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

Friday, September 30, 2005

"Tristan and Isolde" for Dummies

Act One

Seasickness, Bad Soup Day, unresolved chromaticism

Act Two

Lanterns, Bonking, Aide Named in Izzy's Bedroom Shocker - "The Drink Made Me Do It", unresolved chromaticism, etc

Act Three

Shepherd plays hot jazz, dead bloke, loud girl, ends in tears, PERFECT CADENCE. Yay!

Links on the chain

Thanks to Leesa for telling Norm about my Dylan post. The relevant page on normblog is well worth a visit, and as is so often the way, there's a great link on from there.

Honestly, links in blogs are like the bibliographies in books. You read a book, then want to read half the stuff in the bibliography, then you want to read stuff in their bibiographies... When I was studying for my MBA I had a course text on organisations, and before I knew where I was I was reading fascinating books about the Kent State shootings and what happens to people in cults when the expected flying saucer doesn't appear to take them away.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Eerily prescient

Reading about the Labour Party Conference brought to mind a song by the wonderful Leon Rosselson. He wrote it back in the 1960s, and I heard him do it in 1996 in the Festival Fringe. It seemed to have acquired a new relevance in the meantime, and it hasn't lost it since.

The Battle Hymn of the New Socialist Party
(Tune: "The Red Flag")

The cloth cap and the working class
As images are dated,
For we are Labour's avant-garde
And we were educated.
We feel we ought to drop Clause Four,
To make the public love us more;
And just to show we're still sincere
We sing The Red Flag once a year.

Firm principles and policies
Are open to objections,
And a streamlined party image is
The way to win elections.
So raise the red rose on high,
The well-cut suit, the tasteful tie.
We'll stand united, raise a cheer
And sing The Red Flag once a year.

It's one step forward, one step back:
Our dance is devilish daring.
A leftward shuffle, a rightward tack,
Then pause to take our bearings.
We'll reform the country bit by bit
So nobody will notice it,
Then ever after, never fear,
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year.

We shall not cease from mental fight
Till every wrong is righted,
And all men are equal quite,
And all our leaders knighted.
For we are sure if we persist
To make the New Year Honours List;
Then every loyal Labour peer
Will sing The Red Flag once a year.

So vote for us, and not for them,
We're just as true to NATO
And we'll be as calm and British when
We steer the ship of state-o.
We'll stand as firm as them ( * )
To show we're patriotic gentlemen. ( * )
Though man to man shall brothers be,
To keep the Bomb's our policy.

So raise the mushroom clouds on high,
Within their shade we'll live - and die.
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll sing The Red Flag once a year.

(*) These two lines are sung to the tune of
"Send her victorious, happy and glorious..."


In his novel Changing Places, David Lodge invents a game called "Humiliation", where players have to name some hugely famous book they've never read, and the winner is the one who provokes the most dropped jaws and "You mean you've never...." comments. It works with other categories, of course. For years I could truthfully say I'd never heard Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (I was 21 when I broke that duck).

So here are my submissions in various categories. Remember, these are ones I haven't read/seen:

Book: David Copperfield
Film: The Godfather
Play: As You Like It

Meanwhile, over on Guardian Unlimited, a similar game is taking place but with people listing the trashiest, most embarrassing book they have enjoyed reading and have read again or would read again. That was an easy one for me: Appassionata, by Jilly Cooper. (Thanks to Anna for the link.)

Then again, while in listing mood, I could list "Most Over-rated" things:

Book: Catch-22
Film: Shakespeare In Love
Rock Band: U2
Classical music: Schubert Symphony No 9

all of which I would cheerfully consign to Room 101.

So come on people. What are your embarrassing gaps? What do you consider hugely over-rated?

No surrender (of weapons)

This piece in the Guardian serves as a follow-up to my post of a couple of weeks ago. It’s nice to know I’m not alone on seeing the unionist terrorists and Paisleyite obstructionism as the main obstracles to progress in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

America, land of the (unintentionally) free

Leafing through ITNow, the British Computer Society's magazine, I noticed this (scroll down to the heading 'Inside track on the hack').

And it's true, because I just followed the link and tried it.

Don't you love it when attempts at censorship founder on technological ineptitude?

Not so much eye-catching as bowels-voiding

A quick scan of Blair's conference speech, setting out his policy aims. No question of him standing down, of course ("That's a long way in the future" according to Mrs B). No, it's more privatisation, more toadying to Bush, British trops staying in Iraq, more attacks on civil liberties at home. Choice. Globalisation. More "eye-catching initiatives" with which he can be "personally associated".

Today's Guardian has a good piece on what happened to one of these initiatives when it was no longer eye-catching enough.

So while we listen to the country's biggest waste of space since the Millennium Dome pontificating about the "patient courage of the change-maker", we can reassure ourselves that all the Tory nonsense he's spouting will be forgotten in a couple of years time. I only wish I thought the same were true of Blair himself.

R.I.P. Vassar Clements

I hadn't realised until a belated obituary appeared in today's Guardian that Vassar Clements had died a month ago. And I'd been thinking about him this week as well, probably a train of though sparked off by the Hayseed Dixie gig last week (q.v.) I encountered him in the classic manner via his recordings with The Nitty Gritty Dirt band, some of which I bought as a student. These included Will The Circle Be Unbroken, which really is an astonshing album.

Welcome news about Bush

Well, it would hardly be about Dubya, would it? Still alive, still President. No, I mean this from today's Guardian.

Funnily enough I was listening to "Hounds of Love" in the car this week, for the first time for a while. Quite apart from the great beauty of many of the tracks (especially "Under Ice and "Hello Earth") I was struck by how modern "Waking The Witch" sounded for something produced in, I think, 1985. Bjork, eat your heart out. I look forward unreservedly to the new album.

The bog in the blog (and named after a dog)

While browsing on the Guardian Unlimited blog I found a link to this. Self-warming seat, remote control, automatic sensors, and a built in bidet function.

Apparently it's "the essential element in the modern luxury bath". Personally, when I think "luxury bath" I think relaxing bath foam, I think good book, I think glass of chilled white wine. The last thing - trust me on this - I think is toilet pedestal. Even with a bidet function.

Thinking of the automatic sensors reminds me of when my then employers sent me and a colleague to Noida in India to work on a project. I was the technical leader and Gary was the project manager. The toilets in the office building in Noida had motion sensors*: you waved your hand and they flushed. Or, more precisely, you sat down on them and they flushed, at random intervals. Not one to have the serenity of my crap time messed with, I devised the expedient of blue-tacking a piece of paper over the sensor before taking my seat. Result: happiness. A few days later Gary was still moaning about the random flushing, so (for a very modest fee) I sold him my technical fix. Of course, the damned thing still flushed whenever the power came back on after a cut (roughly twice a day), but you had warning of that as the lights came back on first.

(* Titter ye not.....)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Who said Linux programming was a black art?

How to install Linux on a dead badger.

I like the disclaimers at the end best.

A welcome reappearance

Riverbend is back, which is good news, as I was starting to think something bad had happened to her. Apart from having her country invaded and trashed and being at constant risk of arbitrary arrest and torture, that is.

Several good posts including a couple on the new draft Iraqi constitution, but this seems as good a place as any to start.

Welcome back.

Appropriate? Inappropriate?

Enough is enough. Having been hit by comment spam within one minute of uploading my last two posts, I have decided to add word verification to my comments.

Though advertising a penis enlargement site on a post about Tristan and Isolde has something quite droll about it.

Little Bit Me, Little Bit You

While practising my music for Tristan (61 pages of it - see previous post) I realised that we have been provided with clean unmarked copies by the Breitkopf & Hartel hire library. This is quite unusual for a piece of music which (a) has been around a while and (b) probably only exists in a fairly small number of copies available to hire. Usually hired parts have some vestiges of previous use. People put useful markings on, and while the next user may take some of them off (fingerings, maybe, or bowings) others are likely to remain: warnings of the need for quick page turns; rings round indications for pizzicato (plucking) or putting mutes on or off; little notes at the top of a page showing how many bars rest were at the bottom of the preceding one (otherwise you turn the page and promptly lose count). If the part divides into multiple lines (so the players have to come to a decision as to who plays which) then by the time of performance the part may be criss-crossed with arrows making it clear which lines of music you have to play. Sometimes this is just normal paranoia, not wanting to leave anything to chance. Sometimes (the Danse Generale from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe) it’s absolutely essential because the way the parts divide changes so often (maybe twice in the space of one line) that working out on the fly which part you’re supposed to play is quite impossible.

And then of course, musicians (being musicians) add little pieces of themselves. Last year when we were doing Gotterdammerung we had parts which had past been used by (I think) Cologne Opera. What was uncanny was this: at various places during the music, you might think idly “I wonder how far we are from the end of the act”. And EVERY TIME you’d look, and at the top of the page, the page number had been amended to read “16 of 33” or whatever. It isn’t as though every page had been annotated: just the ones at the points where you asked yourself the question. Clearly amateurs in Edinburgh and professionals in Cologne have very similar thought processes.

Then you have the jokes. The very old, greying, much-pencilled-on-and-rubbed-out, creased and fraying part for something or other with “dry clean only: do not boil wash” written on it. The first violin part for Messaien’s “Turangalila” with “BLUFF THIS BIT” written across the top of one page. The cued-in (written in small notes to provide help in keeping track of where you are) alto soloist part in Mahler’s Third Symphony, where the original German lyrics “Oh Mensch!” (meaning “O Man!”) had been altered to “Oh Madge!” And, more involved but one of the best: the bassoon part for a violin concerto where there were a number of cued-in parts with notes like “If no cor anglais, second bassoon plays” or “If no third horn, second bassoon plays”. Under one of the cued-in bits of solo violin part someone had carefully added “If no solo violin, second bassoon plays”.
While brand-new parts are easy to read, there is a feeling of shared struggle and distant companionship that comes from a lived-in part. Rather like the Half-Blood Prince's copy of Advanced Potion-making.....

Is it that time already?

April may be the time when Chaucerian folk long to go on pilgrimages, but the end of September has become the time when a lot of Edinburgh orchestral players, to say nothing of a collection of singers from around the country, congregate in Portobello Town Hall to spend a weekend rehearsing a Wagner opera before giving an open rehearsal on the Sunday. This “open rehearsal” is what you might call a concert performance, if advertising it as that didn’t attract a higher rate of music hire. Over the last four years Edinburgh Players Opera Group has put on the four operas of Wagner’s Ring cycle. The only time in those four years we actually had to stop and restart on the final day (as though it really were a rehearsal in more than just name) was in Gotterdammerung, in the chorus of the Gibichung Vassals, where co-ordinating tempo changes with a big chorus as well as a massive orchestra proved non-trivial. Such audiences as we get (loyal work colleagues, family friends, etc) always enjoy the show, and of course the players and singers get a real buzz from it. Having said that, these weekends are as much of a feat of stamina as of sight-reading ability and quick learning.

This year we’re doing Tristan und Isolde, and from Friday lunchtime to Sunday tea-time we will be at the venue for 23.5 hours, of which about 5.5 will be meal and coffee breaks. So 18 hours solid playing: and for a string player like me that does mean pretty much playing without a break. It takes its toll on the muscles as well as the concentration. However, the feeling of achievement (in terms of both stamina and musicianship) is terrific.

Should anyone wish to see Elaine McKrill (Gutrune in Scottish Opera’s Ring) as Isolde, Jonathan Finney as Tristan and Neil Howlett as King Mark, the open rehearsal kicks off on Sunday 2 October at 1000 (and should end around 1815). Portobello is on the Firth of Forth, just East of Leith. Do come along and introduce yourselves (I will be the fat balding second violin, probably immediately behind the front row.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Only Sound That You Can Hear, After The Ambulances Go……

There is the teeniest tiniest chance that tomorrow night I shall make a fleeting appearance on television, though I may be hard pressed to spot myself. What it is, is that Martin Scorsese has made a documentary “No Direction Home” about Bob Dylan, specifically Dylan in the mid-1960s. This is being shown by the BBC (in the UK) and PBS (in the US) tonight and tomorrow night (“Arena” on BBC2, 21:00 both days). According to the reviews, the film includes previously-unseen footage of the famous incident in Manchester on Dylan’s 1966 UK tour, when a member of the audience yelled “Judas” at him during the electric half of the evening. Dylan responded with “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar”, and the exchange passed into music history. Well, Scorsese shows footage of the audience (some of whom stormed out when Dylan and The Band plugged in). And among that audience - though neither a stormer-out nor a Judas-shouter - was a wide-eyed ten-year-old with his nineteen-year-old Dylan-fanatic brother. In the stalls, just over halfway back, on (IIRC) the left looking from the stage. And that would be me.

I bought the CD of the concert when it came out a couple of years ago, and was pleased to find that I’d remembered most of the set list (actually surprisingly short - I’d been thinking I must have forgotten numbers but he didn’t do all that many). The ones that had stuck most in my memory were “Visions of Johanna” and “Just Like A Woman” (I was hearing both for the first time, like most if not all the audience) and “Like A Rolling Stone”. “She Belongs To Me”, the concert opener, was delivered with even more withering scorn than one might have expected, as though Dylan was turning his back on his older material before marching into the electric future. “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” I remember as being very loud indeed. And of course I remember the “Judas!” shout.

Andy Kershaw last night on Radio 3 devoted a whole programme to that shout (“Ghosts of Electricity”). I forgot to listen to it, but am relieved to see that it was in Kershaw’s usual slot, and that his shows are routinely available for a week on the Radio 3 website’s “Listen Again” facility, so I can remedy the oversight. Meanwhile, here is an article from the “Independent” in which Kershaw talks about making the programme. The bit that struck me was where Cordwell said that he didn’t hear Dylan’s response to his shout, and that the sound quality was bad. While it hadn’t occurred to me that the sound in general at the concert was bad, I do remember asking my brother Martin what Dylan had just fired back, because I couldn’t make it out. Martin thought he’d said “Uriah!”, presumably in acerbic Dylan you-call-me-a-Biblical-name-and-I’ll-throw-you-an-Old-Testament-reference style. It made a kind of sense: Uriah was sacrificed to expediency and fickle affection (King David arranged for him to die in battle so David could marry Mrs Uriah) , and I was a little disappointed in later years to discover that Dylan’s response had not in fact been a witty reference to the fickleness of his audience, but much more prosaic. (Same way I was mildly disappointed to find that Hendrix wasn’t singing “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”…..)

So. Enjoy the Andy Kershaw programme. Enjoy the Scorsese film. Enjoy the Manchester footage. I’ll let you know if I spot myself.

“…..is Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row.”

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

I am indebted (as so often) to Leesa for pointing me to Draic's blog, where I spotted this. I added a comment there so I'll just refer you to that for my thought on the poem.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Probably you all knew this anyway....

... but until the programme earlier in the week looking back at 50 years of ITV advertising, I hadn't realised that the man in the "Gold Blend" couple (you know, the ads that turned into a kind of mini-soap, starting with her borrowing some coffee from him, and ending with him proposing to her) - that he was played by Anthony Stewart Head, better known as Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Both actors were on the programme reminiscing, and wondering whether they should suggest a follow up with the pair as an old married couple.

Anthony Stewart Head clearly has a very good agent.

All things counter, original, spare, strange....

Well, I’ve just been to probably my best gig of 2005 (so far at least). Four guys playing the most incredible bluegrass: Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Duelling Banjos, the works. And of course they finished with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”.

Except they didn’t: that was their final encore. They actually finished with “Highway To Hell”, because this was Hayseed Dixie, the group whose Unique Selling Point is their cover versions of heavy metal classics. Yes, I know, the joke ought to wear thin after a couple of numbers, but it doesn’t, mostly because they do the covers with such utter panache that you stop thinking of them as jokes at all.

OK. Let’s back up and do the gig in order. It was at Studio 24, a small Edinburgh venue I hadn’t been to before but which seemed pretty well-organised. The support were Canadian, from Nova Scotia: Matt Mays and El Torpedo. They sound rather like Roger McGuinn, with the odd side order of Neil Young or Springsteen, and they were damned good. Put it this way, before posting this I ordered their CD from Amazon.

Hayseed Dixie (well, what else do you call a bluegrass outfit who started out doing AC/DC covers?) are technically hugely accomplished. They are a four-piece: Barly Scotch, aka John Wheeler (lead vocal/guitar/fiddle); Dale Wayne Reno (mandolin/guitar); Don Wayne Reno (banjo); Jason ? (bass). They make the bluegrass stuff sound effortless (for God’s sake, they start off “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” with the Reno brothers sharing the banjo (one hand each – something I haven’t seen since the Dubliners’ “Octopus Jig”). And they make the heavy metal sound as though playing it on a banjo is the most natural thing ever. When I first heard Bela Fleck I thought he sounded like the Hendrix of the banjo: I suppose that would make Don Wayne Reno its Jeff Beck. We got AC/DC (Highway To Hell, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Whole Lotta Rosie, Hell’s Bells) Queen (Fat Bottomed Girls) Sabbath (War Pigs), Motorhead (Ace of Spades). We had original numbers, some of them very funny (Keeping Your Poop In A Jar). And we had bluegrass classics done with a blistering nonchalance that would do Bill Keith proud.

Every night on the tour they also have an “Instant Song” slot, where they play something they’ve never played together before (hence, obviously, something different each night). Tonight Barly sprang “Eternal Flame” (the Atomic Kitten number) on them, much to the audience’s joy. I have to say they did it very well (though they ain’t as pretty as Kitten).

The other unexpected bonus was during the encores. Don broke a banjo string during “Duelling Banjos”, so while he changed it ready for “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, Barly and Dale did John Prine’s “Paradise”, which Barly described as his favourite song ever.

(An aside: I can never hear references to the Peabody Mining Corporation without thinking of the Prine song. Songs have to be one of the best ways of getting your retaliation in first with posterity. Who can hear the name William Zanzinger without “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” coming to mind? We remember the names of the “Mississippi Burning” murder victims because of Dylan’s “Oxford Town”. And so on. Mind you, Gore Vidal’s “Myron” technique runs a close second: censor all the rude words out of your story and replace them with the names of pro-censorship Supreme Court justices. Someone recalled it in The Guardian recently when Chief Justice Rehnquist -as in “Huge, throbbing Rehnquist” - died.)

Hayseed DIxie have become very popular in Britain, and have spent much of 2005 here. They are particularly fond of Edinburgh, and indeed named a piece (Blind Beggar Breakdown) after the pub where (they announced) they would be repairing after the gig to hang out with their fans, or just get drunk.

John Wheeler turns out (wonders of Google) to have a Ph D in philosophy (Kierkegaard mainly). Dale Wayne Reno and Don Wayne Reno really are brothers, and their dad was a Bill Monroe sideman credited with writing the tune that eventually became “Duelling Banjos”.

I’m just sorry not to have heard any of their Zeppelin or Darkness covers…..

Set list (not complete and definitely not in order)

War Pigs
Blind Beggar Breakdown
Hell’s Bells
Kirby Hill
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Moonshiner’s Daughter
Eternal Flame
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Fat Bottomed Girls
Whole Lotta Rosie
Ace of Spades
Corn Liquor
Walk This Way
I’m Keeping Your Poop In A Jar
Highway to Hell

Duelling Banjos
Will The Circle Be Unbroken

I shall make a point of trying to see them next time they return. Go, and do thou likewise.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why I like Anna's big sister Meg

The observant among you will have noticed meish.org in my blogroll. This is the blog of Meg Pickard, whose little sister is Anna of Little Red Boat. You may wonder why it's in my A-list blogroll rather than with the also-rans, given that Meg doesn't update it very often.

Well, every so often she posts something like this. That's why.

Why I like Stockhausen (now with extra anecdote)

This post is for anyone who may have been surprised to see Stockhausen’s Stimmung in my list of favourite music on my profile. I once read a review of a performance of Stimmung which said very little about the performance but spent half a column moaning about how nobody could possibly like such stuff, that surely the bubble had burst now and everyone realised it was just rubbish, that people just pretended to like it so as to appear clever, bla bla bla. (This was before the days of t’interwebthing, but it was William Kitching in the Stirling Observer reviewing Singcircle at Dunblane Cathedral).

OK, so let’s assume I’m not lying though my teeth so as to appear clever here. Why do I like Stockhausen? Well, the first thing to say is that, just as with Mozart or Brahms, I don’t “like Stockhausen” in the sense of thinking everything he wrote is god-breathed genius. I like some of his music, and I like some of it a lot. There is a lot of variety in his stuff, from little pieces for solo clarinet (Sei Wieder Froh) lasting under a minute and charming the socks off you, to 90-minute electronic scores and cycles of full-scale operas. There is a certain amount of gosh-isn’t-that-ingenious about some of it when you read the sleeve notes and see how it fits together, but much of the time I just enjoy wallowing in the sound. Rather like listening to Van Der Graaf Generator. Stimmung is still my favourite: it's based on vocal overtones (long before Huun-Huur-Tu and the rest made them a staple of world music) and improvised in performance by six singers from a set of rules and recipes. Attending a performance of it is like eavesdropping on a rather slick party game, or a musical version of Mornington Crescent.

But the quality above all that I find in Stockhausen’s music, and which keeps me coming back to it, is humour. People look at me oddly when I say that, and start to edge out of the room, but it’s true. How else do you describe someone who, in the middle of Stimmung, whose lyrics are mostly based on the names of deities from around the world, causes you suddenly to realise that one of the singers is chanting “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…”? (Yes, I know there’s a connection, but the incongruity is great fun. And a few minutes later a singer comes out with “The male is basically an ani-male…”. I mean, come ON.) How can you not warm to a man who can write an electronic piece (“Hymnen”) based on national anthems (funny enough in itself, you might think) with a section entitled "“Swamp Ducks Quack the Marseillaise”? (I'm not kidding.) And it’s catching: I once heard one of the more staid Radio 3 announcers describing what we were about to hear in a performance of “Kontakte” as including a part "sounding like a flock of circulating metal chickens". Perhaps he’d been watching the Clangers....

So next time some Stockhausen comes on the radio, give it a try. You might be surprised. And if you don’t like it, you can always tape it and use it to get rid of unwanted visitors.

P.S. After posting the above I remembered one of the best Stockhausen stories. The older (and British) among my readers may remember a duo "The Cambridge Buskers" from the 1980s. They did what it said on the tin: they were from Cambridge, and had started out as buskers, though they carved out a career for a while as concert artists. One played accordion, the other played assorted recorders, which were very versatile but suitably portable for busking. Basically they did arrangements of all kinds of classical music: symphonies, overtures, anything. Apparently once they were busking somewhere in Germany and Karlheinz Stockhausen spotted them . Not only did he give them some money, he went away and wrote a piece for them. They still occasionally did it on concert when I saw then (though sadly not the night we went). How cool is that?

Surprisingly, this post is still legal

Reading a review in last week's Guardian of Tricycle Theatre's play about the Saville Enquiry into the "Bloody Sunday" shooting in Derry in 1972, I became conscious of the familiar drone of Tony Blair on my television talking about the UN’s definition of terrorism (which the assembly had failed to agree on) as the "deliberate and unlawful targeting of civilians". And I thought, the Saville evidence definitely pointed toward deliberate targeting of civilians by the Parachute Regiment, which was, and is, is unlawful under the army’s rules. So? Is Charles Clarke going to make it an offence ("glorifying an act of terrorism") to claim that the Bloody Sunday dead were simply caught in crossfire? Or will Derry be one of his exceptions?

P.S. In view of the recent surge in Unionist violence against Catholic families, one has to ask how many tons of arms the IRA will have to have handed in or destroyed before the UDA and its clones decommission so much as a bullet. And what it will take to make Ian Paisley condemn Unionist terrorism with the vigour he deploys against the Republicans?

Not that the BBC is biased or anything, but when the IRA formally renounced the armed struggle recently there was much talk of how much the Republican movement had to do to show good faith, Hmmm. Which side has actually decommissioned some weapons? Which side is prepared to take part in a power-sharing assembly? And which side hasn’t, and isn’t?

I’d love to see a Northern Ireland Secretary with the balls to tell the DUP that fine, if they didn’t want to take part in the assembly it would just go ahead without them and they could explain to their electorate why they had allowed the province to be run by the republicans. I suspect they would suddenly find themselves miraculously capable of compromise. What we need, at least in terms of facing up to political opponents, is our own Ariel Sharon (though perhaps one without the baggage of war crimes indictments). Mo Mowlam might have been able to do it, but I don’t see anyone with that sort of courage left in the government.

I've got a brand new combine harvester

I was watching a programme on BBC4 last night about Bob Copper, famous folk singer and song collector from Rottingdean in Sussex. Bob was part of a large family of singers, and while I never saw him myself I did see his son John who came to our local folk festival at Poynton when I was in my teens. I always liked the Copper Family’s songs: I even sang some of them myself.
Watching the programme, which was originally put out to coincide with Bob’s getting an MBE but which became a posthumous tribute as he died before transmission, I was struck by one of Bob’s recollections of his father. Looking over Rottingdean back in the 1930s, at a time when to modern eyes it would scarcely have looked developed at all, he found the sight of “houses, houses, houses” left him “prostrate with dismal”. Quite apart from the wonderful way it’s put, it reminded me that every generation thinks of itself as the last remnant of a vanished way of life. We think of the pace of technical and social change as accelerating, but actually it’s always been moving at a fair clip. Today it’s iPods, mobile phones and the Internet. In my childhood it was transistor radios, television and direct dial telephones. Our grandchildren will look back nostalgically on our quaint old-fashioned ways, probably in very similar terms to those we use now about life fifty years ago. The more it changes, the more it stays the same.
Another thing that struck me in the programme was when they were talking about some of the, um, earthier songs they used to sing down the pub. Someone sang, by way of an example, what was clearly a variant of The Threshing Machine which I think of a a “rugby song”. This is the one with the chorus that goes “I ‘ad ‘er, I ‘ad ‘er, I ‘ad ‘er, I ay….”. Now it may be an urban myth (though perhaps rural myth would be nearer the mark) but I have often heard it said that that “I ‘ad ‘er” chorus was created by Peter Sellers for his Suddenly It’s Folk Song spoof back in the sixties (on the same recoird that gave us “Bal-ham, Gateway to the South”). It seems likely that Sellers contributed to the spread of the meme, but does anyone have a confirmed sighting (as it were) of those lyrics before the early sixties? (The Sellers version of course goes completely over the top with lustful enthusiasm.)

Well what a surprise

Coming after the recent ruling that Arab Israelis by definition couldn’t be victims of terrorism, this is hardly a shock. How glad they must be to live in the region’s only working democracy, even if it puts them on a legal par with livestock.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I could eat a horse (though a zebra would be even better)

This site is wonderful.

I think it's a joke....

With these recipes I hope it's a joke....

Someone ought to tell Zoe's Quarsan (seem to remember his sense of humour runs somewhat along the same lines).

TT : "Sproglet - zebra! They are really good to eat."
SP : "Wha' ?"
TT : "Oh, and look at those buffalo. Now they are great on a BBQ."
SP : "You ate those animals ?"
TT : "All the time. Look - ostriches - you can get ostrich meat at the supermarket - it's great. Actually, you can also buy crocodile meat, gazelle, kangaroo and antelope. Remember those brochettes we had the other day ? That was ostrich meat."
SP : "Stop teasing me."
TT : "I'm not, ask your mum. Ooooo, bison. Now they are delicious. You know Sproglet, it's like coming into a restaurant here."
SP : "Mama ...."

I especially like the parakeet T-shirt ("The perfect replacement for Squab or Cornish Game Hen at weddings on a budget").


The comments thread for this post on Little Red Boat turns into an exchange about cyclists running red light sand riding on the pavement, so of course I was in there like Batman, defending the noble pedestrian against the two-wheeled demon. Or something. You may enjoy it (not just for my bits, either).

The original post is pretty funny too.

Masters of their Kraft

Tonight I trailed through to Glasgow Barrowlands to see Super Furry Animals. First of course there was the support band, another Welsh bunch called El Goodo. I was beginning to think they weren’t baddo, vaguely Yardbirds-sounding much of the time, doing shortish R & B numbers, Then their final one was a sort of sub-Barrett-era-Floyd epic that lasted twelve interminable minutes, five of them merely repeating three chord wordlessly and pointlessly, with no melodic line at all. Thumbs down, then.

SFA themselves however did not disappoint. They entered in a golf cart, wearing fluorescent- green-flecked hoodies. (What is it about Barrowlands and stage clothes? Last gig I went to there was the Beta Band, who came on wearing silver spacesuits.) About half a minute into their opener there was a technical glitch of some kind and everything stopped, whereupon Gruff Rhys simply launched into "Fire In My Heart”, just him and the bassist. If it was planned that way it was brilliant; if not, it was inspired, and the audience loved it. The band did the whole of Love Kraft and seemed to be reproducing the sound of the record, which is OK but a rather soul-less way to approach a live gig. However, they loosened up when they moved onto their back catalogue and by the time they reached “Rings Around The World” they were crackling. By the final "Man Don’t Give a Fuck" the place was seriously rocking.

The audience were enthusiastic, even though a lot of them were clearly more concerned with seeing their mates and being seen, and getting hammered, and texting, than listening to SFA. Whatever. The Furries, though, were loud enough to cut through any conversation on earth; it’s the first time for a while I’ve come out of a gig with impaired hearing. And there were plenty of die-hard SFA fans in there.

I can’t give a set list in order, didn’t know everything they did, and have undoubtedly missed stuff, but apart from Love Kraft they did

Receptacle for the Respectable
Juxtaposed With U
Rings Around The World
Fire In My Heart
Hello Sunshine
Run Christian Run!
Man Don’t Give A Fuck

According to a review I read of their Bridgwater set list they also did Ice Hockey Hair, which I don’t know (it was a single a while back.) No doubt Mike will do a supremely professional review over on Troubled Diva. Meanwhile, this amateur thought it was well worth the trip through to Glasgow (and coming out stinking of stale cigarette smoke) for.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A question

I know a lot of my readers have read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (and if you haven't, but are intending to, be warned there are spoilers ahead). Obviously by the time you reach the end there are all kinds of unresolved questions regarding Snape, Dumbledore, horcruxes and so on. My question (and I know it's a live topic out there on bulletin boards) is: if Harry's "borrowed" copy of Advanced Potion-Making is fifty years old, how can Snape be the half-blood prince? Clearly, unless he got hold of the phrase via legilimency from Harry, the fact that Snape refers to himself as the HPB implies that he has been the owner of the book, since Harry has only mentioned it to Ron and Hermione. But he can't have been the original owner, and he would hardly have taken over a tatty old copy (rather than buying a new one) unless there was a reason to do so. J K Rowling has stated that Voldemort is not the HPB, but could Voldemort have been the book's original owner and annotator, with Snape simply getting hold of it somehow and adding the HPB label? The style of the comments, the nature of the Sectumsempra curse - all could as easily be Voldemort's as Snape's, and we know Voldemort's a dab hand at potions (just think of the spectacular one that Dumbledore is forced to drink). The book is hidden in the Room of Requirement, and I suspect it has a part to play in book 7.

Other hot topics out there: is Harry (specifically, his scar) the sixth horcrux, created involuntarily during Voldemort's failed murder attempt? Is Dumbledore really dead, or an animagus taking the form of a phoenix? Can we infer Snape's underlying goodness from the fact that not only does he not kill Harry when they are fighting at the end of the book, but he also protects him from serious hurt (and while Voldemort wants him alive, he surely doesn't need him unhurt) ? My favourite slightly wacky idea is the suggestion that Snape's hatred of Harry parents is fuelled by his having been in love with Lily himself. Um, right....

My favourite moment: the bit with Fudge, the Prime Minister, and the teacup.

I'm fairly certain that in book seven we will see Peter Pettigrew 'doing a Gollum' and assisting in Voldemort's downfall in some way (remember Dumbledore stressing the bond that Harry's mercy towards Pettigrew had created, in POA). Snape will turn out to have been Dumbledore's man all along, and if D's death is real then it will have been planned (I've seen it suggested that Snape and Dumbledore had made an Unbreakable Vow, which would certainly explain the latter's unshakeable faith in the former).

What say you?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Genuinely LOL funny

Having finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday, today I dug out a library book for light relief. While I was doing my emails, my wife found it and the gales of laughter were considerable. Then my daughter grabbed it, to similar effect. I think we are going to buy this book.

So what so greatly amused us all? This. If you've ever read a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet guidebook to an exotic place you'll appreciate this parody, from the team responsible for one of the Saunders family's favourite comedy films.

To pick samples of a couple of the restaurant reviews:

In addition to hearty stews you'll often be served a side dish of hearty tsalusky noodles, which are similar to Italian 'gnocchi' or German 'spaetzle' except for the fact they're hallucinogenic.


Here diners can select their meal from a large tank near the door, which is great for fish lovers but not so good of you're planning to have steak.

Or how about:

For the stressed-out traveller, consider booking a room at Club Spza, a funky new boutique hotel with an emphasis on relaxation. In addition to hot tubs and sauna rooms, a full range of services are offered, including remedial (non-sexual), deep tissue (non-sexual), sports injury (non-sexual) and erotic double lesbian topless (non-sexual).


The other guy's blog is always more fascinating, innit?

In the car on the way to Ballater I was describing Defective Yeti's posts on playing The Game to my daughter, and she thought it sounded really cool. Not just me, then. Go look. It reminded me rather of Larry Niven's Dream Park, which I read in my younger days....

Move along, nothing to see here, go read this guy instead

I've been up in Ballater again, this time for a friend's fiftieth birthday. All very pleasant and not very blogworthy, though I finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Meanwhile, over on Diamond Geezer's blog I see he spent the whole of August following the course of the Fleet river, which flows mostly underground in London. I have long been fascinated by London's underground rivers. On my first ever trip to London (aged ten) I stayed with relatives in Chelsea so spent a lot of time at Sloane Square tube station. Somewhere in a guide book I read that the large grey pipe which bridges the track at the station contained a river (I think the guide said it was the Fleet, though subsequent enquiry plus a little basic geography tells me it was actually the Westbourne). It caught my imagination, that a river might be flowing in a pipe over my head. As an adult, I moved to London and read The Lost Rivers Of London by Nicholas Barton, which only added to the fascination.

Anyway, here is Diamond Geezer's trail. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This one shouldn't come as a surprise.

Sorry to quote a string of Guardian articles tonight, but it seems to have been a good day. This caught my eye, and I especially wondered why the tone of the article was that the report's findings were surprising. (More detail on the Chernobyl Forum report here.) After all, it's nearly five years since UNSCEAR finally demolished the myth, heavily promoted over the years by Greenpeace among others, that thousands of people had died as a result of the accident.

Regarding the 4,000 people who could die in future from the effects of Chernobyl, these are mostly children with (admittedly unpleasant) thyroid cancer. However, thyroid cancer responds to treatment in 90-95% of cases, so even though these kids face a life of medication, most of them won't die before their time. Though yes, they could.

Make no mistake, Chernobyl was a disgrace. But the Indonesian plane crash yesterday killed three times as many people. Will people still be discussing the Medan tragedy in twenty years time?

Live8, G8, prevaric8, defec8

This by George Monbiot, also in the Guardian, may seem a bit harsh but I think he has a point. Even at the time, when Geldof gave the G8 10/10 for aid and 8/10 for debt, I though his marks were evidence of lowered standards. More like 8/10 for aid and 4/10 for debt, I thought. As it turns out, though, the whole thing was pretty much a con. I'm not sure I agree with Monbiot and the people he quotes that Geldof was just in it to fuel his ego, but I do think he was taken for a ride.

What is typical though is that all the media interest died down immediately after the concerts (helped by the distraction of the London bombings) so nobody knew or cared that the much-trumpeted package was coming unwrapped. I hadn't even realised that the aid figures included the amounts for debt relief. So much for Gordon Brown the honest alternative to Tony Blair. Aye, right.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Clear and present unarmed civilians

When I read this in the Guardian I thought it should be made required reading for the dozens of people I've encountered whose response to any criticism of killings of civilians by the IDF is "Ah, but the difference between the IDF and the terrorists is that the IDF doesn't deliberately target innocent civilians, and suicide bombers do." Well, there are various differences between an IDF member and a Hamas suicide bomber, but that ain't one. And though I have long known that to be the case, and indeed known that members (or ex-members) of the IDF had the courage to protest about it, it's nice to have the evidence conveniently collected to save on Googling.

Perhaps in the same way that Germany has made it a criminal offence to deny that the Holocaust took place, we should make it a criminal offence to deny that the IDF ever intentionally kills unarmed civilians. Then we can get on with debating the real issues about the occupation, terrorism, withdrawal, road maps for peace, etc, while the nutters mumble at each other in jail.

Strike a chord with any chemistry graduates?

Thinking of my student chemistry days, definitely the funniest thing we had to learn was in third year inorganic practicals, where we learned to use a glove box. This is for handling non-volatile but air- or water-sensitive substances, and is a sealed nitrogen-filled box with a window and two arm-length rubber gloves built into the front. The nitrogen supply is dried by bubbling it through sulphuric acid.

So. You approach this thing, whose internal pressure is slightly above atmospheric, and whose twin black gloves are therefore waving at you, giving it the appearance of a cross between an inflatable doll and one of the drones from Silent Running. You patiently (over several minutes) work the fingers of one hand into an (inside-out) inflated glove, and eventually get them all in (the thumb was a bitch IIRC). Sighing with relief, you shove your arm ino the box, whereupon the enormous resulting increase in internal pressure bursts all the seals on the sulphuric acid bottles, spilling acid and potentially opening the box up to the outside air. You frantically drag yourself out of the box and reassamble the nitrogen line, then have to wait for ten minutes for the pressure to build up again (putting on the gloves when deflated is even harder as they just stick to you). Again. Push fingers and the bloody thumb into the glove. Push the arm oh-s0-carefully into the box. Yay. Then try to put the other hand (and the other m*therf*cking thumb) into its glove without the benefit of a spare hand to help you. Then (c*a*r*e*f*u*l*l*y) push that arm in. Now you can start your lab work for the day. Of course, whenever you want to scratch an itch, take a leak, write something down (unless you've been smart enough to shove a pen and paper inside!) or move anything in or out through the airlocks, you have to repeat the entire rigmarole.

Meanwhile, the rest of the lab group are getting no work done because they are all far too busy laughing their asses off. Yes, including you, Professor Catherine Housecroft.

However. You don't forget how it's done. Like riding a bicycle, or taking a dump in free fall (or so I'm told...).

Third-class citizen and proud of it.

From Mimi In NY (post of 30 August)

Ady and I sat in Slate, voices echoing emptily in the bar as we sipped Sam Adams and talked life. He got a third from Cambridge. That's the lowest grade you can get without failing. It's an impressive achievement, to have garnered so little knowledge that you hover on the brink between pass and fail. All the best people get thirds. The ones in between tried and didn't make it. The ones who got firsts, like me, just worked too damned hard and forgot how to have fun. It makes me like Ady immensely.

As the proud possessor of a third (in Chemistry) from Durham University (the one in England, not the one in North Carolina), it makes me like Mimi immensely.

I have always treasured Jasper Ryder's advice to his cousin Charles in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited [Oxford don't award fourths any more so thirds would be the present day equivalent, though a little more demanding]:

"You want either a First or a Fourth. There is no value in anything in between. Time spent on a good second is time thrown away."

And it's true enough. I still remember more chemistry after 29 years than some people with better - and more recent - degrees that I've spoken to; and it was one of my extra-curricular activities (a burgeoning interest in computers) that led me into my eventual career.

Of course, as Jasper said, a first is OK too. There were four of them in chemistry in my year. Three I've lost track of, but Catherine is clearly demonstrating that her time at Durham wasn't thrown away!

BWAHAHAHA! Oh, how I wish I'd thought of this.

Can't wait to see this being taught in American schools....


Friday, September 02, 2005

But will they sell off the old stock?

I know these days people complain that libraries are less and less about taking out books and more about providing internet services, CDs, magazines etc, but we have some way to go before our libraries offer this. Once again the Dutch steal a march on us.

Leaving aside the obvious jokes ("I'd like to reserve a woman who likes taking off her clothes in public, please") it actually seems quite an interesting and potentially educational idea. However, not invented here, so no British local authority is ever likely to try it.

Dutch National Ballet

My last review from the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, and it's another goodie.

Dutch National Ballet (who turn out to have been founded only in 1961 - how surprising) are here with a triple bill:

La Valse (Balanchine)

Ravel's music and Balanchine's choreography are a perfect match. The first part of the ballet is set to the Valses Nobles et Sentimentales; very clever, very beautiful, all duos and trios, The second half is set to La Valse, which is a fairly off-beat take on the waltz to begin with. It's set in a ballroom, where among all the dancing suddenly Death appears, paralyses all except one ballerina, forces her to dance, dresses her all in black, and then kills her. The final bars are a sort of crazed funeral ritual for her.

Grey Area (David Dawson)

Weird electronic score which turns out to be heavily-modified Bach. So heavily modified that it sounded more like Reich with microtones. A very abstract style of choreography too, though I suspect quite individualistic. Put it this way, you wouldn't mistake this for Mark Morris. Some amazing dancing, and a Japanese principal who can hardly have been five feet tall. Three women, two men. Women clad in bras, pants and skimpy tops. It had never been brought home to me so much that as well as shapely legs, ballerinas have well-developed bottoms, because of all those muscles. Maybe the tutus hide it. Anyway, three splendid female butts, dancing their, er, asses off. (I make no comment on the male butts, being boringly hetero, though they danced theirs off as well.) The best kind of modern dance, and by a Brit!

The Concert (Jerome Robbins)

This is why I came tonight: I'd seen the Royal Ballet doing it about 20 years back, with sets by Edward Gorey. This ballet is laugh-out-loud funny. Really. Your granny or next-door-neighbour who doesn't like ballet would be doubled up by this. It's also notoriously difficult to dance (mind you, all the ballerinas have to be carted on and off like furniture in one scene, which can't make it easy). There is a scene with a group of ballerinas who keep getting out of step and making little -but noticeable - corrections. One dancer remains perched in space when a chair is taken from under her. There is comic business with hats and umbrellas. If only there were a DVD of it available. I could watch it over and over, and so I suspect could a lot of my friends. IF ANY OF YOU GET THE CHANCE, SEE THIS BALLET. Really. The only ballet with a comparable place in my heart is Maurice Bejart's Ring Um Den Ring, and that is the whole Ring cycle done as dance. It also has about eight times the run-time. Seriously: see The Concert.

This is getting to be a habit

Twice in three weeks, I have to say something grudgingly nice about Ariel Sharon.

Twice I have to say that compared with the rest of the Israeli government he’s a moral giant. First the Gaza pull-out, now this. Sharon is known for calling a spade a spade, and a terrorist a terrorist. And Eden Nathan Zaada was indeed a “bloodthirsty terrorist” on account of, you know, the machine-gunning of a busload of people. However, for the Israeli Defence Ministry, that can’t be right because he was a Jew, and only enemies of Israel can be terrorists. And anyway, the "people" were just Palestinians, so what's THAT all about?

Please remember that next time a “Friend Of Israel” complains that we in Europe apply double standards when condemning killings by the IDF and killings by Palestinian suicide bombers.

You might also remember it when (particularly American) “Friends of Israel” go on about Israel being the region’s only functioning democracy, and about how its Arab citizens have full civil rights. Last time I had one of those I shut him up by quoting him this, after which he went all quiet. (Scan for "Arab" if you want to see the fun bits.)

Actually none of it's much fun. Try this from an impeccably pro-Israeli source if you want some equally uplifting reading.

Now tell me. If the US State Department is coming up, year after year, with reports like this, why do so many people in that same US government try to kid us that everything is OK (a) for Arabs in Israel (b) in the Occupied Territories? Read my lips: the guys out here who want to see Israel destroyed don't care about the civil rights of Israeli Arabs or anyone else. The rest of us would prefer not to be lied to, OK?

Bottom line: if you want Israel to be a state just for Jews, where other religious groups (or atheists) can go take a hike, fair enough. Just leave that word "democracy" in the cloakroom on the way in, guys, OK? Because you won't be needing it.

And finally: two cheers for Ariel Sharon for being better than this.

And while we’re on the subject

….let’s not forget the 700+ Iraqi pilgrims killed in the Baghdad stampede. Or the families grieving one year on from the Beslan siege.

If life’s a bitch, and then you die, then I ask my readers to be quietly thankful that for them, right now, it’s just being a bitch. And not as much a bitch as for some.

Crying Won’t Help You, Praying Won’t Do You No Good

… but if the thoughts of this blogger are of any help, you guys in Louisiana, Mississippi and all the other states dumped on by Hurricane Katrina have them.

I’m not saying we’d do any better in Britain, unused as we are to major natural disasters, but it does seem that the US Government has screwed this one up bigtime in terms of being prepared and effective.

According to the news, Fats Domino is currently one of the missing. I hadn’t realised he was still alive. Hope he still is.

Hang in there, America.