Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lazy Blogger #2

Also arrived at via Mike's site, here's a rather sweet post. The Saunderses always enjoy finding frogs in our garden, which while some way from water is at least outside. They certainly beat the other things we find, such as snails by the dozen, cat turds, crisp packets and the occasional traffic cone.

"The Frog In The Blog" - not a Dr Seuss story.

Lazy Blogger # 1

I never posted any kind of tribute to Mo Mowlam when she died recently, which was remiss of me. However, while browsing on Mike's site I came across a link to this, which is way better than anything I could write (or any of the other tributes I've read). Enjoy.

Aren't words wonderful?

I encountered a wonderful word today: buildering. I wish I'd thought of that (the word, I mean, not the activity, the thought of which I find rather scary).

Here is a fun site detailing a crazy Dutchman's buildering antics.

We're on a roll here

The Tour Of Britain has begun, and indeed by now should be snaking its way down through Lancashire on its second day. Given the generally low profile of cycling in Britain it's not surprising that it doesn't get as much publicity as its French counterpart, but hey, it's a beginning. This year it started in Glasgow. Apparently the 2006 start and the 2007 finish will be in Scotland as well.

Seems to me that it could do with being a bit longer, and more connected as a route. This year's there is a day in Scotland, a day in NW England, a day in Yorkshire, a day in the North Midlands, a time trial in Birmingham, and a day in London. The riders never start where they left off, which seems a shame. It will be interesting to see what bits of Scotland are included next year. And what about Wales?

One day, maybe we'll see pubs advertising big-screen coverage of the cycling the way they do in Belgium. Oaks from acorns and all that. (Or as Benny Hill put it, great aches from little toecorns grow.) Until then, three cheers for the Tour.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

So how was your day?

Yesterday I had the day off work as it’s an English Bank Holiday and the bank (though Scottish) was closed. I was on call, though, so couldn’t stray too far. Hilary and the kids were at work/school, so it was going to be shopping and stuff for me.

I started out by trailing out to IKEA where I bought a set of loose covers for our sofa in Ballater. At least, I thought I did, though when we checked later I bought two component parts (A and B) when I should have got two As and a C. Still, at the time I thought that bit had gone quite well.

Then to Sainsburys, next door to IKEA, where I got such bits of shopping as we still needed. Got home, unpacked, and found a bag of shopping missing. Hunted round, checked the car: nope, not there. Bollocks. Worked out what was missing (copy of the Guardian, book of Sudoku puzzles, loaf for lunch, pack of pitta bread) and decided it was worth going back. So, out to Sainsburys, where the bag wasn’t at the checkout and hadn’t been handed in. They thought the next customer must have taken it. They couldn’t replace it, just took my phone number in case it turned up. Bollocks (again).

On the way home I though I’d better get some bread at least, so went to another (smaller) supermarket where I got bread, a paper, and some pittas. Home, then, and about ten minutes later I tripped over (literally) the original missing bag of shopping, which was in our pantry. This caused me to have a ten-minute ponder as to how in heck it had got into the pantry, because I couldn’t work out why I would have been in there, least of all with a shopping bag. I did eventually work it out, though it was a bit like doing one of those what-square-did-the black-pawn-start-on retrospective chess puzzles. Still, if I now qualify for Saga holidays I can be allowed the odd senior moment.

SO I unpacked, hung out some washing, was halfway through my lunch when I got a call from work and had to log on for two and a half hours. Bollocks.

With a strange synchronicity, not only did I just read this from Dooce (which seems appropriate) but the Guardian which I bought two copies of (grrr) had an interview with Salman Rushdie. He said that when the fatwa on him was lifted after nine years, and his Special Branch protection was taken away, the main thing he noticed was that he kept forgetting his keys because for nine years there had been someone else going into the house in front of him to check it out.

Now fetch my slippers and Ovaltine, I'm going to ait in my armchair and grumble a bit if that's OK.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Slightly edited for language and violence (length 35 seconds)

On Friday Vanessa and I went to Prayer Room at the Lyceum. This was the new play by Shan Khan and was being performed by Birmingham Repertory Theatre (in the news earlier in the year for having to pull a production of Behzti, a black comedy set in a Sikh temple, because of violent protests). Prayer Room is about, well, a prayer room: a multi-faith one, in a college somewhere. The Muslims and the Christians have the available sessions divided between them, and when the Jewish Society ask for time to themselves someone has to make way. It’s all very funny and satirical, but when the uneasy compromises break down and there is a violent dispute things suddenly get very serious indeed.

All the reviews I read, whether they liked Prayer Room or not, reckoned it could have been longer (it runs for 75 minutes without a break). You’re definitely left wondering what kind of a play Khan could have written if he’d decided to make it, say, two hours long. As it is, while it comes to a plausible end you’re left wishing he HAD written a bit more, because the writing is so good. The characters are well-defined, not just by what they say but by how they say it: Khan’s ear for dialogue is famously acute. Some of the characters have very expletive-laden speech (hence my title, which was a joke originally made when Reservoir Dogs was first shown on television). One guy, Paul, has a kind of Tourette’s Syndrome, so not only is his language intense but he has uncontrollable tics which were brilliantly and believably rendered by Jimmy Akingbola. All the actors were really good, and the production didn’t miss a trick either.

A great evening, funny, sad and thought-provoking, sometimes all at once. I look forward to future visits from Birmingham Rep, and to more offerings from Shan Khan. He’s been commissioned by English National Opera to write Gaddafi: The Opera with music from Steve Savale of Asian Dub Foundation. Start boggling now.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Warning: this performance contains gunfire

As we walked through the foyer we heard the sound of surf, and as we climbed the stairs we heard seagulls. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a staid old-fashioned production.

Not that we were expecting one. Previous John Adams festival outings had included the European premiere of Nixon In China, an opera about Nixon’s famous state visit, whose set memorably included the front of a 747; and that of I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky, a sort of mini-opera about the Los Angeles earthquake, racial tensions and gender issues, all played out against a series of sets painted by famous American graffiti artists. So Tuesday’s premiere of The Death Of Klinghoffer, an opera about the hijacking of the Greek cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists, was always likely to attract as much interest for its production (not by Peter Sellars like the others, but by Anthony Neilson) as for its music or its subject matter.

And so it proved. The stage had a ramp, suitably fitted with a ship’s railing, curving down into the stalls, and the action took place partly down among us. We began with a prologue comprising two choruses (Exiled Palestinians and Exiled Jews), and then we moved to the ship. A few minutes into the act the captain was informed there are terrorists aboard, and we got confirmation immediately afterwards as men with AK47s run into the auditorium, forcing members of the audience (who of course are actually planted cast members) up on stage at gunpoint and firing the occasional shot into the roof. At various times there was also action in some of the boxes beside the stage. The actual on-stage scenery was minimal, just a couple of flats with portholes, but the lighting was very dramatic and the integration of stage and stalls worked well.

When Klinghoffer first came out there were protests from both Palestinians and Israelis (especially the latter) that the text had been biased against them. Personally I always think it’s a good sign if you’re getting complaints from both sides (like Frank Zappa, who used to describe himself as an equal-opportunity insulter). It’s hard to see why either side should get too upset by what seemed a fairly even-handed treatment of events, not straying too far from the facts. Alice Goodman (the librettist) has been described as condoning terrorism because she doesn’t explicitly condemn the hijacking. Well, there’s no on-stage condemnation of Jack The Ripper in Berg’s Lulu either - another opera whose title character comes to a bloody end - but I’ve never heard it suggested that Berg or his librettist were apologists for serial killing. In any case, it’s bilge (note maritime metaphor) to say the killing isn’t condemned: Marilyn Klinghoffer, the widow, has a terrific final aria in which she asks whether they would need to have killed two hundred people and left a trail of blood in the water a mile long before the world intervened. While there are references to the sufferings of the Palestinians, especially in the prologue, the same prologue makes equal reference to the sufferings and displacement of the Jews which led to the founding of Israel. On the other side, while you get to know the hijackers quite well during the opera, they aren’t for the most part a sympathetic bunch: one has a huge desire for a martyr’s death, another has a fanatical hatred of the USA and Britain, and third says that if the two sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict were to sit down and talk about peace that would be a disaster. Plus they quarrel among themselves. It’s implied that they weren’t wanting to kill any hostages until Syria’s refusal to reply to their radio messages forced their hand, but Goodman doesn’t make a big deal out of that and you’re left thinking that they were such a badly-organised bunch that something bad was always likely to happen. They get away with their actions, but then they did in real life.

Musically (in so far as I can judge on one hearing) it was more interesting than Nixon In China. It sounded extremely difficult to sing for all concerned, so it’s hardly surprising that on the first night not everyone covered themselves with glory. The Scottish Opera chorus were very unsteady, especially in the prologue (with that and the totally static staging of the first chorus, Hilary reckoned she was losing the will to live by the time we reached the liner). Omar (Oriol Roses) had difficulty with intonation, and neither in the off-stage aria from Klinghoffer (Jonathan Summers) nor in the very much on-stage one from the British Dancing Girl (Claire Booth) was it easy to hear the words. Some of the blame for that probably lies with John Adam’s textures, especially in the latter case: the BDG fulfils the same role of comic distraction before a murder is revealed as the porter in Macbeth, and her aria is sung against a relentlessly jolly perpetuum mobile. Audibility apart, she was great though, a showstopper in every sense, and there were plenty of other highpoints. The Captain (Andrew Schroeder), Mamoud (Kamel Boutros) and Marilyn Klinghoffer (Catherine Wyn-Rogers) sang their hearts out and really brought their characters to life. Special mention must be made of Susan Gorton as the Austrian Woman (who succeeded in hiding in her cabin through the whole hijacking) whose one aria was my (and Hilary’s) pick of the night. The Scottish Opera orchestra under Edward Gardner did a great job, with especially good solos from bassoon and bass clarinet in the night scene. Many years ago I played The Chairman Dances (an instrumental piece lifted from Nixon In China) with Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra, so I know at first hand how difficult even some of the simpler-sounding bits of Adams can be to keep together. Klinghoffer is full of difficult transitions of tempo, and on Tuesday the orchestra made very light work of it.

I’m not sure I’d want to buy Klinghoffer on record: it might not be effective without the stage action, though it would be interesting to check all the words. But if you weren’t there on Tuesday (or tonight) then go on Saturday or Monday, and chalk up another memorable John Adams festival experience.

P.S. We were highly amused to discover that Alice Goodman, librettist of both Klinghoffer and Nixon, is a curate from Kidderminster. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rising to the occasion

Yesterday I took my kids to the cinema to see The Rising. You may have blinked and missed it: it was on at our local Virgin multiplex for one week, during which Hilary and the children saw it. Fortunately we also have a UCI which makes a point of showing Bollywood films so it’s still on there (and the kids have now seen it twice).

What’s it about? It’s the story of the Sepoy Mutiny (or the First War of Independence if you’re Indian). That was the one that got the East India Company dislodged as rulers of India and replaced by the British Crown. (And it speaks volumes for the East India Company’s abysmal record that the change is universally considered to have been beneficial, despite all the well-known failings of the British Raj.) The mutiny was sparked off by the supply of new rifles and cartridges to the native troops: cartridges which turned out to be greased with pig and cow fat. As pigs are considered unclean by Muslims and cows are sacred to Hindus this was never going to go down well, especially as in order to use the cartridge it was necessary to bite the end off the (greased) paper wrapper. The inevitable mutiny, though ultimately unsuccessful, at least forced a regime change.

The main characters in The Rising are Mangal Pandey, the Indian soldier who instigates the mutiny, and Captain William Gordon, his Scottish commanding officer. They are played respectively by Aamir Khan, one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, and Toby Stephens, probably best known as the Bond villain in Die Another Day (and he’s Maggie Smith’s son!). The film also boasts two big-name Bollywood female leads (Rani Mukherjee and Amisha Patel). While anything with Aamir Khan in it will sell well in India, these days he likes to do “crossover” films which are likely to succeed outside the sub-continent India as well. If you saw Lagaan (nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar) you’ll know the sort of thing. Mixed cast of Indian and British actors (and thus mixed Hindi and English dialogue – though actually all Bollywood films, like everyday Indian speech, have that mixture to some extent). High production values. And of course while every Bollywood film has its musical numbers, in the big-budget crossover films they are integrated very closely into the storyline. So if there is going to be a dance number this will happen at a party, or some celebration or other. That may seem obvious, but the first Bollywood film I saw (on Indian TV) had a big torchlit dance number in the Red Fort in Delhi immediately after the female lead has learned her husband has been sent off to the war. And in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (a biggie of a few years ago) the action is in India but all of a sudden there is a love song (and dance, of course) filmed at Dirleton Castle (I kid you not – the Bass Rock is clearly visible). And that’s a good Bollywood film. No, these days, at least for the Western market, the Indians are providing musical numbers which don’t grate any more than the ones in Fiddler On The Roof or Gigi. And as the music for The Rising is by A R Rahman (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s collaborator on Bollywood Dreams, and the John Williams of Indian cinema) it’s good stuff. The female members of the Saunders household drooled unashamedly over Aamir Khan, incidentally. I didn’t let it distract me from my own salivations over Ms Mukherjee and Ms Patel. Oh, and there is an on-screen kiss. You don’t get too many of those in Indian cinema (we may still be in single figures).

So – another hot tip for an Academy Award, I would think, and a deserving one. We liked it better than Lagaan on balance, and will be getting it on DVD when it appears. Go see it. Oh – it’s about two and a quarter hours long, which is short by Bollywood standards (which is why Bollywood films generally have intervals).

Incidentally, while The Rising is distributed by Yash Raj films, a very large number of Indian films and DVDs are produced by Eros Entertainment, a name which, er, gains somewhat in the translation (cf. the French soft drink Pshitt.)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Me ears are alight.

Last night I took another trip to the book festival, this time to see Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks if you're a science fiction fan). I must confess at this point that while I have been an Iain Banks fan ever since The Wasp Factory came out, I've never actually read any of his SF. Annoying, then, that when I got to ask him a question (which was "Which is your favourite scene from your books?") the answer turned out to be one from Consider Phlebas (the bit where (someone) finds out they're all after him and takes his ship out from inside another ship, up to the point where someone says a really funny line) . OK, now I have to read that book. (He remembered me at the signing because he'd taken some time to answer that question, coming back to me later. I said my favourite scene was the bit in Espedair Street where Danny Weir is convinced he's been conned and is actually in a helicopter simulator, and goes to climb out only to find himself 5,000 feet over a power station in a real helicopter. IB giggled a lot when reminded of that scene, so I think he likes it too...) I also got to ask whether there were any major revisions he'd like to do to already-published books, to which he reckoned that Canal Dreams is the one he's least satisfied with and which he thinks could definitely be improved. However, he doesn't know how...and he still likes it! Apparently he added too many degrees of difficulty to the writing (the main character - unlike IB when he wrote it - is middle-aged, Japanese, a woman, and a professional cellist); also, it's the only book he's written under the influence of a drug, in this case alcohol. Because of the aforementioned difficulty, he was suffering a kind of writer's block (he'd do anything rather than write). So he'd get to the evening, give up on the book for the day and break out the single malt. After a few of which, the inspiration would strike and he'd toddle off to the computer...............

A propos the "when he wrote it" above, Iain Banks is still (AFAIK) neither Japanese nor a woman. And definitely not a cellist of any kind. He is, however, middle-aged (18 months older then me, na-na-na-na-na, 51 last Feb 16th should you wish to send him a card). Which I hadn't guessed (I had him pegged a few years younger than me).

In general, I thought he was the best fun I'd yet had at the Book Festival (and I've seen some pretty fun people over the years, including Alasdair Gray, Val MacDermid and Ian Holm).

In case you're waiting, his next book will be a mainstream (Banks without the M) one, and may come out for Christmas 2006. However, for the first time (if I understood aright) he's asked for an extension from his publisher, so it may not appear until early 2007. he wasn't saying anything about the new one, though he is on record as being keen to try another multi-layered novel such as The Bridge (his favourite of his works). What he needs for that is a lot of short story ideas, which is effectively what he plugged together to create The Bridge.

I am extremely fond of The Bridge, also Espedair Street. However, my favourite remains The Crow Road. I'd already fallen completely under Banks's spell (I bought "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" by The Pogues because the protagonist of The Bridge is listening to it when he has his car crash) but TCR just wiped me out. I especially liked the scene where the topic of "Purple Haze" comes up, because like Prentice I thought for years that Hendrix was singing "'scuse me while I kiss this guy". Hey, it was the sixties.

Technically such mishearings are known as Mondegreens (as in the ballad "They have slain the Earl of Moray, and Lady Mondegreen"). Classic uses of the idea are the ad for... Memorex I think?...with the guy producing Dylan- style flashcards for "Israelites" culminating in "oh..oh..me ears are alight"; and Wagner's version (possibly the first ever Mondegreen) in Die Meistersinger, where Beckmesser's attempt to memorise the stolen Prize Song ends up in a load of wonderful mishearings which sadly don't translate well:


Morgenlich leuchtend in rosigem Schein,
von Blüt und Duft geschwellt die Luft,
voll aller Wonnen nie ersonnen,
ein Garten lud mich ein,
Gast ihm zu sein.

Shining in the rosy light of morning,
The air heavy with blossom and scent
Full of every unthought-of joy,
A garden invited me to be its guest.

(Beckmesser's version)

Morgen ich leuchte in rosigem Schein
von Blut und Duft geht schnell die Luft;
wohl bald gewonnen, wie zerronnen;
im Garten lud ich ein
garstig und fein.

In the morning I shine with a rosy light,
with blood and scent the air moves fast;
probably soon won, as if dissolved;
in the garden I invited
horrid and fine.


For this aficionado of Monty Python and the Bonzo Dog Band, Beckmesser's version has much to commend it....

Friday, August 19, 2005

Featuring antique CD technology, the music of Boyce, Beethoven, and Herbert Howells, and Compton Mackenzie's student days. Phew.

This one may appeal to those of you who are amused by funny technological things and have a little knowledge of music. The CD player I've just replaced was a Philips CD150 which was still working fairly well after roughly twenty years of pretty heavy use. It lacked a lot of modern features, but its default display showed not only the track number being played but the index number (a subdivision of tracks which I guess isn't used any more). To my knowledge I possess two CDs which use those index numbers. The first is a CD of the eight William Boyce symphonies. This has one track per symphony (they're shortish baroque pieces) with the individual movements sugnalled by index changes. OK, so you've got the idea? Now let's go to Exhibit B, which is the Beethoven Violin Concerto played by Itzhak Perlman and conducted (I think) by Giulini - I'm at work so can't check. This has one track per movement, with index points signalling significant moments in the piece. Ready?


(timpani) POM POM POM POM


(wind) daaa daaa da daaa, da da da da da da....

Maybe it loses something in the translation to print, but it still breaks me up to think of the opening four timpani Ds having an index all of their own. You know, in case you wanted to hear the piece without them? (What might they have done with Honegger's Fifth Symphony, where the timpani have only three notes to play in the whole thing, all Ds, the final note of each movement?)

Incidentally, while I'm on the Beethoven concerto, I remember reading in one of Compton Mackenzie's many volumes of autobiography (it would be My Life And Times: Octave Three) about a production of Aristophanes' The Clouds by Oxford University Dramatic Society when he was at Magdelen. In the same year, Cambridge were doing The Wasps and had got Ralph Vaughan Williams to write music for them (the overture has become well-known). OUDS asked Herbert Howells to write them an overture, which he duly supplied. You need to know two things here. One, The Clouds is a satire all about the clash between old and new ways of life. Two, the peace and tranqillity of Oxford had recently been shattered by the opening of the Morris car factory at Cowley. Right. Howells' overture begins with four parps on a motor horn...followed by the woodwind going into the theme of the Beethoven violin concerto.

Peter Schickele, eat your heart out.

Not so much a Surrey, more of a Midlothian really.....

…..with, of course, a Fringe on top, this being Edinburgh. It’s hard to avoid the various festivals going on (official, fringe, book, film and TV) even if one wished to. Actually, this year I’ve only booked for one fringe event, two in the book festival and three in the official festival (this post is taking on the appearance of a crazily-inverted Twelve Days of Christmas and I'm only three sentences in) . To date I’ve been to the fringe one (Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players) and to see Dario Fo and Franca Rame in the book festival.

I got Dario Fo to sign a book for me so he is now the first Nobel prizewinner (Literature, 1997) I’ve chatted to. He’s best known for his plays "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" and "Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!" (three Fringe productions of the former this year, I believe). Fo started out as an architect but became very disillusioned with all the corruption involved in getting planning permission in Italy. He’d always been interested in the storytelling tradition and had been a sort of performance artist, telling tales on trains and in other public places. He joined a theatre company where he met Franca, so beautiful that all the men in the company fell for her, and the fire brigade competed to do shifts in the theatre (apparently one night there was a fire and they almost didn’t notice). Her family had a theatre company doing semi-improvised comedies, and Franca and Dario joined it. (Dario, who is extremely funny, did an impression for us of Franca ad-libbing furiously after drying up totally one night. Franca in turn had some amusing comments about the young Dario….) In 1968 they decided to break with the commercial theatre and start taking political comedy to the people, performing benefit gigs for strikers, playing union halls, and occupying a derelict municipal theatre in Milan. (Hey, it was 1968, OK?) They were attacked from time to time, had their shows disrupted by undercover police, had their theatre bombed, and Fo finally was arrested (though he was subsequently acquitted). The satirical farces really took off, though, many of them on themes suggested by the workers they were performing them to. And there we are. His most recent book is a memoir of his childhood, and looks really good.

The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are the sort of act that could have been dreamed up just for the Edinburgh Fringe (though they weren’t). They do exactly what it says on the tin. They are a family band: Jason (Dad, guitar, keyboards, vocals), Tina (Mum, vocals, slides) and Rachel (daughter, drums, pre-teen cuteness). They go round car boot sales, house clearances, junk shops, etc looking for odd collections of slides for which they then write soundtracks. Whatever the slides may have been about originally, age lends them a certain surreal quality which the songs point up. So pictures of people having barbecues in the 1960s can take on a David Lynch-like strangeness, which is much of the fun. The rest of the fun is that some of the slides are simply weird: a collection of slides of hens’ eggs; road traffic education material from around 1960; a Macdonald’s’ corporate briefing on the need to spend more on national TV ads (ah, those heady pre-PowerPoint days). Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but for sheer weirdness they’re hard to beat. Check them out

(Yup, being awake while posting is definitely better. )

Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzz.

I just did a Clare Sudbery and wrote a beautiful elegant post which I then managed to delete instead of publishing. Zzzzz. Bollocks. That will teach me to write blogging posts when I'm asleep.

The reason I'm asleep, apart from having had a fairly busy late shift at work, is that I've been setting up my new CD recorder. This has involved all kinds of messing about with cabling, to say nothing of cutting off the plug which came with the device and replacing it with a miniature one which plugs into my power conditioner (and will fit down the back of the shelving without the need to unscrew things from the wall).

Now. Z. Zzz. Before I mess this up too.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The bitch is back

Hello there everybody!

Pay attention at the back. Joe, put away those pictures of Lisa in her fetching stripey legwear.

First of all, a HUGE thank-you to Lisa for keeping EKN warm and un-lonely while I've been offline. *HUG*

Various interesting things have been happening while I was away:

* Israel began its pull-out from Gaza

... and while I am as cynical as anyone about Israel's long-term plans for the West Bank, and have loathed Sharon since the siege of Beirut at least, he deserves considerable credit for facing down his domestic opponents and getting it done. OK, the recalcitrant settlers are being treated politely and with respect instead of getting the standard Palestinian treatment of having their houses bulldozed ten minutes after the first warning, but they are being made to leave, and the bulldozers will be going in tomorrow. Yes, I know some of them have spent their whole lives in the settlements, and it's not their fault they were illegal. But they are illegal, and I am just gobsmacked at Sharon's courageous stand. Nobody with sense ever doubted his physical courage before, but domestic political opposition - especially in Israel - can be just as intimidating as men with guns. Hell, it includes men with guns: Yitzhak Rabin was killed by a hard-line Israeli opponent of his policies, and the IDF deserter who recently gunned down a busload of Israeli Arabs was unusual but not unique. So three (slightly muted) cheers for Ariel Sharon (and you won't often hear me saying that).

* Robin Cook died

... and we lost another honest politician; and one, unlike Heath, who could have expected a decent career still ahead of him. I don't know anyone who doesn't think it was a disgraceful snub on the part of Tony Blair to miss the funeral, or who disagrees with comments of the racing bloke on the subject. Opinions vary as to whether the comments were appropriately timed or not. If Zinnia drops by the blog I'd be interested to hear her professional slant on the subject. Funerals are always, IMO, about the survivors rather than the deceased, and feelings always run high, so personally I'd cut the guy some slack. I can understand the contrary view though.

* My daughter Vanessa got her Higher exam results

....and was very happy with them. 'A' in History, Music, English and German, 'C' in Drama, 'A' in Intermediate 2 Spanish. (Yay!) She's intending to do modern languages at university, ideally the Language with Interpreting and Translating course at Heriot-Watt (though she likes the sound of Japanese at Edinburgh too). Her grades should mean she gets unconditional offers, which will take off some pressure.

* I had my 50th birthday

... and was very happy with it. Main present from my family was a new CD player/recorder for the hi-fi (the old one is definitely first generation technology). I expect to be crawling around the living room cursing dropped phono leads on Thursday when I'm on a late shift so have the house to myself all day. My son gave me a Road-Runner 50th birthday card that he and Hilary had found and bought two years ago (knowing that anything Road-Runner or especially Wile E. Coyote themed always goes down well with me). We went to Fowlsheugh which is a nature reserve near Stonehaven famed for its seabird cliffs, where we saw various chicks (fulmar, kittiwake, herring gull). Then on to the only remaining outdoor public swimming pool in Scotland (I believe) in Stonehaven itself. Hilary had swum in it as a child and remembered it was salt water and had a slide. By "salt" I had imagined heated seawater, but it was extra salty (you noticed the extra buoyancy, which while not up to Dead Sea levels meant that my feet kept breaking surface when I swam if I forgot to adjust). It also tasted despicable, like the stuff you drink to induce vomiting. Having jumped in and received a memorably unpleasant mouthful, I didn't feel inspired to attempt the slide and get another one, though the other Saunderses did. That and the fact that on a slide I resemble a speeded-up backwards film of a whale being winched aboard a factory ship. But mostly the salt.


Pleasant Italian meal (at La Mangiatoia in Ballater, all of a hundred metres from our flat) to round off the day.

Friday, August 12, 2005

On the topic of long dresses

(Now you just KNOW that Rob is on vacation!)

Following this comment from Croila about the Ophelia painting by JW Waterhouse, Jane, as ever, brings a wry smile to my face (I'm beginning to think of Jane as my real life supplier of Catherine Tate-like humour).

Should be repeated during every Edinburgh festival

I really need a new tape deck. I have just realised that without a decent one I cannot properly listen to the recording I made of the play by Christopher Brookmyre "Bampot Central" (first broadcast on The Wire for Radio 3 a couple of years ago). If this gets repeated again - or if the saints have any justice for us it gets released on CD - do listen to it. It's very funny in its sharp humour and a real antidote to the madness of the Edinburgh Festival.

You can read the short story by Brookmyre here (seven pages).

Oh yeah, and did I mention that Jack Parlabane is played by Dougie Henshall...?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Not quite me...

Hmm, Joe in Vegas seems to have rumbled me in the comments section of a previous post here.

Sadly, as I had to point out to a disappointed Norm of Normblog fame, with a couple of posts to prove it, I'm not Willow Rosenberg (or even Alyson Hannigan) though I was nicknamed Lisa Rullsenberg by my good friend George in honour of our joint passion for said character/actress [see my profile].

Sorry for any disappointment folks.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The best reason to go to The Barber Art Gallery, University of Birmingham

She's a dream. Elisabeth Vigee Le-Brun. "Countess Golovine."

A favourite picture

I know they can be rather twee, but I love the Pre-Raphelites. This is a favourite - one of the few I think that shows Ophelia as mad (rather than just wet).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Engineers in the spirit world

The IEE - Institute of Electrical Engineers (soon to be the Institution of Engineering and Technology) - has a magazine that comes out monthly. It's usually pretty unexciting to people like me, though occasionally the articles are just interesting enough to warrant reading over a grabbed cup of tea and toast for breakfast.

This month, however, the letters page offered this absolute gem.
Hi, Spirits!
As a spiritualist, I was most interested in the article 'Is Anybody Out There?' (IEE Review June 2005, p28). As an engineers, I was even more interested in the description of Noctovision, the invention commenced by John Logie Baird consisting of a combination of television and infra-red for communicating between those on the physical plane and those on the spiritual plane.
I am appealing to members to volunteer to continue to find a scientific proof to life after death by further development of Noctovision by working in their spare time. Although members will no doubt pursue their own individual lines of development, I will volunteer to act as a co-ordinator, and will periodically advise the team on progress and discoveries. Interested members may write to me at the address below.
[And the guy ACTUALLY gives an address!]

Now, far be it for me to say that spiritualism and engineering cannot logically co-exist in the same brain-space (PAH! at best, it's a bit hokey), but I found this letter fairly jaw-dropping and provoking at least a couple of thoughts.

(a) There is a lot of stuff out there on Noctovision, and I would suggest that at least a goodly proportion of these existing enthusiasts for it would qualify for membership of the IEE/IET or similar. (As the proposed name change makes more clear, the IEE in recent times has been as likely, if not more so, to include software engineers who barely know one end of an electrical wiring system from the complexities of a standard plug - such as Cloud - as it includes engineers responsible for electrical systems). The overlap of interests between techno geeks and those fascinated by the paranormal cannot be ignored.

(b) As a collarary, one then wonders why the letter sender wants to target themselves to members of the venerable IEE/IET? (I've not published their name and address here in case in assuming they aren't keen to spread the net to attract other experimenters). Does he (mistakenly?) believe that somehow their professional status and membership makes any research they conduct into this field more viable than that done by Mr Hokey of Hokeyborough who has spent much of his life experimenting and observing methods for contacting the dead and proving paranormal experiences?

I'm just saying...

A cute pic

Awh come on, you gotta like this...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Jane gets to the heart of jokes and reality

How we wish...

Best joke of the weekend: courtesy of Zadie Smith's "The Autograph Man"

Hi there folks! Rullsenberg here!

Well, I had a very nice weekend reading Zadie Smith's novel The Autograph Man in a spanky US hardback edition purchased from my good friends Fopp (purveyors of reduced price CDs and books).

I haven't read White Teeth, though I know every jack man and his donkey proclaimed it as the best novel ever when it came out, and again when it was dramatised on C4. But somehow reading The Autograph Man always appealed more to me. It's about collecting, the movies, and - best of all - Jewishness (a subject close to my intellectual heart after all my years with Peggy Guggenheim).

Anyway, as I say I spotted this hardback copy and once home with it I pretty much didn't stop till I finished it. Highly recommended.

But it also gave me the best laugh of the weekend, and though Cloud has a real penchant for Jewish jokes, even he hadn't read this particular varient:
The Joke about the Pope and the Chief Rabbi

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to leave Italy. There was, of course, a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He would have a religious debate with a leader of the Jewish community. If the Jewish leader won the debate, the Jews would be permitted to stay in Italy. If the Pope won, the Jews would have to leave.

The Jewish community met and picked an aged Rabbi, Moishe, to represent them in the debate. Rabbi Moishe, however, could not speak Latin, and the Pope could not speak Yiddish. So it was decided that this would be a 'silent' debate.

On the day of the great debate, the Pope and the Rabbi sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Rabbi Moishe looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waived his finger around his head. Rabbi Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope then brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine. Rabbi Moishe pulled out an apple. With that, the Pope stood up and said, "I concede the debate. This man has bested me. The Jews can stay."

Later, the cardinals gathered around the Pope, asking him what had happened. The Pope said, "First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us of our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"

Meanwhile, the Jewish community crowded around Rabbi Moishe, asking what happened. "Well," said Moishe, "first he said to me, 'You Jews have got three days to get out of here.' So I said to him, 'Not one of us is going to leave.' Then he tells me the whole city would be cleared of Jews. So I said to him, 'Listen here, Mr Pope, the Jews… we stay right here!"

"And then?" asked a woman.

"Who knows?" said Rabbi Moishe. "We broke for lunch."