Wednesday, 31 December 2008


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

is dab the new aps?

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

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

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

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

enjoying the moment

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

Monday, 29 December 2008

'I don't want to die'

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

Friday, 19 December 2008

science myths debunked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- A story in yesterday's Guardian


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

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

barack's birthplace

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

Thursday, 18 December 2008

a spy in the house of narnia

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

bbc iplayer

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

celeb autobiogs

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

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

"Like who?" I wondered.

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

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

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

the baghdad clogger and the smell of bacon

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


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

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

word podcast 70

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

hamlet - tnt production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, 15 December 2008

nomura house

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

faraday memorial

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

Sunday, 14 December 2008


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

papers and broadcasters

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

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

monday documentaries

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

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

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

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

rsc hamlet reviews - tennant/bennett

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

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

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

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

A BBC page extracting review comparisons between Edward and David.

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

just in time?

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

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

Monday, 8 December 2008

hamlet - david tennant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, 6 December 2008

francis collins interview

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

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

snopes stories

From Snopes:

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

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