Tuesday, 29 April 2008

dear london

When I was a little girl, there were still streets in New York City that could have been transported whole to the lower East Side from Warsaw, Vilna, Minsk, where shopkeepers sold dill pickles out of barrels on the sidewalks and spoke volubly to my father in Yiddish while stroking my hair with wrinkled hands that trailed the smell of vinegar. London tends to scatter and absorb immigrants and iron them swiftly into the general fabric. When an ethnic group claims a few blocks for itself - Bengalis in Spitalfields, West Indians in Brixton, Chinatown in the West End, rich Arabs in Bayswater and Regent's Park - the atmosphere seems downbeat and drab to someone who has known the vivid colonies that made up New York's mosaic, and continue to this day. Immigrants to the New World came in hope, a few still do. But London has had to contain factions squeezed out of a collapsing empire, and a lot of them arrive defensive and sulky like grown children who are forced by circumstances to live with mother.
- p9

[As a young American in Paris in the late 50s/early 60s] I didn't mind the squalor. Who of my art-sick generation would have minded it? Just as during my solitary walks when the city glowed and sparkled, always just ahead like lights seen from a rudderless ship, all I had to do was whisper: 'Paris, I'm in Paris . . .' to ease for a moment the melancholy and the persistent weary longing that together made a feeling curiously like boredom. Loneliness, longing, discomfort and ennui too, at the time - I considered them part of the price I had to pay for independence. Looking back, I see that I was quite correct.
- p18

- Dear London, Irma Kurtz; Fourth Estate, 1997 (1998 edition)

irma and erma

I recently read Dear London by Irma Kurtz. It was represented as a book about London, but - as the Guardian quote on the back rightly says - it's 'an autobiography disguised as a love letter to London'. The reader review on the Amazon page has it exactly right, also; it's okay, but it's not an interesting enough book about London. I've noted some quotes, though.

Also, Irma Kurtz turned out to be not who I thought it was. I'd been thinking of Erma Bombeck, not that I was disappointed or was hoping to read something by Erma. I read one or two of her books, school/university time, newspaper columns I think. They had good titles: I read one or both of If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?, and The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. I see from the Wikipedia page she also had I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression and When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home.

The list of quotations credits her with the well-known 'Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.'

joe strummer and the clash

Oasis hit huge and continue to be. But The Clash, for all their grasp of the required aesthetic of their time, barely sold records by comparison. They often made too ugly a noise to be populist, but there was always something a bit bogus about The Clash and about much of British punk. It was never, for instance, a proletarian pursuit, as advertised. Its points of origin - Chelsea, Soho and Notting Hill - were hardly working-class hotbeds. According to The Future Is Unwritten - which is exemplary and absorbing whether you care about the Clash or not - Strummer drew much of his tensile energy from 24/7 denial of his true self, the arty, well-spoken, private-schooled hippie boy, John Mellor. Joe Strummer was a total construct, partly designed, perhaps, to blot out the pain of losing a brother who'd committed suicide. I think I'd have enjoyed the Clash more if John Mellor had fronted it, but that wasn't allowed.
Like many stars, Joe Strummer veered between 'incisive visionary' and 'confused idiot'. Temple's film darkens when these two sides go to war and Joe starts to lose the plot. He emerges from a long period in the wilderness as a 'confused visionary', rediscovering his hippie roots, rewiring himself to believe that punk stood for loving your fellow man. He starts organising convivial gigs around campfires. He appears to find himself and thus peace. And then he dies suddenly of a congenital heart defect nobody knew he had.
- from a DVD review in Word of November 2007 by Jim Irvin, Oasis and Clash videos in this section

omid's builder fan

A builder came up to me the other day and said, 'You know what, mate, you're my favourite comedian.' I couldn't help but wonder what it was about me that he liked. Was it that I give him a window into an ethnic world he's not privy to? Is it the way I undercut political commentary with Godzilla impressions and belly dancing, exposing an impish absurdity? Was I bridging some cultural gap, showing him that people from the Middle East actually do have a sense of humour and that we're all the same underneath? In the end I had to ask him and do you know what his answer was? 'You've got a funny face, mate. I just have to look at your face and it makes me laugh.'
- from an interview with Omid Djalili in Time Out, 10 April 2008. I've removed the swear.

gordon ramsay and faith

The twins' birth, six weeks prematurely, was also traumatic. The babies went into intensive care and Jack was found to have a small hole in his heart, which should heal in time. At times like this Ramsay prays. He went to a Church of England school and about six times a year the family go to the church in Chelsea where he and Tana married in 1996. 'I want the kids to understand that there is a God and that more times than not we need to turn to Him for help. I've got no reason to stop being religious because so far it's worked.'
- from an interview with Gordon Ramsay in the Times of Saturday 19 April

'free tibet' flags made in china

'Free Tibet' flags made in China: Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say. The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning. But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.
- BBC news website, Monday 28 April. Bit of a dilemma for potential boycotters.

two more city churches

While taking photos of Milton-related sites in the City a couple of weeks ago, I was able to pop into St Vedast Foster Lane for the first time. Quite an odd layout inside - wall down the middle , choir stalls facing each other - not the pulpit, or with any room for congregation - over fancy tile pattern on one side, chapel style down other side, pulpit at end of wall, which didn't seem to fit with Wren's usual 'primacy of the Word' layout. It turns out to have been gutted in the Blitz, so I don't know what it was like before. Here's the congregation's website. There were good views of it briefly while the block across the road from it was knocked down recently, but that block's filled again.

Closer to our own church is St Anne and St Agnes, which we've been in a couple of times, though not recently - most recently for a concert which we didn't stay for because there was no indication that it was going to happen anywhere near on time. Rented out to Lutherans, and a lot of concerts there. Here is the official congregational website. They've had two visits from the Mystery Worshipper - in 2004 and 2005. I liked the Mystery Worshipper a lot in the early days, but they've become much less generous and more critical of churches which aren't the visitor's 'kind' of church, in a way which is unattractive given that it's become progressively more likely that people who go to the churches will actually read the reports and see identifiable people being written about unpleasantly or unkindly.

Monday, 28 April 2008

marina hyde on mayoral election

Back to the 80s on Boris and Ken's bendy Routemaster: If London is such a great city, how come its future has come down to two candidates who seem obsessed by bus shapes?
- Marina Hyde on the mayoral election in the Guardian of 5 April.

'So viscerally impossible is it to adore either that in recent weeks I have heard people at various points on the political spectrum say something along the lines of: "I'm voting Boris, because I can't wait to see that git Ken lose, and I can't wait to see that git Boris cock it up." This conceit can be jigged, with very little effort, to explain why someone would back Ken. Yes, as far as tactical voting goes, we can safely call this a new low. In fact, not since Mohamed Al Fayed sued Neil Hamilton has it felt so agonising that only one party could lose.'

charlie brooker on mayor election

I don't care what Ken Livingstone does - I'll still vote for him if it stops Boris Johnson becoming mayor: I wouldn't trust Boris to operate a mop, let alone a £10 bn Crossrail project.
- Charlie Brooker on the mayoral election, in the Guardian of 14 April. I'm with Charlie.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

inaudible ringtone

This week's nugget from the Now Show was the news that smart teenagers have been taking advantage of the latest teenager deterrent - playing a sound at a frequency older people can't hear but will hopefully bug and disperse your youth - by recording the sound on their mobiles and then using it at school as a ringtone that their teachers can't hear.


I think the latest variant on the offside rule is bonkers, that you're only offside if you're interfering with play; almost every week there's a controversial decision related to the interpretation of that. I don't see how you can be in the penalty box - or even the last third, or really on the pitch at all - and not be interfering with play, unless you're lying on the ground injured.

I could hear the crowd at the New Den in Southwark Park this afternoon, and knew that Millwall had either scored three, with the middle goal a penalty, or they'd scored four, with goals two and three in rapid succession, which seemed pretty unlikely. They made themselves safe from relegation, playing Carlisle, who were playing for automatic promotion, so it was a pretty good result.

dramatic powers

At one point the commentator, Clive Tyldsley, remarked about Drogba looking injured but that this wasn’t too much of a cause for concern because Drogba is known for his “dramatic powers of recovery”. That phrase would have been more accurate had he simply said that Drogba was known for his dramatic powers!
- From Alex's post on the Liverpool Chelsea game earlier this week

henry vi reviews - stratford

BBC Shropshire review of the trilogy at Stratford, and associated interview with Kieran Hill.
British Theatre Guide review of the trilogy at Stratford.
The Guardian review of the trilogy at Stratford.
Reviews Gate of the trilogy at Stratford.
MusicOMH.com review of the trilogy at Stratford.
Pete Kirwan's Bardathon blog reviews of Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 at Stratford.
Guardian preview of the trilogy at Stratford.
Daily Telegraph review of the trilogy at Stratford.
Daily Telegraph preview of the trilogy at Stratford.
Independent review of the trilogy at Stratford.

Notes further to all that. I couldn't see the musicians; it may have been the third part before I realised they were up on one of the levels behind the spiral staircase coming up from the double-doored drum. The press notes obviously carried information about 'The Keeper', who's the doorkeeper that ushers the dead off the stage. Some of the actors are playing the same roles they played in the 2000 production. The reviews of Richard III I've happened to come across seem to indicate that it's semi-modern.

There'll be reviews of the Roundhouse production, the second performance of each, after the reduced previews I was at, second of five if Richard III is anything to go by. Hardly seems worth it. Always seems odd also that there is a designated press night, which isn't the first night; not sure why the critics can't go any night they like. There was a lot of fuss last year that the RSC delayed the press night of King Lear for ages because one of the actresses was off for ages with an injury; why they didn't just go along and review it, I don't know (what sanctions can be imposed? They can't stop them buying tickets for future productions).

catching up on video backlog

I've been catching up a bit on my video backlog. Watched the first two parts of Pop Britannia at last, third still to go. Saw an interesting documentary on white gospel music in the USA; familiar with the kinds of quartets which were heavily featured, and had heard of but never heard Sacred Harp music, which I must seek out more of now, as it was excellent in its congregationally-sung version. Watched some more of No End In Sight, an excellent US documentary on the debacle of the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, based on interviews with some of those involved, which just makes you very angry and frustrated.

But I still don't have any wholly blank videos.

run fat boy run; filming in the city

Watched Run Fat Boy Run (although, surely, it should be Run, Fat Boy, Run) this evening; better than I'd expected from what I remember of its reception, though we do like Simon Pegg's stuff. A lot of entertainment value derived from trying to identify the London locations. I did recognise the set of the finish of the run, outside St Paul's Cathedral, however, because I'd passed it on the bus home from church one Sunday night; I puzzled over what run was ending there, and so late, before I realised that it was filming.

Because the City is so empty at weekends, especially on Sundays, we often pass film units on our way to or from church morning or evening, often parked up on Queen Victoria Street (where our previous church building was) or Gresham Street (where we park for our current church building). This Sunday morning there was an anti-apartheid rally taking place outside the Goldsmiths Hall; it seemed a small unit, so probably for a tv drama we'll never see, and we'll never find out what the Hall was standing in for. We've seen many 'trailers' in which we guess the talent is sitting, but have never seen any talent on the streets.

A number of years ago, when walking through Lincoln's Inn Fields with Bethan's parents we saw Billy Connolly in his trailer while filming Mrs Brown.

'all women do'

Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in the Commons, did not look like a battleaxe, to judge by John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of a slim and attractive American lady. But she exhibited feisty tendencies. When asked if she had married beneath her, she retorted: “Of course I did; all women do.”
Barbara Cartland, although not an MP, was a tremendous battleaxe in the finest English tradition despite making a rich living out of bodice-ripping romantic novels.
“No man should be a virgin on his wedding night,” she once said. “One person needs to know what to do.” Asked by a journalist — a member of a lowly trade — if she thought class barriers had broken down, she replied: “Of course they have. If they hadn’t, someone like you wouldn’t have been interviewing someone like me.”
Dame Irene Ward, the Conservative politician who died in 1980, had strong views on men. In 1936 she was among a group of MPs dining with Adolf Hitler in Germany. When the room unexpectely fell silent the assembled company heard her shouting at the F├╝hrer: “What absolute bosh you are talking.” It was the mark of the true battleaxe, and the sort of thing Gwyneth Dunwoody was capable of doing.
- a couple of nice quotes from an article by Alan Hamilton on the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody in the Times of 19 April 2008.

the wrong coren

Yes, Coren is back. Alas, it's the wrong one: What would the Sage of Cricklewood say about this column?
- Touching article by Giles Coren in The Times of 19 April 2008, his first since his father Alan's death.

No, I don't get the Times, but my mother did, and I'm unable to throw a paper out without having read it (something even she didn't manage to do with that issue, as with issues before it, something I've inherited from her - 'just read yesterday's and pretend it's today's', my father would say to her, as he would have to me, as she prepared to buy a new paper not having read the previous one). It's an illness.


I've recently read Comeback by James Fox; his autobiography from 1983, written just after his return to acting after about ten years working in obscurity for the Navigators after becoming a Christian and stepping away from acting. It was an interesting read, neither playing up nor being over-condemnatory of his 'misspent youth', which people sometimes feel they have to do. I looked him up on Wikipedia to see if there was more up-to-date info on him, apart from his subsequent acting cv; there wasn't, but the article was sufficiently muddled on the chronology and account of events compared to his own version of it (the primary credited source for info was the IMDB entry, which is user-generated and unsourced) that it made me want to register with Wikipedia and edit it. That's a door I'm not sure I want to open for myself, though.

Nice penultimate sentence in this section from his account of National Service (p41):
'Having no bedroom slippers, and remembering that the floor was uncarpeted and probably full of splinters, I intended to step across from my bed to the next one in order to avoid this danger. I stepped out into the void aiming for the space at the foot of my neighbour's bed where I imagined there would be a flat landing place near to his feet.
'Nothingness met my expectant downward-moving weight. The first thing that met the unfriendly floor was the tip of my nose, followed by my forehead and finally the palms of my hands.'

His response to Performance after completing it (p110):
'The effect the film had on me was really to turn me from drugs as a means of self-discovery and spiritual discovery and from the free and uninhibited use of sex as a means of seeking permanent happiness.'

Friday, 25 April 2008

henry vi part 3

Saw Henry VI Part 3 last night; I was looking forward to it, which was a good sign, as it could easily have been a slog of an experience if they weren't so well done. I wouldn't have appreciated them so much if I'd seen them in one day either. Again good, similar comments to before really. At the interval I asked someone nearer the centre whether you saw anything in particular when they opened the big curved metal doors at the back through which many exits and entrances were made, especially exits by the dead; there was nothing. The thing that struck me most this time was what an unpleasant and dangerous world it was to live in, especially if you were royalty or nobility - uneasy lies the head that wears the crown indeed, and the heads of their children and spouses. It's also interesting the extent to which you do feel the history plays reliable as history; liberties are taken, and there is bias, but the general truth and flavour is there.

Something in the programme reminded me of the Battle of Towton (1461), which took place during the Wars of the Roses (which I heard somewhere else, possibly In Our Time, was a name first applied to the period by Sir Walter Scott); I'd read an article about it before, reckoned to be the most brutal battle ever fought on British soil, with the highest number of deaths - Wikipedia says between fifty and sixty thousand casualties, roughly 1 per cent of the English population at the time dying there, though I'd want to check that. In fact, the Wikipedia entry has a link to the article I read, by Martin Kettle in the Guardian of Saturday 25 August 2007 ('Our most brutal battle has been erased from memory: Today's mindless killings show that something of our historic day of wrath still lives within us - and should be acknowledged'); so I've either noted it before or it's in my towering pile of clippings waiting to be noted.

From Martin Kettle's article:
'It is often said that the bloodiest day in our history was July 1 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, when 19,200 soldiers went over the top and were mown down by German guns. As a result, the Somme has become synonymous with the frightful, mindless slaughter of a whole generation of young British men. It traumatised the survivors so much that they barely spoke of it. But it hangs over our country still, nearly a century later. Merely to think of it can make one weep.

'Yet Towton was bloodier than the Somme. When night fell on March 29 1461 - it was Palm Sunday, and much of the battle took place in a snowstorm - the Yorkist and Lancastrian dead numbered more than 20,000. It should be said that the figures are much disputed and rise to as many as 28,000 in some accounts, and there were countless wounded besides.

'Now remember two other things while you absorb that. First, that while the population of Britain in 1916 was more than 40 million, that of England in 1461 was considerably less than 4 million, so the proportionate impact on the country must have been seismic. One in every hundred Englishmen died at Towton. Its impact must have been a bit like an English Hiroshima.

'And, second, that, this being 1461, not a shot was fired. This was not industrial killing from a distance. Every Englishman who died at Towton was pierced by arrows, stabbed, bludgeoned or crushed by another Englishman. As a scene of hand-to-hand human brutality on a mass scale, Towton has absolutely no equal in our history. It was our very own day of wrath.'

Also interesting that the fame of English kings bears no relation to their fame. Henry VI was king 1422-1461 (with a regent until 1437) and 1470-71; forty years or so; Henry V was king five years; Richard III was king two years.

Something I heard on a radio programme I was listening to on a podcast today reminded me that the hammerbeam roof of Westminster Hall dated from the time of Richard II (1377-1399), the first monarch in Shakespeare's histories sequence. It would be interesting to know how many reigns are represented by surviving architecture in London.

I'll do links to reviews of Henry VI Parts 1-3 in a separate post later.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

fridge story

On Friday's Now Show John Holmes told what he said was a true story, and from the way he told it I'd guess it was. The previous week he'd been doing a bit about the old public information films, of which there was one about making sure that when you got rid of an old fridge you disabled it such that a child couldn't get stuck in it. One of his elderly neighbours, having heard it, told him that they'd recently got a new fridge and had phoned the council to come and take away the old one. They said they'd come, but it sat outside their house for three weeks and still no council. Whereupon the chap decided upon another approach. He stuck a sign on the fridge saying 'Fridge. £25. Please knock.' And within an hour it had been stolen.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

henry vi part 2

Saw Henry VI Part 2 last night, which was even better than the first one. It got a bigger audience response at the end, but that was probably partly because it was a more exciting end, with Richard Plantaganet and his sons on stage, with music, preparing for conquest, and probably partly also because there was at least one group of American students in - sitting in front of me - who were ready to leap to their feet for a standing ovation.

The King good as an innocent abroad amidst scheming lords and spouse, setting himself ill-advisedly free from his lord protector and his good advice, and having him then falsely accused and murdered. A lot of use of reappearance or departure from life of those slain, as in Part 1; presumably not in script, as not line-based, but perhaps inspired by the definite ghostly presence in Part 2 of the slain Talbots from Part 1. The future Richard III looks disconcertingly like Mark Williams in the Fast Show 'suit you' sketch. They've certainly been good enough to make me sorry that I didn't get a ticket for the Richard III too - the whole run is sold out now, probably was not long after I got my tickets. The Jack Cade sections were good, funny and anarchic but clearly in an unpredictable, dangerous, undesirable way; unexpectedly, someone from the audience was taken up on stage to be involved in the chaos, to be ready to execute someone and have his bag emptied and analysed.

satnav users

A historic village in Dorset is to rename a cul-de-sac after being overrun with lorry drivers finding themselves stranded among the thatched cottages and chestnut-tree-lined lanes, courtesy of their satellite navigation systems. Residents in Holdenhurst, population approximately 100, have tired of the daily arrival of confused drivers looking for Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth. After a community consultation, Bournemouth borough council has decided to rename Holdenhurst Road as Holdenhurst Village Road to avert the confusion and stem unwanted visitors. However, the residents of Holdenhurst do not expect it to have an impact for some years to come. "Eventually, lorries will stop coming here," said one. "It seems people are switching off their brains, not looking at road signs and just looking at their satnavs, which are leading them up the garden path."
- another news story, this time from The Guardian of 18 April, on the extent to which drivers turn off their brains when they turn on their satnavs

the economist on the mayoral election

Send out the clowns: The lesson of London's funny but sad mayoral election
- interesting Economist article of 17 April on our upcoming mayoral election

when muslims become christians

When Muslims become Christians: There's a widespread belief that the penalty for leaving Islam is death - hence, perhaps, the killing of a British teacher last week. But Shiraz Maher believes attitudes may be softening.
- Interesting BBC article of 21 April

john prescott

Poor John Prescott, mocked even when he admits to a serious illness; of course, it had to be *that* illness.

Monday, 21 April 2008

fanboy behaviour

This evening, about half past five, while looking for a restaurant on Maiden Lane, the street behind the Strand - and the Vaudeville Theatre - I saw Daisy Haggard coming towards me. 'Excuse me,' says I, 'I saw you in The Importance of Being Earnest. You were tremendous.' She smiled and said thank you very much or some such; she went on to the stage door and a waiting chap, I resumed my perusal of a Thai menu. When I met the others we went to Fire and Stone, a fancy pizza place.

henry vi part 1

After a nap on Saturday afternoon - since I'd been up unwell in the night and would have been seriously flagging, not least after the earlier visit to Peter and the Wolf - I went up to Camden Roundhouse to see the RSC production of Henry VI Part 1, just transferred from Stratford; this was, as will be Part 2 on Tuesday and Part 3 on Thursday, a reduced-price preview. You could do them all in one day, but I wasn't up for that this time: soon after I came to London I saw the RSC production of the Plantagenets, which was these three plus Richard III squashed into 3 plays (so basically, these three into two, with Richard III intact), on one Saturday. I remember Anton Lesser's Richard III performance best from that (as well as the ticket desk taking pity on me and selling me dayseat/standby for the third one when I was buying for the second one, to save me queuing a third time). This time the same RSC company is doing the whole Histories cycle, from Richard II to Richard III. (The two other history plays, King John and King Henry VIII, are not part of the Histories sequence (reckoned to be two sets of four, the second set written earlier than the first (and Henry VI not necessarily in Part 1-3 order)) and after this week will be the only two Shakespeare plays I have never seen. It is reckoned that the Henry VIes were rarely done between earliest times and the 20th century.)

I enjoyed it. There was a lot of impressive use of the height - people and things being lowered or swinging down. At the interval, while I was standing by the side of our seats an Irishman brought his son for a closer look at the stage; I spoke to him, and he was one of the production team; he told me the set-up was exactly as it had been in terms of height and layout, just a little wider; they'd tried to make it as similar as possible with all the use of height involved.

It was almost in the round, and as I was at the left-hand end of the horseshoe the actors were often speaking away from me, so you had to concentrate quite hard. You also had to concentrate hard because of the characters and story - sometimes it felt like you were in a history exam for which you hadn't prepared.

Few of the cast were familiar to me - Forbes Masson, who I saw in one of the Hamlets last year, was the only one I really knew; a few looked familiar, but it may have been that they looked like other people (Warren Clarke, Jonathan Hyde, the minister Malcolm Maclean, Neil Ruddock,...). The scenes with Talbot and young Talbot - where dad tries unsuccessfully to persuade son to flee from the certain death in battle which faces them - were quite affecting; I wonder if I'd have thought so when I was younger. Interesting, and appropriate, the way Joan of Arc was played as written - wicked, fraudulent, witch - and not with any other or later perspective. The French nobility, of course, played as cowardly fops; how could they be other? Their first entrance, flouncing down the stage as if on a catwalk, was very good. The speedy change for the actress between being burned as Joan of Arc and coming back on as Margaret (who will be Queen in Parts 2 and 3) were also impressive; the seeing of characters in one play where they are minor where they will be major in another play is interesting, doubtless both for actors and audience; I don't know how difficult it is to create the character consistently, if the plays weren't consciously written as a long planned sequence.

There is an RSC Histories blog by one of the actors.

On the way from the tube to the theatre I unexpectedly came across the 'maid sweeping under wall' Banksy, which has been touched up by Camden council and which was handy for me for work reasons; I took a couple of photos.

I won't search and link to reviews yet, partly because I'll only get the Stratford reviews and not the London reviews, but mainly because I'll get the reviews for Parts 2 and 3, and I'd rather see the productions before the reviews. I'll be sitting one along in the row behind where I was on Tuesday, and back another row on Thursday; I wonder if some of my neighbours will be the same.


Evernote: Software to help you remember everything, forever: By photographing and saving all that you encounter, you can build a search engine for your life.
- interesting Salon article of 16 April on Evernote, possibly marking the death of memory

Sunday, 20 April 2008

peter and the wolf

On Saturday afternoon all four of us went to see Peter and the Wolf at the Hackney Empire (eflier here, for now anyway; the In The Wings production company tour website here) - a two-act version, the first act being newly-written (words and music) back story to make it long enough for a stand-alone performance. Narrator Brian Blessed. Well played, danced and narrated, we all enjoyed it. Brian Blessed - 71, amazingly enough - is such an over the top character in performance and interview and documentary, it is on the one hand hard to imagine him any different in private life and on the other hand easy to imagine him quite difficult to take in large doses in private life (I guess the latter depends on to what extent you think he is being genuine or artificial in that loud and cheery bonhomie; it does seem to be genuine). It's a lovely old theatre also; and we were bumped up from front upper circle to near front dress circle, which was good too. I wasn't expecting the duck to bite the dust.

Some reviews. Time Out. The Independent (of a performance at High Wycombe - it's a touring production). The Times. Daily Telegraph. Herald. Scotsman. Related interview with Brian Blessed in 'the Echo' (an Essex paper, it seems). Also came across the Brian Blessed page on Topix, a news aggregator I hadn't come across before, and which also led to this Scotsman interview, this ICWales interview and this other ICWales interview.

the importance of being earnest

Last Monday Mum and I went to see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre; second row stalls seats from the half-price ticket booth. Starred Penelope Keith as Lady Bracknell; I recognised also Gwendolyn actress (Daisy Haggard) from comedy sketch shows and Miss Prism from The Singing Detective (mum recognised her from many series of a Judi Dench/Geoffrey Palmer sitcom I've never seen, As Time Goes By); Cecily actress famous from Fanny Hill, which I didn't see (and in this had the kind of pointy breastwork most commonly associated with illustrations on the side of World War Two bombers; not sure if this is meant to emphasise her sophisticated naivety or what). It was well done; you have to embrace the unreality of the dialogue (and the plot) and go with it to make it work, not try to make it sound natural, I think; this did have the unfortunate effect of making you think to start of with that the two actors kicking it off as Jack and Algy were acting were acting poorly, where they were in fact acting quite well the mannered and affected style which Jack and Algy were acting in. Interesting, and the same in a previous Wilde play I've seen, that one character (Algy) is identified for the audience as the Wilde character; whether this reflects Wilde's intentions I don't know. Interesting also that quotations from Wilde plays are often used as if they are quotes spoken by Wilde himself, rather than one of his characters. Penelope Keith was pretty good (hard to imagine her in any other type of role than the one she always appears in; but then, why should you, she does this one so well); Daisy Haggard was best, insane and intense and sure to turn out like her mum; everyone else was fine.

Some reviews - usual broadsheet suspects (the Times ones the only ones that didn't come up without searching specially, which probably reflects badly on their website promotion) plus others from the first couple of Google pages. The Times. The Times. Daily Telegraph. The Guardian. The Independent. Evening Standard. The Stage. Londontheatre. A blog - webcowgirl (more blogs pop in the early pages of my Google searches for reviews now). A related Times interview with Penelope Keith. Q&A with Penelope Keith on london.broadway.com, whatever that is, but interesting. Most of the reviews are positive, and most spend most time on Penelope Keith.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

westward ho!

Tonight we went to the White Bear theatre to see Westward Ho! by Thomas Dekker and John Webster, which they (Paper and String) claim is the first revival of it since early times (it was written around 1604). It was pretty good; you missed some of the fast dialogue, and of course a lot of the jokes aren't funny any more, but it was a pretty straightforward plot. It was well attended, and the biggest cast I've seen there in that small space - about thirteen people. It was well performed. Matt Baldwin as Master Justiniano, who drives the plot, was good, and Nick Smithers as Mistress Birdlime was not too bad either (it mentioned in the programme that he'd played Baloo recently, and sure enough, it was him in the version of The Jungle Book we saw last summer at The Scoop). A couple of the continental comedy accents made the words hard to understand. Two of the other (older) cast members have their own websites: Duncan Armitage (who looks rather like Sam Neill) and Kevin Quarmby (who also wrote the introduction to the little programme). There was a Celtic v Rangers match on the pub tv, the pub was full of Celtic fans; Celtic scored twice and won, we could hear; they were pretty noisy throughout, but I'm used to that from being there before when a match was on in the pub, and it added to the atmosphere, the rowdy London mob (some people didn't come back for the second half of the play, I'd guess more likely due to that noise than the quality of the play). One of the interesting things about the play were the constant references to London streets and places we still know.

There's a pretty accurate review by David Phipps-Davis on Remote Goat, but I'm not sure if the past events survive on RG. There's a comment about it on the White Bear theatre page on the Time Out website, although it's a theatre page rather than a production page. A review also at Rogues and Vagabonds.

sara grey and kieron means

Went to Sharp's last night, mother and son, like the performers, Sara Grey and Kieron Means, who were good. Sang together and individually, mostly old American songs, he guitar, she banjo, both sang and played very well, and plenty of opportunity for joining in. At the end turned out, when my mother spoke to her, that she used to live in Skye and now lives in Perth.

It was a good crop of floor singers too - more than usual for a guest night, probably, since they got lost on the way. We arrived unfashionably early and a group of six young women, students I guessed, were there already, and four of them (introduced as 'Rachel Swift and the gang') sang Draglines and three sang some old counterpoint, so they were a big hit too - they certainly skewed the demographic. (I'd thought they might be a singing group, but when it turned out they didn't know a third song, that suggested not, so probably learned the songs as part of their studies; a little Googling led to the Central School of Speech and Drama. It is, as usual, a little disturbing the ease with which you can find people online on very little information and mild curiosity; what could you find about someone if you *really* wanted?) People seemed to be pointing them in the direction of The Magpies Nest folk club in Essex Road as a place with younger people which they might enjoy more, which may well be true but it would seem a shame to automatically send younger people that way. I'm always impressed at how warm and welcoming Sharp's is to performers, whatever or however they do, when one could easily imagine it being a fuddy-duddy club. The Magpies Nest looks good, and I've heard some of the folk who play there, including those that run it; I'm sure I'll go sometime - it seems to be usually on Wednesdays, but is less regular and doesn't seem to do singers nights, and it's probably marginally closer to get to than Sharp's - but I've got a feeling that I'd be one of the oldest there, as opposed to being one of the youngest at Sharp's, and I've a feeling that that might be a bit depressing, being reminded that you're no longer as young as you feel.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

martians attacking indianapolis

Searching for something else, came across this blog with a rather blog-appropriate Calvin and Hobbes cartoon used as a header.

In case it disappears eventually, the dialogue goes thus:
Calvin, sitting at a desk writing: I feel I have an obligation to keep a journal of my thoughts.
Hobbes: Oh?
C: Being a genius, my ideas are naturally more important and interesting than other people's, so I figure the world would benefit from a record of my mental activities.
H: How philanthropic of you.
C: Well, the world isn't going to get it cheap.
H: So what are you writing today?
C: I couldn't really think of anything, so I'm drawing some Martians attacking Indianapolis.

I was put off Calvin and Hobbes before I read much of them a long time ago because someone whose opinion I didn't rate that highly thought they were great. Slightly less of a long time ago I stayed for a weekend with a friend in Glasgow who seemed to have the full set, and whose opinion I rated more highly, and I stayed up late reading them all in bed, and enjoyed them.

Like Gary Larson, whose complete Far Side works I used to own, Bill Watterson did his greatly appreciated stuff for a few years then just stopped and has done nothing much since. They - and their lawyers - have both had to spend a lot of time preserving their copyright; contrastingly, Gary went full-on with merchandise, Bill shunned it.

I wondered if anyone had thought to call their blog 'Martians attacking Indianapolis'. Hats off to Josh. Josh did have one interesting post I found, on one of those games, randomly generating a band name, album title and cover artwork. I'd heard this one before, and I don't make a habit of indulging in these online/email games/questionnaires (once you pop, you can't stop), but when I tried out the links I got Amerikas Nightmare for a band name (it's a hip-hop album title, as it happens), People I Don't Know for an album title and a photo of coloured snail shells on a rock for a cover.

made in china

It's hardly a novel thought to think, as I did, that demonstrating against some poor saps running with the Olympic torch is rather easier and less costly to oneself and one's lifestyle than putting into practice a personal boycott of Chinese products, especially if you have children.

Here's a BBC article on that very thing: 'Made in China: In the run-up to the Olympics some opponents of China's regime are boycotting not just the games but all Chinese products. There have been many boycotts before, but with its dominance in manufacturing, those vowing not to buy Chinese face an especially tough challenge.'

Saturday, 12 April 2008

neville carr; roy and robin williamson

Two 'facts' I passed on to friends, which turned out not be facts at all:

- in school, I told Alex that the writer namechecked in Don't Stand So Close To Me was not 'Nabokov', whoever that was, but 'Neville Carr'. No, I've no idea where Neville Carr came from. Doubly odd because I have quite a clear memory of the cover of the copy of Lolita in the Loch Erisort Bookshop (Penguin, I think; sunglasses and lollipop, may have been a film still), in which I browsed on pretty much every day I was in Stornoway in my secondary years. I still think of it as the Loch Erisort Bookshop, although now it's Hebridean Jewellery.

- I told Alison that Roy Williamson of The Corries and Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band were brothers. They weren't. But The Corries did record a version of Robin's October Song, which is undoubtedly what set me off on that.

ikanan shallow bay

The Blue Monday reference reminded me of a lyric from it that I never understood: 'I see a ship in the harbour, ikanan shallow bay'. It was only in the last year or two that I saw the lyrics written down somewhere - doubtless online - and saw that the line was 'I can and shall obey'. Which is an interesting misheard lyric in that I'd got all the syllables right but assembled them wrongly, based on the preceding line.

The internet takes all the mystery out of song lyrics and song meanings and band lore and rumours, which were the topics of much discussion and wisdom sharing, poring over clues in album sleeves and gleaned from rarely-sighted interviews. It's all out there now, readily accessible. I don't know where Richard got his theory that 'Never Going Back Again' by Fleetwood Mac was a song about a visit to a brothel, but it made life more interesting.

from word october 2007

This photo of Joy Division by Anton Corbijn was taken in a tunnel in Lancaster Gate tube.

Rich Hall was the model for Moe of Moe's Tavern in The Simpsons.

Part of Rich Hall's Word to the Wise feature, section headed 'Comedy doesn't change anything': 'If you start taking yourself seriously as a stand-up then you're just a man standing onstage making very ineffectual attempts to change things. I don't care if you're Bill Hicks or Brendan Burns, if you want to change the world then go out there and do charity work or be a politician. People aren't there to be changed, they're there to *laugh*. There's no universal desire on the part of the audience to expect a comedian to push the envelope or take them somewhere they haven't been before. That expectation comes from critics.'

Pattie Boyd's response in her memoir re George Harrison's affair with Maureen Starkey (I didn't know he'd had one): 'I lowered the flag bearing the "om" symbol that George had been flying... and hoisted a skull and crossbones instead.'

I knew that some of the codewords from D-Day had turned up in Daily Telegraph crosswords in the run-up to the event, but not this bit: 'It transpired that a schoolboy who had got to know the codewords by hanging out with the invading troops had innocently suggested them to his teacher, who happened to be the crossword compiler.'

I knew this, but it's good to be reminded of the staggering incompetence involved: 'when the label [Factory] finally scored a global hit in 1983 with New Order's Blue Monday, [Peter] Saville's sleeve design ensured they lost three-and-a-half pence on every copy: the more it sold, the deeper it plunged them into debt'. It had cut-outs in the sleeve, like a floppy disk of the time. I remember listening to it in one of the rooms in the music department at school, for some reason.

pre-school theatre

And now, babies, a Jungian drama: Theatre for toddlers is booming. Is it just glorified babysitting - or a powerful cultural experience? Mark Fisher finds out.
- interesting article from the Guardian of 18 March

bringing up britain

Bringing Up Britain: Mariella Frostrup's challenging series of debates on how the next generation of adults is currently being raised focuses on how risk aversion is changing our children. We hear from a couple whose four-year-old son never has a moment in which to get bored but whose father wore an alarm on holiday that went off when his son was more than 100m away. Is the modern parental trend for over-stimulation and risk-avoidance doing harm to this generation of children?
- from a Radio Times listing for an R4 programme on Wed 16 April

barts choir

On Wednesday evening we went to Westminster Cathedral to watch Bethan and the Barts Choir (with the New London Soloists Orchestra). First half Bruckner's Mass No 2, second half Copland Fanfare for the Common Man, Mozart Wind Serenade in C Minor and Rutter Gloria. I had to leave after the Fanfare, but both the Bruckner and the Fanfare sounded very good in the cathedral. For an audition-free choir, the quality is high (I guess the requirement to read music filters out a lot, and self-assessing honesty must help too). It's a hefty choir too; all the names are in the programme, men as usual heavily outnumbered by women; least of all tenors, twenty-five of them (of whom at least six are women, bulking them up). I've been to the cathedral before, but not for a few years.

Friday, 11 April 2008

names in secondhand books

Two of the books I got in Tlon today had been owned by the same person - possibly H Nertmaier, although that doesn't sound like a name (a Google search bringing no results suggests it isn't; not Rentmaier either; Reitmaier gives plenty hits, but the first possible i isn't dotted as the second is; maybe it's Heidi). Not too startling, as they're not too different - Francis Wheen's Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies and Jim Shelley's Interference: Tapehead versus Television, two collections of journalism.

Not long after I came to London I bought two quite different books in the Record, Tape & Video Exchange bookshop in Notting Hill - Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut and St Augustine's Confessions - and was surprised to see that they had been owned by the same person - Georgina Tisdall (I've still got the books, she had better handwriting than H). If my life was a romantic comedy I'd have tried to track her down and love would have blossomed; in these less romantic days I'd Google her and wonder if she was really the Swedish massage expert. A friend of a friend at university started going out with someone he met on a train because they were both reading the same book; it didn't last.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

legal fictions

Bethan and I went to the Savoy Theatre this evening to see Legal Fictions, a double bill of one-act plays by John Mortimer, The Dock Brief and Edwin. Edward Fox and Nicholas Woodeson were in the first, them and Polly Adams in the second. The men in particular were good, although some of Edward Fox's lines weren't so distinct; not sure if that was him or the voices he was putting on. The plays were quite entertaining, though nothing special. We were bumped up from back of the Upper Circle to the second row of the Dress Circle (no one much behind us). For much of the time there was hearing aid whistling going on - start of the first one and the second half of the second one; I think someone was complaining at the end to the staff. The audience was fairly posh and fairly old, reflecting venue, play, star. In the first play Edward Fox made me think of an old Hugh Grant; in the second, one of the Baddiel/Newman History Today professors.

Reviews (not all London; it started off in Bath). The Stage. The Times. Time Out. The West End Whingers (who are popping up fairly regularly in my review searches now). The Guardian. Evening Standard.

Monday, 7 April 2008

new yorker

A radio doc a while ago via Speechification prompted me to try the New Yorker again for the first time in ages. I always liked it, but don't have time to read it. Good cartoons, a reassuringly old-fashioned font.


Went to Sharp's last Tuesday evening, singers night. In the second half - the chair asked for more singers as we ran through the list quite quickly - sang Willie Taylor, Voice Squad version. Didn't forget the words, but had a couple of hesitations; as I said before I started, I don't think you've fully earned your spurs at Sharp's until you've forgotten the words; as is traditional, quite a few folk did on Tuesday. I'll have to be bolder and resolve that every time I go I will put my name down to sing, instead of always putting it off to the next time.

telegraph book list

Another list of must read books, this time the Telegraph's 110 (110?) best books (6 April). What are these people trying to do to me? How long do they think I've got to live? (The whole Barchester Chronicles is one entry, the complete Sherlock Holmes another, and there are more like that, which is cheating rather.)

For the record, a quick scan suggests I've read, more or less, twenty-six of them. If it hadn't been for the Crime and Sci-Fi sections I'd have been stuffed. One of the others I have read is The Ballad of Peckham Rye, by Muriel Spark, which is a bonkers choice.

Saturday, 5 April 2008


Bought an old Panther paperback of Left Hand of Darkness for 50p in Tlon. Inside back cover, the bookmark: a yellow post-it note:
Sat 13 Dec KYCB Concert
15-12 ?Lunes James Concert
19-12 Wed Mole Valley
Sat 20-12 " "
22-12 Alexis Surbiton
23-12 " "

18-12 ?Beyber
?+ient ?gwen ?elmer

old dog, new tricks

Cartoon in this week's Private Eye:
Boss dog at desk talks to employee dog:
- The reason you have to learn these new tricks, Wilson, is because the old tricks are not compatible with Windows Vista.

fake movie trailers

The Shining as romantic comedy.
Mary Poppins as horror.
Many more where they came from, on YouTube.


Found this invaluable online utility at notespaper.com.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

the parent trap

The parent trap: As the market for infant products grows ever more absurd, author Pamela Paul takes on $800 strollers, Gymboree and the bamboozle that is Baby Einstein.
- interesting Salon article of 29 March on how parents are suckered into buying expensive stuff for children, especially stuff they're told is good for their children's development but isn't.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

much ado about nothing

One of the advantages of part-timeness is that I could go to the National Theatre on Friday morning (28 March) and queue up for standing tickets for Much Ado About Nothing that evening. I was aiming for standing tickets - when a play's sold out they sell standing tickets after the day seats; as it turned out I got the first standing ticket, so I nearly got a seat. Interesting how many people preferred not to get a standing ticket when they found that the day seats were sold out but resolved to come back and queue for returns. You'd think at least they'd get a standing ticket for insurance.

Apart from at the Globe, I haven't stood for ages; a fiver, it was. Back of the circle, got a stance in the middle. The back of the last row wasn't very high, pocket height; you could lean on it sometimes but not all the time. It was mostly standing unsupported, although being at the centre did give you the option of stepping back and leaning back on the back wall, which I did sometimes. It felt further away than the Royal Opera House seats, say; you could hear quite well, and it wasn't looking down on bald spots, but detailed expressions weren't obvious.

Zoe Wanamaker and Simon Russell-Beale were as good as you'd expect. Mark Addy and Oliver Ford Davies good also; no one else particularly stands out. The obvious thing which people will remember about it is Simon jumping into the pool to hide. I've seen it twice before - once during the European Study Trip of 1989, with Alan Bates and Felicity Kendall (and Peter Sallis), and later at the RSC Barbican with Roger Allam and (Google tells me) Susan Fleetwood; I also saw the Branagh/Thompson film. The first was I think the best, not just I think from being dazzled by seeing these famous people on stage in front of me.

Some reviews. Evening Standard. Daily Telegraph. The Stage. The Guardian. Independent. Another from The Independent. The Times. . Another from The Times. Most seem to make a point of their age, but having seen Bates/Kendal first that's what I've always expected.