Monday, 29 September 2008

dog and ball machine

Another engineer/pet interface video from YouTube, this time a dog playing fetch with a ball-throwing machine.

an engineer's guide to cats

A peculiar, deadpan, entertaining video of the above name on YouTube.

Friday, 26 September 2008


I'm well behind in listening to my Speechification podcasts, but they keep giving good stuff, some of which I wouldn't have sought out. Some recent listens: a Piper Alpha real-time drama based on material from the Cullen inquiry, a broader Piper Alpha doc, the 1977 New York blackout (which made no impression on me at the time), Ed Sullivan (which helped to explain why his programme was so significant), the medal makers (on Olympic officials), an archive hour based on notes taken by a civil servant in Churchill's wartime cabinet (unofficially - he recorded the discussion, the official notes just recorded decisions), how WIs audition potential speakers, a programme on the letters soldiers leave behind to be read in the event of their death (which made me think surely it would be better if they gave the letters to their loved ones to read after they'd left for the war zone, so they could talk about how much they loved and meant to each other, rather than when the loved ones could make no reply; also interesting that in the American Civil War people used to pin the letters to themselves to be found after their death, and at least one of those Civil War letters was written while the man was dying on the battlefield), From Trotsky To Respect (which revealed how much like a religion the Socialist Workers Party - and probably any small intense political party - was), Hovis Presley (whose jokes made me think of Tim Vine), and a programme on the Lincoln Memorial (the most interesting bit of which was where it told of how a couple of quotes made up for fictional versions of Lincoln - including one on Star Trek - were subsequently quoted by politicians as authentic Lincoln quotes).

the only asian in the audience

The only Asian in the audience: When culture minister Margaret Hodge suggested the Proms was too white, its fans were furious. Sarfraz Manzoor decided to see for himself
- Guardian, 16 September

can you live on a pound a day

Cheap thrills: Can you live on a pound a day?: We may all be tightening our belts, but just how far would we goto save money? Teacher Kath Kelly lived on just £1 a day for a whole year, and lived to tell the tale. Jamie Merrill follows her lead – and learns some life-changing lessons on the way
- Independent, 16 September

I hadn't heard the Kath Kelly story. Here's a BBC item on it; she's turned it into a book.

renaissance lookie-likies

Didn’t I see her in Lost in Translation?: The National Gallery’s new show of Renaissance portraits contains some strikingly modern faces. Does this mean nothing’s changed in 500 years?
- Sunday Times, 21 September)

Thursday, 25 September 2008

timon of athens

Last Tuesday I went to Shakespeare's Globe and saw Timon of Athens. It was a bit of a last-minute decision; it's very civilised to be able to still be wondering at quarter to seven whether to go or not and then to be there standing in the yard at twenty-five past seven - standing, in fact, at the stage once again, just round the corner from where I was for the Factory Hamlet, stage right. I was, it turned out, spotted by Bruce and PJ, although we didn't bump into each other there (this kind of thing happens more often than you might imagine in London). I wanted to go because I like to try to get along once a year, and because I wasn't sure how abridged the version I saw at the White Bear last year was. Allowing for imperfection of memory, I'd say it wasn't that much abridged.

The production was fine, though I probably enjoyed the White Bear one more. All I knew about the production in advance was that it was the same director as the Titus Andronicus I saw there last year (I think) and that as there she'd used a covering or awning, this time with people on it. The people crawling about on it seemed to represent vultures (I haven't read the meat of the programme yet, or the reviews) - a literal expression of the metaphorical description of Timon's friends, which I don't think added anything much and subtracted a bit by being a distraction. None of the performances stood out in particular; Timon was played by someone - Simon Paisley Day - who looked oddly like a stretched version of Mark Rylance, which had the unfortunate effect of making you wonder how much better Mark Rylance would have been doing it; conversely, Apemantus was played by someone who looked like Milton Jones, complete with wild hair.

Some reviews. Indie London. The Independent. The Independent's preview quotes the director saying Hitchcock's The Birds is an inspiration (and also says Titus was two years ago, not last year). The Observer. A lot of the reviews reference the credit crunch and topicality. What's On Stage. London Theatre. Guardian. Warwick's Bardathon. Times. Time Out. Daily Telegraph. A Guardian article on the shocking nature of the production, which seems rather over the top. John Morrison blog. Financial Times. Hilda's weblog. Music OMH. Shakespeare Post review roundup and associated slide show of production photos. Evening Standard.

The programme and others are giving our local boy Thomas Middleton a co-writing credit; the Wikipedia entry is quite detailed on the text..

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

islington squares

Mrs Faraday's house was the eighth in a mid-nineteenth-century terrace on the south side of an Islington square. The houses, no doubt built originally for the superior working class, must have gone through the usual transmogrification of rising rents, neglect, war damage and multi-occupancy, but had long been taken over by those of the middle class who valued proximity to the City, the nearness of good restaurants and the Almeida Theatre, and the satisfaction of proclaiming that they lived in an interesting socially and ethnically diverse community. From the number of window grilles and burglar alarm systems, it was apparent that the occupants had protected themselves against any unwelcome manifestation of this rich diversity.
- PD James, The Murder Room, 2003, p275 (2004 edition)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

geoffrey perkins

The thing I learned in particular from the Geoffrey Perkins obituaries - this one's from the Daily Telegraph of 31 August - was that he invented Mornington Crescent, which I'd have thought he was too young to have done. I knew quite a lot of the other stuff, including that Douglas Adams had so much help doing the Hitchhiker radio scripts.

Later: the October Ansible says that despite the obituary refs, Mornington Crescent did indeed exist before Geoffrey Perkins' involvement.

danny baker

Five alive: Danny Baker returns to national radio: Having authored scripts for Chris Evans and Jonathan Ross, Danny Baker has written a feature film and is returning to Radio 5 Live. He tells Ian Burrell of his Amercian dream and why football is more theatrical than gags about pies and haircuts
- an Independent article of 1 September marking Danny's return to national radio, doing a weekly stint on 606. I've discovered there's a 606 podcast, so I can listen to his and delete the others. One of the advantages of part-timeness is that I've been able to hear his BBC London afternoon show from time to time, though they haven't podcasted that yet. I was getting his general and football podcasts while they were free, though they went belly-up soon after the general one went pay-only.


Buckfast: The Iconic tonic goes from strength to strength: In Scotland, it is the cheap drink of choice for feral youth, sparking calls to ban it. But the monks of Buckfast want to expand production of their powerful fortified wine. On the poverty-stricken housing schemes of west Scotland, it is known as "Commotion Lotion", "Wreck The Hoose Juice" and, most commonly, "Buckie". A powerful, sticky, black beverage that is high in alcoholic volume and low in price, Buckfast Tonic Wine is the grog of choice for the country's budget drinker and feral youth. Broken brown bottles bearing the familiar yellow label litter the streets of urban slums and estates. YouTube carries home-made videos of youngsters hurriedly "downing" large bottles of the sickly sweet concoction. Buckfast is considered so much of a scourge on society north of the border that leading politicians have lobbied to have it banned. South of Hadrian's Wall, it could not be more different. Buckfast Abbey sits in the tranquil surrounds of the Devon countryside, an 11th-century pillar of religion that is home to a group of Benedictine monks. Their humble winemaking attracts so little publicity there that many locals have never even heard of the drink. For more than a century the monks have innocently produced their traditional tonic. They are aware of, but seemingly unflustered by, the fearsome reputation their product has earned farther north. Unbowed by accusations that their wine contributes to the social destruction gripping the estates of Glasgow and its suburbs, they plan to expand production of Buckfast, citing demand as their reason. A planning application submitted to Dartmoor National Park reveals their intention to build a new winery. A statement issued by the company said that the "expansion will serve anticipated demand and foreseeable growth of the business". That demand is no doubt anticipated to come from the west of Scotland, where "Buckie" finds an insatiable fan base among social ne'er-do-wells. Helpfully inscribed on the label is a message warning that the name tonic wine "does not imply health giving or medicinal qualities", as if it were in that mistaken belief that Scottish youngsters imbibe it. At little over £5 for a 750ml bottle, Buckfast is cheap, and with 15 per cent alcohol content, it's potent.
- Independent, 1 September. I don't know how those monks sleep at night. I remember a Rab C Nesbitt episode in which Rab visited the Abbey.

professor steps down over creationism row

Professor steps down over creationism row: Britain's national academy of science parted company with its director of education yesterday after a furore over the teaching of creationism in schools. Michael Reiss, a professor of education at the Institute of Education in London and an ordained Church of England clergyman, agreed to step down from his position at the Royal Society, which claimed he had unintentionally caused damage to the organisation's reputation. Reiss was widely reported to be in favour of teaching creationism in school science lessons after a speech he gave in Liverpool last week, but the following day he issued a clarification arguing his comments had been misinterpreted.
- Guardian, 17 September

testing the heavens

Testing the heavens: Scientists may be trying to engage with believers, but experiments won't resolve the big questions
- Mark Lawson article in The Guardian of 22 September. I'm not particularly hung up on the 'science v religion' debate (although it's a false 'versus', like 'Islam v The West', since they're not mutually exclusive opposites), but it's throwing up a lot of interesting articles at the moment. I wonder what the articles will all be about in ten years' time - I bet it's not this.


The magic of Stonehenge: new dig finds clues to power of bluestones
- Guardian, 23 September

london crime maps

The Metropolitan Police's crime mapping site. The BBC article of 3 September about it.

commercial dispatch

David Strain is interviewed by Columbus's Commercial Dispatch of 13 September


Capitalism and the free market tend towards monopoly. The right wing is against state intervention in the free market until really big firms need help.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

still more on the factory hamlet

The What's On Stage discussion forum thread got longer, and was quite interesting. Both for and against are saying quite similar things sometimes, particularly in relation to it being like a workshop, for saying that you see flashes of ideas and interpretations that could be worked up into something bigger and better. I'd say that's true, but it's frustrating when you know they're not going to go anywhere with any of those ideas on this occasion, and it does make the production lack coherence. The 'obstructions' do give potential for positive workshoppy developments; the props, however, I though overwhelmingly added nothing but cheap laughs and detracted a great deal.

The forum thread has a link to Duncan's review, which is also quite helpful especially in terms of listing in detail the props used, and also the cast and roles taken.

Photos on another blog.

And here's a little something on Josh Hartnett's appearance.

no parsley in leominster until friday

Brian Viner: The tedious bias of restaurant reviewers: Country Life: 'There's something rather wholesome about having to wait three days for a consignment of parsley to turn up'
- Independent, 3 September

best quote:
'Besides, I realised ages ago that there is no point in bemoaning the differences between the city and the country; you have to embrace them. Our friend Derek, who lives in north London, was staying here once, and said he was going into Leominster and was there anything we needed? Jane said we could do with some parsley, but Derek came back from the greengrocers looking slightly dazed, and reported what he'd been told: there wouldn't be any parsley in Leominster until Friday.

'No wonder he looked dazed. It was a Tuesday. And Derek is a man who lives in a part of the world where, if the desire strikes, you can buy yams round the clock. Anyway, I tried to convince him that there is something rather wholesome, in this world of instant gratification, about having to wait three days for a consignment of parsley to roll into town. And I truly think there is. It breeds patience, and appreciation. It also made me resolve to grow my own parsley, but that's beside the point.'

motorway migrants

Here's a sobering fact to be learnt from tonight's trip following the motorway police of the Midlands: there are now so many illegal migrants found walking along UK motorways (frequently having been dumped from lorries by traffickers) that police have stopped arresting them; instead they tell them to report to Home Office centres in Croydon and Liverpool, though how many do isn't known.
- from the preview in the current Radio Times of the Motorway Cops docusoap (showing on Thursday)

Sunday, 14 September 2008

barack myths

Debunking anti-Obama e-mails: Error-filled chain e-mails designed to scare voters away from Barack Obama are circulating widely on the Internet. Salon deconstructs a pair, one smearing the candidate, the other his wife.
- Salon, 20 August

Snopes has an ever-increasing pageful also.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

obama and mccain at saddleback

Sunday morning at Saddleback Church: Most of Rick Warren's churchgoers still back McCain, but praised Obama's "values." The weekend's big winner was Warren.
- Salon, 18 August

Barack Obama's purpose-driven gamble: The Democrat wanted to show he could compete for evangelical votes, too. Will he succeed?
- Salon, 17 August

american oil myths

Did you hear that Alaska has more oil than the Middle East?: Petroleum may be in short supply these days, but the United States does have a related surplus: myths of oil abundance.
You don't have to drill deep into our political discourse to find suspect stories about oil, with politicians peddling the flagrantly false notion that China is producing oil off the coast of Florida, while right-wing activist Jerome Corsi claims oil is not a fossil fuel but "a natural product the Earth generates constantly."
Such declarations serve a political purpose: to make oil drilling seem like an easy solution to our current energy crisis, to marginalize warnings that we are running short on oil, and to stymie efforts at conservation or developing alternatives to fossil fuels.
- Salon, 18 August

james braidwood

I was trying unsuccessfully to make out a first-floor-level plaque I saw while walking down Tooley Street on Saturday, and on Monday I read this about James Braidwood, who the plaque commemorates.

literary walking tour of london

An American in London does a tour of London based on a chapter of From Hell. Reading further into the blog it appears that this is one of the books he read in preparation for moving to London, which is funny.

airbrushing keira

Interesting article from Salon of 29 July on Keira Knightley and, er, airbrushing.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Last year I killed a man

Last year I killed a man
- Guardian article of 19 July by tube train driver whose train was chosen as the weapon of death by a man killing himself.

twelve consistently-selling books

The 12 top titles that booksellers must always stock
- interesting article in the Daily Telegraph of 9 August. In fact the twelve titles are those which have featured continuously in Nielsen's top five thousand bestsellers for the last ten years. The article doesn't give the full list, but, helpfully, commenters do:
1. Birdsong
2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
3. The Hobbit
4. Complete Cookery Course
5. We're Going on a Bear Hunt
6. The Celestine Prophecy
7. The Colour of Magic
8. Long Walk to Freedom
9. A Brief History of Time
10. The Road Less Travelled
11. The Light Fantastic
12. Mort

The article points out, among other things, that because it's done by ISBN numbers, things like Jane Austen, say, which appear in many editions at a time don't make the list when they really should. Three Terry Pratchetts!

white minority

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 - eight years sooner than previous estimates. The big change is among Hispanics and Asians whose share of the population is set to double to 30% and 9%. The population is also ageing: by 2050 one in five residents will be aged 65 or over, up from one in nine today.
- BBC, 14 August

money for old rope

Rob Holdstock celebrated his 60th in July, while Chris Priest turned 65 and began to receive the long-awaited state pension: 'At last I am the old rope for which there is money.'
- a nice turn of phrase from the August Ansible

more fanboy behaviour

When I saw Tony Robinson on the Embankment near HMS Belfast on Saturday afternoon, I had to stop and tell him how I appreciated him in Time Team and other things over the years, silly old fool that I am. Although he was on his own, as I walked on I saw there was a camera crew, and later saw them filming him, so perhaps I'll see a bit filmed there in a future history documentary.

more on the factory hamlet

A little discussion thread on What's On Stage. Alexandra had a similar reaction to me, although put a bit more harshly than I think I did; Duncan took the photos I linked to previously and takes issue; I've chipped in now, so we'll see what happens.

With all the photos being taken I thought there'd be more blogging about it, but not really (when I search for related blog entries, I get my own, which feels a little peculiar). I guess they're all on Facebook, reflecting the demographic. The Londonist mentions it, but doesn't seem to have seen it.

An interview with Alex Hassell on Spoonfed this month.

The show reports on The Factory's own wiki site are quite detailed, but haven't caught up with September yet; I'll go back.

the factory hamlet

On Saturday night I went to see a midnight performance of The Factory Hamlet at Shakespeare's Globe. It's quite a hip thing, I get the impression; I heard about it earlier this year, but they usually do it on Sunday nights, presumably because the cast hopefully have other acting commitments through the week. They put Hamlet on in unusual locations, using only props brought by the audience, and only choosing by paper-scissors-stone at the start of the performance who will play which role; they also give the cast particular instructions - obstructions, they called them - at the start of each act which they have to follow for that act. This is the end of their first year, and they're doing a week of extra performances to celebrate. I got the Globe ticket a while ago, and it sold out. I had wondered beforehand about trying to get to one of the other ones this week, but having been now I don't feel the need.

I haven't been to a midnight performance of anything since visits to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe long ago, I think. Surprisingly I didn't feel tired at all, even though I was standing - I was standing in the yard, right by the stage, so had that to lean on, which helped the legs. It also helped that it didn't rain very heavily, although we did have some spells of drizzle; I was well-layered, but it stayed pretty mild. I'd say at least two-thirds of the audience were student age, and got the impression that most of the audience had seen at least one previous performance.

I must say that I really didn't get it. The publicity - they don't advertise, but they get lots of publicity one way and another - emphasises the idea that you get freshness and new insights through all this, but I didn't really. I could see that a lot of it could function as useful rehearsal exercises for actors, say, and I can see that it could be fun to perform, but I don't think any of it helped to communicate the play. The points of energy were all to do with the props and the obstructions, but nothing really in relation to the words or characterisation. The props things got a lot of laughs, because it largely seemed to be student-agers taking crazy props along - things like a stuffed though soft deer, a large inflatable shark, lots of fruit, feather dusters, builder's helmet and gas mask (which were used together for Hamlet's Ghost and could have been done quite darkly but just went for laughs), umbrellas, badminton rackets, flour, tinned beans and novelty items of all descriptions. The five obstructions were: props from only the upper galleries; the actors lip-synching to the actor who lost the contest for the part, the latter standing in the gallery; only one person allowed on the stage at a time; more than one of the performers who knew the part doubling up for each part at the same time for some of the time in the act (in fact they doubled - or tripled or quadrupled - for all parts through the act); and then when Jon Boden (who was providing musical accompaniment) was playing they were allowed to move but not speak and when he wasn't playing they were allowed to speak but not move. The obstructions I don't think added anything (although some of the lip-synching was technically very impressive); the props detracted significantly. It put me most in mind of prop-driven improvisational comedy - a Shakespearean Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I don't know the name of the person who played Hamlet - I may find out online (there were illustrations in the leaflet I got but he wasn't identifiable, if I had to guess I'd say Rhys Meredith; he looked like the tall thin guy from Big Bang) - but he was fairly deadpan and unremarkable (Alex Hassell lost the toss, and the doubling sequences gave the impression he'd have been better). To start with especially I felt like he was just reciting the lines; perhaps he was just nervous, I don't know how big a deal for them they felt being in the Globe was, and if the crowd was bigger than usual (and also to be fair, I've seen more famous actors playing Hamlet who I'd also have described as unremarkable). The acting was fine, on the whole, but there was no real coherence or consistency of characterisation and interaction, as I guess you'd expect. Fortinbras's captain was played from the audience by, it turned out at the end, Josh Hartnett, who I've heard of but don't think I've ever seen in anything. I'd have said Claudius, Polonius and Ophelia gave the best performances.

The only delivery which struck me especially in a positive way was right at the end, when Claudius was holding Gertrude who had drunk the poison, and he said 'She swoons to see them bleed' - usually that's declaimed in a 'calm down everybody, everything's fine' way, but this time it was delivered softly, as if wishing that what he said was true but knowing that he had killed the woman he loved. That's the thing I'll remember most positively about the night. (That and - some would say - getting home via night bus and foot after 3.30am without being stabbed, robbed or vomited on.) As they were doubling up, Ophelia's songs in the mad scenes were sung partly in harmony, which was nice, and the triple Ophelia did give a little sense of Legion, but I didn't feel that was a 'valid' extra (and two of them were up in the galleries - they used the galleries quite a bit, but again it felt like it was just because they could and not because it really added anything).

On the Facebook opening page - which I think I was able to view courtesy of the Google cache, I can't penetrate further because I'm not signed up - I saw glowing comments from fans on that particular performance. I'll find some more reviews, of this or other performances. I feel like trying to get in touch with the Factory to ask them more about it, because I'm just not getting why most people would think it's valuable; I can see how it would be a good technical/creative workshop exercise for the actors, directors and crew; there is also always an appeal in being an insider in a cult thing, I don't know to what extent that's a factor for some (I see from one of the reviews below that the badge I was offered, and turned down, was free and would have marked me out to others in the know in future). Perhaps that's very much an old fogey view, although I don't feel like an old fogey, although again doubtless I looked like one, well wrapped up with my top layer being a purple jacket.

The Factory Hamlet site. That site has a page of press links, including: the Globe press release; their own press pack; an Independent article from February about site-specific shows; a Times article from February; the Evening Standard from January; the London Theatre Blog from August; Music OMH from May; British Theatre from April.

This is the company's official site. Factory Member has a lot of blogs and discussion thread content by Factory insiders which I will investigate further.

Someone has posted their cameraphone photos from Saturday night here. Lots of people were taking photos, and one of the announcements from the stage at the end was to encourage people to post their photos on the Facebook site. I guess my purple jacket and me will be in some of them.

More links later.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

richard and alice

Two interesting interviews linked from the same Times news email - Richard Dawkins (19 August) and Alice Cooper. The email intro describes Richard as an 'evangelical atheist', a highly ironic misuse of 'evangelical' when 'evangelistic' (which would be ironic enough) is what is meant. People use 'evangelical' almost interchangeably with 'evangelistic' now, when using it in a secular context to mean zealously trying to persuade others about whatever the issue is; I think the dictionaries are even capitulating in their definitions as well (the dictionary tension always being between what words are meant to mean and how people actually use them). (Alice, conversely, is now a Christian. Funny old world.)

Friday, 5 September 2008


I'm getting too many podcasts, really, although I've dipped in and dropped out of quite a few over time already. I signed up to a batch of folk ones recently to try them out (Mike Harding, Celtic Folk, Folk Alley, Folkcast) and they certainly won't all stay the course. Speechification continues to throw up good stuff, and also led me to what is essentially R4's own version, Radio 4 Choice.

Adam and Joe I've discovered relatively recently, and am enjoying. I discovered their C4 Friday night show very late, possibly even the last series; it was much classier than I'd assumed the C4 Friday late night programme would be, based on previous experience. Collins and Herring said they both sounded like Basil Brush, and that's not far from the truth; slightly posh in accent and speech pattern. They didn't go far back in the 'download all' options (which is what kills me in creating a backlog of listening, I can't resist downloading all). They did have a invent t-shirt slogans thing one day, after I'd posted a note here, and one of the listeners submissions was very good: 'I used to be with stupid, but he wandered off somewhere and now I'm growing increasingly concerned for his safety.'

Answer Me This I've been enjoying, but it's getting very samey (I say that, of course I'm only up to January; perhaps they've had a radical overhaul since).

Collins and Herring, as mentioned; I like them, but again Richard Herring's schtick of pushing things too far gets a bit tedious, and there's a bit of having your cake and eating it in liberal comics saying extreme things with an ironic hat on.

I get the best of youtube videos, but have to find the clips themselves on youtube rather than playing the video podcast, which won't play properly on my full and old laptop.

Sermons I get from Back FC and Mars Hill; I'm still signed up for St Vincent St and St Columba's, but they've dried up. On the whole I listen to the first few minutes and judge from that whether I want to listen to the whole sermon; usually I don't. Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill is alright, but I often find myself thinking that he could be eloquent, charismatic and persuasive whatever he was talking about, which in a way detracts or distracts from the content (or you feel that you're being carried along and if you stopped to think more about particular points then you'd be less convinced), which is ironic, I suppose, and I suppose also reflects a more British cynicism in relation to smooth operators, whether preachers or otherwise.

The News Quiz and Now Show both come in on the same podcast, not coming in at the moment because they're off-air. Also off at the moment is In Our Time, with Melvyn Bragg, which is almost always interesting, whether or not you expect to be interested in the subject. One of the last in the series was on Lysenko, which was fascinating on how science and scientists can go bad when driven by ideology and the need or desire to tell leaders or sponsors what they want to hear.

I've got a batch of Guardian comedy ones from the Edinburgh Festival, now obviously stopped coming in. There was an interesting bit from Stephen K Amos where he spoke about performing at the Royal Variety Performance and making his joke about hoping to get a tv programme but having to wait until Lenny Henry dies, because there's a 'one in, one out' policy. In the line-up afterwards, the Duke of Edinburgh said to him, 'So you're the young man who wants Lenny Henry dead. We can arrange that for you.' He spoke about how he was impressed by Philip's sharpness; it was clear he'd actually said it, that it wasn't just a gag. I had thought that he looked like Geoffrey, the butler from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but, like a good liberal, feared the 'they all look the same' factor, but he made a reference to it himself. Geoffrey was played by Joseph Marcell (Wikipedia and official); I hadn't realised he was a proper British actor. The most recent acting credit on the Wikipedia site is Holby City (and most of the other credits are UK ones).

I'm still with the splendid Mark Kermode's film reviews, but ditched the more pretentious R4 Film Programme.

The New Yorker Campaign Trail has been very good. I'm not sure why in particular I've been so interested in the US election process this time. Perhaps thanks to The Daily Show (which I tend to watch online now rather than on telly, but I'm quite far behind).

I'm sticking with the R1 Chart Show summary podcast, though I can't say I've made great discoveries from it.

R4 Choice and Speechification both gave me programmes from an interesting set of documentaries Our Food Our Future, on food, farming and economics in the UK.

I get Scotland's Funny Bits, a weekly set of clips from Radio Scotland, mostly from Fred Macaulay's show.

I get Stephen Fry's so-far-rare Podgrams, which are as erudite as you'd expect, and the much more regular Word podcasts, which are always entertaining (though less so if they have a guest).

sean lock the narrator

Just finished, at last, watching TV's Believe It Or Not, two parts which were shown back to back late one night some time ago. Like You've Been Framed with Harry Hill, it's transformed by the narration, this by Sean Lock - we saw (a pair of?) World Cup football clip shows he narrated too, which was also very funny.

christmas day fixtures

I've got a little note of a fact from the programme for the Shrewsbury football match we went to on Boxing Day. The last year that there was an English football league fixture actually played on Christmas Day was 1959; in Scotland, it was 1976. The Scotland fact's less surprising than the English one, I think.

nursery times

Just a one liner which made me laugh from the current Private Eye, in the 'on other pages' section of the irregular Nursery Times feature they have telling some pertinent news report from nurseryrhymeland:

Gingerbread House Prices Fall - 'I've lost hundreds and thousands,' complains witch

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

envy and regret

I think if I stayed very long in Lewis I would feel a mixture of envy and regret at the wider ranges of facilities, opportunities and cultural activities there are for young people there today than there were when I was young. Doubtless, though, I wouldn't have appreciated them as I would now looking on them in my advanced state of years; as they say, youth is wasted on the young.

I wondered in a fantasy novel context about envy and regret in relation to those who've gone off to be our heroes and the contemporaries they've left behind. I seem to remember some resentment against the returned hobbits at the end of LOTR. There's probably a story idea in it, but not a very interesting story. (I read somewhere on holiday in passing that someone had created a fantasy world using real geography, which I'd thought of before but certainly was under no illusions that no one had done it before - the geography in question was Florida, if I remember rightly, rather than London or Lewis.)

lewis houses and land

There was little sign of the credit crunch in Lewis - this holiday, as every holiday, there are new houses going up all over the place. When I was younger the new houses were due to grants; now they're attributed to boys making lots of money at the oil. People still building houses very close together on their crofts, but also more land coming out of common grazing along the roadline, stretching the villages out, especially along the line of the better view (some houses starting to go up at the other end of crofts for the view now too); you'd want to get enough area in your purchase of land to make sure that someone else isn't going to build in the way of your view. Some of the houses are really huge, and they mostly seem to be kit houses (rather than renovation of older houses - in Ness you could see examples of the generations of design of croft houses through the decades, some unimproved, some with extensions up, out and/or back).

The land coming out of crofting use reflects, of course, less crofting going on. We notice it - possibly even since we started going up together but certainly since I was a boy - when we go out for walks, because there is so much more vegetation, longer grasses and so on. It must be great for botanists and naturalists, and sheep were terrible destroyers of everything, but it does reflect a great change in the economy.

We didn't get out much walking this time - a couple of beaches, Tiumpanhead, Portvoller, and a walk direct across the moor from the house up to the Vodafone mast between Sheshader and Shader. That last walk wasn't one we could do usually, only it had been a very dry summer; you could feel how spongy the ground beneath you was, and there were bits where it was like you were stepping on, and sinking into, a hollow cake which would normally be full of water.

I still haven't walked out to the dun in Loch an Duin in my life, although it's just a couple of minutes from our house. When I was growing up it was waterlogged, but the stream out of the loch was cleaned out a few years ago and the dun sits much drier in the loch now. There are several antiquities on the OS in Point, and I've been to most of them now, but mostly since leaving. You'd think we might have had 'school trips' to the small stone circle up on the top of the hill behind Bayble school, just a few minutes walk away. Funny old world.

the coronet

The Coronet Theatre seems to continue to stumble along mysteriously, with a chequered recent history since its reopening of secret gigs, niche gigs and shootings, but now with a once again overhauled website with a signup button (so I have) and a claim that The Goons was recorded there, when the Palace Theatre, as it once was (and where they claim Chaplin performed), became a BBC radio studio, but an online search indicates several non-definitive claims to being the Goons' recording location.

Later: a more reliable history site, the Arthur Lloyd site, doesn't mention a BBC radio studio connection on its quite detailed page.

king haakon's fanfare, and more

In 1944 King Haakon of Norway was invited to speak on BBC radio. His speech was going to be forty seconds too short so the radio producer sent to the record library for a fanfare of trumpets. The king finished speaking, the record was played - and there were music and screams and people shouting things like, 'Try your luck on the rifles, three shots a penny' and , 'Roll up! Roll up! See the bearded lady!' The producer groaned. 'What happened to the record of the fanfare?' 'Ah . . . sorry,' the assistant said. 'Thought you said funfair!'
To celebrate VE Day British warships in some ports fired their guns. A warship on the River Wear used real shells instead of blanks. One shell landed on a Sunderland house two miles away, and two people were killed.
The nearest the Queen came to being killed during the War was when she was attacked by a soldier . . . a British soldier! He had come home to find his family had been killed in an air raid. He deserted the army and made his way to the palace. The man found his way into Elizabeth's bedroom and she woke to find him gripping her ankles! The Queen didn't panic. She simply said, 'Tell me about it.' As he poured out his sad story she made her way to the bell and rang for help.
[a verse encouraging people to be cheerful and not listen to bad news]
Do not believe the tale the milkman tells;
No troops have mutinied at Potters Bar.
Nor are there submarines at Tunbridge Wells.
The BBC will warn us when there are.

- another four from Blitzed Brits, though I had heard the first one before, and I'm surprised I've never heard the third before if it's true. Here, on a lost poetry quotations forum, is the full version of the poem.

Monday, 1 September 2008

blitzed brits

I've accumulated a few of the Horrible Histories. Started The Blitzed Brits tonight, which is quite entertaining and informative. A couple of the facts which were new to me:
- over thirty-eight thousand children remained unclaimed at the end of their time as evacuees - not because they're parents had died, but because their parents had moved and abandoned them. That sounds extraordinary; surely some of them must have been deaths?
- Ivor Novello was given four weeks in jail for going home in his car after shows, wasting petrol.

darling in uig

Alistair Darling has a holiday home in Uig; I knew this. Here's an interview with him there in Saturday's Guardian.

number crunching

Two nice 'number crunching' items from the current Private Eye:

66 - Age at which Sir Menzies Campbell was considered too elderly to lead Liberal Democrats
60 - Age of Brian Eno, advisor to Liberal Democrats on 'engaging young people with politics'

54% - Percentage of students receiving A-level results this year who were girls
100% - Percentage of students pictured receiving A-level results on front pages of newspapers this year who were girls