Sunday, 19 May 2013

icelandic women

From Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time email after the Icelandic Sagas programme a couple of weeks ago: 'It seems that although the original male population of Iceland was pretty much Norse and mostly Norwegian, a lot of the women were Celtic. They came over, or were brought over, from the Western Isles and particularly from Ireland.'

the skeleton in the cupboard

As mentioned in an earlier post, I was reading The Skeleton In The Cupboard, by Alice Thomas Ellis; I finished reading it in March. It was fine, but I won't read it again (though that's true of 99% of the books I read; life's too short) - if it had been the first of hers I'd read, I might not have come back so readily to read more (though it, like most of her books, have the great merit of brevity). But here's an interesting quote (from p44 of my 1989 Penguin edition), reflecting a clear understanding of and sympathy with issues of faith (I seem to remember she was a committed Catholic):

'In one way I was relieved that Syl had not married until now. My family had been Catholic since Adam was a lad. They had lived in a remote corner of the North and the upheavals of the 'reformation' had not troubled them. None of us had been called to martyrdom and we all took the Faith for granted, like air and bread. When my mother left my father all those years ago, the gentry and the yeomanry for miles around had been delightfully scandalised, for adultery and divorce were social sins and rare in those parts. But my uncles and aunts, her kin, without talking, or even thinking, about it, feared for her immortal soul. They were ashamed in the social sense and angry with her for so shaming them, but those emotions are bearable. it is the knowledge that somebody you love - one of you - might, by sin, separate herself from you for eternity that is a source of anguish. Embarrassment and wrath kept my family away from the neighbours for a time, but it was not those feelings which would make one of my uncles fall silent, another give a sudden exclamation and bite his lip. It was not because my mother had put her sisters into the awkward position of having to hold their heads high before the curious regard of the neighbours, when what they wanted was to clap their hands over their ears, close their eyes and pretend they were insensate that made one of my aunts weep silently in church and another take to saying Decades of the Rosary at peculiar moments. It was the fear that one of them was lost.'

woburn safari park; love and death

We went to Woburn Safari Park on Saturday 9 March, our last big day out with the car before we got rid of it. It was pretty cold, and pretty quiet. We drove round the big circuit first in the car, then out of the car to the on-foot area for lunch and all the walk-through section, then again around the slightly shorter circuit before leaving. We saw three 'up-close' sessions, with birds of prey/owls, sealions and elephants; first two, doing their stuff, third, walking around and you were able to touch them (tough, dry and bristly). We had the obligatory safari park experience of a monkey on the car (thankfully only one, but enough to satisfy honour), and it was impressive seeing the lions in particular coming so close up to the car, but the thing I'll remember most was on our final drive round, late afternoon, and being by the wolves enclosure when they began to howl, a most eerie and mournful sound, and not a sound which would strike fear into you if you were out in the wild.

In the evening Bethan and I watched Love and Death. I'd got this and a couple other of Woody Allen's 'early, funny ones' cheap on DVD at Fopp last year (£3 each; in Fopp a few weeks ago they had a 10-DVD box of 20 Woody Allen films for £10; but I didn't buy it). I wondered if they would be disappointing, not as funny as I remembered them. It was pretty good, if not the comedy triumph I remembered it as, though I could see why I thought it was so good when I was younger. But I don't feel the need to keep hold of the DVD for repeated viewings.

we all live in a perry groves world

I'm reading Perry Groves' autobiography, We All Live In A Perry Groves World. It's shaping up to be one of those which makes you like the subject less after you've read it than you did before. Although, to be fair, this is because he tells stories about himself which others might not have told - so it's possible that, say, I might like most footballers less if I read their honest autobiography - but on the other hand he seems completely unapologetic about these stories.

He does tell a striking-if-true story about Paul Merson, though, indicating that when confronted with toilets which said 'male' and 'female' rather than 'men/gents' and 'women/ladies', he didn't know the meaning of those words so which was which. Seems hard to believe, even among other similar examples; but a plausible and useful reminder that footballers often aren't the sharpest tools in the box, that Graeme le Saux was thought of as gay because he read a broadsheet, and that questionnaire profiles often indicate that they have never read a book.

(Later: finished it now. It didn't get any better. It seems hard to believe that whoever put the words 'heart-warming and hilarious' on the cover to describe it had read the book; it was bitter and unpleasant. Listening to him on R5 on Friday nights with Colin Murray and Pat Nevin will never be the same again. Pat Nevin, of course, more at the Graeme le Saux end of the spectrum, with his love of art and culture; I remember him saying he'd been fined while on a team trip (I think while with Tranmere, under John Aldridge) away to Dublin for going to museums and galleries instead of out drinking with the lads.)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

what bloody man is that?

Last week I read What Bloody Man Is That? by Simon Brett. I quite enjoyed it, more because of the theatrical setting than the quality of the detective story, though it was quite well written. He's written a lot of books, mostly detective stories in various series, with a few in this theatrical series featuring Charles Paris; I would read more of this series (18 of them, according to Wikipedia, which also indicates he was, among other things, a BBC radio producer including HHG and comedy writer including After Henry), but wouldn't make a special effort to seek them out.

Monday, 6 May 2013

abbey road

While the others went to London Zoo on this bank holiday, I did the thing at the top of my 'London things I still haven't done' list, and after twenty-three years here finally went up to Abbey Road. It's fascinating. There is a live webcam on the Abbey Road Studios website where at all times you can watch people crossing and taking photos of people crossing the zebra crossing from the cover of Abbey Road - once you start watching it's hard to tear your eyes off it. (Although in fact it's not the crossing, exactly, because sometime between then and now they moved it a few metres south).

The wall outside the studio (which has a smaller street-front than you'd expect, and a plaque to Edward Elgar on it) - and outside the unfortunate block next door - is covered with graffiti, which is cleaned off every few months. You can see where the webcam is, in the studio car park, and stand at the studio gates and wave at it. Whether you do that or not, once you've done your crossing you can go onto the website where they keep hourly archives (for that day only, it looks like) and then take a still of yourself and download or upload it. I found myself (about ten to and five past ten), but don't think I'd have known it was me if I hadn't known it was me; cctv footage of a terror suspect is what it put me in mind of.

Watching people, in the flesh and online, what strikes you most is how often the crossers either walk in a really exaggerated way or freeze, as if they're having their portrait taken by a Victorian photographer. Also, of course, you feel sorry for the traffic. Regarding the photographers, a few (fool-)hardy souls do go into the middle of the road for maximum accuracy, but it's striking how many people just take the photo from the pavement (mostly getting it right, looking north) and not the superior safe location of the monument at the road junction (which you can see in the centre rear of the webcam image and is where I spent most of my time, watching the show). The monument is a memorial to Edward Onslow Ford, an artist I was not familiar with; the sculpted figure - which was worth seeing - is, appropriately enough, of a muse.

Apart from the sculpture of the muse, my other favourite thing about the visit was the *other* zebra crossing, a minute up the road - poor, sad, neglected thing. I took some photos of it too; I felt like applauding the family I saw actually use it.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

old photos

Interesting seeing yourself in old photos, most often these days thanks to being tagged in photos posted by old friends on Facebook. To a large extent my own mental picture of myself is how I look in those photos from school and university days. It's certainly true to a large extent that that's how I still feel inside, like the teenager I was.

Conversely, a university friend said that one of those school photos on Facebook was the first itime she'd ever seen my chin. Another friend said the last time she'd seen me - a long time ago - my beard was as lush as the Boney M man's; I said it wasn't so much now, and that I was now cutting my own beard and hair with my own trimmer ('take that, recession!').

mary's concert

On Thursday 7 March, Andy and I met up at Liverpool Street, had a bit of a wander around the Spitalfields Market area (where we saw Karren Brady) and down Fournier Street (where we passed Gilbert and George coming the other way) to Brick Lane, then a Subway lunch before going to see Mary Reid playing her harp (my first time; Bethan and Maisie had heard her the Saturday before, playing the same main pieces I think) in Christ Church Spitalfields (my first time there too).

It was actually an illustrated lecture, part of the Gresham College free lectures programme, by Christopher Hogwood, the Paris instalment of a series on European Capitals of Music. They played a Debussy sonata for harp, viola and flute, contrasting it with a piece for the same combo by Ravel, and with some other illustrative extracts from each instrument, including a more traditionally ornate harp piece (Mary spoke very confidently before she played her bit)and a bit of flute from the start of L'apres midi. The playing was very good, and the lecture was too - it was very clear and made sense, especially compared to a lot of talk you hear about classical music.