Monday, 29 November 2010

private eye cartoon

From 12 November issue of Private Eye, a 'New old sayings' cartoon:
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll greedily over-exploit the fish stocks, create unsustainable seafood levels, and starve.

private eye notes

From 29 October issue:

Number crunching:
£7bn Further cuts to UK welfare budget announced last week
£7bn Predicted bonuses to be paid by UK banks this year

£81bn Amount government is cutting from public spending over next four years
£185bn Amount government lent to banks for three years in Special Liquidity Scheme

33 Miners rescued in Chile this month who received worldwide coverage
37 Miners killed in gas explosion in China this month who didn't
34 Average number of accidental deaths in Chilean mining industry each year in last decade
57 Miners killed in accidents in USA so far this year

£422 Average loss to lowest income families, those most affected by spending cuts
£1.6m Inheritance tax George Osborne's family are avoiding through use of a trust fund

Dumb Britain
(I usually amn't keen on these because they usually represent pressure rather than ignorance, especially after one letter writer said that game shows and quizzes encouraged/required contestants to give some kind of answer rather than saying 'I don't know', but this made me laugh, I liked the concept)
Smooth Radio
Host: What way does the profile of the Queen always face on a coin?
Caller: Is it north?

Quote from Christopher Wren in Nooks and Corners:
Architecture has its political Use... publick Buildings being the Ornament of a Country; it establishes a Nation, draws People and Commerce; makes the People love their native Country, which Passion is the Original of all great Actions in a Common-wealth... Architecture aims at Eternity.

A follow-up letter to the previous issue's one on Jane Austen, which I had previously noted:
My younger brother, John Branston (Letters, Eye 1273), is correct in identifying '... a truth universally acknowledged...' as a formulaic assertion favoured by late 18th century expositors (the Universal English Dictionary of 1792 contains any number of constructions precisely like this). However he is erroneous in his belief that Jane Austen's prose was conditioned by Pinnock's Catechisms, since these little books were first published in the 1820s and Pride and Prejudice was begun in 1796. Anyhow, Austen died in 1817 so she couldn't have read them. As a devout Janeite, I suggest John abandon these scholarly pursuits, for which he is evidently unfitted, and resume a task more suited to his limited aptitude, like cataloguing his collection of beer mats.
Yours sororally,
(Mrs) Jane Margaret John
(nee Branston)
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Two men sitting at cafe table, one with top hat and cane saying, 'Yes, I can talk with the animals, but what people don't realise is that the animals are very boring.'

Saturday, 27 November 2010

kupenga kwa hamlet - oval house theatre

On Wednesday night I went to the Oval House Theatre to see Kupenga Kwa Hamlet - The Madness of Hamlet. A two-man production, with two black actors of Zimbabwean background, it had 'a distinct Zimbabwean context'. It ran 7.45-9.05, and that evening happened to have a post-performance q&a with the actors and directors in the cafe. I hadn't been to the Oval House Theatre before; when I used to see listings for it, a few years ago, the main theme seemed to be issues of sexuality, but the theme now seems to be ethnic minorities; I don't know if this is a change in creative management, or reflects a change of what people get funding for, or could be any number of reasons, or could be a mistaken observation. They've certainly had some redevelopment work done since I last saw it. I walked there and back, and was home before ten.

Much doubling, of course, two actors in orange boilersuits and no other costume elements, just an empty stage, just a couple of props. Some singing (they sang very well), some bits in Shona. Most characters defined by a specific gesture or posture, which worked quite well in keeping track of who was who at any particular time. Some of the characters were played by both of them at different times, but Hamlet was alway Denton Chikura. There was some interaction with the audience, and some audience members taken on stage while the play scene was on. The acting was good, and the production was entertaining, but it wasn't particularly insightful. It wasn't a stunt, exactly, but it didn't really bring anything very new to the play. It was perhaps significant that all the questions and discussion afterwards were about the staging and really nothing about the characterisation or interpretation. They got it so short by first of all starting from the First Folio version, which is much shorter and pacier than the standard text, and then by essentially assuming that everyone in the audience would know the play well enough that they didn't have to make it coherent by itself. I think they leant heavily on the non-Shakespeare bits of linking and Shona and audience interaction, which were heavy on humour and over-appreciated by the audience, who I'd guess were mostly students.

I don't think there's anything particular to say about the characterisation, which was unremarkable. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were witch doctors. The first bit of Shakespeare dialogue in the play was Claudius commissioning the ambassados to Norway, which was odd, obviously only there to lead in to the rest of the scene, and nothing else of the Norway story mentioned. Only thing which struck me as interesting was at one point where they had a little linking bit where they said that Laertes was returning from France and Hamlet returning from England, which gave an idea of them both returning from the west, converging towards their fate. Doing the Player King's long speech in a Shona equivalent made it less dull than usual.

I deliberately didn't read the brief programme beforehand so that I would see how it would strike without explanation (though the fact that it was given out free might suggest it was intended that you read it beforehand to help you understand it, and it does have some material that explains some of what they did, although I had got the gist.

Some links. Oval House Theatre. Afridiziak Theatre News interview with the actors. Two Gents Productions - the theatre company, and their page on the production.

Some reviews (some based on other venues on tour). BritishTheatreGuide (reminds me of the odd bit at the end where after each death a fictional friend of the deceased - like Gertrude's computer studies classmate or Laertes' rugby pal - makes a short speech with some memories of them, which didn't help). The Bardathon blog (very detailed on the staging; the gravediggers at the end digging again for all the subsequent deaths was good; I don't think there was a spoken gravedigger scene). The reviewers are liking it much more than I did I see. This is Wiltshire. Afridiziak Theatre News. Crackerjack. Remotegoat. Margate Sands blog (extraordinarily detailed description of the performance - many reminders there, in particular Hamlet indicating himself as the representation of his dead father to Gertrude, and also the emphasis on the interpretation that Ophelia was pregnant).

[Later. On Facebook I said it was 'Entertaining enough but not illuminating.' Donna D asked how it was possible to do Hamlet with just two people. I said, 'I've seen it done with one. Two: a) assume everyone in the audience has seen it already, and hack mercilessly; b) lots of doubling up; c) dispense with sets, costumes and props.'. Then, 'oh and d) use as your starting point the First Folio version, which is much shorter than Second Folio or Quarto.']

free church to allow music and hymns

Free Church to allow music and hymns: The Free Church of Scotland has voted to relax its rules to allow hymn singing and the use of instruments in its churches.
- BBC, 19 November. This was on the front page of the BBC News site last Friday; I also heard it on 5Live that afternoon. I think it was in the oddity category rather than considered major news.

vox popped in kennington park

2012 lives: A south Londoner’s view
South London has been my home, for most of my life. Like the majority of Londoners I felt proud when I heard the International Olympic Committee declare to the world "The games of the 30th Olympiad 2012 are awarded to the city of London."
- BBC, 22 October

This report is 'User Generated Content' on the BBC News website, by Selina Walker who was at Lambeth Council's Activate sports festival held in Kennington Park a few Saturdays ago, which I and the younger generation were at. I was one of the vox pops she did, and there's a bit of me in the first audio clip.

The only reason I know this is because I was at the Brixton Ritzy this morning and after the film the lady sitting along from me in the row introduced herself to me as she recognised me from having vox popped me at that event, she was Selina Walker, and she told me that I was in her article and told me how to Google it. Funny old world.

rory kinnear hamlet - reviews

Since I blogged about the National Theatre Hamlet with Rory Kinnear I've read the programme and the reviews have come out. The programme - the essays, particularly Peter Holland's, and the interview with Rory Kinnear and the director Nicholas Hytner - gave a good reflection of the production's approach, which is far less usual than you might expect. From Russell Jackson's essay: 'in 1937 the critic James Agate remarked of Laurence Olivier's athletic and un-lyrical Hamlet that it was "the best performance of Hotspur that the present generation has seen,"'.

Reviews from the first page of search results (Times disappeared behind the paywall of course). Guardian overview of reviews. Guardian (can't remember if I mentioned the smiley face, which he graffitied on a wall after seeing his father's ghost for the first time, and then handed out on t-shirts at the play - I had thought something might be made of it). Independent. West End Whingers (some vicious readers' comments). LondonTheatre. Up The West End (a new one on me, with a page on each current production with first paras and links to reviews, also searchable by reviewer/blogger). What's On Stage. Daily Telegraph. Evening Standard. Observer. Daily Mail. Financial Times.

Later: further to Oval House Hamlet reviews search, here's Margate Sands's detailed blog description of this production.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Sunday, 14 November 2010

'biology' and 'bio-technology'

A few snapshots. Pietro Corsi pointed out that the word ‘biology’ had been invented 25 times by 25 different people towards the end of the 18th and early 19th century, but then largely dropped because of the politics of the French Revolution. And after 1802 ‘bio-technology’ was used but not used again for 120 years, again because of the fallout of the French Revolution. In fact, the intellectual fallout of the French Revolution could be a programme in itself.
- extract from Melvyn Bragg's email post In Our Time, 16 October 2008

life in a bubble

Life in a Bubble: A southern Bible college in the 1960s.
- Books & Culture article, extract part of Philip Yancey's memories of Southern Bible College.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

a truth universally acknowledged

This extract from Private Eye isn't a cartoon for a change, but from a reader's letter, John Branston of Lindfield, W Sussex:

perhaps your readers should be apprised of a truth universally ignored that '...a truth universally acknowledged...' is a formulary obviously derived from the Catechisms and Expositors for the instruction of juveniles that Miss Austen would have read to her nieces and nephews in the late 18th century and in the early 19th century.
In Pinnock's 'Catechism of Poetry', a volume in the standard series of primers of her time, Miss Austen would have read, for example, that it is a truth 'universally allowed' that Milton excels all others. No Janeite scholar, as far as I know, has yet suggested that the aphoristic cadences of Miss Austen's prose owe much to her nursery study of Pinnock's.

the single most reliable indicator of success in primary school

Another two women (look around you, more women than men travel by bus), perhaps teachers, perhaps social workers, on a training day out, talk despondently about the chaos of some children's lives. "You know what's the single most reliable indicator of success?" (She meant at primary school, I think) "It's whether they have a table at home." "A table?" Came the response. "Yes, it's not just whether they eat together as a family, have regular meals, not just sitting in front of the television, but whether the child has somewhere to write or draw... That's the one thing."
- from a section of an article on conversations overheard on buses by Mary Dejevsky, Independent, 24 August

Sunday, 7 November 2010

the fastest-growing category of calls to 999 in kent

Did you know that in Kent the fastest-growing category of calls to 999 involve complaints about virtual arguments on Facebook? Astonishing, isn't it? It didn't surprise me, therefore, to learn that one force recently took to tweeting an account of every incident that happened in its area over 24 hours. Just to get their point across.
They compare us to children, but with a crucial difference - when adults can't control their feelings, the consequences are much worse. An emergency response officer told us that he had been called out on a 999 call to arbitrate on which brother should get the biggest slice of a Sara Lee cheesecake. When he arrived, he found the food fight had turned into a full-on fight.
- Radio Times, 6 November, from a preview of Coppers by its executive producer Simon Ford


According to Duncan Kerr on Facebook, the Calum Macleod mentioned at the end of this article is Splodge, who was at the Nicolson when I was there. I remember the nickname, but can't picture him, can't even remember if he was on our year or above.

Tortured Scot on the mend after having body parts severed during kidnap ordeal
- Daily Record, 1 November

Saturday, 6 November 2010

devolution and centralisation

One of my arguments against political devolution from London to Edinburgh was that it would not be matched within Scotland itself. On the contrary, many of those who were preoccupied with establishing Edinburgh as a centre of political power would rapidly become centralisers as opposed to devolvers; anxious to enhance their own status by transferring power not just from London but also from within Scotland. That is exactly what is now happening.
- Brian Wilson, WHFP, 5 November

strata: inside the marmite tower

Strata: Inside the Marmite tower
- interesting article on our local tower from 24Housing magazine of 14 October, particularly flat prices and social housing issues.

concerning halloween

Concerning Halloween - an interesting American article from 1996 by James B Jordan on the Biblical Horizons website. Directed to it by Tom Carpenter, unfamiliar with either JBJ or BH.

neuroscience, free will and determinism

Neuroscience, free will and determinism: 'I'm just a machine'. Our bodies can be controlled by outside forces in the universe, discovers Tom Chivers. So where does that leave free will?
- Telegraph, 12 October.

Theology and science both grapple with the question of free will, the only apparent difference being whether the alternative is referred to as determinism or predestination.

'acting is merely...'

'Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing.'
- Ralph Richardson, quote in the Rocking Vicar email

harry truman quote

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit
- Harry S. Truman, quote in a recent Word newsletter

removing single letters from band names

Another good Word thread, Removing single letters from band names.

alternative album covers by master printmakers

A charming thread on the Word magazine blog, alternative album covers by master printmakers. Some lovely images which work very well.

Friday, 5 November 2010

strata tower wins carbuncle cup

London's Strata tower wins Carbuncle Cup as Britain's ugliest new building: The 42-storey building in Elephant & Castle was nominated for its 'plain visual grotesqueness' and 'Philishave stylings'
- Guardian, 12 August

[Later: when I set up my Facebook account the original profile photo I used was of the Strata tower taken from our back door at night, with the turbines lit up, with a caption along the lines of: 'The Three Eyes of Sauron, or, Sauron can see into our house']

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

in our time - the spanish armada

Notes from Melvyn Bragg's email after the Spanish Armada edition of In Our Time (which was pretty good; reminded me that the fleet wasn't on its way to invade but on its way to pick up soldiers and then invade):

Here are some notes in a most animated discussion after the Armada. Please excuse their bullet point brevity. “We did not pay enough attention to the Dutch,” I was told. They were key to this thing but did not make much of an appearance. A bit like the ghost in Hamlet. The Duke of Parma’s idea was to have flat barges to take his 30,000 crack troops over to the Spanish fleet, which had to be anchored ten miles off the coast of what is now Belgium because of the sandbanks offshore. Parma estimated coolly that the Dutch rebels who inhabited some of the offshore places would take out 50% of his troops, but he’d built that into his calculations! Men were men in those days, I suppose.

One of our contributors said that if Philip II had stuck to his original plan and made for Ireland or the West Country and landed there, and then gone back to pick up the troops, he might well have succeeded. There was much talk of the lack of communication between the Spanish fleet and the Spanish soldiers; people taking messages being captured, drowned, swept off course, etc. It was the Dutch who struck the medal which said “God blew with His wind and it was
scattered” of the Spanish fleet, which we have always thought as something we did. It turns out we were not technically advanced enough to do those sort of coins at the time. And it turns out we had already invaded Holland and Belgium in little ways. Elizabeth had sent out forces to help the Dutch rebels and literally occupy territory, which is an invasion. It also turns out she tried to invade France twice in the 1560s and 1570s and had a go at Scotland in 1559.

Something that struck me was that only three ships were sunk at Gravelines and that was because of fire. The opinion of the contributors was that not a single ship was sunk in battle; in fact, it was very hard to sink a ship in battle. I think it was Nicholas Rodger who said that ships did not get sunk in battle until the development of explosive shells.

barts choir do verdi's requiem at albert hall

Went with some others last night to the Albert Hall to hear Bethan (and Yolandie and Monique) in the Barts Choir doing Verdi's Requiem. The younger generation and I left at half time, but it had sounded very good up until then, and I'm sure it continued the same. We saw her and them there before, doing Carmina Burana.