Monday, 31 August 2009

america's torture of terrorist suspects

Three items from Salon on the inspector general's report:

What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report - Glenn Greenwald, 24 August

"We're going to kill your children": Mock executions and a favored Saddam technique, all endorsed by Cheney. Highlights of the CIA interrogation report
- Mark Benjamin, 25 August

"Handgun and power drill": Selected pages from the CIA inspector general's report on interrogation during the war on terror
- Mark Benjamin, 25 August


The Guardian Fiver football email made me laugh with their new nickname for Scunthorpe - Firewall FC.

why I love britain's socialized healthcare system

Why I love Britain's socialized healthcare system: As I learned when my newborn daughter was very sick, in U.K. hospitals, people take care of each other
- Salon, 22 August

freelance, and other walter scott coinages

Q and A: Freelance

Q. A Web site says: "Freelancers can trace their job title back to Sir Walter Scott, who introduced the term in his 1819 novel,
Ivanhoe. His 'free-lance' characters were medieval mercenaries who pledged their loyalty (and weapons) to lords and kings, for a fee." As a freelance translator my curiosity is aroused. Is this etymological story correct? Perhaps it could provide an entry point for one of your excellent articles. [Steve Dyson, Lisbon]

A. We are so used to being told that "freelance" did derive from medieval mercenaries in just this way that the story brings one up short disbelievingly. But it's correct. The word is not recorded before Sir Walter Scott introduced it in that book.

This is its first appearance:
I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them - I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.
[Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, 1819. "Free", of course, means "unbound", not "without cost".]

It's one mark of the huge influence that Scott had in his lifetime. He has quite gone out of fashion these days but in his time he was a famous and widely read writer (Henry James later remarked that Scott had made the nineteenth-century English novel possible). He also invented the historical novel, of which Ivanhoe is a classic example.

He's credited with either popularising or inventing many words and phrases, to the extent that he is marked as the first user of more than 700 in the Oxford English Dictionary and he lies third behind the Bible and Shakespeare in innovation in that work. He's recorded as the first user of, to take a few terms at random, Calvinistic, blood is thicker than water, clansmen, cold shoulder, deferential, flat (meaning an apartment), Glaswegian, jeroboam, lady-love, lock, stock and barrel, Norseman, otter hunt, roisterer, Scotswoman (in place of the older Scotchwoman), sick-nurse, sporran, weather-stain and wolf-hound. He also introduced his readers to many obscure old terms, especially from the Scots language and from chivalry.

There was a slightly earlier term, "free companion", which appeared in 1804 in a translation of the fourteenth-century chronicles of the French historian Jean Froissart about the Hundred Years War. Scott uses this, too, in the same book:
A knight who rode near him, the leader of a band of free companions, or Condottieri, that is, of mercenaries belonging to no particular nation, but attached for the time to any prince by whom they were paid.
[Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, 1819.]
- World Wide Words, 22 August

Sunday, 30 August 2009

anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead...

Anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead ought to tell a child to go to bed.
- Robert Gallagher, quoted in Rocking Vicar email

Saturday, 29 August 2009

garrison keillor has been in postman's park this month

London calling: Like many an English major, I go to the motherland for the language. I am never disappointed
- Garrison Keillor's column in Salon, 19 August. He's been in Postman's Park on his latest visit to London, obviously, having seen the Watts memorial.

Friday, 28 August 2009

supposed birthrate-led imminent triumph of islam

Snopes' debunking of alarmist YouTube video re Islam's imminent overwhelming of Christendom in Europe through higher birthrate.

stephen hawking both british and not dead

Stephen Hawking both British and not dead: Obama health reform critics face inconvenient truth
By Cade Metz in San Francisco
In perhaps the most amusing effort to discredit US President Barack Obama's plan for nationalized health care - if not the most ridiculous - US financial newspaper Investor's Business Daily has said that if Stephen Hawking were British, he would be dead.
"The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof, are legendary," read a recent editorial from the paper. "The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror script...
"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."
The paper has since been notified that Hawking is both British and still among the living. And it has edited the editorial, acknowledging that the original version incorrectly represented the whereabouts of perhaps the world's most famous scientific mind. But it has not acknowledged that its mention of Hawking misrepresented the NHS as well.
"I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS," Hawking told The Guardian. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
The best you can say about Investor's Business Daily is that unlike US radio talk host Rush Limbaugh, it has not compared Obama's health care logo to a swastika.
- Register, 12 August

alistair cooke and charlie chaplin

Exclusive: when Alistair Cooke filmed Charlie Chaplin: Swordfish with Charlie Chaplin, gossip with Greta Garbo: a new book explores Alistair Cooke’s life in Hollywood
- Times, 7 August. Records the story that I heard on a Word podcast (the teller had book-read or R4-heard it) that Charlie Chaplin was to be Alistair Cooke's best man, though in the Word version he didn't turn up because he knew he'd overshadow the occasion rather than because he was miffed that Paulette Goddard wasn't invited.

soapy; idaho

Sarah Palin and the Palindromes: 7 extraordinary connections: In this exclusive addendum to his dizzying trivia tour de force, Joined-up Thinking, author Stevyn Colgan dazzles us with the secret connections between the republican pin-up and a Gold Rush trickster
- Times, 2 October 2008. The connections themselves are unremarkable, but there are a couple of good stories in it:

One of Alaska’s more colourful residents was Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy’ Smith II, arguably one of the greatest con artists in US history. Born in 1860 into a wealthy and educated family from Georgia, Smith was forced to uproot and move to Texas in 1876 when his family lost all of its money and influence and decided on a fresh start. It was in Fort Worth that Smith began to use his intelligence and education to develop a series of confidence tricks. Most famous was the Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle. He would set up a ‘bunko booth’ and then proceed to sell cakes of soap for a dollar apiece. Skillfully using sleight of hand, he would make it appear that he’d hidden anything from a dollar bill to $100 inside the soap wrappers and would then invite one of his gang, planted in the crowd of course, to sample the soapy lucky dip and, of course, win. In truth, none of the cakes on display had any notes inside. Smith and his ‘Soap Gang’ – Texas Jack Vermillion and Big Ed Burns among them - operated this scam successfully for over 22 years, moving from town to town. They also used other swindles like the Pea and Shell Game and the Three Card Trick.
Smith quickly became known as ‘Soapy Smith’ and used his earnings to pay off officials, politicians and lawmen so that he never risked jail or the hangman’s rope. He went on to build three major criminal empires in Denver and Creede, Colorado and later in Skagway, Alaska. Sensing big opportunities for new cons, he and his gang followed the Klondike Gold Rush, but it was to be his undoing. In 1898, he used a crooked card game to trick a miner called John Douglas Stewart out of a sack of gold valued at $2,700. A short gunfight ensued and Smith was mortally wounded. He is immortalised in some way by the nickname ‘Soapy’ now being associated with confidence tricksters. For example, in P G Wodehouse’s short story Pearls mean tears, Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha’s pearls are stolen by ‘Soapy Sid’. In the 1960 British comedy Two Way Stretch, con-man ‘Soapy Steven’s is played wonderfully by character actor Wilfred Hyde-White. And Walt Disney created a character called ‘Soapy Slick’, a con man who is after Scrooge McDuck’s fortune … which he made during the Klondike Gold Rush, coincidentally.
... Most other US states take their names from native American words such as Connecticut from the Mohegan word quinnitukqut, meaning ‘place of long tidal river’, Michigan from the Ojibwe term mishigami, meaning ‘large water’ or ‘large lake’ and Texas after the Hasinai word táysha which means ‘friends’ or ‘allies’. One notable exception from the usual naming conventions is Idaho which, I almost hesitate to say, appears to have been named after a practical joke.
In the early 1860s, when the United States Congress was considering organising a new territory in the Rocky Mountains, eccentric lobbyist George M Willing suggested the name ‘Idaho’, which he claimed was derived from a Shoshone phrase meaning ‘the sun comes from the mountains’ or ‘gem of the mountains’. However, this later proved to be untrue and Willing admitted that he had made up the name himself. But by then the name was in common usage and had stuck. To further embed the name, Idaho became known as the ‘Gem State’.
In many ways, Idaho is a place of hidden treasures. Ask anyone to tell you where the deepest river gorge is in the USA and they will probably say the Grand Canyon. And they’d be wrong. The deepest river gorge is Idaho's Hells Canyon - 7,900 feet deep. Highest waterfalls in North America? Nope, it’s not Niagara. It’s the Shoshone Falls in Idaho which, at 212 feet, drop 52 feet further than their more famous northern relative.

sex scandal behind brideshead revisited

Sex scandal behind Brideshead Revisited: Aristocrats, footmen, frightened king and curious writer. A new book uncovers the sex scandal behind Evelyn Waugh novel
- Sunday Times, 9 August. Full of sordid goings-on in the upper classes; has this good story:

One account of the antics of the aristocracy provided a great comic set piece for Vile Bodies, his new novel. Lady Sibell and Lady Mary Lygon, sisters of Waugh’s friend Hugh Lygon, had been to a party in their white Norman Hartnell dresses and enjoyed a night’s dancing and drinking. When they returned to their London home off Belgrave Square, they found the door locked and the night footman fast asleep. But there was another family they knew well who had a night porter: the Baldwins.

At 10 Downing Street, the night porter woke the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and his wife. They came downstairs in their nightclothes, the PM in striped pyjamas, to be greeted by the Lygon girls seeking beds for the night. In the morning Baldwin rang Lord Beauchamp, their father, to ask if he would send a maid round with day clothes for the girls. “Balderdash and poppycock!” Beauchamp retorted and made them walk home in broad daylight in full evening dress.

princess street gp surgery is first to use national electronic record

Princess Street GP surgery is first to use national electronic record: Princess Street Group Practice at Elephant & Castle is to be the first GP surgery in London to introduce the controversial national electronic patient record known as the Summary Care Record.
- SE1 Direct, 23 August. Our GP surgery leads the way.

'there are no second acts in american lives'

'There are no second acts in American lives' - people use this quotation from F Scott Fitzgerald a lot but almost always in the context of a second chance or rebirth, whereas I've always understood it obviously to mean that there's no middle - you go straight from rise to fall. This article, from the American Journalism Review in March 1995 seems to bear it out. But the line is just a single line in notes, so it's not emphatically clear what he intended to mean by it at all.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

jon stewart

Why We Trust Jon Stewart: A couple of weeks ago when a Time Magazine poll found that Jon Stewart, of all people, was considered the most trusted newscaster in America, it got a bunch of folks in a serious lather. Even Stewart himself was dismissive of this poll, noting that he's a comedian, not a newscaster. "The lead-in to our show are talking puppets making prank phone calls," he once noted. [continues]
- Salon blog, 10 August

Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart
- New York magazine, 9 August

railway time

Listening to a RadioLab podcast on time, reminding me how it was the railways who introduced the need for consistent time across a country in the nineteenth century.

Some links. Wikipedia item. Wired article. Web Exhibits article. Squidoo article.

the right to refer to god as allah

What's in a Name?: Christians in Southeast Asia debate their right to refer to God as Allah.
- Christianity Today, 28 July

the inklings

Dig Wholes: Two books on C.S. Lewis remind us that we are endlessly involved with one another.
- book review from Christianity Today, 3 August.

"The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side." Thus Martin Luther in his Table Talk. His words would serve well as a description of the history of Inklings scholarship. The earliest such scholarly studies argued that the Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, et al.) were possessed of "a corporate mind" and that their works had a "similar orientation," "essentially uniform," "clearly defined." So claimed John Wain, a junior member of the Inklings, and various others. But this consensus was toppled from the saddle by Humphrey Carpenter, who maintained, by way of contrast, that the Inklings showed "scant resemblance" to one another and "that on nearly every issue they stand far apart." Carpenter's view, which he bolstered with evidence from senior Inklings who themselves claimed not to have influenced one another at all, has sat lumpenly in place since he published his study in 1979.

Diana Pavlac Glyer has now toppled the Carpenter view. But rather than allowing the cycle of drunken saddlings and re-saddlings to repeat itself, she has thoughtfully poured buckets of clear cold water over the entire subject. Fully sobered up at last, Inklings scholarship is for the first time able to sit straight, inclining neither to the view that the group was reliably homogeneous, nor to the view that its members were utterly immiscible. Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. It's a typical scholarly progression. But how long it has taken!

Glyer's study brings together in an admirably balanced way all previous work on this hugely significant circle of writers and establishes itself as an indispensable and refreshingly commonsensical guide to the group's internal workings. She analyses the Inklings using a five-fold grid, assessing how the members of the group served as resonators, opponents, editors, collaborators, and referents.

Superbly researched and crystal clear, this work does the difficult job of assessing just how much the Inklings owed to one another. It demonstrates convincingly that some of the 20th century's most powerful cultural artifacts would have been significantly different without the input of the group. For instance, Glyer shows that The Lord of the Rings would have been much more like The Silmarillion in structure and style "if it had not been so strongly influenced by the 'humanizing' effect of the Inklings." Given that The Lord of the Rings has repeatedly been voted Book of the Century in public polls, and given the extensive reach of the Peter Jackson film adaptation, this is a much more important point than at first it might seem. How many people have read The Silmarillion? Who can imagine a successful screen version of it? Without the Inklings, Glyer argues, The Lord of the Rings would have lingered in similar obscurity.

richard herring and the guardian

The original article, 27 July:
The new offenders of standup comedy: Political correctness used to rule comedy, but now comics routinely offend their audiences. How did things get so nasty?

Richard Herring's response, 31 July: 'There isn't a "New Offensiveness"': Standup comedian Richard Herring defends his 'Hitler Moustache' act following an article by Guardian critic Brian Logan

Brendon Burns's response, 31 July: 'There is no New Offenders movement. We don't have a clubhouse': Standup comedian Brendon Burns responds to Guardian critic Brian Logan's attack on 'the new offensiveness'

Brian Logan's response to their responses, 31 July: Reporting on comedy's new offenders wasn't intended to offend: Richard Herring and Brendon Burns credit their audiences with enough intelligence to understand that they're not racist. I assume my readers understand that too

Siobhain Butterworth's column on the affair, 3 August: Open door: The readers' editor on ... squeezing the whole show into a few lines

Monday, 10 August 2009

forgotten bookmarks

Forgotten Bookmarks, a site by a secondhand bookseller featuring things found in books as bookmarks, something I have kept track of myself in purchases of my own.

van halen and brown m&ms

Snopes on Van Halen and the brown M&Ms: Brown Out

Claim: Van Halen's standard performance contract contained a provision calling for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms, but with all the brown candies removed.

Status: True.

Example: [Harrington, 1981] Van Halen tends to make the news portion of radio more often than it gets airplay. There was the M&M riot in New Mexico where the band did thousands of dollars of damage to a hall when they were served brown M&Ms — their contract said the brown ones had to be removed.

Origins: Rock concerts have come a long ways since the days when the Beatles performed in boxing rings and hockey rinks, and made no greater demand of promoters than they be provided with clean towels and a few bottles of soft drinks. As the audiences grew larger, promoters stood to make more and more money from staging concerts, which meant that not only could rock stars command higher prices for their performances, but they were able to demand other perks as well, such as luxurious accommodations, lavish backstage buffets, and chauffeured transportation. It was inevitable that some high-demand acts, all their financial and pampering whims satisfied, would exercise their power and start making frivolous demands of promoters, simply because they could.

By far the most notorious of these whimsical requests is the legend that Van Halen's standard concert contract called for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms backstage, but with provision that all the brown candies must be removed. The presence of even a single brown M&M in that bowl, rumor had it, was sufficient legal cause for Van Halen to peremptorily cancel a scheduled appearance without advance notice (and usually an excuse for them to go on a destructive rampage as well).

The legendary "no brown M&Ms" contract clause was indeed real, but the purported motivation for it was not. The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen's contracts not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read (and complied with). As Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn't support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren't big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say "Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . ." This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation." So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

Nonetheless, the media ran exaggerated and inaccurate accounts of Van Halen's using violations of the "no brown M&Ms" clause as justification for engaging in childish, destructive behavior (such as the newspaper article quoted at the top of this page). David Lee Roth's version of such events was decidedly different:

The folks in Pueblo, Colorado, at the university, took the contract rather kinda casual. They had one of these new rubberized bouncy basketball floorings in their arena. They hadn't read the contract, and weren't sure, really, about the weight of this production; this thing weighed like the business end of a 747. I came backstage. I found some brown M&M's, I went into full Shakespearean "What is this before me?" . . . you know, with the skull in one hand . . . and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve thousand dollars' worth of fun. The staging sank through their floor. They didn't bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars' worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M's and did eighty-five thousand dollars' worth of damage to the backstage area. Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?

the best 60 books of the past 60 years

The best 60 books of the past 60 years: The Times team has compiled its favourites to celebrate the Cheltenham Literary Festival anniversary.
- Times, 3 August. One book per year.


Twittergraphy: The 140-character limit of Twitter posts was guided by the 160-character limit established by the developers of SMS. However, there is nothing new about new technology imposing restrictions on articulation. During the late 19th-century telegraphy boom, some carriers charged extra for words longer than 15 characters and for messages longer than 10 words. Thus, the cheapest telegram was often limited to 150 characters. Concerns for economy, as well as a desire for secrecy, fueled a boom in telegraphic code books that reduced both common and complex phrases into single words. Dozens of different codes were published; many catered to specific occupations and all promised efficiency. The phrases below are from the third edition of “The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code,” published in 1891. It can only be hoped that, as Twitter advances, more people will begin Tweeting in code.
[list follows]
- New York Times, 2 August

schalke soccer anthem angers muslims

Schalke soccer anthem angers Muslims: Muslims have criticized the German Bundesliga soccer club Schalke 04 over its decades-old anthem which insults Prophet Mohammad. The German club has recently received hundreds of emails and letters of complaint by Muslims in protest at the third verse of the song, which says, "Muhammad was a prophet who understood nothing about football. But of all the lovely colors he chose [Schalke's] blue and white." Muslims have demanded that the offending line be removed from the song entitled White and Blue, How I Love You, which is chanted by Schalke's fans before every match. "The song is age old. Both sides should sit down and discuss this, we're all sensible people," the club's former manager Rudi Assauer said. According to Deutsche Welle, the song was written in 1924. More than four million Muslims live in Germany.

The Gelsenkirchen club's anthem reads:

Blue and white, how I love you
Blue and white, forever true
Blue and white is just like heaven born
Blue and white are the colors we have always worn

If we had a kingdom for us to make
It would resemble Schalke and no mistake
All the girls, oh so young and fair
Would sport a blue and white ribbon tied up in her hair

Mohammed was a prophet who
Knew nothing of football, that much is true
But of all the colors shining bright
The ones he thought up were our royal blue and white

A thousand fires in the night
Have brought us lots of pleasure and delight
A thousand friends all standing side by side
Will make sure FC Schalke will never die

- Press TV (Iranian English news service), Thursday 6 August. What a tremendous club song.

This is the quote from The Guardian Fiver which led me to this:
"The assertion is objectively correct, because there simply was no football in the seventh century. Besides, a good deal of humourlessness goes into interpreting this text as a disparagement of the prophet and a hate campaign against him" - Bulent Ucar, a scholar of Islam at Osnabrück University, concludes that Schalke's team anthem does not insult Muhammad.

Friday, 7 August 2009

one night, two gigs, four bands

While Bethan and the younger generation were up in Shrewsbury for a long weekend at the start of the holidays, I spent the Saturday (18 July) working at home on the magazine and then went out in the evening. I'd fancied going to a gig for a while, ideally a cheap one in a small venue with two or more bands on. I thought about the Twelve Bar, where there was a ska gig on with Jennie from the Belle Stars in it, but saw on her band's website that they thought they'd be on about eleven, which seemed a bit late. So I went to the Hope and Anchor instead, where there were going to be four bands on.

The Hope and Anchor is a famous punk venue, but I'd never been to it before, even though I lived very near - I suspect that when I was there may have been part of the time when it wasn't being used as a venue, as it's been revived as one more recently. I think they mostly have bands early in their career or who have a low-level career.

I got there in good time and had an orange juice in the bar, with a copy of The Wizard of Oz in my back pocket, very punk. I wondered how many of the trendy young people in the bar were going to go downstairs to the gig at 8.30, and the answer was not many. When the first band started there were about eleven people there, at least eight of whom were personally known to the band, if not actually related, and several of them taking photos. There were more there for the second band, although again quite a number obviously knew the band; there was a group of young people, I'd guess just there as part of a cheap night out. There were two or three tall stools scattered around, and I sat on one near a pillar, and was able to stay there the whole time and have an unimpeded view.

I saw Guilty Fawn and Daddy Those Men Scare Me - there were meant to be two other bands, but they didn't appear, although there was no mention of their not appearing (I see from a listing that they were Karmadeva and Rainbow Corner). I waited for a while after Those Men Scare Me before I was sure that there was no one else coming on, although I should have realised earlier as they were listed as the main act.

So it was about twenty to eleven when I left, and it struck me that there was probably a bus that would take me somewhere near Denmark Street if I fancied trying the Twelve Bar Club; I thought I'd take one and see what time I got there, and make a choice about getting off the bus or not. A bus came quite quickly which was going to Charing Cross Road - in fact it went down Denmark Street, and when I dinged the bell for the next stop it opened the doors there. It was just after eleven when I went in; I checked that they still had live music going on and how much longer for; they said they were open until three, and they were running behind on the live music so there would still be plenty left. I got stamps on the back of my hands in both places, first time for years.

When I went in a band were playing who turned out to be (when I asked someone who was obviously a fan) Dirty Revolution. After they finished there was quite a long wait before the headliners came on, but everyone was quite good-humoured about it, and Jenny Bellestar was going around apologising to people; it might have been their first public gig, in advance of a tour. I didn't stay for their whole set as it was getting quite late, and I'd heard enough. The Twelve Bar was much busier than the H&A - although a bit of a twisty venue, and obviously lots of people not that fussy about being able to see the bands, so I was able to get quite close in without too much trouble. I was side-on for Dirty Revolution, with a horizontal girder blocking a bit, and face-on for 1Stop Experience, behind a far-too-amorous couple who kept pressing into me.

I went down to Whitehall and got a nightbus home - in fact a N155, which took me right to Newington Butts. Home before two, I think; it was still very busy, and warm, while walking from the venue to Whitehall after one.

At both venues, especially the second, I didn't feel out of place by my age, which was quite nice. A lot of the ska folk were obviously fans from the ska wave during punk. The H&A was £6, 12 Bar £5; good value for a good night out. The orange juice and my Oyster card the only other expenses. I spoke to members of both the H&A bands (both of GF, two of DTMSM) just to say I'd enjoyed them; the 12Bar bands were getting plenty other encouragement. The volume at 12Bar was more bearable, except when I was standing too near and in line with one speaker when I went in first; the H&A was unnecessarily loud sometimes for the size of the room.

I enjoyed all the acts in different ways. Guilty Fawn a bass and drum (literal, not style) duo with a backing tape; female bass player and singer, a bit stiff to start with, looked like a music student more used to playing a double bass, but relaxed; instruments too much louder than vocals; the music was okay, but neither grabby nor well-structured. Daddy Those Men Scare Me were the most fun, a bunch of older guys (hence the name perhaps) happy at their level, with well-put-together songs which helped you realise what Guilty Fawn were missing; I think some of their songs might be downloadable, and I will do so if so. All original songs, I think, until as their last or almost-last song they did Hanging Around, which was quite appropriate for the venue and their style. Dirty Revolution were probably the best and with most potential for the future, young ska group from Wales, full of energy, singing and playing well. One-Stop Experience more experienced, again an older band, the stage too small to get their drummer on so they did without; quite slick, perfectly enjoyable.

Some links.
Hope & Anchor. Time Out listing of the gig. Guilty Fawn on Myspace. Dave Barbarossa's Myspace site - the Guilty Fawn drummer; he was older, and the name was familiar, and it looks from this site as if he was in both Bow Wow Wow and Adam & The Ants, among others, but it's from those the name might ring a bell, and I recognise him in the BWW photo in one of the comments.

Daddy Those Men Scare Me. Myspace. Old Geocities website. Their Myspace page lists their influences as 'Stranglers, Buzzcocks, TV Personalities, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span', which is about right.

12 Bar Club. Dirty Revolution - Myspace page; Last FM. 1-Stop-Experience website.

This was the listing from the 12 Bar Club website (I should have copied the relevant listing from the H&A site too):
Saturday 18th July 1 STOP EXPERIENCE + DIRTY REVOLUTION + SWAGGA + NICK WELSH £5 Soho Dub Club presents
1-STOP-EXPERIENCE are playing their debut gig at the12 Bar Club in London’s West End. The 12 Bar Club are offering all lovers of ska, reggae, rocksteady, Trojan and 2tone an affordable night out, with tickets priced at a mere £5.00 it’s a steal. For this you get 3 Ska bands, a very short solo Ska acoustic set (5 tracks) by Nick Welsh of Skaville UK and DJ's that play the best in ska, reggae, rocksteady, Trojan and 2tone: You also get to witness Jennie Matthias’ debut performance with her ska and reggae band 1-STOP-EXPERIENCE they are fast becoming known for their catchy danceable tracks. For all of those people that have said they would support us then this is most certainly the time in which to do so, there is nothing more exciting than the first ever show and Jennie & Friends would really appreciate the support... 1-STOP-EXPERIENCE 5 track limited edition CD will also be available to purchase once again for the affordable price of £5.00
1-STOP-EXPERIENCE is intelligent ska, creating topical concepts using ska & reggae as a backdrop to express each perception, dedicated to new ska mixed with old ska, dub reggae, deep dub reggae, latin, pop, Jazz and blues. The songs are penned by Jennie Matthias and friends. Jen is collaborating with Dave Barker and The Crabs Corporation, Skip McDonald, Adrian Sherwood, and Paget King, as well as Nick Welsh and The Crispy Horns, Steve Chalky White, Chico Chagas: If you want to find out more about Jennie then please feel free to go to her personal page on or if you are interested in checking the other band Jennie writes for then feel free to do so on

Hey, there are videos from the gig on YouTube and the official 1-Stop site. I remember now Jennie talking to someone who was officially filming, but doubtless there were others too. 1-Stop: Give It Some; Freaks Out (so I'm about three people behind where this person was filming). Hope. Who's That Girl. Love. Untouchable. (If they videoed most of the songs, then I saw most of the gig.) Here's a clip by someone else at the side, near where I was for Dirty Revolution. And here's a video about the whole gig (by the guy whose uploaded all the Dirty Revolution clips, and also this other one of Peeping Tom). Dirty Revolution clips 1, 2, 3 and 4 (which is what he's called them, so I guess he's not a fan who knows the songs - I was standing just to the right of where 4 was filmed from).


I've just spent an unexpectedly long time sorting out my bedside drawer, which had all kinds of things in it, some of them rather old, including $214, receipts from now-closed shops like Tower and Virgin and Woolies, old Tesco vouchers, and some payslips, on the back of one of which I'd written a list of where we'd gone for our first few anniversaries:
1993 Dorset (honeymoon)
1994 north Wales
1995 the Dales
1996 Paris
1997 Cambridge
1998 Suffolk
1999 York
2000 Bath
Mostly weekends, some of them possibly just an overnight.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

thoughts on the anthony gormley plinth

On his Absolute Radio show, Saturday morning which I hear by podcast, Frank Skinner said that the fourth plinth involves members of the public going up on the plinth and finding out how long an hour is. On the Charlie Brooker C4 quiz show about TV, he said a good thing to do would be to dress up as Napoleon and make rude gestures at Nelson.

I've seen bits of it on the One and Other website, and bits of it in the flesh. It's been an unexpected hit online apparently, but I can't imagine people watching it constantly, just popping in for a couple of minutes at a time to see what the latest person is doing. When I saw it first I wondered why people didn't stand at the front of the plinth, but then you realise that the nearest the public can get is the upper level, outside the National Gallery, so if you're going to interact with people you'll gravitate there. Also a lot of people are clearly gearing themselves for the online feed coverage rather than the people in the square, with messages and so on on top of the plinth, and the close up cameras are at the back of the plinth also.

You do get the sense some people haven't really thought through how long an hour is, or have put much thought into what they'll do. Or how large any words or images have to be to be seen (though not such an issue for the cameras), or how loud you have to speak to be heard. Lots of people doing not very much. Some people campaigning or making a point or publicising some charity. A lot of them are very dull. One lady just now literally making a speech to the camera and someone asked her what she was saying and she said she was talking to the camera as they wouldn't be able to hear her. I saw, some time ago, what turned out to have been the first bit of full nudity. It will be interesting to see how it develops as people have seen more and more others doing their bit, and using up their 'novel' ideas - mum saw someone doing hangman the other day, and I'd seen someone doing it a few days before. More people taking it as a literal platform for making a point than doing something which could be considered more straightforwardly as 'art'. Sometimes it's like arriving early at a conference or trade exhibition to watch someone setting up their exhibition stand. Lots of people take lots of photos. People often have friends in the square, either encouraging or involved in promoting what they're promoting; sometimes the person on the plinth is leading their friends/colleagues in some way.

And like a lot of people I've wondered what I would do, and still have no idea.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

another nickel in the machine

Led to this very interesting blog, Another Nickel In The Machine, by a link from the Word email to this posting about Denmark Street. The posts are all popular culture/history items on specific locations in London, laviishly illustrated especially with interesting archive photos and images. This one on the Elephant. I'll be visiting it again.

There's an interview with the blogger, Rob, on the Londonist.

ebony projected photo of michael jackson at forty

Snopes item on Ebony magazine feature from 1985 in which they did a projected image of what Michael Jackson would look like at forty.

barack and the birthers

Salon's handy-dandy guide to refuting the Birthers: Now you, too, can silence the annoying Birther in your life -- and in just eight easy steps!
- Salon, 5 August

photos of rays migration

Impressive set of photos on Snopes of rays migrating. More photos on the site of the photographer, Sandra Critelli.

whiter shade 'most played' song

Whiter Shade 'most played' song: Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale is the most played song in public places in the past 75 years, according to a chart compiled for BBC Radio 2. The song, with its distinctive organ riff, stayed at number one for six weeks in the UK in the summer of 1967. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was at number two followed by All I Have To Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers. There was no place in the top 10 for The Beatles.
Top 10:
1. Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade Of Pale
2. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
3. Everly Brothers - All I Have To Do Is Dream
4. Wet Wet Wet - Love Is All Around
5. Bryan Adams - (Everything I Do) I Do It For You
6. Robbie Williams - Angels
7. Elvis Presley - All Shook Up
8. Abba - Dancing Queen
9. Perry Como - Magic Moments
10. Bing Crosby - White Christmas
- BBC, 13 April

tracking the 'credit crunch' with google street view: muswell hill

Tracking the "Credit Crunch" with Google Street View: Muswell Hill: I though it might be an interesting exercise to try and track the progress of the Credit Crunch in my local area by comparing photographs of the closed businesses near me today, with how they appeared to Google's cameras during summer 2008.
- interesting photo essay from Martin Belam's blog,, on 11 April 2009

'carl cort, mostly'

Howard Wilkinson also paid tribute to a man who also had a tendency to forget players' names (hence the Fiver's reference to him as Rir Sobby Robson). "My best memories of Bobby are the funny ones, all the more funny because he remained blissfully unaware, nor offended that his faux pas became a source of such fun. At one England Under-21 gathering, I selected Shola Ameobi who was a young striker at Newcastle under him. Bobby had also bought at great expense Carl Cort, a striker from Wimbledon. Shola had about six Christian names, most of them, to me, unpronounceable and in an attempt to put him at his ease on his debut performance, I called the lad over and asked him what Bobby called him when he was at the club. With absolutely no sense of resentment, rather more with a sense of love and understanding, Shola said, 'Carl Cort, mostly'.
- from The Fiver's tribute to Bobby Robson, Friday 31 July

Saturday, 1 August 2009

adolf hitler: my part in his downfall

On Friday night mum and I went to the Hampstead Theatre and saw Spike Milligan's Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall. It was quite well done. The words were almost entirely from the first four volumes of the war memoirs. I guess they thought what they could do with it that wouldn't be just speaking the book on stage, and so they made it very musical, since the jazz band and music was a big part of the story but obviously couldn't be put across in the book. It was done slightly in the style of an army base entertainment. No one well known in it, but all quite good - five chaps, mostly playing one main character but a little doubling up. The kind of thing you could put on in small theatres, not quite 39 Steps with improvised props, but scenery-light and prop-heavy.

There's a Spike's War website devoted to the production, with a YouTube channel.

Reviews. Guardian of Bristol Old Vic production (which is where it transferred from). Daily Telegraph of Bristol. Times of Bristol. Evening Standard of Hampstead. London Paper on Hampstead. The Stage on Bristol. Independent on Bristol.

I'd been thinking about reading the books again already. Some of the few books I've read more than once.

Have only been to the Hampstead Theatre once before, I think, not long after I came down - about a group of friends in a house in London, possibly a squat, whose house becomes valuable, and how they change. Jimmy Mulville, Emma Rix, possibly Josie Lawrence and Michael Angelis. It was good. I'll Google it in a minute. At that point the theatre was about to be knocked down and redeveloped, or had been knocked down and was now a temporary structure before redevelopment. It was scaffolding-type seating. It's a lovely new theatre now, just by Swiss Cottage tube, with a big green outside space behind it.

Here's a trailer on Youtube, and a clip of a song; those both from the Hampstead Theatre site, and this from the Spike's War site.

Valued Friends. There was an anniversary reading earlier this month, it seems. It was Louisa Rix. Also Martin Clunes and Christopher Ryan.