Saturday, 29 June 2013

the croods; mr blandings builds his dream house

On Saturday 15 June in the morning went to the Barbican family club, for the first time since it revamped, last year I think, to see The Croods. Better than I thought, and the younger generation enjoyed it too; but it wasn't top-notch.

And as we were leaving the Barbican we saw the 1pm flypast for the Queen's coronation anniversary going right over our heads.

In the evening we watched Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, an old Cary Grant film, which wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped, but still pretty good. It was interesting to think how a modern version would have run. I'm not sure it would have ended so cheerfully; and the 'old boyfriend jealousy' subplot would have been handled less lightly, more crudely.

best cover of randy newman song, according to randy newman

File this under surprising. Randy Newman has written many good songs, and many people have covered them. But who did the best ever cover of a Randy Newman song? According to the man himself, in an interview in the March 2012 issue of Uncut, Cilla Black. 'Her version of "I've Been Wrong Before" is the best recording of one of my songs I've ever heard".' Judge for yourself on Youtube.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

ivp tyndale on obadiah, jonah and micah

Last night finished my IVP Tyndale commentary on Obadiah, Jonah and Micah; we'd done Jonah and Micah in the house group, and I finished Obadiah by myself subsequently. Micah was a bit of a plod, not much to Obadiah, Jonah easier going as you'd expect, with so much more story in it. The main thing I remember from Jonah was that I'm sure very often the familiar story told of Jonah is that he didn't want to go to Nineveh because he was scared, but it's clear that he wasn't scared, but rather that he didn't want to go in case they repented and were forgiven and not punished, which is indeed what happened.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

achtung schweinehund!

I finished Achtung Schweinehund! by Harry Pearson on Monday. It was pretty good. (A Little, Brown paperback, 2007. Subtitle 'A boy's own story of imaginary combat'.) Autobiographical, with factual/historical diversion, on war comics, toy soldiers, model soldiers and war gaming, man and boy. Lots of resonances, though it did dip rather in the middle when he spent quite a lot of time on the 19th-century history of model soldiers.

A first couple of quotes (more to follow):

'Like most children born in the early 1960s I had many relatives [of father's and grandfather's generation] with military experience. ... This made mine a singular generation in British history. Because, despite a national tendency to crow about our successes on the battlefield, the fact is that Britain is not a land of soldiers and our experience of war is limited.
'Until 1916 there had never been conscription in the United Kingdom; National Service - including the Second World War - had lasted for just twenty-five years. The British Army that fought at Minden, Quebec, Balaclava, Rorke's Drift and even Mons in 1914 was small and professional. During the Napoleonic Wars, when every other nation in Europe introduced conscription, Britain resisted, filling ranks decimated by fifteen years of fighting by increasing the maximum age for volunteers from twenty-eight to thirty-three. ...
'By 1812 France, Russia and Austria were each conscripting one hundred thousand men per year, some of them boys as young as fifteen. 'I could lose the British Army in a single day,' the Duke of Wellington remarked sardonically, but accurately, as he marched about the Peninsula with his sixty thousand men. ... At the start of the Great War Britain's army was the same size as that of Belgium, and only half as big as that of Serbia. In 1914 the Germans had 1.75 million reservists. Britain had one hundred thousand.
'Despite this compulsion (and the fact that the wealthy frequently dodged duties by paying others to do it for them), the Continentals tended to regard their vast amateur armies as exemplars of national pride and patriotism; proof that ordinary folk were prepared to fight to the death to preserve the regime and to shed their blood for the national interest. The Europeans looked down their noses at the British, wondering at the moral fibre of a country that paid men to make a career of fighting. The word mercenaries was often used.'
- p11-13

'In The First World War John Terraine asks why the conflict affected the British quite so dramatically. Other nations, he points out, suffered far worse casualties than Britain without convulsing quite so violently or becoming so, well, damnably emotional about it. Terraine is not terribly sympathetic. In fact, you sense the venerable military historian would like to give everybody he sees sniffling over "Anthem for Doomed Youth" a good slap and the order to jolly well buck up. The traditional make up of the British Army is the answer to Terraine's question. The British had never fought in such large numbers before, and had never done so as naive amateurs.
'The experience of war was new to the British in a way it wasn't for the other nations. To the French, Germans, Belgians and Austrians, whose countryside had been regularly ravaged by hostile armies since the Reformation, war was an ever-present threat, a pestilence of steel and smoke that could sweep through at any time. ...
'In Europe war was one of life's hazards, a natural threat to be avoided like lightning or typhoid. To the British it was something that happened far away and was handled by rough men who were used to that sort of thing. The First and Second World Wars briefly changed all that. There are many reasons why the British are still so fixated on the events of 1939-45 and the sheer novelty is surely one of them.'
- p14

Monday, 17 June 2013

the honourable schoolboy

I finished The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre at the start of May. It was okay, but not good enough to make me want to read the third of the well-known Smiley trilogy. I found it heavy going, and just not interesting enough. I'd preferred Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, though it was pretty convoluted, perhaps because it was much more London-based. But it wasn't as good as the first one of his I'd read, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which was much better. I'm not sure I'll read any more le Carre; if I do, it'll be from the earlier stuff (some of which, it turns out, also features Smiley).

Saturday, 15 June 2013

melvyn bragg on dismissive atheists

One characteristic of this morning's programme was the scholarly calm with which the three contributors discussed what, for many people in many parts of the world, is an explosive subject. Religion. A new factor in our programme is that people tweet us as we go along, and Tom Morris can somehow produce the programme in the adjoining booth and bring in tweets at quarter to ten. A couple of these tweets were from self-described atheists who asked us why were we discussing this subject? Why bother? It was all so irrelevant. It is almost impossible to think of a subject more relevant to so many aspects of life on the planet at the moment than religions. The Islamic movement in its most extreme form is driven by extreme reactions to, and interpretations of, the Qur'an. Issues such as gay marriage are being challenged by reference to the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament plays a major part in the current tension in the Middle East. It bewilders me that people who call themselves atheist - for wholly understandable reasons of not believing in a God, a Resurrection, a Virgin Birth, a Trinity - think that this gives them the right to dismiss a massive body of knowledge which has informed people for almost two thousand years, led to some of the greatest artefacts mankind has ever seen and, for better and for worse, has to be taken into account if we think at all of the past in terms of morality, history and art.
- from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time email of last week, relating to the programme on prophecy

austria - intro and mountain walk

I've been transferring my Austria holiday diary notes from my notebook into my diary, putting here some random thoughts and details which I didn't transfer over there. We went in a flight and hotel package with Inghams, Saturday 25 May to Saturday 1 June, flights between Gatwick and Innsbruck, staying in the Sporthotel Xander in Kirchplatzl in the Leutasch valley. (This photo of the hotel with the church dome behind it was taken while we were there, if the Flickr date is to be believed.)

We had mixed weather (by the end of that week there was serious flooding in parts of Austria, Germany, Czech Republic; a month's rain in a day, that kind of thing), but we had a good time. If it hadn't been unseasonably bad then there wouldn't have been so much snow around.

Walking on a snowy path up a mountain (part of the large range behind our hotel, which formed the border with Germany) at around 1700m was one of the literal and metaphorical high-points of the holiday. The highest point of our walk was the Wettersteinhutte, marked on the map as 1717m; but the height on the map for our village was 1136m, so it's not like we went up from sea level (and the starting point of our walk was higher than the village, though we did walk all the way back down, a less interesting way). (Ben Nevis's height is 1344m; Munro threshold, 3000ft, is 914m.) From the map, I'd say we were walking up and around the south side of Rossberg from west to east, and that south side might be called Rotschrofen.

Our starting point was the bus stop at the end of the public road up the Leutascher Ache valley (forest track went further), then up path by Salzbach river till we met trail 41 and took it east (called on the map on this stretch 'Wurziger Steig') to the hut, where we did not stop but carried on down trail 9, which for most of the way was a windy road track. It was the Friday, our last full day, and it was raining pretty steadily, but we thought we might be sorry if we took a 'dry day' trip into a town we weren't that interested in, so we went for it. As we climbed, the rain turned to sleet, then to snow, which made it much drier, as it didn't soak into us so much (though we were still sodden when we got home, not least because of the trudge home); there was no snow on the ground or trees at our starting height, but we gradually got into it, and for the last twenty or thirty minutes of our walk up we were walking on a snow-covered path, which I don't think I've ever done on a hill before. It never reached the stage where we felt we were taking an unnecessary risk, though; but we did abandon our half-thought of going on a little further up beyond the hut to a small, higher top. The trickiest bit was the start of the track back down, actually, which was covered in snow and slippier because smoother (and steeper). As it happened, there was an organised walk on that day which we were too late to sign up for, and which in any case it turned out under 12s weren't allowed on; we met them just as we started down from the hut, it turned out they were doing the same route in reverse; it was probably for the best that we had done our own thing, as we could go at our own pace especially without feeling any pressure that little legs were keeping anyone back, which wouldn't have been helpful. In fact we were very proud of the little legs and how they did.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

scaring off tourists

I've been out of touch with the debate for a long time now, having long been away, but what I remember as one of the main arguments for having things open on Sundays in Lewis was that tourists would not expect this anomalous practice of Sunday closure and be put off from coming or coming back. I was reminded of this last Sunday in the Austrian Tirol, a region reliant on and popular with tourists, but where virtually everything was closed. I have in my travels found Lewis to be less anomalous in this regard than I was led to believe.

Speaking from more of the tourist's perspective which I now have in relation to Lewis, I'd say that what tourists probably find more anomalous and off-putting than finding things being shut on Sundays is finding so many things being shut from September to May in the apparent belief that there are no tourists in those months. Things may be better than they used to be in this regard; I do hope so.