Wednesday, 10 December 2014

war horse

We finished watching War Horse, recorded on our Freeview box, on Saturday 22nd November. I don't know what the lauded stage version is like (still on here), but the film was pretty unremarkable I thought.

transforming grace; the case for christ

On Wednesday 19 November I finished Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges. Other people have appreciated it a great deal, including the person who gave it to me, but I just thought it was okay. I think, as they say, it didn't scratch where I itch.

Conversely, very much scratching where I was itching was The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel, which I finished on Saturday 6 December. A former crime journalist interviewing different theological academics in their area of speciality in relation to proofs, evidence, reliability etc of the gospels and the story of Christ. I found the style a little annoying, with the author narrating the ongoing thoughts and actions within the interview to give it some 'colour', but the content was solid.

a murder is announced

On Sunday 16th November I finished Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced. It was okay, but one of those with rather ridiculous plot and character contrivances.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

bloomsbury's hundred must-read sf novels

On Saturday 15th November I finished reading the Bloomsbury Hundred Must-Read SF novels. It's a good series of little books - I've also read the crime and the fantasy ones - which have given some good pointers for possible reading.

catching fire; mockingjay part 1

On Thursday 6 November we - not Bethan, not interested - finished watching Catching Fire on DVD. We'd seen the first one (The Hunger Games) before, on a video from the library I think, and I'd read the first book in advance of it for vetting purposes, and had also read this one. They were both okay, but nothing special. The Catching Fire poster had been up in the bedroom for some time already, though. Well, when I was a teenager I had a t-shirt of The Wall before I'd seen the film or even heard the album.

Then we - not Bethan, not interested - saw Mockingjay Part 1 in the cinema when it was newly out, on Saturday 22nd November. I think that was part of the motivation of watching Catching Fire on DVD (we bought it in Cex, with part of the proceeds of selling the old DS and most of the games for it), to be ready for this. It was, again, okay, but nothing special, although quite interesting about propaganda and how good and bad authoritarian systems might not be so different.

the adjustment bureau

On Saturday 1 November we watched The Adjustment Bureau, which we'd recorded on the freeview box. I was in the mood for a thoughtful science fiction film; it was okay, but less substantial than it might have been.

morris folk club - march to november

On Tuesday 25 March  we had Morris Folk Club (last Tuesday of the month, at the Hysteria bar). I took my guitar, and used it for one song. I had heard Tim's song Making Time on one of the Dark Lanterns' music pages and really liked it. It was billed as a demo, and Tim said he didn't think it was finished, as he wasn't content with the words. I boldly had a stab at working on the words myself, and then sang a version accompanying myself on rudimentary guitar and sent it to him, which he didn't object to, so I did it at folk club. People liked it; it's a good song. I'd like to sing it one day with Tim playing the guitar, because it was a lovely arrangement. I also sang Can't Stand Losing You, which of course is a Police song, but sings well as a folk song.

On Tuesday 29 April I sang Lightning Express (which I hadn't planned to, but a train theme had emerged in the open rehearsal, and I knew the song well enough) and The Parting Glass.

(I covered the January and February clubs in an earlier post.)

I wasn't around for the May folk club.

On Tuesday 24 June I sang When The Tigers Broke Free and Wave Or Particle.

There was no club in July, and I wasn't around for August.

On Tuesday 30 September. I sang The Brown And The Yellow Ale by myself, and I Am Stretched On Your Grave, planned with Ginny but Mandy also joined us. Unusually for the folk club (so far), we had a guest artists, Brendan Collins, an old friend of the choir, who did a set of his own material.

Ginny and I had practiced with a mixture of hi tech and lo fi - emailing each other recordings of us singing it and then the other singing along with it. We had a practice after the choir practice the week before in the cupboard, which seemed to go quite well; the people still in the hall outside seemed to think so. I sang the tune, Ginny did the harmony which she had done with the choir when they'd sung it, which was before I joined, which I think was more or less the harmony on the Ken Hall and Peta Webb version. Michelle has been encouraging people to try singing together at folk club, and I suggested this one to Ginny because I knew we both liked it but it didn't seem to be very likely that the choir would do it again because not a lot of people did. Either at the first or second choir rehearsal I was at, as an introduction thing, people went round the circle introducing themselves and saying which their favourite song they'd sung with Morris was; I was at the end and Ginny was just before me (in fact I think Ginny was the first person I sang with at Morris, in that same circle, as Michelle got us to go round the circle singing a line at a time in pairs of Shallow Brown), and she said it was I Am Stretched On Your Grave; and I said of those that had been mentioned, that was my favourite. When we sang it at folk club it turned out that more people did like it - including Mandy, which is why she came up to sing it with us, which we certainly didn't begrudge.

On Tuesday 28 October, which had a Halloweeny theme, I sang Twa Corbies and Thriller. I pitched Thriller just on the verge of being too high, so I had to sing it ridiculously loudly, but it came off okay. I do like to dig out songs from various places and sing them as folk songs, and at the Morris weekend away Rachel and Jen had wondered if it was possible to do a Michael Jackson song... Of course, as I pointed out on the night, Thriller is actually a song from Lincolnshire, having been written by Rod Temperton from Cleethorpes. It was semi-plausible as a folk song (I did the Vincent Price bit by singing it to a variation of the music playing underneath it).

On Tuesday 25 November I sang Poor Little Jesus (from the Maddy Prior / Carnival Band version) by myself (as it was our last folk club before Christmas, and I thought it would be good to sing something Christmas-related), and then Death of Queen Jane (based on Karine Polwart's version) with Ginny. Again we'd done hi tech / lo fi practicing: having gone back and forth for quite a bit with possible songs, we decided to go for Queen Jane, though there's no harmony on the Karine Polwart version, though there is a drone, which Ginny thought she might do on her recently-acquired melodeon. I emailed a possible harmony, very simple and not going much away from the drone; Ginny emailed back herself improvising harmonies; I improvised harmonies and recorded snippets I liked, then tried to construct a cohesive harmony out of bits of mine and Ginny's. We did some practice recordings with and without the melodeon (Ginny doing the tune, I doing the harmony), and then a pre-rehearsal cupboard practice with and without, when we concluded it would work better without; another cupboard practice the next week, then the folk club itself. While the emailing process was very helpful, you really needed to sing it together to feel how it worked, and it did work. It went pretty well at folk club, and was extra satisfying to think that we'd come up with the harmony ourselves.

I'm very hopeful that it's the start of various people from the choir having a go at singing together at folk club. Fiona has suggested a song the three of us could do, so we may give that a go.

divergent

On the train back from Aviemore on Tuesday 21 October I read - in a vetting way - Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Another dystopian teen scifi. It was okay, but preposterous.

Monday, 8 December 2014

marvellous

We watched the tv movie Marvellous, about Neil Baldwin, starring Toby Jones; finished watching it on Friday 17 October. It was very well done. I was in particular impressed with Lou Macari's real life action, which seems to be true, that he gave Neil a job at Stoke City out of the goodness of his heart.

the maze runner

On Saturday 11 October two of us went to the West India Quay cinema to see The Maze Runner, which was quite good (although no proper ending, just the starting point for the next in the series) - another film based on a dystopian scifi book series aimed at teenagers; as I think Mark Kermode pointed out, teenage fiction seems to be the core area for dystopian sci-fi, which fits quite well with teenage angst.

(We went to the the Museum of London Docklands afterwards, first time for a while.)

Thursday, 4 December 2014

two nights at the bedford in 2013

On Wednesday 7 August 2013 I went to the Bedford, for the preview of the Buzztones' Edinburgh show, supported by Jamie Lawson and Carrie Haber. Most nights at the Bedford the music is free, but this was a special event and cost £5. Though I do like acapella, all-male or otherwise, The Buzztones were a bit too smooth and mellow for my liking (and perhaps lacking in variety tonally, though at this distance it's hard to remember), though very accomplished. Jamie Lawson was an amiable singer songwriter who - he explained before he sang it - had had a surprise online hit in Ireland with his song I Wasn't Expecting That (which, whether or not it made him any money, obviously hadn't broken him through - although it looks like he is or has just been on tour supporting Ed Sheeran). Carrie Haber was another singer-songwriter, with keyboard rather than guitar, who I guess would like to be thought of as in the same line as - though doubtless resisting being compared to - Kate Bush and Tori Amos. As with the others, okay, but nothing to make me seek her out again (though perfectly aware of the subjectiveness of musical taste; plenty people would like Jamie and Carrie much more than I did, and if either of them became successful I would be pleased for them, and certainly not appalled). A pleasant evening out, though.

On the following Wednesday, 14 August, I went to the Bedford again, this time for a free night, under the umbrella Nothing Wrong With Pop. The lineup was Mila Falls, Victoria, Ellie Rose and The Future Kills. Mila Falls was a bit dancey, sang to a backing track, and performed as if she were on stage at a festival, which I do have respect for, when someone's really giving you the moves full-on as if you weren't a handful of people in a room behind a pub. Although I wasn't fussed about her material, and I thought she dressed younger than she was (could be wrong, might be younger than she looks), I thought she had a very good voice. (Google suggests she entered X Factor this year, but looks like she wasn't successful.) Victoria need a more Googleable name - I can't remember anything about them/her... ah, digging in, found them (interestingly, they and Jamie above both using Tumblr as a site for their home page, which seems odd to an oldie like me who doesn't get Tumblr), was right to think they were a band; the bits I'm seeing there remind me they were okay, and sang quite well (though, as is generally the case at evenings like this, not much in the way of good/memorable songs; songs are always much harder than technical competence/proficiency). Ellie Rose was another unremarkable singer-songwriter. The Future Kills, who were obviously the headliners and had a small following with them, were quite peculiar - a kind of rocky boyband, with a mishmash of visual styles, who were going for it a bit, but more self-consciously and awkwardly than Mila (internet suggests they were on Britain's Got Talent during that year before I saw them). I remember thinking they were awful; the clips I've listened to just now haven't changed my mind.

Both nights I had looked on Time Out for something to go out to and saw nothing better than those (looking at theatre and comedy as well as music), partly because things seem quieter here in the summer, especially during the Edinburgh festival.

I didn't regret either visit; but the thing which struck me this autumn after a couple of folk gigs (read about them a year from now!) was that the hit rate of hearing acts you really enjoy and are impressed with when you go to hear an act or line-up of acts that you've never heard of before is much higher with folk music than other genres, in my experience.

two nights at the proms in 2013

On Tuesday 6 August 2013 we went to the Proms - Bruch Violin Concerto, Korngold Symphony in F sharp. The following week, on Monday 12 August, we went to the Proms again - Holst Indra, Khan sitar concerto, Vaughan Williams London Symphony. Both times we sat in the sixth row of the choir; the second time we were there also with Laura and Andrew & Maria. I enjoyed both concerts; the sitar concerto in particular was right up my street. I also really enjoy sitting in the choir seats; so much closer to the performers, a more interesting view, and no particular problem of sound balance noticeable to my amateur ears.

Monday, 24 November 2014

the vacuum cleaners of boston

[Surgeon Atul Gawande, giving this year's Reith Lectures] He tells the story of the vacuum cleaners of Boston. Doctors there noticed that children from homes with no vacuum cleaner had much higher rates of asthma. They could treat the asthma but the drugs and therapies are expensive. So they gave out vacuum cleaners instead of inhalers. One for every house. It cost money up front. And it was an eccentric way to spend a health budget. But a year later there was an 80 per cent drop in children being admitted to A&E departments in Boston with asthma attacks.
- Radio Times, 22 November

Monday, 13 October 2014

john terraine on mons - part one

Here are some of the things I learned from reading John Terraine's book on Mons (the first major battle sequence of WWI), in the Pan British Battles series, this summer. (It was very good; don't know if any of the analysis etc has been superseded since it was published in 1960.)

- '[one can see] in the terrifying success of the Blitzkrieg simply the belated fulfilment of a plan which had failed a quarter of a century earlier, and which, in all its fundamentals, had been devised in 1905. What Hitler had done was, in effect, simply to supply, through mechanical power, the force which was never available in 1914 to consummate the famous Schlieffen Plan.' [pxii]

- the Schlieffen Plan was based on Hannibal's triumph at Cannae in 216BC. [pxiii]

- in the years leading up to WWI, the perceived primary purpose of the British Army was 'To fight beside the French Army in the event of German aggression', and the position in France that the British Army would take up on the left flank of the Frency Army had also been planned. [pxviii]

- [on the BEF preparing for war in August 1914] There was no hatred of Germany, says one of the regimental officers, 'but in the true mercenary spirit we would equally readily have fought the French. Our motto was, "We'll do it. What is it?"' In those days all foreigners were much alike to Englishmen; it had been a different matter, even for 'mercenaries', back in March, when it was a question of coercing Ulster. ... Lieutenant B L Montgomery, of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, records that it was laid down in the very detailed instructions on mobilization procedure 'that all officers' swords were to go to the armourers' shop on the third day of mobilization to be sharpened. It was not clear to me why, since I had never used my sword except for saluting, But of course I obeyed the order and my sword was made sharp for war.' [p4]

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

morag henriksen's bra

Morag Henriksen's bra appears in a short story [of her own] along with Portree legend John the Caley, and there won't be too many times when I can write that in the same sentence. The story is true, and was based on a chance encounter with a sheep-worrying young dog along the shoreline, a mile from the nearest house, when a younger version of the writer was in need of a leash with which to control the animal. The solution, witnessed by John the Caley, was unorthodox.
Having returned the dog to its rightful owner, Morag then submitted a claim to Toravaig Grazings Committee and was rewarded with £25 - 'enough to buy several bras'. Session chair Cailean Maclean confirmed that the Grazings Committee accounts did indeed contain an entry 'For Morag Henriksen's bra'.
- WHFP, 12 September, report of Skye Book Festival

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

private eye cartoon

5 September, in the Forgotten Moments in Music History cartoon, a courtroom scene with lawyer addressing large lady in the dock: 'Yet you said, did you not, "All the leaves are brown"? I put it to you Ms Cass, that these events occurred on an *autumn* day.'

Sunday, 5 October 2014

catriona knox

As I've probably mentioned in a Morris-related post, I saw comedian Catriona Knox on Tuesday 2 July at the Hope and Anchor in Islington, doing an Edinburgh preview. She was doing character-based sketches, which were more hit than miss. I was only there because I didn't know she'd been booked there and so displaced the Morris choir from their upstairs rehearsal room. (Morris weren't there much longer before their being-messed-around culminated in being moved out altogether; the room is now being used as a small theatre, linked with the King's Head Theatre.)

Catriona was more hit than miss. There was a degree of audience interaction, which was tough as there were only seven or eight of us there, and I think I was the only person there who didn't know her. (I don't think it was widely publicised.) I didn't mind staying for it (it was free, also); you've got to embrace the serendipities of London. As I said to people, perhaps when she's famous I'll be able to tell people I saw her in a room with half a dozen people, but I won't let on I was there by accident.

(Long ago we saw two Edinburgh try-outs in small rooms at the Riverside Studios, I think in the same season; one was Al Murray Pub Landlord, who was not obscure then, but not as well-known; one was a Lee Mack show, ditto for Lee, but his helpers were unknown then I think - Catherine Tate and Dan Topolski.)

Here's her website (she's in the Boom Jennies too, who I heard subsequently on R4). As well as coverage of her show at this year's festival, there are some reviews of last year's: Spectator sounds fair (Grenfell a familiar comparison, I think); The New Current (her comic performing talent outstripping her comic writing ability, also said by more than one); The List; One4Review; and here's a review from this February, with some of the same characters it sounds like, from the Evening Standard.

despicable me 2

We saw Despicable Me 2 on Friday 28 June 2013, the day it opened, the six pm show, at the Apollo Victoria. We all enjoyed it. (Of course now we own it on DVD.) It was cheaper to buy a family ticket - two adults and two children - rather than separate tickets for two adults and a child, so we took a friend. We usually go to cheaper showings on Saturday mornings, which are usually of any vintage up to a couple of months old, so going to a new release, at a full price, is a bit of a novelty. Though we have recently discovered the Genesis cinema in Whitechapel, whose Saturday morning cheap showings include current release films.

sherlock holmes at the scoop

On Friday 14 June 2013 we went to The Scoop to see a free theatre production of Sherlock Holmes by the Pantaloons theatre company. We've seen good things at The Scoop, in their free summer seasons, and this was good too. We've always got in to the theatre productions; Bethan's been turned away from at least one film showing; and we've had a film and a theatre cancelled for weather.

I wonder if I'll find any reviews for it (not just time delay, but I don't think the Scoop things generally get reviewed). Here's one on Something Like Reviews blog. Here's the page for the production on the Pantaloons website.

brian cox on religion

Some use religion to make the vastness bearable. Not Cox, who says he is neither atheist nor agnostic and 'only thinks about religion when people ask him about it'. He rejects Richard Dawkins's view that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible - except for fundamentalists. 'Obviously you can't be a young Earth creationist and a scientist. It's not possible because the Earth isn't 6,000 years old.
'But Biblical literalism isn't what I take to be religion. Religion's a more complex response than that. In the spirit of Gottfried Leibniz [a 17th-century German mathematiciian who philosophised about the existence of God], you can say, "Well, I don't accept that something can come into existence without a cause". You're allowed to say that; it's not illogical. So if you want to think there's an eternal presence that causes things to happen; that's not illogical. I don't happen to think that - I almost don't have an opinion on it.'
- Interview-based article on Professor Brian Cox in Radio Times, 4 October 2014

Saturday, 20 September 2014

murder, marple and me

On Tuesday 18 June last year I went to the Ambassadors Theatre to see a one-woman show, Murder, Marple & Me, about Margaret Rutherford, filming Miss Marple, and Agatha Christie. Janet Prince was the one woman. It was quite short, which I had expected since I'd seen some of the reviews from the Festival - it was a fringe hit - which indicated it was an hour long. They made it one hour twenty by giving it an interval. I was pretty sure I saw Josie Lawrence coming in at the start, and at the interval I was standing near her outside, it was indeed her. Ambassadors is the theatre where Stomp is usually on, but it's different things at the start of the week. This was a touring production, there for Tuesday and Wednesday for two weeks. I'd been looking at tickets the previous week, when we had two potential nights out, so I knew there were plenty tickets, enough that I thought I'd be able to get one at the half-price booth, and sure enough I got one for £10.

Downstairs wasn't full, and I don't think anyone was upstairs, but it was well done and well received, for what it was - I guess I was concerned that half-price booth purchasers might feel short-changed in length and cast number; a one-person show's the kind of thing you have to make a conscious decision and deliberate effort to buy into from the outset. The set was split, broadly speaking for Agatha in her house and Margaret in her dressing room (Miss Marple also plays a part - or is played as a part). It was interesting biographically too, with interesting details of the kind covered pretty well in Margaret Rutherford's Wikipedia entry.

It was just a short run, so not many reviews (also a long time's passed, of course). British Theatre Guide (which makes a good point, that I felt too at the time, that the particular height of the stage in that theatre worked against the needed intimacy and created distance). One Stop Arts. The View From The Upper Circle blog (new to me). Bargain Theatreland (also new to me, and not where I'd expect to find actual reviews). Camden Review. Onomatopoeia blog (quite a high hit rate of reviews new to me).

eleanor rigby

On Thursday 30 May last year I finished Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland. I remembered nothing about it based on the title, except that I enjoyed it, as I usually enjoy Douglas Coupland. I still have the copy, and remember more after a flick through it. I see I've also marked a few page numbers:

p2:-
Here's something else I think about: in the movies, the way criminals are ready to squeal so long as they're entered into a witness relocation program. They're given a brand new name, passport and home, but they'll never be able to contact anybody from their old life again; they have to choose between death and becoming someone entirely new. But you know what I think? I think the FBI simply shoots everybody who enters the program. The fact that nobody ever hears from these dead participants perversely convinces outsiders that the program really works. Let's face it: they go to the same magic place in the country where people take their unwanted pets.

p6, the name of a pet shop: Petcetera.

p64:-
The day after we landed in Rome was a Sunday, and we were driven to Vatican City in our Albanian motorcoach. All I knew about the Vatican was that my dad was annoyed I'd be going there, and, well, that's about it - I still have no idea what the Pope is supposed to do. Given my limited knowledge of office politics at Landover Communication Systems, I can only imagine what a political viper's nest the Vatican must be.
Alain, the only Catholic in the class, kept his distance from us, knowing that our heretical energy might easily consume him. To paraphrase the warning he gave us before we arrived: 'Religions are designed to outlive individual people, and so what looks evil and bizarre from the outside is actually just a long-term survival system.'

the queen

On Wednesday 22 May last year I finished watching The Queen, starring Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen. A long time after the event to be mentioning it (more of that to come; didn't realise how many ancient drafts I had knocking around). It certainly took me back to the peculiar time between death and burial of Princess Diana.

mary rose

On Sunday 9 February I read Mary Rose, a play by J M Barrie. I enjoyed it more than I'd expected, a supernatural/ghost story partly set on a Hebridean island, though the ending seemed unsatisfactory.

I'd picked it up in an old hardback edition quite some time ago (I think there were a number of others from the same edition on the bookshop shelf). JM Barrie seems to be one of those writers who were prolific and popular at the time but are almost completely out of print today (and who when you read them make you wonder why they haven't endured because they're very good; conversely, of course, there are others you read which you wonder why they were ever popular). Plays, of course, don't tend to stay in print like novels do, but he wrote novels too.

The reason Mary Rose caught my eye was because when I was at university, someone who had been at Highland Youth Theatre was working/training in stage management in Bristol (Old Vic?) - Lynda McQueen - got in touch as they were putting on Mary Rose and the actor playing the young Hebridean man wanted some accent help and asked if I could record myself speaking. If I remember rightly I got Ishbel Kennedy and someone else (Anna comes to mind, but had she gone to Glasgow by then?) to come round, and recorded ourselves having a conversation. I spoke some more onto the tape later, and sent it off. Lynda sent me a copy of the programme later, with a mention for me in the thanks section. I don't know how much use it would have been, as I'm not sure how typical our accents were - certainly at the time I didn't think my accent very typical - but it was probably more Hebridean than anything else.

Interestingly, the Theatricalia website, which I'd never come across before, lists (non-comprehensively) productions done of plays. Mary Rose was done in London a couple of years ago; the mid-80s Bristol one isn't mentioned.

4.50 from paddington; more martin beck novels

On Saturday 30 August, on the train back from Inverness, I finished 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie, which was okay, and read all of Murder At The Savoy, another Martin Beck novel by Sjowall and Wahloo, which was okay too.

On Tuesday 12 August I had finished The Locked Room, another Martin Beck novel by Sjowall and Wahloo. I thought it was okay, but not as good as those I'd read before.

If I'd read the last couple of Martin Becks I've read first (and these weren't the fifth and sixth in the series, but ones I'd picked up in charity shops), I'm not sure I'd have been so taken with the series. The later ones seem to be getting less about the detective story and more about politics and society, which some people clearly like but I don't.

Murder At The Savoy:
First line: The day was hot and stifling, without a breath of air.
Last line: He wondered if he'd be able to sleep on the train.

The cover of my edition was from the same series as The Laughing Policeman one, and the same remarks apply.

martin beck novels

A series worth ditching the Ngaio Marshes for: I read in rapid succession, partly because I did them accidentally in the wrong order, the second and third Martin Beck novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, The Man on the Balcony (third, finished on Sunday 20 July), and The Man Who Went Up In Smoke (the second, finished on Wednesday 23 July).

The first I'd read was The Laughing Policeman, the fourth, after which I bought the first three and read the first, Roseanna.

The Man Who Went Up In Smoke:
First line: The room was small and shabby.
Last line: 'Not well,' said Martin Beck.

The Man On The Balcony:
First line: At a quarter to three the sun rose.
Last line: 'Yes,' Kollberg replied. 'For this time.'
Dedication: This is for Barbara and Newton

The covers for both Smoke and Balcony are from the same series as Roseanna; the comments on the Instagram post and the blog post linked above apply.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

one good turn

On Monday 18 August I finished One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, which I liked a lot. It was very readable, like the first of hers I read (Case Histories), and I chomped through it on holiday. Certainly made me want to read more of hers.

Friday, 12 September 2014

slovenia - may 2014 - tue 27th to sat 31st

Tuesday 27th. Bethan, M and I had a day's walk, mum stayed in the hotel and village. We walked out from KG on route 2, across the road on the south side of the wooded hills, with views south, until it met route 19, which we then walked back along, at a lower level, close to the river. We only made two significant stops. One not long in, perhaps an hour in, where there was a viewpoint at an inn (Sinjak?), where M had a Cockta, then another hour in, when we had lunch on the path, on rocks by a stream (only time when we had light drizzle; a warm and often sunny day); after which we went on out past Jurez and back in past Fetalez, these being names of farms more than settlements, I suspect.

We left at 11, started home at 3, and were home by 5. B and M went for a swim in the hotel pool before dinner. Then we had a stroll into the village, popping into tat shops and having drinks and ice cream in Charlie's. The Belgian basketball team left after dinner, we think (and the Russians after breakfast on Wednesday). The lounge furniture was being moved in the morning, and when we came back in the afternoon and evening exhibition stands were being set up for a computer technology conference. Quite a contrast of clientele.

Wed 28th. Early start for coach trip to Ljubjana. Drove there, and around city, with commentary, then walked round pedestrianised centre with the guide and up to the castle, before being given time to wander ourselves. Ate lunch, then wandered. I got two CDs of Slovenian music in the tourist office. The bus left KG at 8.45, home about 4. Would have been good to have longer; if we'd had longer we might have gone back for another day. It was a pleasant small European capital with attractive architecture. Put one in mind of Edinburgh as capital of an independent Scotland...

Back at the hotel, M and I went to pool and jacuzzi before dinner, then all out for drinks to a restaurant.

Thu 29th. Mum stayed around KG while we got a service bus at 1028 to Ratece, and walked from there up to Pec, the hilltop where the borders of Italy, Austria and Slovenia meet. It took us about 2h20 to get up, had lunch on the top, then less than two hours down. Another mainly warm and sunny day, except just when taking last photo on top a heavy shower came. We got quite wet on the first part of the walk down, but it and we dried up, and it was hot back in Ratece. B and M went to pool, I went to town and got chocolates for work. Mum and I met Kasia for Saturday pickup info and chat. Dinner, then Pirate Flux and table football.

Fri 30th. Got bus to Bled - the 0915 direct. We took a boat trip to the church on the island in the lake, then lunch in lakeside restaurant. Various tummy upsets hit, so that the rest of the afternoon was a process of toilets and buses home, changing at Lesce. M got some souvenirs, then dinner, table football and Fluxx.

Sat 31st. In the morning, having packed, had a last go on the chairlift and summer toboggan. I went up and down chairlift taking photos, passing B and M when they were on their way up before they summer tobogganed down; I got to the bottom just in time to video them. Then coach to airport and flight home.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

slovenia - may 2014 - sat 24th to mon 26th

Not such a long wait this time for typing up the notes on this May's Ingham's holiday, this time to Kranjska Gora in Slovenia, a ski resort, though not at this time of year, of course. Sat 24 - Sat 31 May.

Saturday 24th. Flew with Adria from Gatwick to Ljubljana. We left almost an hour late because they couldn't find a little truck needed to push the plane out from the gate. People were cheered up by a little girl asking, once we'd moved from the gate, if we were going into space. There was little food available on the plane, but we'd planned for that possibility. Ingham's coach to hotel, with several hotel stops in Bled and Kranjska Gora. Got to hotel around midnight, where food had been left out for us and the other pair who were on the plane. (Quite a few Inghams guests, and other UK packages, in the hotel on other time periods.)

Sunday 25th. Briefing at other hotel after breakfast with Ingham rep Katia. Booked coach trips on Monday and Wednesday. Walked a bit out of town and down to the river; mum went back and we carried on along the road south down to the two lakes (small, picturesque - learned later on bus trip that they were artificial and used to be artificially heated by giant metal plates in the river. Back to hotel, where we ate our packed lunches outside. In the afternoon we walked into the village, then to the chairlift and summer toboggan to see what was what. Decided to do it, so changed back at hotel and back out with mum, who watched while we went up chairlift and back down on summer toboggan (on fixed rail with hand-operated brake stick to control speed). I went fast but didn't enjoy it particularly. Cherub keen to do it again.  Then to cafe for drinks, where cherub and I experimented - I had Radler, which turned out to be a rather nice grapefruit shandy, cherub had Cockta, a pleasant local soft drink. Then walked all the way through town and back to hotel, where Bethan and cherub went to pool before dinner.

We were sharing the hotel with female basketball teams, probably national student teams, from Belgium (the ones we saw most of), Russia, and Montenegro (who left on Sunday), part of a tournament. It was designed to make you feel short, fat and unfit. Breakfast and dinner were all-you-can-eat buffet style. Not very adventurous, but straightforward and fairly pleasant fare.

Monday 26th. Breakfast, then picked up for bus trip at 9.45 and home about 5. Out for a wander into town before dinner - went to Charlie's cafe for ice cream, and some tourist shops, and also to Mercator supermarket for a couple of things (always good fun and interesting (and cheaper) to go to local supermarkets). After dinner, played table football, cards and read. (With dinner, M had lemon Cockta, I had Zagerog, and B and mum had Slovenian wines, as B and I had on Sunday.)

The coach trip was to the Julian Alps. We went from Kranjska Gora to Trenta over the Vrsic pass. It was raining most of the way up and at the top, so we did not stop at the top as planned, since too wet and no views. On way up stopped at Russian chapel and not long later at an inn (possibly Koca na gozdu), there mainly for a drink and toilet stop. On the other side we stopped at Trenta, where we went to the museum (instead of the stop at the top), which B and I found interesting, then at an Italian fortress, before lunch at Bovec - M and granny ate in restaurant with party, B and I ate packed lunch on bench in light rain under a tree; we saw a church cemetery and walked through the village, including a cafe for a drink and toilet stop. The coach went onwards for a circular route back to Kranjska Gora, including half an hour driving through Italy (though we didn't stop). Back in Slovenia, drove down into valley south of Ratice to see ski slopes under construction, then home to KG. The KG party were last on and first off; most of our group are staying in Lake Bled hotels.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

an old joke

'They were exceedingly handsome and so much alike, that it was not every one who knew them apart. Nay even their most intimate freinds had nothing to distinguish them by, but the shape of the face, the colour of the Eye, the length of the Nose and the difference of the complexion.'

This feels like rather a modern joke. It's on the first page of the first volume of Jane Austen's juvenilia, written in the late 1780s when she was in her early teens. I've just started rereading her teenage works - this time in the Oxford World's Classics edition, Catharine and Other Writings. They're my favourite of her works, and among my favourite of anybody's. Go, teenage Jane!

Monday, 1 September 2014

the referendum question

A fortnight in Scotland emphasised that the first victory in the Referendum war was won by those who got their side of the question to have the answer 'Yes'. I wonder how different the shape and feeling of things would be if the question was something like 'Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom?'

In a way I'm surprised they didn't go for a question which avoided yes/no (something like 'What should Scotland be?' with the answer options 'Independent' and 'Part of UK'), but maybe that would have been considered insufficiently simple.

For maximum confusion and entertainment, however, I'd have gone for:
What should Scotland's position be in relation to the UK?
- Apart
- A part

Avoids unpleasant and awkward arguments:
'How are you voting?'
'Apart.'
'A part? Me too!'

You wouldn't get away with that though:
'Aye, but are you a Spacer or a non-Spacer?'

I also like the fact that the word structures are the opposite of what they would be campaigning for:
'Apart - Putting Space Between Us!'
'A Part - Better Together!'

Thursday, 21 August 2014

land sakes; the case of the lame canary

I used to think that when Elvis sang 'land sakes alive' in I Got Stung, he had just tripped over his words in saying 'and snakes alive'. But I was reading The Case of the Lame Canary by Erle Stanley Gardner - a Perry Mason novel from 1937 - and one of the characters used the expression a couple of times ('Land sakes, I'm so excited I'm all of a tremble.'). A google indicates that it's a euphemism - American, perhaps primarily southern states - for a swear, of the kind avoiding religious swearing. Here's a stump on Wikipedia.

The Case of the Lame Canary, which I finished on Saturday morning on the sleeper to Inverness, was alright, but not sufficiently good that it made me want to read more Perry Mason. I think I've read one Perry Mason before (there are over eighty novels and short stories, according to Wikipedia; looking at the list here, the Borrowed Brunette title rings a bell).

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

the british resistance

Pat's grandfather was a steward (factor) on one of the Yorkshire estates of Lady Waechter de Grimston - and also a famous poacher on neighbouring estates.
'That fact never seemed to go against him because in the Second World War he was recruited into the British resistance. They had underground bunkers full of molotov cocktails. While the Home Guard had pitchforks, he had a sub-machine gun.
'He was the Commanding Officer of Holderness. He had a list of names and, if we were invaded, he was to go round, knock on the door, and shoot them. These were people who were suspected of having German or Nazi sympathies. The one on the top of the list was the Chief Constable of East Riding. He must have been a right-winger. Who provided the list I don't know, but he would have done it.'
- A quote from an interview-based article in the West Highland Free Press of 11 July 2014 about Pat Myhill, a former planning officer in Skye who was brought up in Yorkshire. Whether the story is true or not, who knows.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

death at the dolphin

On Monday 7 July I finished Death At The Dolphin, by Ngaio Marsh. It was okay, but it decided me to get rid of the batch of Ngaios I had on the shelf, picked up cheap and secondhand (most or all in the church where the LGQ rehearses, when they used to have a secondhand bookstall), as the last couple I've read haven't really been good enough to prioritise over other crime writers on my list. I will keep an eye out for any that get onto 'best' lists, including A Surfeit of Lampreys.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

houses of parliament

On Thursday 26 June, after going to a test for a language place in a secondary school (with no real expectation - other parents were saying 'good luck', I was saying 'have fun'), we went to the Houses of Parliament. It wasn't very busy, so we didn't have to queue at all, and went to both Commons and Lords. We didn't stay long in either place, because there wasn't anything very interesting going on or very many people in the chamber. In the Lords, however, there was one person I recognised, and that was Paul Butler, who used to work at Scripture Union and is now the Bishop of Durham. Who'd have thought I'd live so long that I'd know, however vaguely, someone with a seat in the House of Lords?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

ruling passion; ali smith

I don't often remember my dreams; if I do, it's usually just a fragment, but itcan really stick with me through the day.

Last night I finished reading Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill, the third Dalziel and Pascoe detective novel. I'd got the first six in a cheap set from The Book People, based on some recommendations of the series, but I'd been quite disappointed with the first two (A Clubbable Woman and An Advancement of Learning); I might not have stuck with them much further, or at least made much of an effort to seek more out, but this third one I found to be much better.

At bedtime, then, I was wondering which novel to read next off my shelves; I browsed a bit, but made no decision.

In the night I dreamt about Ali Smith, so in the morning I picked up Hotel World off the shelf and started that. I read Like a long time ago, I bought it new when it came out. I've had Hotel World and Other Stories & Other Stories on the shelf for a while.

The fragmentary scene I remember, which was perhaps from just before I woke up, was that I wanted to introduce Ali to Fiona and other friends in the Morris Folk Choir - I think Fiona was sitting beside her - but Ali was drunk and asleep.

I knew Ali a tiny bit at university. Her last year was my first year, and we were in the creative writing group together. Probably the high water mark of my literary career will prove to be having poems in the same publication as Ali, the creative writing group's issue of its magazine, Scratchings, for that year. When I was home last year I took back down, among some other things, the copies of Scratchings which I had, including that one.

I wrote to her a couple of times after she left university, and got replies. Once while I was still in Aberdeen and she was in Cambridge, I think, after having gone to see her play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; and once after I'd read Like, her first published novel, which was when I was in Elephant & Castle, and which I sent care of her publisher.

I'd always had a certainty that she would get published. I would regularly look in the relevant place in the bookshop shelves to see if she'd appeared there yet. And eventually she did. I saw her once some years after that, across the bookshop in the South Bank Centre - I think it was a Books Etc then - but I was with my mum so didn't go over.

She was very kind to the younger me, and I have fond memories of her.

Monday, 28 July 2014

transition

On Monday 2nd June I finished Transition by Iain Banks, which was pretty good. I guess the title also an allusion to the fact that the novel was something of a transition, being a science fiction one under his normal fiction name. Not many books left to go now (four, in fact, two of each; I've been reading them chronologically), and they won't be added to, sadly.

Monday, 14 July 2014

william wyler directs laurence olivier

From Frank McLynn's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris:

The most attractive personality of the wartime directors was William Wyler, a slightly-built German Jew from Alsace who became one of Hollywood's legendary figures. Famous for his meticulous direction - he was known as 'ninety-take Wyler' - he struggled with communicating his wishes to his actors. The 'guidance' he gave them has been variously reported as 'Again', 'It stinks' and 'Be better'. When one actor painstakingly followed his directions to the letter, Wyler yelled, 'Don't do it the way I tell you. Do it the way I mean.' But he did teach Laurence Olivier the difficult art of acting for the camera (on Wuthering Heights). Every time Olivier played the scene, Wyler monotonously said, 'Again. Give me less.' Eventually an irritated Olivier expostulated, 'If I give you any less, I won't be doing anything at all.' Back came the reply, 'Now you're getting the idea.'

churchill's phrasemaking; churchill's literary-based opposition to hitler

Two extracts from Piers Brendon's review (Literary Review, April 2014) of The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor, by Jonathan Rose:

Rose starts from the unimpeachable premise that Churchill was in thrall to the words, spoken and written, with which he dramatised his life. There is, indeed, abandant evidence for this. As his friend Charles Masterman said: 'He is in the Greek sense a rhetorician, the slave of the words which his mind forms around ideas. He sets ideas to rhetoric as musicians set theirs to music. And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery.'

Asquith put it more pithily: 'Winston thinks with his mouth.' His real tyrant, observed Sir Robert Menzies, was the 'glittering phrase'. Such phrases could be misleading, none more so than his reference to the Mediterranean as 'the soft underbelly of Europe'. Yet even as a young man Churchill himself was aware of the danger of becoming, as Disraeli famously said of Gladstone, 'inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity'. He told his mother, 'I very often yield to the temptation of adapting my facts to my phrases.'

Similarly, as Rose rightly says, facts were always subservient to interpretation in Churchill's books.

...

Citing Churchill's fear that Hitler's domination of Europe would deprive Britain not only of territory but also of free speech, Rose asserts that 'the core of his implacable resistance to Nazism was essentially literary'. Furthermore, Rose affirms, Churchill 'recognized and resisted Hitler largely because the Fuhrer so closely resembled the fictional villain [Antonio Molara] he had created' in his only novel, a Ruritanian romance entitled Savrola, first published in 1899. But evidently the resemblance was not close enough. So, in the end, Rose decides that Churchill 'recognized his enemy because Hitler seemed to be an amalgamation of his three favorite melodramatic villains', Molara, Moses and the African tyrant in King Solomon's Mines.

Only a university professor of rare intelligence would conclude that Churchill needed adventitious aid from literature to appreciate the menace of Hitler.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

lewis and the first world war

It struck me today that I don't remember, in thinking about growing up (and on the whole since), being aware of many stories of Lewismen in the First World War being told or written about. The Iolaire was the only story, casting its monstrous shadow over every other individual story that could have been told. I don't know if this was generally true, or just my experience.

millstones

I've been thinking recently about the millstone saying of Jesus - 'If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea' (Matthew18/Mark9/Luke17). I'd generally thought of it in the context of those who harm or abuse children, those who are the worst of society. But I've been thinking I can't distance myself from the warning as comfortably as that. As Christian parents, or Christian adults in church, if the way we live - sinfully, hypocritically, faithlessly, selfishly, unlovingly, generally setting a bad example - causes a little one (child, or perhaps anyone younger in the faith) to reject or turn away from or be led off the Christian path, we are all potential millstone-wearers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

the thing

On Friday 9 May I watched The Thing - the John Carpenter version - on a DVD I got secondhand. Watched it late after the others had gone to bed, as one should. One of the core horror films of my youth - along with An American Werewolf in London and Alien, both of which I have also recently picked up on DVD.

It did stand the test of time, and I enjoyed it. The ending had stuck with me, and was as I remembered it (things which 'stick with you' can turn out to have been surprisingly inaccurate memories). There were a couple of extras (commentary, and making of/special effects thing, I think), so may watch them at some point.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

things that make where we live sound worse than it really is

An old post from Facebook, 15 July 2011:
Things that make where we live sound worse than it really is: a) discovering a couple of years ago that Domino's won't deliver pizzas to our house because of the estate we live on; b) today's school sports day featuring an inter-parental dispute which involved a call to the police.

(some comments: Douglas: 'Vibrant and diverse. Sounds like competitive parents though.' John I: 'Were you and Bethan in the parents three-legged race again?' Me: 'They're the kinds of stories you read in the paper and think what awful places they must be, but the estate and the school aren't like that at all. I don't know, you shoot one measly pizza delivery boy and they never let you forget it.' Douglas: 'A colleague of mine, veteran of a dozen England Football tours (including not being allowed in Japan due to some misunderstanding over being on a list), was rather taken aback by the ferocity and determination with which everybody went about getting drunk on a Saturday night in Stornoway.')

Saturday, 28 June 2014

austria may 2013 - notes tue to fri

Tuesday. Our pre-booked Ingham coach trip. I had slept quite badly with my sore head but felt better as the morning went on. A good trip, worth doing, seeing lots of alpine scenery and among some remaining snow in places (though locally there was less snow than when we had arrived). It was a warm sunny day, mostly.

We went to a monastery in Stams, then up to Stuibenfall, the Tirol's highest waterfall. On up further, over Kuntai pass, high and full of ski resorts, before back down with a stop at Gries, then on home across the river Inn to Seefeld and on home. Got local bus into Weidach, shopped at MPries, mostly for work gifts, then walked back.

Wednesday. Slept better. A wet day. Others went swimming before breakfast, then leaisurely morning, with table tennis, air hockey and arcade driving game. Cherub learnt to play patience. Then bus into Weidach after middday, connecting to bus to Seefeld the long way round via Mittenwald (ie via Germany). Ate packed lunch in Seefeld bus stop, had little wander, then back to hotel on bus mid-afternoon. We visited the Ganghofer Museum near the hotel - it was all in German only, about local history and an author with a local connection; we made the best of it.

Thursday. A day in Innsbruck. We didn't start as early as we'd planned, as we didn't set the alarm to let cherub, who'd had an upset stomach the night before, sleep as long as needed and then to wait to see if breakfast had any ill effects, but all was well. Got bus to Seefeld, but our planned train wazsn't running because it was a public holiday (Corpus Christi - we saw dressed-up folk getting ready for a parade at the church by the hotel). Many shops were shut in Seefeld and Innsbruck for the holiday, but at least it gave us time to go to the tourist office in Seefeld and get some Innsbruck maps and info before we got the train.

We visited the Gold Roof Museum, bought a sandwich lunch, went up the City Tower (Bethan didn't get out of the door at the top, but we went round the balcony outside), ate our lunch in the old Imperial Palace Square, then went to the State/Court Church, with Maximilian's tomb and an impressive set of statues, and then on joint ticket to the neighbouring Tyrolean Folk Art Museum, which was actually very good, especially the old wooden parlours. Did some more tourist shops - they were open - then back to station where we bought a drink before the 1808 train home (tried a nice local soft drink called Almdudler, which we'd also had at hotel). It was another wet day, though it was drier in Innsbruck.

Friday was the walk up the mountain in the rain and snow to the Wettersteinhutte, covered in the earlier blog post. We started walking about 1010, home about 1440. It was a bit of a damp trudge home, whereupon we all changed and had baths/showers/went swimming. We then popped into Wiedach for a final visit to tourist shops and MPries before dinner.

Then Saturday we flew home.

Friday, 27 June 2014

austria may 2013 - notes sat to mon

Over a year has passed since our holiday in Austria, Sat 25 - Sat 31 May 2013, which I did a brief blog on over a year ago, mostly about the mountain walk we did on the Friday, my favourite thing from the holiday.

I pulled out the notes from the notebook they were in a few weeks ago, because I wanted to use that notebook for this year's early holiday, in Slovenia. At last I'm getting round to writing them up here.

Saturday. The trip out was most notable for: all the German football fans we saw at London Bridge and Gatwick (many travelling very light, as if not staying the night), on their way to the all-German Champions League final at Wembley that night (we watched the second half in our hotel - Bayern 2, Dortmund 1 - junior was keen to watch it, mostly for the novelty of watching it in a foreign country I think); lunch at Cafe Rouge, which had windows with a very good view looking out onto the runways, which seemed quite unusual for airports these days (though perhaps coming back into acceptability); dropping out of the clouds to land at Innsbruck between the mountains either side of us.

The view of the runways from Cafe Rouge meant you could really see how short a time it was between planes using the runway for takeoffs and landing; also, how short a time it is between starting down the runway and lift-off. When we were in the plane, waiting just off the runway, I saw a plane coming in to land, and as it did so, so we turned left onto the runway for our own take off - it was just like letting a car past on a main road before turning left onto it.

I don't think I'll ever grow blase about the view of earth from the air, and the deceptively solid appearance of clouds when you're not just in the whiteout midst of them. It was patchy to start with - we saw the channel, then massed clouds over Europe.

We were on a charter, all with people from the same Ingham's package; our first family package holiday, and cherub's first flight overseas. I was texting Douglas from Gatwick; he and the family were going to the Lake District in a campervan for half-term, and we were both anticipating similar holidays - relaxing, uncertain of weather, plenty books and games. Exactly three weeks earlier from me sitting texting while my womenfolk were playing games on iPads in an airport shop, we'd been in Thomas Cook at Marble Arch with little idea of where we might go for our holiday. I bought a booklight at Gatwick, so I could read in bed at night, but it was broken from the start and wasn't practical enough to make me want to buy a new one.

In Innsbruck we had to wait for a group on a delayed flight from Edinburgh. A coach then dropped us off at our various hotels in various locations; our hotel, in Leutasch, was the last out, being furthest away. That worked out well for us; we liked not being in the bigger resort of Seefeld, where most people were, and there was a good bus service in the area with a period bus-pass which you could buy (and we did). We were very pleased with the hotel. Good food. As usual, foreign European food deceptively similar to home but different enough to take your tastebuds by surprise; usually not in a positive way, though just through unfamiliarity rather than badness. The music during the evening meal included Christmas songs, oddly enough; the music was Western.

The mountains were snowy, and some flakes fell while we were in Seefeld on the coach - the holiday rep said the snow had fallen last Thursday, unseasonally and unexpectedly, so not sure how much snow there is usually supposed to be on the mountains at that time of year. The temperature outside the bus was 11 degrees at the airport, down to 4 degrees in Leutasch.

Sunday. Snow had fallen in the night, and was falling lightly during breakfast, which was very nice, but it didn't lie any further than it had been doing. We met the couriers after breakfast, bought maps and booked trip. We got our packed lunch at breakfast and walked into Weidach along the river, then back via Gasse (though the trail in the woods was closed due to rock falls). We ate our packed lunch at the hotel, then hired bikes and did some coaching of the cherub, not very successfully, in the car park (we didn't do any more cycling in the week), in slight rain (clearly falling as snow higher up). The others went to the pool, then we went to dinner, and played Old Maid back in the room, then to bed.

Monday. We got going later than anticipated, walked into Weidach, went to tourist info and MPreis (a supermarket), where we got light lunch. Then bus to Geisterklamm to walk round the gorge. The walk was more hair-raising for Bethan than expected, with lots of man-made walkways and bridges along and across the gorge, so our walk was extended as there was one bridge she could not cross. It meant that we did walk into Germany, out the other end of the gorge, where we had ice cream and saw a waterfall. We walked back on a much easier arm of loop, and walked a bit back along the road until we got a bus to Weidach then a bus - the same one, it turned out - immediately to kirchplatzl and our hotel. Dinner and evening in, playing pool and air hockey, and the others went out for a walk. Bethan had a sore ear after swimming; I had a headache, possibly altitude with or without dehydration.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

the diminutive guardian of the highlands

A positive man by nature, George Hendry concludes 'Midges in Scotland' with the thought that Culcoides impunctatus does more than Scottish Natural Heritage and all the other conservation bodies put together to keep the West Highlands free of human development.
Let us look at it, says George, as 'a diminutive guardian of the Highlands'.
- from Roger Hutchinson's review of George Hendry's Midges in Scotland, WHFP, 18 April 2014

Thursday, 24 April 2014

the younger generation

The three of us, thinking of things we could do for my birthday.

Me: We could go to a folk gig.
Cherub: No.
Bethan: Aw, it's your dad's birthday.
Cherub: It's my childhood.

Friday, 18 April 2014

frozen

Last Saturday we all went to the cheap morning showing of Frozen at the Odeon Surrey Quays. I was probably keenest to see it, actually, as it had had such good reviews, and people seemed to go to see it more than once (including to singalong showings - the people behind us were singing along at some points), but we were all pretty underwhelmed. I thought it was very slow getting going, opening with two or three very 'stage musical' songs; the songs were all of that kind, which I don't like at all, and I felt very much that the film had been written with turning it into a stage musical in mind, and it was all the worse for it; the plot was pretty sketchy; the funny snowman sidekick seemed quite out of place, and his much-vaunted humorous song was a one-liner stretched out unimaginatively ('I want to do what frozen things do in summer...'). I don't know why it's been so enormously successful; it didn't charm our family.

hairspray

We finished watching Hairspray - the John Travolta film version of the musical remake of the original John Waters film - on Wednesday. We all started watching it, but Bethan baled out after the first session, finding it boring, all that singing and dancing; we liked it a lot, however, all that singing and dancing. Set in 1962, the songs were proper songs in the style of the period; plus a good story and well acted.

the lewis man

I read the second of Peter May's Lewis-set detective stories, The Lewis Man, and disliked it as much as the first one. Terrible rubbish. Full of cliches in language and plot. Every researched fact and geographical detail on tedious show-your-workings display. Everything but the kitchen sink plot themes, and preposterous plot points - the idea that the family background of someone from the island, alive during the book's story, could be mysterious/unknown/fabricated, is just implausible (even if he was from Harris and living in Ness...); even I know that feannagan are lazy beds, and you did get them in Lewis; road trips and journeys made to find things out that could have been simply ascertained by a couple of phone calls and a working internet connection; local police doing no work on a murder investigation (which, incidentally, seems to cause no stir in the islands whatsoever) but happy to pass info to someone to do their own private investigating; not looking through papers in the house until near the end (which again would have made the story considerably shorter); choosing to go to a gangster just to find out the real surname of the dementia sufferer who the gangster would surely hold partly responsible for the gangster's brother's death (no, don't see any possible repercussions there...).

The relentless negative depiction of anyone religious and religious culture in general (although of course some Southern Isles Catholics are allowed to be jolly, despite their awful religion, by way of traditional caricature contrast to the northern Presbyterians) is tedious as well as annoying. And, of course, not reflective of real life: I don't care who you are, I don't believe you could grow up in Lewis and not know Christians you liked, loved, respected or who made you laugh (in a good way), however profoundly wrong you thought they were or however horrible you thought some of their fellow Christians were. (And he manages to get in two horrible childhood experiences at the hands of religious institutions, one Protestant and one Catholic; I couldn't believe he was going for the double, but he did; hilarious.) When he does 'humanise' the horrible minister, it's by 'managing to get down to the non-Christian he once was beneath the Christian he became'.

And as for the decision to have some of the chapters done in first-person narration by a character suffering from severe dementia but whose internal monologue is lucid, structured, memory-perfect, eloquent, it simply beggars belief.

I will of course read the third one in due course (in fact I noticed it in the library and picked it up, so might be sooner than I thought). They don't take long, at least. I'll be glad when it's done. I read somewhere recently they're thinking of making them into tv drama; my heart sank.

I'm glad I don't feel the same need to read books set where I live now; there are quite a few more of those.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

my little fashion blog

I don't know who retweeted it so that it popped up in my timeline, but I've discovered My Little Fashion Blog's Twitter feed. I'm not interested in the website, nor most of the tweets, but there is one subset of tweets which I find fascinating: the ones which post side-by-side images of a garment being worn by a model on catwalk/fashion-shoot and the same garment being worn by a famous woman in real life, usually on a red carpet.

I don't think the blogger is making any point with these tweets, but they make me think. Of course, how the models almost never smile and the famous women almost always do. But also, how often the clothes are not worn as they were intended to be worn (not in the same combinations/ensembles, and also not in the same arrangement of an individual item). The model is so rarely the same shape as the woman wearing the clothes in real life. You really do wonder why people design clothes to be modelled in a way they will so rarely look in real life - especially as the shape of the models so often don't actually help to make the clothes look good. You wonder if the designers plan into their design of each outfit a range of sets of specifications for different shapes and sizes, rather than just carelessly scaling them up or down, to make sure the clothes will look good in those different shapes and sizes. It's striking how often, despite the fact that most of these famous women are famously beautiful and have had someone helping them get ready for this engagement at which they have been photographed, the clothes don't actually look that good on them; and if that's the case, what chance do lesser mortals have?

I continue to find the fashion industry both fascinating and baffling.

the events - choir rehearsal for new cast; qeh performance

I was prompted back to the previous blogpost about The Events by the fact that last Saturday Morris Folk Choir took part in a large-choir version of The Events at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of a choral weekend on the South Bank. About 250 members of choirs which had been used last year were in it, including about ten of ours. I hadn't signed up for it, partly because I wasn't sure if I'd be free (as it turned out we spent that day in Beaconsfield, meeting Naomi and Clive at the Bekonscot model village) and partly because I was afraid it would be an an anti-climax after last year's great experience, just pushing it a step too far to recapture a moment which had passed. I thought about going along to see it, but I thought that I would just be regretful and jealous that I wasn't part of the choir. ATC did a Storify of tweets.

The choir had also been asked if we wanted to do a night in the Arts Depot leg of this year's tour of The Events, but we turned it down because we didn't have enough folk who could definitely say they could do it at the time we were asked about it, and also we were anticipating (rightly) being hard-pressed to learn our new repertoire for our own planned performances this year, especially since we were losing a rehearsal a month by getting more serious about committing to holding folk club each month.

I did get my own last hurrah with The Events, though, which I enjoyed very much. This year's tour has a new cast, Amanda Drew and Cliff Samuel. An email to the Morris members one Friday afternoon was a last-minute call for choir members to help with a rehearsal the next day - they'd been rehearsing for a fortnight, but not yet with a choir, and several of the folk they had lined up for their 'rehearsal with a choir' the next day had pulled out. I presume the email went to several choirs. Only Ileana and I were free to take it up from our choir (I had time to myself that day), and I think possibly only one other person from another choir came along, I think the others being associated with the Young Vic choir or actors they'd had helping them (in fact one of the latter was drafted out of the choir and onto the piano for the whole time until we did the run-through at the end by which time Magnus had arrived); there were about eight or ten of us, including Polina, who had just returned from Norway on an early flight that morning (and thanks to Twitter, I knew she'd had a rough journey, which felt stalkerish to know). It was good to see Polina again, and the stage manager Jess, who I spoke to for a while as I arrived a bit early, and Ramin the director was there also of course, hard at work.

(I remember reading an interview with Malcolm Macdowell in which he said that for a while after A Clockwork Orange he used to badmouth Stanley Kubrick because they'd got so close and had such a good relationship while they were filming it and then nothing, and he felt completely dropped and forgotten about. But after a few more filming experiences he realised that this was just how it worked, the creation of intense community and relationship for the duration of working on a film, then it was over and onto the next one. I guess that it's probably similar in the theatre, and it's testament to Polina and the team that they both have the commitment to and manage to create that community and relationship over and over again with so many choir groups, in a way that makes each choir feel special and valued. I know we did. But I'm always mindful that for choir members like myself it was probably a much more significant experience that it was for the professionals; they're on to the next thing, or even just the next performance, we're back to normal.)

We got there about midday and finished about five, with a break for lunch and then a short break before the run-through. We went slowly through all the choir scenes, before doing a full run-through. I did some of the FAQs and I Ams, of course (Jess said she'd been doing them by herself, essentially, up until then), and also in the run-through I did the speech of the person deputed to tell Claire we were stopping choir, which was nice. It was fascinating to be part of and see the rehearsal process, as they still worked on options of how to do things, and still not entirely on top of lines, with just a few days to go before their first performance. They all seemed to appreciate us being there. The two actors, of course, were different in their performances from Neve and Rudi, but I was sure they'd make a good job of it (and I told them so; I also spoke to Amanda about the conducting bit at the end, which she seemed a bit worried about but I said not to be). Amanda's Claire was warmer than Neve's, I'd say; less damaged yet, and might make more of a connection with audiences and be more moving as a result (or might not, everyone's different). Cliff's Boy was on the one hand lighter and more amusing, but on the other perhaps a greater sense of his unbalancedness.

I really enjoyed being part of that rehearsal, and felt privileged to be so. It was a good way to finish off my Events experience (if finish it is...).

Friday, 11 April 2014

the events - london 2013 run coverage and reviews

I've had a draft blog post for ages of this name (except I've had to stick '2013' in the name now). I had to go back through emails to see the links I'd found on the theme. I didn't realise I hadn't blogged any of them, but searching the blog I see that I had blogged lots of links to reviews of the Edinburgh run and elsewhere, so that's probably what I had in my mind.

First a couple of comments from a couple of things shared on the Morris emails after our first performance.
I wrote, 'One audience member (my wife, so possibly biased) told me that we were good, and, when asked, said that she couldn't tell whether our early entry into the Norwegian coffee song was accidental or deliberate and it sounded fine. On the other hand, an old lady I walked out of the theatre behind was asked by her friend what she thought and she said, 'boring, interrupted by songs', which I thought was hilariously wrongheaded. There's no accounting for people.'
Mark said, 'One young girl walked past me and Don then turned to tell us were we were excellent! I am sure that this an compliment for the choir and the play and Not of how good looking Don and I are. Or was it?'
Fiona said, 'Sarah overhead two women in the loos commenting that "the choir were very professional" and a boy behind her said that it was one of the best things he'd ever seen. And she didn't even notice our false coffee start.'

Some other reviews I noted or was pointed to, roughly in the order they came across my path, oldest first (as with the earlier reviews, most of the photos used were from our dress rehearsal; also as with earlier reviews, mostly very favourable; mostly of course not reviews from our performances). Daily Mail (Quentin said the choir was the best thing about it, which I don't think he meant as high praise, because he didn't like it). British Theatre Guide. Arts Desk. Financial Times. Time Out. Evening Standard. Singing Works (article by another choir re their involvement). Metro. Telegraph. Exeunt. Civilian Theatre. What's On Stage. Blouin Art Info. Partially Obstructed View blog (a review from one of Morris's performances, though says nothing in particular about the choir). Amanda Palmer. Article by Rudi on the ATC blog. South Bank London. Londonist. Matt Trueman. Observer (a short review from one of Morris's performances, nothing in particular about the choir, but has a comment from choir's Hannah, which I've just noticed). ATC blog item from one of the Dublin run choirs. ATC Storify of Tweets on The Events at the Young Vic. Young Vic blog item by Young Vic choir member.

Two blogs I found more recently which mention Morris. Toffs ('Trips for Older Females and Fellows') ('There is a different choir at every performance and on the night I attended, it was the Morris Folk Choir, who sang beautifully and spoke lines and generally participated in the action as well as, at times, becoming the audience listening to the story of Claire and the Boy'). A Night on the Town blog (the two bloggers went to the Morris matinee and weren't impressed by the play or the choir: 'It was also extremely confusing to understand why the Morris Folk Choir didn’t seem like they knew what they were doing for the whole production. Finally, at the end of the play, you learn that the choir who performs with the actors changes every week. There was no doubt that this was another recurring technique to signify how people in society are all the same, and how we are all in these world issues together. Though ironically, the choice to only explain this arrangement at the end of the performance made the choir’s unprepared nature distracting from these intended portrayals. ... come the end of the show, a member of the Morris Folk Choir could essentially sum it all up for me. He was quite literally falling asleep, and resembled an 8-year-old boy being forced to go to singing lessons by his parents. Something tells me he found it hard to keep up with what was going on as well.' and 'Similarly, although having a different choir join the cast for each performance is an interesting concept, it interferes with the fluidity of an already complex script. In addition to distracting us from the themes that are explored, it also fails to add a further layer of understanding or artistic value to the finished product, as the Morris Folk choir appeared so dazed and confused it was almost distracting.' Don't think I believe anyone was falling asleep, and we were probably among the most prepared choirs; funny what people see, but not impressed by their reviewing, which seems to have ground to a halt after a month.)

Finally, the Guardian end of year review which lists The Events as the No 1 theatre event of 2013.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

the opening lines from the songs on big country's the crossing

Apropos of nothing, these are, more or less, the opening lines from the songs on Big Country's first album, The Crossing, finishing with what may be my favourite first line of a song:

I've never seen you look like this without a reason

I wouldn’t want to go home on a night like this

All the rain came down on a cold new town as he carried you away

Now we play our final hand

I came from the hills with a tear in my eye

Who saw the fences falling?

We lay the night in anguish, snakes drawn out by the tide

A score of years this line has run

Between a father and a son

Night hangs on the city like a blanket on a cage

Monday, 7 April 2014

blood simple; inside llewyn davis

On Saturday 8 March, after the Daylight Music session mentioned in the previous post, I watched a Coen Brothers double bill in the afternoon at the Riverside Studios, of Blood Simple and Inside Llewyn Davis. My first double bill for years. (The womenfolk were at Crufts for the day.) I enjoyed it, both the films and the double bill experience. What I said in an MFC email, as a kind of ps to the Daylight Music email, was 'When the cats are away (at Crufts) the mice will play (at the Riverside Studios for a Coen Brothers afternoon double bill of Blood Simple (moral: hiring someone to kill your wife rarely ends well for anybody involved) and Inside Llewyn Davis (moral: impressive talent can come without either bankability or likeability)).'

The print of Blood Simple was an actual, scratchy old print, of a kind which I similarly haven't seen in the cinema for ages, which was good to see. Blood Simple was the Coen Brothers' first, Inside Llewyn Davis their latest, and they were both very good. Blood Simple was beautifully constructed and scripted. I guess the main drawback for Inside Llewyn Davis was that the main character, like most of the other musicians, wasn't very likeable, which inevitably in my view makes it less engaging; the music was very good, however, and you did get a feeling of accurate historical tone. I spent the start of the film wondering if the main actor was Nick from New Girl, having discarded the idea that he was the math whizz from Numbers, and the rest of it sure that it was. When I checked later I found that Nick from New Girl was Jake Johnson, Charlie from Numbers was David Krumholtz, and Llewyn Davis was Oscar Isaac.

daylight music: superman revenge squad; danni nicholls

At lunchtime on Saturday 8 March I went to Union Chapel for their free lunchtime music session, Daylight Music. I saw the second half of their first act, Superman Revenge Squad, and the first half of their second act, Danni Nicholls, and nothing of their third act.

I was prompted to go because Morris Folk Choir are performing at one of these sessions, in May. This is what I emailed to the MFC list at the time:

'I went to the free lunchtime music event at the Union Chapel today to see what it was like - I saw some of the first and second acts (and someone plays the church organ between acts).
'It reminded me of the free music nights I've been to at the Bedford in Balham (http://www.thebedford.co.uk/music.aspx), where you get three or so acts, with fliers and CDs and a suite of online presences, generally in the pre-success part of a hoped-for career, and a professional set up from the venue side of things. (The Bedford is genuinely free; Union Chapel is a strongly encouraged donation of £3.50.)
'The audience was similarly respectful - in terms of listening and expressing appreciation, even though there was a lot of coming and going (and eating and drinking). It was bigger - there were over a hundred people there when I arrived, and the number increased. There was a range of ages, including children (there was a table with paper and crayons), but I'd say a significant majority were 20/30s, which seems to be the demographic they're going for, young Islingtonians easing themselves into their Saturday.
'I think it'll be a nice place to perform, and think we'll be received well. If today, and the Bedford in Balham, are reflective of the acts roster, we will be unusual in not having a CD to sell, and we may be a bit more fun and less earnest than a lot of others.'

In terms of the two acts I saw: Superman Revenge Squad was spoken word poetry (rather than rap) over music, which was okay and better in the flesh than the clips I'd listened to in advance online; Danni Nicholls (website not displaying properly for me, but at the moment featuring some good photos taken at this gig) was country/rockish singer-songwriter, accompanied by another guitarist, who had recently recorded an album in Nashville (I'm not sure why it gives people more cred to go to Nashville or somewhere else in America to record an album rather than doing it in London, but it must do because people keep doing it), and was accomplished but unremarkable. Here is the Daylight Music Facebook event page for the gig.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

the a-z of mrs p

On Saturday 22nd March, in the evening, we all went to the Southwark Playhouse, along with Margaret and Hei Mun (who had got it together) to see The A-Z of Mrs P, a modern musical about the self-described inventor of the A to Z of London (in fact this production was its premiere, though we weren't there on the first night).

The staging was between two banks of audience seats facing each other, for no apparent reason, which meant that for a lot of the time actors were facing away from you wherever you were sitting.

I thought it was okay, and probably liked it least of our group. Bethan I think would have bought the CD on the way out if there had been anyone at the desk. Probably partly I was influenced by knowing that the autobiographies and the recent biography based largely uncritically on those autobiographies (which I read, and had my doubts) on which the story is based are a very one-sided, if not largely fictional, version of events (Phyllis Pearsall's brother in particular has a very detailed website full of rebuttal). To be fair, the script does make allusions to this. Also I was expecting it to be lighter than it was; I'm sure it was sold as that, but there was a large emphasis on the family drama, especially the father-daughter relationship. But mainly I just didn't like the music very much; they were unremarkable songs, neither catchy in music or lyrics, very much in the common style of modern musical songs. The kind of songs which if you heard them on the radio you'd know they were from a modern musical when you heard them, except you wouldn't hear them on the radio (except on a specialist musical theatre songs show) because they're not good enough to stand up as songs in their own right (they seem to sacrifice that to moving the plot along in the song, so they feel very linear; I guess it takes more skill to do that without the sacrifice). Why should so many modern musical songs sound like that, like they're a genre of their own? Say what you like about Rice/Lloyd-Webber (I'll give you a minute), they wrote some proper songs. Or Randy Newman's songs for cartoons, standalone but plot/character development in filmic context.

Still, everyone else enjoyed it; I was worried the younger generation might have been bored, but it wasn't the case (of course even it that were the case it wouldn't be admitted, in case it might reduce the likelihood of further late nights out at grown-up theatre, which is fair enough). Mrs P is played by Isy Suttie, who I think is the only well-known cast member (though others did look familiar, though could be types) - most familiar as comedian with comic songs, biog indicates drama training.

(Also in the audience we spotted Haydn Gwynne. Made a pair of niche actor spots when as the three of us left Zizzi's the following Friday we saw Clive Russell.)

Some reviews from the first couple of pages of results (several lesser- or never-linked sites here). The Southwark Playhouse page. Telegraph (middling to poor, commenters think worse). Evening Standard. Guardian (third out of three that says something like 'loses its way'. 'The chief pleasure lies in the music and lyrics of Gwyneth Herbert who claims never to have seen a staged musical before being commissioned to write this one.' - obviously went on a crash course and copied what she saw, I'd say). That Guardian review also links to this article by Isy Suttie on playing the part. What's On Stage (reviews lining up with me so far, mostly without taking issue with the truth of the story). The Arts Desk. The Stage. The Public Reviews. British Theatre Guide. Musical Theatre Review. Rage Off Stage blog (new to me, second 'loses its way' in a row, very unimpressed, but their blog title and biog sets up the reader to expect that they're going to be criticising everything they blog about, I don't know if that's the case). BroadwayWorld.com. Times (before it fades behind the paywall you can see it's getting 4 out of 5 stars, which makes it the best reputable review so far listed I think). Total Tat blog. West End Frame blog. Helen Babbs blog (review for Londonist). Classical Source. The Upcoming online magazine (nasty ad-filled design. Girl Outside blog. Youth Music Theatre (most of these last run, apart from Times, are new to me). Comparisons with Sondheim were regular, so perhaps he's to blame for what I call the 'modern musical style'?

Friday, 4 April 2014

brothers in law

On Tuesday I finished a nice old orange Penguin edition of Brothers In Law by Henry Cecil (had the advantage of fitting easily into my pocket for travelling, a much-overlooked factor by modern publishers who seem to love big, thick editions). I enjoyed it, but if I wanted to read more like it again I'd read more Rumpole stories rather than more Henry Cecil; clearly a forerunner, tales of court and chambers told by one who knows, but a bit more romantic comedy.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

slade in flame

On Friday 28th I finished watching Slade in Flame, which was actually pretty good; Mark Kermode thinks very highly of it as a film about the music industry.

call for the dead

ON Tuesday I finished Call For The Dead by John le Carre, which I thought was rather good. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is generally thought of as the 'first' Smiley novel - and of course it was the first serialised with Alec Guinness - but there were earlier ones. This is le Carre's first novel, and has George Smiley as the central character in a spy thriller/detective story. I liked it a lot; I had also liked The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, when I read it ages ago and which was also a relatively short book; I found Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a bit of a plod, when I read it a lot later, and when I trudged through The Honourable Schoolboy I resolved to read no further. But I think I will continue to look out the earlier ones on the strength of this one (which I picked up second hand in a nice old green Penguin crime edition).

Two quotes:

Smiley wanted to ask him how Fennan himself had felt, but Fennan was talking again. He had shared nothing with them [his fellow 1930s Oxford undergraduate Communists], he had come to realize that. They were not men, but children, who dreamed of freedom-fires, gipsy music, and one world tomorrow, who rode on white horses across the Bay of Biscay or with a child's pleasure bought beer for starving elves from Wales; children who had no power to resist the Eastern sun, and obediently turned their tousled heads towards it. They loved each other and believed they loved mankind, they fought each other and believed they fought the world.
- p70

'Was she a communist?'
'I don't think she liked labels. I think she wanted to help build one society which could live without conflict. Peace is a dirty word now, is't it? I think she wanted peace.'
'And Dieter?' asked Guillam.
'God knows what Dieter wanted. Honour, I think, and a socialist world.' Smiley shrugged. 'They dreamed of peace and freedom. Now they're murderers and spies.'
- p156

Monday, 24 March 2014

relatively speaking - wyndhams

On Saturday 18 May last year we - having a free evening courtesy of a Brownie sleepover - went to see Relatively Speaking by Alan Ayckbourn at Wyndhams Theatre, starring Felicity Kendal. We enjoyed it, but it was fairly lightweight, and something of a period piece. It was well-performed though. Felicity Kendal still good value, though she's not as young as she was.

Some reviews still knocking about on the first couple of pages of search results (the newspaper reviews seem to be from the week after we saw it, so the press night may have been just before we saw it, or just after; more ticket agencies and non-review theatre sites and fewer blog reviews coming up, perhaps to do with non-optimisation over longer-term of the latter). Telegraph (Interesting review as an article. Opening: 'Relatively Speaking was Alan Ayckbourn’s first big hit, written when he was in his mid-twenties. That breakthrough production in 1967 starred Celia Johnson, Michael Hordern and the young Richard Briers, quite a bill for a West End debut, and Noël Coward generously sent a congratulatory telegram to the young author, congratulating him “on a beautifully constructed and very funny comedy”. That verdict still seems bang on the money though astonishingly this is the first time Relatively Speaking has been revived in the West End since its premiere. In his introduction to the script, Ayckbourn says he “consciously set out to write a ’well-made’ play”, believing that “you cannot begin to shatter theatrical convention or break golden rules” until you are “reasonably sure what they are and how they were arrived at”.'). Another from the Telegraph ('Things have reached a pretty pass. There is on the stage in Relatively Speaking a prop, intended to give the piece a period Sixties feel, the very like of which I still have in use in my own house.'). Guardian. The Stage. The Arts Desk. Evening Standard. Time Out. Spectator. Daily Express (doesn't get featured often in my round-ups). Huffington Post. Trip Advisor (never had them come up before either; fascinating; didn't know they included theatre reviews from people; seem to be 91, but the link seems to be for the theatre itself so the reviews can be of any production on there I think, or just for the theatre itself).

lgq

Through 2013 and so far in 2014 I've done quite a few engagements with the London Gallery Quire. They're mostly church services, mostly Sunday evening, mostly Anglican or URC; I think the only two concerts in that time have been the regular Christmas concert at St George's Alie Street, and a charity concert on Friday 15 March last year - just over a year ago - at St Paul's Belsize Park, with Belsize Community Choir, Friday 15 March. Sometimes I feel under-rehearsed and like I'm just about getting away with it, especially if neither of the two strong tenors are there, but I muddle through on the whole. My new laptop will run Sibelius Scorch software, which will play sheet music off the website, so that may help with future music learning.