Monday, 28 March 2011

jackie stewart's spanner

Interesting fact from a preview of a documentary on Grand Prix fatalities in the current Radio Times, re Jackie Stewart: 'he tells how a 1966 crash left him trapped in his car by its steering wheel. After that, he raced with a spanner taped to the wheel, so he could get himself out.'

linguistic origins of lewis place names

An item in the 11 March WHFP repeats a stat I've heard before: 'An article published over 50 years ago by the late Prof Magne Oftedal on the village names of Lewis found the vast majority (79 per cent) derive from the Norse language while around nine per cent derive from Gaelic. The remainder come from Gaelic but with Norse elements or English, while the origin of four per cent are uncertain.'

class in pop, and cliff

Interesting line in a David Hepworth item on why people seem to take against middleclassness and elevate working class credentials - or poses - in musicians, in current Word: 'it's dangerous to make assumptions about people's socio-economic circs on the basis of how they happen to present themselves. The English pop star who probably suffered most genuine poverty and discrimination as a child was Cliff Richard, the very last person to drone on about it in interviews.'

Monday, 21 March 2011

biggest hit, worst song

People sometimes seem to have their biggest hit with their worst song.

For example, Eurythmics, There Must Be An Angel. And the man who graced that recording with its harmonica solo, Stevie Wonder, I Just Called To Say I Love You.

Friday, 18 March 2011

thirty-three great movie cameos

33 Great Movie Cameos - an interesting Empire feature, though takes a while to click through, as there's a page for each one. Interestingly, the website page address says '35'.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

the red house mystery

Finished The Red House Mystery, A A Milne's detective novel, yesterday, which wasn't bad. Hadn't realised he was an assistant editor of Punch.

Nice line from p6 (it was an edition obviously given away free with the Times):
'Why, you could have knocked her over with a feather. Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual menace to Audrey.'

Thursday, 10 March 2011

cuts vs savings in bbc news

Labour accuses BBC of toning down spending cuts coverage: Opposition complains after BBC London News report describes coalition cuts as 'savings'
- Guardian, 8 March

The original story was on the Liberal Conspiracy blog on 3 March:
BBC journalists told to use ‘savings’ instead of ‘cuts’ in news

The Liberal Conspiracy blog follow-up story on 7 March, 'BBC News ‘savings’ & ‘cuts’ watch', included links to two BBC News articles with these headlines (of which the second one is much the better example):
- Highland Council savings proposal to close 11 schools
- Savings threat to hundreds of hospital jobs in Cornwall

a topical joke

A joke via the Word blog:

A banker, a Daily Mail reader and a benefit claimant are sitting at a table sharing 12 biscuits. The banker takes 11 and says to the Daily Mail reader, "Watch out for the benefit claimant, he wants your biscuit."

- a subsequent comment says 'earlier this week it was a banker, a businessman and a union leader.'

In another thread, someone says, 'One of my sons calls The Word "your Daddy Comic."', which is quite nice.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


I played Subbuteo at the weekend for the first time since I was a boy, which took me back. I'm pretty sure I must have bought it when we were on our summer holidays, as I have a clear memory of playing it on the floor in a chalet in Butlins. If I bought it on the way down then I probably bought it in John Menzies in Inverness; I remember always visiting their toys and games department when we were passing through Inverness.

I knew that we never did play it by the rules, though looking at the rules at the weekend I see that the rules aren't what I thought they were - less frenetic than I thought they were - and they look like they'd be guite good to play. Perhaps we will learn it properly now.

Looking online I see that it looks like Subbuteo's been discontinued and there are high prices paid for kit, and many devoted fans. What I played on Sunday was a starter set we got in a charity shop for £3 on the Saturday, with the red and the blue team (it still had the chart in it saying what teams each set represented), with a 1992 copyright date somewhere on the box. Only one broken player, which wasn't too bad, and the pitch had some pretty solid folds in which will take a while to come out I guess.

Monday, 7 March 2011

po-faced synth bands

Just finished watching a documentary about Heaven 17 and Penthouse and Pavement, which taken together with a documentary or two I saw a while ago - probably Synth Britannia - makes me very well-disposed towards Heaven 17, Human League and OMD. They all seemed rather earnest and po-faced at the time, but the modern-day interviews reveal them to be full of down to earth, humorous, self-effacing and self-mocking people. I remember in one of the previous documentaries Martyn Ware saying that a key turning point in his life was when he had the choice of buying a synthesiser or a car and he chose to buy the former - and that he still couldn't drive now. Midge Ure also popped up at the very end of the P&P doc doing very good spoof video contributions in which he was dryly scathing about Heaven 17.

Friday, 4 March 2011

is it me you're looking for?

Not familiar with, but this is a funny parody Missing Person sign.

hamlet - oddsocks production at jacksons lane

Last week I bought tickets to four different productions of Hamlet in London this year - two different performances each for those at the Globe and the Young Vic since their further away in case I'm doing something on the first night I bought for (the Young Vic Michael Sheen tickets are for December and January).

On Tuesday I went to Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate to see the Oddsocks production of Hamlet (which I was tipped off to by the Official London Theatre email I get, and then I think I checked that Bristol Uni site and found the Hackney Empire one).

From the Oddsocks site in particular, and the Jackson Lane site also, I saw that their productions are touring ones designed for family fun, so that and the title they'd given it, 'Hamlet - The Comedy!' gave me a clear idea what to expect, and that largely came to pass: played heavily for laughs, with lots of extra business and extra text and novelty, small cast doubling up, flexible set. But it did have some interesting little angles and approaches, and was unexpectedly moving in its portrayal of Hamlet and Ophelia in particular as lightweight amiable characters, students in giggly love, caught up in an increasingly tragic plot. I'd expected to enjoy it, but it was better than I'd hoped or expected in having more substance. I'd certainly go to see Oddsocks again (they seem to do a lot of outdoor summer work). (Of course I'm not averse to seeing Hamlet as a comedy, since my favourite production, RSC with Mark Rylance, was very funny.)

Before we went in I saw Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee were there; I'd read somewhere in the publicity onine that they were going to be there, as he played The Ghost as a hologram (a video, really), and also that it was the press night. (It wasn't very well attended, but it was very well-received.) At the interval I noticed someone who hadn't gone out to the foyer bar, and remembered that I had read somewhere that Bill Oddie was going to be there, and it was he. In fact we'd watched the Kitten Kong episode of the Goodies the night before, recorded at Christmas. I took my courage in my hands and went over to thank him for a lifetime of entertainment (and latterly education); he was perfectly nice about it.

The cast of five were all very good; their 'newest' member, Bethan Nash, I thought was a bit too over the top with her minor parts, that was probably the weakest element, but she was good as Ophelia. The quick changes and set changes always impressive as expected in a good touring company. Some sections - in particular the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, the 'get thee to a nunnery' speech and Ophelia's mad scenes - were set as songs with guitar, which worked very well, well enough to make me wonder why people didn't do it more often. Kevin Kemp was Hamlet, and he in particular put across the characterisation of the light and amiable student caught up in tragedy very well. He put on a red nose to signify in particular when he was 'playing mad', or 'fooling' (the programme says they interpret 'antic' in 'antic disposition' as 'clowning'), and later has a clown romper suit. Made a good scene in the corridor with Ophelia where she returns his letters, broken hearted disbelief turning to the anger of spurned love (the scene was played as significant turning point in their relationship, which it doesn't often seem to be). Later Ophelia was given a bump, in what seems now to be the default interpretation that she was pregnant with Hamlet's child.

They used TV screens for clips from Danish News (the director playing the comedy Danish newsreader) for some of the plot-moving sections, and bigger screens for Paul Daniel's appearances as the Ghost. He was just about okay; I presume having him in that role followed the direction of the production rather than led it. There was some magic and minor clowning, and of course a fair level of slapstick (though the fencing match was respectably full-on, surprisingly enough). The programme and online info suggests the idea was that Hamlet and his dad had a very loving relationship and that his dad was fun and did magic tricks, while Claudius was very different from him, and indeed got madder and twitchier as the play went on. There was a nice little post-deaths coda where there was an 'old' home video clip on the screen of old Hamlet doing tricks in a garden with Hamlet as a boy. There was also a surprisingly effective bit where Hamlet put his arm into the sleeve of his dead father's jacket, hanging on a hook, and 'his father' put his arm around him, and made a card appear (which Hamlet also did last thing before he died), which even as he was doing it I was thinking I can't believe this looks as convincing as it does.

The characterisation of Claudius and Gertrude, and the non-characterisation of their relationship, suffered somewhat for the sake of the style of the production but worked fine within that style - Claudius was a children's TV villain, Gertrude progressively drank more (not unusual), sawed off the branch so that Ophelia drowned (not sure why), and leched after Laertes (these two both firsts in my Hamlet-going experience). The visiting players were an alternative touring theatre troupe of two, which was good fun. When a stuffed dog appeared on the battlements we anticipated a joke, and sure enough: 'Stay, Barnardo.' Which made me laugh loudly. (There were several points at which I laughed loudly; not always alone.) When the Irish priest appeared ('hello Father Patrick') I anticipated 'Now might I do it - Pat!', but I didn't laugh at that. One bit where I was the only one to laugh loudly was where Hamlet said to Horatio 'You are e'en', and Horatio thought he was saying 'You are Ian', and they got some mileage out of that.

Before the play started the cast came into the audience to chat - and they obviously knew some of the audience members, but they'd clearly have done it anyway - and they talked to us from the stage before it started too. There was subsequently less audience participation than this might have suggested, though I didn't mind that.

It's hard to find reviews to link to - there's info on the Oddsocks site, but it's all on 'current production'-type pages which will change before long. London Festival review of the Jacksons Lane run. Oddsocks Facebook page with links and photos here, here, here and here, with videos here (I don't know if these are viewable without being signed up to Facebook). The Stage review of earlier performance. Frances Newbury review on Facebook. Production poster from Claudius's website.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

describing a highland landscape

The road to Lundavra, six miles south of Fort William, is rough and hilly. There are four long steep hills over a mile apart to be climbed and descended on the way to the loch and farmhouse of that name. In the first mile the road rises from sea level to 487 feet, but from this height there is no view of Ben Nevis by reason of Cow Hill to the north-east. The road descends to the valley of the water of Kiachruish, the river that runs from Lundavra into Loch Linnhe, and then rises to 432 feet. Here the view of the Ben is shut out by the hill called Bundbbhaird g hall [sic], but between this last and the mountain of Mullach nan Coirean is a valley running to the north-east. Where the road crosses the bottom of this valley, just beyond the small schoolhouse at Blarmachfoldach, Ben Nevis can be seen across this glen. The road then rises to 514 feet, descends and again rises to this height, but the Snow Mountain is now hidden behind Mullach nan Coirean. Ben Nevis is a gigantic mass of bare rock, but all the other mountains are heather-clad and in their valleys are streams and the grazing land of sheep farms.
- Halliday Sutherland, Hebridean Journey; Geoffrey Bles, 1939; p33. This quote included not for its content as such, but the way it creates an atmosphere of place and travel compactly, with its hill/valley patterns and the use of names.

wayne's world - not

Norman thought: Country parsonage! Healthy mental atmosphere, not!
- Fritz Leiber, Conjure Wife; Penguin, 1969 ed, p19

When I saw this I thought this must be quite an early use of the '- not!' construction popularised by Wayne's World. But there was a BBC series about the updating of the OED, presented by Victoria Coren, which encouraged people to track down older citations of particular words than the OED currently had, as part of which you could get free access to particular parts of the OED online. 'N' was viewable for a while, and when I looked up '- not!' they had examples going back to at least the nineteenth century.

barnet 4 lincoln city 2

I fancied going to a match on Saturday, I haven't been for a while. Millwall were at home, but the bulk of their tickets are now £27, and I wasn't that keen - I haven't been there for a few years. Barnet were playing at home, however, and they still have some standing terrace, and I'd had in mind to go there sometime, straight up the Northern line. (I'd like of course to go to all the London grounds eventually - I've been to old Highbury (several times, when we lived up there), old Wembley, Chelsea, Crystal Palace (a couple of times, as Wimbledon's home ground) and Millwall (several times).) It's close to High Barnet station, and easy to find - it wasn't quite 'follow the crowds' but there were a respectable number of people making their way there (attendance 2,226, I see, including a good number of Lincoln fans - looks like 544 including a 'kid for a quid' offer). The ground is called Underhill, which is a nice touch for LOTR readers. (High Barnet is of course Amy Winehouse's alter ego.) I got east terrace for £15 - paid on the turnstile, didn't get a physical ticket (like, incidentally, most of my recent gigs - I didn't even get an old-fashioned hand stamp at the Bush). It was a bit breezy, and always threatening to rain heavily but didn't really, and I didn't get too cold. I was on front terrace, about level with the centre circle. As the Lincoln-mad report indicates, there is a distinct slope to the pitch. There was almost no grass beyond the touchlines, which might take unwary visitors by surprise or may be typical in the smaller grounds. It was a very friendly atmosphere. I think I saw Ken Hall, folk singer, I don't know how likely that is but as celebrity spottings go it would be pretty niche.

I had also noted that Barnet were at the bottom of League Two, and did have in mind the possibility that this might be a chance to see them before they dropped out of the league. I learned from the programme that they hadn't won in their last eight league games.

I also learned from the programme that Arsenal Reserves play there, and you can see them for free (which I guess explains some of the Arsenal merchandise I noticed some people wearing), and that apparently Mark Lawrenson was the only English-born player in Liverpool's FA Cup winning team of 1986 (though of course ironically he played for Republic of Ireland) - Wikipedia confirms (I do like the little national flags, takes me back to my childhood).

It was an enjoyable game, end to end, and I should obviously go again as my presence inspired an end to their run, because they won 4-2. They were 3-0 up at half-time, but lost two goals in quick succession early in the second half and things got very nervy. Then they gave away a penalty, but the goalie saved it, and that was a key turning point. They scored a fourth which gave breathing space, but you still never felt sure Lincoln wouldn't come back - both teams had good chances throughout. Barnet climbed two places and out of the relegation zone, although Burton have a crazy number of games in hand. I'd certainly go back.

Some match reports. BBC (including video - which may expire - and live text update). Barnet-mad. Barnet official. Lincoln City mad. Lincoln City official.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

david langford interview

Entertaining interview with David Langford on Neil Daniel's website (whoever he is).

friday at bush hall

Continuing my Mid-Life Crisis Tour of small venues presenting three or more musical acts I've never really heard of for under a tenner, I went to Bush Hall on Friday night to see Doyle and the Fourfathers, supported by Sweetie Pie & the Gutter Men and The Great Divide. Here's a set of photos from the gig on Flickr, including all three acts.

It was a nice hall, innocuous street front leading into corridor, broadening out to bar area then old-fashioned big room, with a very small balcony area; sound desk back left corner, grand piano back right, not many venues you could just leave a grand piano in the floor space; you could if you wished stand at floor level to the left and right of the stage platform. Lots of indications that it's become a fashionable venue for quite big acts doing small gigs, perhaps because not far from BBC.

At the front again through unfashionable earliness and desire for a good view.

THe Great Divide I quite enjoyed - essentially a singer-songwriter in a piano jazz trio. I wasn't that taken with the tunes or lyrics, but I liked the note patterns in the keyboard playing. There wasn't much looking at the audience for most of the time, though the main man did start talking to us in the end and did very well (he said, good-humouredly, something like 'if you've just come in, come on down, there's plenty of room at the front'), as I'd thought he seemed rather nervous. The bass player, as with the next band, stood side-on to the audience throughout. Again, as at previous gigs, I was surprised at just how noisy the chatting was through their performance, which seemed unkind, but they pressed on regardless, which you have to do. I guess you have to think they're treating it like a background CD and hope that some of it goes in.

Again, as at the Lexington, I was surprised by the number of people with fancy big cameras looking as if they were taking official photos for someone, whether the band or the venue; this true for all the acts. Sweetie Pie also had three people with video cameras, who appeared to be working together, and the Fourfathers were being videoed too (it was in fact the Fourfathers' album launch night) - I asked a Fourfather videoer and he said it was for the band.

The front got much busier for Sweetie Pie, the chat went down and the audience appreciation noise went up. I'd guess they're a student or recent student band, and had many friends in the crowd. The audience demographic was older than I had expected - I think with these less known bands a significant number of the people older than me are family, but there were more than could be accounted for by that.

I liked Sweetie Pie a lot, especially to start with though I don't think they maintained the standard. Also singer-guitarist got quite drunk by the end, which troubled me as if that's how he's coping with the stress at this stage then it doesn't bode well. Indie poppy, guitar-led, with extras. Another big line-up that makes you play 'who's the most dispensable?' - drums, bass, electric guitar, singer/acoustic guitar, violin/xylophones, accordion. The good-looking accordionist, I'd say. The lady with the v/x seemed pretty good and pretty central, she and s/ag seemed the leaders. Another act where by the end there have been four people singing at different stages and you wonder why they don't take more advantage of that.

Got appropriately busier for the headliners, and I was still front and centre. After four or five songs I moved back, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the drummer was so much louder than the others had been, and it was painful. I noticed he had earphones in, which I guess means he was playing to a click track, and that may be why he was playing louder; it certainly meant that he didn't seem to be listening to the rest of the band at all, he seemed quite disengaged. Even when I was at the back, the drums still overwhelmed the other instruments. The other reason was that the music was rather disappointing - a traditional four-piece guitar band, they looked good, but the music was unremarkable, with nothing much in the way of tunes. Didn't warm to lead singer's overconfidence, but that's always the danger with confidence, some degree of which is necessary in a frontman. When I moved to the back, I stayed for another two or three songs, but in the end left early. Certainly my least favourite of the three.

I'd like to find out about the cymbals thing - as with other gigs like these, the drummers all used the same kit except for the cymbals, they all brought their own. I don't know whether the kit belongs to the venues or the headliners, and whether people bring their own cymbals because venues don't supply them because they're expensive and easily stolen, or because people are happy to use other people's drumkits but are very particular about their cymbals.

Artist links:
- Doyle and the Fourfathers. Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube channel.
- Sweetie Pie and the Gutter Men. Myspace. Facebook. Their Youtube channel. Someone else's Youtube clip from Friday night - I think you can see my grey hair glowing down in front of the accordionist's feet.
- The Great Divide. Myspace Great Divide. Myspace Gerald Clark. Twitter Great Divide. Twitter Gerald Clark.

march ansible extract

Stephen King is being sued for plagiarism. The claim is that chunks of his 2008 novel _Duma Key_ were stolen from plaintiff Rod Marquardt's 2002 _Keller's Den_ (publishers: the dread PublishAmerica). The first smoking gun in Marquardt's legal filing is an astonishing similarity between his book's hypnotic state that 'controlled him like the talons of an eagle wrapped around a harmless garter snake', and King's 'I was like a bird hypnotized by a snake.' What's more, both novels use the word 'earthbound' and -- in the rescue sense -- 'cavalry'! _Duma Key_ mentions Garrison Keillor, whose name sounds uncannily like Keller! Digital clock-radios read 2:19 (original creation) and 3:19 (blatant theft). A fiancee in one novel and a frog in the other _both have sharp teeth_. Characters in each book say 'What do you think?', words never before strung together in that order.... Also cited are various horror/suspense tropes or cliches that weren't new in 2002 either, in particular that of an artist whose talent is affected by occult influence. Marquardt has a bad case of Willy the Wizard syndrome: see _A264_, _A272_, _A283_. King and his publishers have entered a robust defence asking for the complaint to be dismissed with prejudice. (Making Light, 20 February)
- Ansible email, March 2011

hebrides photo blog

Flying Monk is a Harris-based photo blog by John Maher. Who I suspect is the John Maher formerly of Buzzcocks. Some nice night photography.

ministers like stars

Coming home through the wood last night, I was refreshed and comforted in looking up to the stars. Ministers, like these stars, are set to give light through the night. We shine on, whether travellers will make use of our light or not.
- Sat 21 Nov 1840, Andrew Bonar Diary & Life; Banner of Truth, 1960; p86

sport continued by other means

The mock heroism of 'The Battle of the Eastern Field' reflects, consciously or otherwise, a truth about a whole generation's attitudes. The sports field was an arena for feigned combat. In the books most boys read, war was sport continued by other means.
- John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War; 2003, p20