snubbing the Saudi royal family and made the nation laugh by likening Gordon Brown to Mr Bean. All this, and he dances too. Michael White writes in praise of the Lib Dems' late-blooming star.
- interesting article in the Guardian of 20 February

Friday, 22 February 2008


Read Shadowmancer by GP Taylor at Christmas; disappointing. Seemed rushed and shapeless, not bearing much analysis, the events of the plot didn't really bear the disproportionate implications placed upon them (it doesn't seem obvious why the events should be considered as anything more than a tiny episode in an eternal conflict - or even just in a longer chase story - rather than a key moment of crisis which draws out the big guns), characters whose significance outweighs their presence in this story (series ahoy). The most interesting idea in the book was introducing as a true and novel faith Christianity described in a way consistent with a fantasy novel, but never identified as such; but this was undercut by the existence in the story of the church - a corrupt church, and the minister was a chief baddie, but nobody said, that interesting new faith sounds rather like stuff from the Bible. GP Taylor was an Anglican priest when he wrote the first book, and became a full-time writer after its success. Self-published first, then picked up. Perhaps just right place right time, post Rowling. It's one of those books that make you think, I may not think I could write a book, but if this kind of stuff gets published...

innocent blood

Finished Innocent Blood by PD James; good book by the ever-reliable. I don't know how they were allowed to put the outrageously patronising quote from The Times on the back, though: 'Remarkable . . . could be read as a mainstream novel, and a considerable one.'

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

sendings-off and sackings

An interesting edition of the Guardian's football Knowledge, which includes responses to the questions 'Has a player ever received a second booking for time-wasting when being substituted? If so, can his replacement still come on or not?' (yes; no) and 'A bad result can precipitate a firing - but has there ever been a manager sacked during a game?' (yes).

daniel and russell

Too great to be good: Does Daniel Day-Lewis' overwrought, Oscar-nominated turn in "There Will Be Blood" prove he's too taken with himself to surrender to a role?
- This Salon article on Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't go as far as I would in saying that his style and his 'method' are insufferably pretentious and have been for years.

Russell Crowe gets criticism for not suffering journalists gladly, but I heard him on R4's Film Programme recently and I was with him in his irritation at the pretentious questions and theories presented to him. He takes a much more straightforward approach to the job of acting.

science versus humanism

Most people today think they belong to a species taht can be master of its destiny. This is faith, not science. We do not speak of a time when whales or gorillas will be masters of their destinies. Why then humans?
Species cannot control their fates. Species do not exist. This applies equally to humans. yet it is forgotten whenever people talk of 'the progress of mankind'. They have put their faith in an abstraction that no one would think of taking seriously if it were not formed from cast-off Christian hopes.
If Darwin's discovery had been made in a Taoist or Shinto, Hindu or animist culture it would very likely have become just one more strand in its intertwining mythologies. In these faiths humans and other animals are kin. By contrast, arising among Christians who set humans beyond all other living things, it triggered a bitter controversy that rages on to this day. In Victorian times this was a conflict between Christians and unbelievers. Today it is waged between humanists and the few who understand that humans can no more be masters of their destiny than any other animal.
Humanism can mean many things, but for us it means belief in progress. To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody nowadays, but it is groundless. For though human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same: a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive.
Darwin showed that humans are like other animals, humanists claim they are not. Humanists insist that by using our knowledge we can control our environment and flourish as never before. In affirming this, they renew one of Christianity's most dubious promises - that salvation is open to all. The humanist belief in progress is only a secular version of this Christian faith.
In the world shown us by Darwin, there is nothing that can be called progress. To anyone reared on humanist hopes this is intolerable. As a result, Darwin's teaching has been stood on its head, and Christianity's cardinal error - that humans are different from all other animals - has been given a new lease on life.

- from the (in fact, most of the) first chapter of John Gray's Straw Dogs (Granta, 2002). He's not the Men Mars Women Venus man, but the British philosopher. Wikipedia describes Straw Dogs as 'an attack on humanism, a worldview which he sees as originating in religious ideologies. Gray sees volition, and hence morality, as an illusion, and portrays humanity as a rapacious species engaged in wiping out other forms of life while destroying its natural environment.' How accurate this description is I don't fully know, but it doesn't seem out of step with the self-descriptions on the book itself.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

over sea, under stone, over

Finished Over Sea, Under Stone. She pulled the same annoying plot necessity again - this time dismissal of younger brother's suspicion of housekeeper as a dream.

It was fine, although it was more the first of a series than I'd expected, I thought it would be more stand-alone. I may not read further in the series, it's too late for me now really; it would be different if I were rereading them rather than reading them for the first time. Children's books don't always stand up when you read them first as an adult, and there's no reason why they should. (Although I tried Winnie the Pooh for the first time when I was an adult, and refuse to believe I'd ever have liked it, all the characters were so selfish and unpleasant. Or, to put it another way perhaps, childlike.

I'm sure people now write 'children's' books with hopes of Rowling-like crossover into adult readership in mind. I'm sure that makes for worse books.

SB and I agreed that parents being on-stage in a children's book didn't seem right, and reduces the chance of it being a proper, or good, children's book. A children's adventure book, at least. To Kill A Mockingbird comes to mind as a good children's book with adults in it, but perhaps that's not really a children's book.

nick coleman goes back to mono

Life in mono: From Bach to Led Zeppelin, music has always had a powerful emotional pull for critic Nick Coleman. But since he lost hearing in one ear, listening is agony and his favourite artists no longer move him. Will the magic ever return?
- article in Guardian of today, 19 February. Nick Coleman wrote for Time Out in my early years in London, I always enjoyed him.

men and women and music

Are women and men on different tracks when it comes to their favourite music?
- Times article of today, 19 February.

Quote from Caitlin Moran: Men 'treat discussions about popular culture like it’s some secret nerd-battle, where you use your superior arsenal of trivial facts to prove that you love the Clash more than anyone else around the table at the time. Women, on the other hand, prove that they love a song by either screaming: “I love this song!” and getting up and dancing to it, or wailing: “I love this song!” and bursting into tears. Women make jokes about the band’s hair, drink a shot of tequila for each time Rihanna sings the word “umbrella”, and work out in which order they would have sex with the band lineup – a popular, diverting game known as “Shag Order”. That is, quite obviously, the more pure response to music. After all, no bands form with the dream of being speccily rowed over by trainspotting blokes in the no-fun corner of the pub. They form to make ladies drink, dance on tables, and want to have sex with them. On this basis, we can see that women understand rock music in a way men never will.'

shouting at the telly

The US taking the moral high ground on China's non-influencing Sudan for good, despite their own non-influencing Saudi Arabia for good, the non-democratic, rights-abusing country from which most of the 9/11 bombers came. The US's hopes for a democratic post-Castro Cuba, ditto.

The Tories criticising the government both for nationalising Northern Rock and for not doing it quickly enough, without making clear what they'd have done - presumably as good capitalists they'd have let the market decide and thus do nothing to help.

Dwain Chambers - he's banned, or he's not. How is that complicated?

Monday, 18 February 2008

builders and press photographers

I despise those who worry if they're not in the paper every day. I like acclaim, but why do some journalists go through dustbins, or hide and take pictures? If a builder hid in trees to photograph topless women in bedrooms, he'd be on the sex register. So why is it right for someone with a press card to take a picture of a girl without knickers falling out of a night club?
- Ricky Gervais in this week's Radio Times

taking comedy seriously

A sketch in their new series features a dig at Two Pints of Lager...
'No, we're way past the stage of getting angry about comedy we don't like,' laughs Mitchell. 'All comedy is basically a benign venture. Someone's trying to make you laugh; they're not trying to kill you. A downside about comedy - rightly - being taken so seriously in this country is that when a comedy show fails, sometimes the people who've made that show are treated like scum, when in reality they've just tried to do a difficult thing and it hasn't come off. They should be applauded for the effort.'
- David Mitchell in this week's Radio Times


Football is a trivial pursuit, but then so is much of human life and if we set ourselves to fill every moment of every day with what is significant, useful and edifying we shall either end up full of humbug or disintegrate. Everything we do for leisure and recreation is trivial, including chess, opera, crosswords and climbing mountains (on none of which do I personally waste any time). They don't save lives or set the oppressed free.
Yet leisure itself is not trivial. It is a necessity (a fact to which the Sabbath bears witness), and one of the most interesting revelations to come out of this week's coverage of Munich was the pep-talk Busby (brought up in poverty himself) used to give to his players. He would say: 'See all these lads pouring into the ground, they have boring jobs. Give them something to enjoy. Give them something special.'
Does professional sport today still have that sense of responsibility? There was certainly not the gulf then that there is today between the punters and the players. The stars of 1958 were paid £11 a week: merely twice a joiner's wage, in an age when joiners themselves were seriously underpaid. To make matters worse, many of these players lived in club houses and, when they were no longer of any use to the club, out they had to go.
Today, even in the cash-strapped Scottish Premier League, the stars earn more in a week than teachers earn in a year. The cost, inevitably, is passed on to the spectators, and if what I occasionally see on TV is what they get for their money they should be asking for a refund. It certainly is not special; and when a real star appears, someone who can change a game with one moment of magic, chairmen see only dollars and promptly sell him.
- from Donnie Foot's WHFP article of Friday 8 February 2008, on the back of 50th anniversary of the Man U Munich air disaster

cold food

John Torode, MasterChef judge, tells this week's Radio Times: 'I can tell you now that all the food we taste on MasterChef is cold. Once the dishes are cooked we have to spend time getting pretty, close-up shots so that you guys can see exactly what they look like. We've tasted more cold food than you've had hot dinners in your entire life. We're used to it, and if food is cooked and flavoured well, then it works.'

Saturday, 16 February 2008

whisky galore

Watched Whisky Galore (Wikipedia; IMDB) on DVD this evening, which I got out of the library on Thursday - £1 for a week's rent, it has a second DVD of extras and a little book written by the director. Quite entertaining, and nice documentary value of 1948 Barra; the actual documentary extras are quite good. The film makes Captain Waggett quite sympathetic; the documentary credits that to Alexander MacKendrick, who sympathised with his side, supposedly due to his good Protestant upbringing.

I've never been to Barra; just the bottom of South Uist.

I read the book while at school and didn't find it funny at all. Maybe I'd find it funnier now. One thing learned from the DVD extras: Whisky Galore was Compton Mackenzie's 64th book. I read Roger Hutchinson's book on the true story more recently, which was interesting.

(Similarly, I wonder if I'd enjoy Local Hero more now. You're always less impressed by films by outsiders which try to represent your community - in the broadest sense - in some way. It occurred to me recently that, objectively, someone else looking at me would now identify me not with the locals but with the city dweller who has a box of shells and associated beachware in his high-rise apartment to remind him of his interlude in a Highland paradise. We do actually have a box of shells and pebbles, from locations around the country, though not collected by me.)

Friday, 15 February 2008

the pale horse

Read The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie this week, which wasn't too bad; 1961, so quite a late one; better than a lot of them because there's not a range or suspects with equally improbable motives and means, and also probably because there's not a detective who is withholding from you their thought processes in the most infuriating way. If she wasn't so unfashionable, people would often remark upon how much self-referential stuff - postmodernism? - there is in her books. There's hardly a book goes by that someone doesn't refer to crime novels and what would happen if this was a detective novel. Ariadne Oliver is in this one, a successful crime writer obviously in the books to let Agatha let off steam about the trials of being a successful crime writer. According to the Wikipedia entry on the book - which details the whole plot, something to remember before looking at their entries on other novels I don't want to know all the details of yet - reading the book at the right time helped some people to identify situations in real life where the same method was being used, deliberately or accidentally, to kill people.

It also contains the elegant alternative to hiring someone to kill a third party: you place a bet with someone that a third party will live longer than, say, nine months; they bet that they won't; if the third party doesn't live longer than nine months, you pay up. Just a simple wager, you see.

It came to me suddenly that evil was, perhaps, necesssarily always more impressive than good. It *had* to make a show! It had to startle and challenge! It was instability attacking stability. And in the end, I thought, stability will always win.
- p11

'Oh *Chelsea*!' said Mrs Oliver. 'Everything happens there, I believe. Beatniks and sputniks and squares and the beat generation. I don't write about them much because I'm so afraid of getting the terms wrong. It's safer, I think to stick to what you know.'
'Such as?'
'People on cruises, and in hotels, and what goes on in hospitals, and on parish councils - and sales of work - and music festivals, and girls in shops, and committees and daily women, and young men and girls who hike round the world in the interests of science, and shop assistants -'
She paused, out of breath.
p18 [of course, Agatha's just written the Chelsea scene. And the conversation goes on to have Ariadne ask Mark what he thinks about the possibility of killing someone by black magic, which is what takes up much of the rest of this book. At the end of that section of the conversation Mark says 'What put it into your head? Is your new masterpiece to be Murder by Suggestion?' And Ariadne says, 'No, indeed. Good old-fashioned rat poison or arsenic is good enough for me. Or the reliable blunt instrument. *Not* firearms if possible.' Twelve pages in, Agatha lets you know how the story will end, only you don't register it - I've only seen it because I went back for this quote. (Not that you don't necessarily know what's coming, but that you don't take in her explicitly pointing to it.) Cocky, and impressive.]

'One imagines a master mind,' I said, 'as some grand and sinister figure of evil.'
Lejeune shook his head. 'It's not like that at all,' he said. 'Evil is not something superhuman, it's something *less* than human. Your criminal is someone who wants to be important, but who never will be important, because he'll always be less than a man.'
- p231 (Fontana, 1988)

margaret mary

Margaret Mary Murray is the head of the new Gaelic Digital Service for Scotland.

motorhead and damned

Downloaded Damned Damned Damned and Ace of Spades albums off We7 recently. As at the time, it's not immediately obvious what makes The Damned punk and Motorhead not. Production values and technical proficiency are the obvious distinctions. On reflection, I also think that punk lyrics generally sound like schoolboys trying to be shocking, while a lot of the Motorhead lyrics seem to come from somewhere genuinely unpleasant.

gary numan

One of my good Fopp buys of last year was Scarred, a Gary Numan double CD of a live concert from Brixton Academy in 2000; it was only a pound, so even if it was rubbish... but it turned out to be good. And reminded me of an additional 'what makes a good gig' factor, which is the opposite of the 'range and variety' one - the creation and maintenance of an atmosphere, mood, tone. Also, I don't know to what extent you enjoy live albums more if you don't know the studio versions of the songs already, so have those to compare them to; around half of the songs were new to me.

Conversely, last month I downloaded Strange Charm, a Gary Numan compilation, from We7, and it wasn't very good - in an interesting way, in that it sounded derivative of 80s synth pop, whereas he'd led the way for creative and distinctive use of synthesisers in pop. Loss of confidence, or inspiration?

I remember pretending to play the keyboards of Are Friends Electric? on the back of the chair in the sitting room. It's still a tremendous record. Even if I no longer mime the keyboard part.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

blessings in disguise

I read My Name Escapes Me, Alec Guinness's book of a diary written for a paper, a while ago and wondered how the kinds of stories in it hadn't been in his autobiography. I read his autobiography, Blessings In Disguise (1985), over Christmas, and realised that he'd been very and overtly selective about what he covered in the autobiography. It was well-written, entertaining and quick. There's a wodge of references to Hamlet, which I'll go back over, but here are a few other items (Fontana, 1986).

One of Chesteron's most penetrating stataements was: 'The Church is the one thing that saves a man from the degrading servitude of being a child of his own time.' Just a *little* more effort, I hope, and I may deny myself that extra pat of butter, the third glass of wine, one lascivious thought, and achieve a moment when irascibility is controlled, one bitchy remark unsaid, and, more positively, find a way to make some small generous gesture without forethought, and direct a genuine prayer of good-will towards someone I dislike. It is a fairly pitiful ambition after a quarter of a century of genuflexion.
- p74 (he was a convert to Catholicism)

[on secret night manoeuvres in the Greek islands] An hour later we spotted the blue flash and eased our way into the cove. For a moment or two the darkness was complete and the silence almost unbearable. Quite suddenly the whole cove sprang into a brilliant, unexpected light, with bonfires blazing on the tiny beach and the hillsides. An handful of British soldiers stood on shore, waving, and a large group of Partisans who, grinning and boisterous, fired rifles at random into the air. They all made as much noise as possible. When I asked a languid English officer if, after all the secrecy and quiet, this was advisable he replied, 'Oh, yes. Jerry doesn't like coming out at night in these parts. Thinks he might get his throat slit. Which he would. The fires and noise will make him think there are more of us than there are.'
- p199

[an imagined exchange with a journalist]
'What makes you tick, Sir Alec Guinness?'
'I wasn't aware I ticked.'
- p278

happy accidents

Watched Happy Accidents (Wikipedia; IMDB) this afternoon - me off, Bethan off sick. A romantic comedy with Vincent D'Onofrio and Marisa Tomei, both of whom I like. I quite enjoyed it, more than Bethan did. It could very easily have been a quite different film - probably a better film - if they'd used the science fiction angle differently. I was going to say 'but probably a less popular film', but it looks like the film was released in 2000 and the DVD has just been released. Three of the four quotes on the DVD cover are from websites - which is to say, almost certainly users comments - which never bodes well.


The Point place names site doesn't really present very well the impressive research behind this venture, preserving local knowledge of names for geographical features around Point, particularly coastal of course.

The article on it in February's Ruadhach by Calum Ferguson indicates that the meaning of Sinigeadh was a hard nut to crack. Bridget - an academic, formerly a Norse lecturer, helping in the venture - 'made one last effort. She asked me to tell her everything I knew about our local beauty-spot. I explained that, with the spring ebb, it's a half acre of silvery sand where, at low tide, fishermen went to catch sand-eels for bait. In mid-winter, it's an excellent place to fish for cudddies... and, on lovely sunny days in summer, it's where generations of local children learned to swim. "Eureka! That's it," declared Bridget. "The name comes from the Norse 'synda' (swimming) and 'gja' a geodha. Your Sinigeadh is where your Norse ancestors of a thousand years ago used to do their recreational swimming".'

I didn't learn to swim there, but I certainly spent many Sunday afternoons in particular there, usually with Chris or Richard. Interesting if true, that the name implies that Ruadhachs have gone there for centuries. Until now, according to the article: 'Sadly, few readers under the age of twenty have ever visited "Sinigeadh", the sandy cove wedged at the boundary between Port Mholair and Aird.'

If the tide was in, there wasn't much there, and I'm not sure it was as sandy when I last visited as it had been when I was young. But there was always a good corner for building walls and dams against the incoming tide, just beside the natural arch through into what the website calls 'little Sinigeadh'. On the other side of the beach to that was a place where the rock overhang was such that at a certain point on the way in and out of the tide, a spray blowback would be forced out, making a rainbow in the spray.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

walworth road photos

Guardian article from 19 September 2007 on photos of Walworth Road taken by Sylvie Goy. Her website. An audio slideshow of the photos in question.

the exception that proves the rule

Another from Straight Dope, on the origin of 'the exception that proves the rule' - it doesn't seem to be what I've always thought.


Interesting Straight Dope article on how having ants crawling on your food is far from unhygenic. 'We'd be lucky if we were as sterile and disease-free as an ant.'

gordon strachan quotes

Gordon Strachan gives good quotes in post-match interviews. There's a few in this Times Online article of 23 January.


The Times online, 28 January: After a decade fighting to stop illegal file-sharing, the music industry will give fans today what they have always wanted: an unlimited supply of free and legal songs. With CD sales in free fall and legal downloads yet to fill the gap, the music industry has reluctantly embraced the file-sharing technology that threatened to destroy it. Qtrax, a digital service announced today, promises a catalogue of more than 25 million songs that users can download to keep, free and with no limit on the number of tracks.

The Times online, later on 28 January: Music site Qtrax forced into humiliating U-turn: A website which promised to give music lovers the world's first legal file-sharing service was forced into a humiliating climbdown today after it emerged that the company had not secured the backing of the record industry.

Oh well, maybe later, I'll keep an eye on Qtrax.


Atom. I watched this short repeated series - BBC4 on BBC2 - over the last three weeks, tipped off by Alex. It was interesting; I'd like to imagine that the reason that I didn't understand more of it was because it could have been explained better - or didn't have the time to be explained properly - rather than because I'm insufficiently clever. As I say, I'd like to imagine that. It was interesting how much the theories have changed over the last hundred years, and how profoundly scientists have disagreed along the way. It's interesting how that which is seen by one group as their strong point is a weakness from the perspective of those who disagree with them, often without the former understanding or realising why the others see it that way: on the one hand, unchanging faith and belief in the face of scientific and cultural developments; on the other, science's constant change and development, responding to the evidence, leaving you with the probability/certainty that that which is firmly asserted as proven fact today will have been supplanted by a new and different proven fact in a hundred, fifty or five years time. It was interesting the extent to which religious language persisted in the scientific lecture - 'god', 'creation', 'faith', 'belief'. It was interesting the way the theories were developed - some research-led, some hypothesis-driven - and how the hypotheses just kept getting more extraordinary and incredible; if someone presented some of them to you without letting on they were science-based, you'd think they were bonkers. It put me in mind of Arthur C Clarke's famous saying which goes something like 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' Any sufficiently advanced scientific theory is indistinguishable from a faith-based proposition, perhaps?

cs lewis on miracles

Professor Whitehead points out that centuries of belief in a God who combined 'the personal energy of Jehovah' with 'the rationality of a Greek philosopher' first produced that firm expectation of systematic order which rendered possible the birth of modern science. Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared - the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.
- p110

... to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection. Thus people who had heard only fragments of St Paul's teaching at Athens got the impression that he was talking about two new gods, Jesus and Anastasis (ie Resurrection) (Acts 17:18). The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the 'gospel' or good news which the Christians brought; what we call the 'gospels,' the narratives of Our Lord's life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the *gospel*. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this 'gospel' no gospels would ever have been written.
- CS Lewis, Miracles; 1947 (Fontana, 1966). I was, but probably shouldn't have been, surprised that a large part of this book, which I read (I don't think I was re-reading it) last year, started one step back, seeking to demonstrate by reason the existence of the supernatural, and moving forward from there. I found it quite helpful. The growth, out of chance, of a rationality in which we can have confidence has always seemed a key matter to be dealt with.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

philip k dick not a sci-fi author

Philip K. Dick is outed, again: 'But Dick himself really wasn't a "sci-fi author". He was essentially a serious writer, who used the genre of science fiction as a disguised delivery system ... for a complex, self-generated philosophy Dick very much believed in.' (Paul M. Sammon, _Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner_, revised edition)
- from the 'as others see us' section of the February Ansible.

Friday, 8 February 2008

dick whittington at the hackney empire

The Thursday before Christmas, while Bethan was at work, we went up to Hackney, my first visit to the Hackney Empire, to see Dick Whittington. The Hackney Empire panto has a reputation of being a very good, traditional panto, and we enjoyed it. When we first arrived, quite early, we were the only ones in the balcony, but soon a huge school group came and filled most of the rest of the balcony and while they were a bit noisy, they made it more fun with their reactions. They really joined in with the snatches of pop songs which were used - so much more appropriate than the West-End-musical-type songs used in a lot of other pantos, which must be quite dull to a lot of the children. None of the cast were particularly well-known, although the cat was obviously well-known to the schoolkids (he's on MTV) and the dame is often spoken of as one of the best. I think they were proud of being non-celeb. The plot and structure, of course, were similar to last Christmas's Barbican version. The dame, Clive Rowe, was very good, and certainly the best thing in it. I liked that what innuendo there was wasn't trowelled on thick, like in others I've seen; a couple were so deadpan and lowkey, deliberately I'm sure, that no one laughed. The fairy (Tameka Empson, one of the Three Non-Blondes) was done very Caribbean, which was good, and did a good Monkey Man. Dick was pretty good. The alderman was a bit too hammy. There were a batch of children doing chorus dance pieces throughout; one of the children appeared to be about four, and got all the awws and attention; if I was one of the other kids I'd have wondered if there was any point in me being there at all, since all eyes were surely on the little girl. A lot of Hackney refs - a local panto.

Some reviews, from a cursory Google: West End Whingers. Evening Standard (including a response comment from Ian McKellen). The Guardian. The Stage. Time Out.

over sea, under stone

I started Over Sea, Under Stone, the first novel in the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, yesterday, because it fitted into my suit pocket so that I could read it on my suited journey to and from Hendon Crematorium.

Two interesting points so far.

On p16 the three holidaying children encounter a rough Cornish lad at the harbour: "'____ off, the lot of 'ee,' he snapped; they had never heard the word he used, but the tone was unmistakable". Unless the word represented by the long dash is a Cornish expression rather than the obvious, that's not a sentence that would be plausible in any novel today. This book first published 1965.

On p77, the kind of sentence that vexes me in so many novels like this: 'It hardly seemed mentioning her visit to the vicar.' Nonsense: that's the first thing she would have mentioned. It's only important to the plot that she doesn't.

That gripe aside, it is so much better written than so much of the sloppy work being turned out now for adults and children alike. As I felt with The Wizard of Earthsea, the writing style could be for an adult book, it's only the content and perhaps a restriction on vocabulary that mark it out as having been written for children. Books today seem to be much more carelessly written. Don't know to what extent this change lies with authors, editors or audience.

It's interesting how distinctive the Puffin typeface is, as is the Penguin. I guess I've read so many of both, they have a good association.

duplicate death

Started this Georgette Heyer crime novel - Duplicate Death - last week. As with the previous one I read, takes no prisoners in throwing a barrage of characters and relationships at you in the first chapter, but you can let it wash over you to an extent, knowing that she'll enable you to pick it up as you go along. The most interesting thing so far has been the chief inspector's sidekick, inspector Sandy Grant, sprinkling his conversation with - to my eye at least - accurately rendered Gaelic words and phrases. They go untranslated, but as the chief inspector suspects, they all reflect a degree of cheekiness and insubordination. In the rendering of his English, the only consistent oddity is 'verra' for 'very', which I've often seen put into Highlanders' mouths but have never heard in the mouth of Highlander or any other.

Curiously, a search on Heyer and Inspector Grant led me to no further relevant info, but did reveal that Josephine Tey also had an Inspector Grant, who in The Singing Sands goes to the Outer Hebrides on a case. I'll have to keep an eye out for that.

hamlet - john gielgud ps

Finished this now. Nothing to add to previous post except that, disappointingly, it was Arthur Ridley, not Arnold Ridley who played the priest.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

losing 2p

And Manchester United today (from Monday's Guardian Fiver):
You know how annoying it is when you lose 2p? Not very, which is how Man Utd will feel as they pay £25,000 to the FA for picking up seven yellow cards against Spurs. If they do it again the fine will double to £50,000, if they do it eight more times they might start worrying.

munich 1958

50th anniversary of the Munich disaster today. Watched a couple of documentaries; Harry Gregg in them both, very eloquent, as he's been when I've seen him before.

From a BBC article: 'Elizabeth [Wood, Ray's wife] went to the hospital every day for eight weeks and Ray - who would only play one more game for United - explained what happened on the aircraft. "He said that on the third - and fatal - take-off attempt, the players all changed seats in a form of 'Russian roulette'. Ray never usually sat near the front, but this time he found himself there. Next to him was Billy Whelan, who was a very big Catholic. As they shot along the runway, Ray loosened his tie, took out his false teeth, put them in his top pocket and leant forward in an emergency position. He said to Billy 'we are going to die' and Billy replied 'I'm ready'. Billy was one of those who died."

Here's an Independent article on the significant loss of sports reporters.

english manager

After England were knocked out of the European championships, I was looking for the quote from Ian Wright saying 'I'd rather lose with an English manager than win with a foreign one', which I'm pretty sure was an actual one, but I couldn't find it. He certainly didn't look like it that night.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

the hunchback of st paul's

Guidebooks can seriously damage your immediate enjoyment of a new destination, since you're constantly having to stop in the middle of the road to refer to them. You can of course join a group with a tour guide. I've done a number of supervised London walks this way but they're invariably full of foreign tourists asking daft questions. Looking up at the dome of St Paul's Cathedral once, an American asked if that was where the hunchback lived.
- from Sue Arnold's audiobooks review, The Guardian, Saturday 2 June 2007

We did a number of London walks - the ones with London Walks never let us down, they had a high proportion of US tourists, none of whom ever asked anything so daft (and who demonstrated their wisdom by having found that this was a good way to discover London). Our walks tailed off because we'd done most of those we'd wanted to do, and were starting to cover the same ground again, both literally and in the information shared.

the nightingale

Bethan being at a Barts Choir rehearsal, via the dentist, we went to the Half Moon Theatre to see a puppet-based version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale, by the Angel Heart company. It's a young people's theatre in Limehouse (very near Departure, where we went for lunch afterwards and where I got some 50p CDs and Gone With The Wind for a pound), which I came across online last year (although from the website they've been going some time) and am on the emailing list of, but this is the first time we've been. It's housed in what looks like a former public building of some kind, and has a mixture of, broadly speaking, visiting shows at weekends and their own shows during the week. Quite well attended, and apparently well resourced. It was pleasant enough, and well enough done; the puppeteers told the story, and the female puppeteer played the flute and sang (when I read on the Half Moon site that it was a Swedish production, I thought it might be wordless, but both actors sounded perfectly English).

Of the various children's things we've been to, puppet things and wordless things have been in general less enjoyable than things with words and real people. I think my favourite thing I've seen is still Under One Roof at the Polka Theatre, which might have been the first thing we properly went to. Like Beckett for children, it was, and beautifully performed.

Friday, 1 February 2008

fateful choices

Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-41, by Ian Kershaw: As with all good ideas, one wonders why this one had not been thought of before. Despite countless books about the second world war, this is the first to examine the key decision-making processes during this crucial early period in sequence, and how fortunate that it is Ian Kershaw bringing his immense knowledge and clarity of thought to the task.
- this review in the Guardian of Saturday 2 June 2007 is a good article on the matter itself

st pancras krusty

I recently realised what the new statue at the new St Pancras station, of two lovers meeting/parting, reminded me of: the little gold plastic statue on a black plinth of Krusty the Clown that we got with a children's meal at a Burger King at a motorway service station last year. The St Pancras statue, which is nasty, would be greatly improved by having a button on its plinth which you could press to hear this message ring out: 'Hey, hey! It's your old pal Krusty!'

inconsequential political opinions

Boris Johnson is a dangerous buffoon in a harmless buffoon's clothing.

John Edwards must have known the game was up at this point in one of the debates: 'Barack Obama was talking about the extraordinary interest in the contest. "There's no doubt [of] that in a race where you've got an African-American, and a woman" - he hesitated for a second - "and John".' (That version from a Guardian article yesterday.)

I find it hard to imagine the Democrats will go for Hillary, carrying as she does the baggage of Bill, about whom so many feel strongly in a bad way. But a lot that I find hard to imagine still happens, in all kinds of ways.

A hop from James Eglinton's blog took me to Iain Mackinnon's, a Christian from (in?) Lewis who's experiencing increased traffic and comments from - well, let's hypothesise - bonkers right-wing American Christians who are Googling 'barack obama antichrist'.