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, January 30, 2008

Chinoise béribéri goutte, forsooth

That previous post reminded me of the words by Swansea poet Nigel Jenkins which one can sing at rugby matches to make it look as though one knows the Welsh national anthem:

My hen laid a haddock, one hand oiled a flea,
Glad farts and centurions threw dogs in the sea,
I could stew a hare here and brandish Dan's flan,
Don's ruddy bog's blocked up with sand.
Dad! Dad! Why don't you oil Auntie Glad?
Can whores appear in beer bottle pies,
O butter the hens as they fly!

Then there is the wonderful "d'Antin Manuscript" by Luis d'Antin van Rooten, aka "Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Râmes" . This is supposedly a collection of medieval French lays, which just happen, when read aloud, to sound like English nursery rhymes. A few good ones are linked here. The funniest thing is the deadpan footnotes.

My personal favourite (not available at the link) is

Amboise élite gueule, chic à d'élite écoeure-le
Ratine démis de l'eau va fort raide.
Oing chinoise goutte, chinoise béribéri goutte
Beau douane chinoise batte, j'y vais au rides

1. The poet reveals his feelings quite clearly anent the élite. He finds their elegance disgusting and their red clothing with a high nap stiff and uncomfortable. Their taste for Oriental ointments, fancied exotic maladies and childish attempts to smuggle their purchases makes him grow old before his time. The high moral tone of these fragments precludes the assumption that it might be just envy.

Compare Horace's "Persicos odi, puer, apparatus........."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The joy of left hand love

I'm sorry... I just encountered this via Jocelyns's blog and I nearly died laughing.

For the obsessives among you who didn't grow up with that hynn book and will be forever bugged by just what those folk thought they were singing, here, courtesy of a commenter on the Youtube post, is a more conventional transcription. (Bo-ring.)

Blessèd city, heavenly Salem,
Vision dear of peace and love,
Who of living stones are builded
Art the joy of Heav'n above,
And, with angel cohorts circled,
As a bride to earth dost move.

From celestial realms descending,
Bridal glory round her shed,
To his presence, decked with jewels,
By her Lord shall she be led;
All her streets, and all her bulwarks,
Of pure gold are fashionèd.

But, but, but...no Richard Gere! No espressos! No dead sheep!

"Not only is the world stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine" (Sir Arthur Eddington)*

An interesting article on synaesthesia, including a description of a colour-blind synaesthete (via).

*Re the Eddington quote, there seems to be dispute over whether he really said it. However, as this site demonstrates, he said and wrote a great number of splendid things. Not sure whether my favourite is

It is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory.


We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about 'and'.

His most famous line though, is surely:

"If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters, they might write all the books in the British Museum".

Stop press:

Oooh, oooh, oooh! Lookit! David Tennant and Andy Serkis! Together!

What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?

A drummer, of course. Here, though, is a drummer joke I hadn't heard before, courtesy of Jocelyn at 2nd Altos Like The Bottom Parts:

A drummer goes into a library. "Have you got any drumsticks?" he asks the librarian. "This is a LIBRARY!" says the librarian. "Oh, I'm sorry," says the drummer. "Have you got any drumsticks?" he whispers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fan Club - I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

I have described I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts) elsewhere as my favourite musical. It's probably time to give a few demonstrations of just why. You can find other clips on YouTube, or of course you can buy the soundtrack or go and see it if it comes to your town.

OK. The piece is more properly a revue rather than a musical: a series of sung sketches with spoken preambles, on the theme of relations between men and women. It has a cast of four (two men, two women) accompanied by piano and violin.

Prologue/Cantata for a First Date - setting the scene

Lasagna Incident/I Will Be Loved Tonight - one of my favourite songs, and a very funny preamble. This one shows the marvellous way that this musical, like all the best ones, can move you in all kinds of different ways.

Satisfaction Guaranteed - funnily enough, my teenaged son's favourite number.

Always A Bridesmaid - another terrific song, and my wife's favourite.

Tear Jerk - my favourite, though it always cracks Hilary up too. I dare any guy out there to say there's no truth in this one....... (OK, so the first film I ever took a girl to see - in March 1970 IIRC - was "Where Eagles Dare". What?)

Marriage Tango - I defy anyone to say here's no truth in this one. (Especially the "bribing the children" bit.)

This must have been a great production!

Picture of Matchstick Man

You have to love this guy, pictured at an anti-war protest in San Francisco last October.(Via)

Not so much "Screw your courage to the sticking place" as "screw your sign to the stick".

Or perhaps it was a post-modern comment on the inarticulacy of the modern Left.

Or perhaps, in the same way that "A cigar is sometimes just a cigar" (S.Freud), we should recall that a stick is sometimes just a stick.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to make your goalkeeper feel like a prick

Memo to Sven Goran Eriksson: letting your fans cover the pitch with balloons is not a great idea.

Here's why. (Watch video here.)

Holocaust remembrance is for life, not just for January 27th

More on Holocaust Memorial Day here.

Here is a perspective on the Holocaust that simply hadn't occurred to me.

And here is another, particularly apt at present:

Let us indeed condemn without reserve "all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur".

Another one bites the dust?

I note that the Kesher Talk Zionist fringe blog which made me so very welcome [/irony] seems to be operating without its liar-in-chief these days. Of the blog members, Cinnamon Stillwell and Benjamin Kerstein long ago forsook it to peddle their hatred and ignorance elsewhere, and "Alcibiades" seems to have simply become bored with being a shill for war criminals. But for the last three months, even founder member and Holocaust denier Judith Weiss (if accepting it happened but quibbling about the numbers makes David Irving a Holocaust denier, then Ms 5.4 million is absolutely a Holocaust denier) has been conspicuous by her absence. Not missed, oh dear me no, though leaving the blog in the hands of the oh-so-funny [/irony] humorist Van wasn't a clever move. Not even a post from the usually sane Asher Abrams has succeeded in raising the interest level of the site now above that of a dull teenager's Facebook profile. At least Judith, as well as sometimes posting interesting musical links, could be relied upon for a good apologia for terrorist bombing: the King David Hotel wasn't terrorism, apparently, because the Zionists gave a warning (ineffective of course). The IDF never planted bombs outside schools, except when they did; and when I reminded her about Baruch Goldstein's machine-gunning of a mosque congregation, first she called me an anti-Semitic liar and when I linked to the news report she went very quiet (but didn't of course apologise, because she's an immoral fool as well as an ignorant one). A nuclear attack on Israel would be "genocide", while one on Iran would be "defending against attempted genocide". Of course, if you read the "King David Hotel" link above you'll see that she openly rates the life of a non-Jew at one-tenth of the value of that of a Jew.

And this sad, friendless piece of offal describes me as "a very nasty individual with a thin veneer of mock-decency and a sorry excuse for a moral sense totally unmoored from reality"? I'll take that as a sign that I'm doing something right, then.

If she's still alive, I hope she stays off the blogosphere: it's better without her. If she isn't, does anyone actually care?


Sadly, Judith Weiss is still about, and threatening to start posting regularly again. I had hoped that she'd died of a broken heart when her favourite corrupt incompetent Rudy Giuliani realised that he was no better at running a campaign than a city, but no, she's off pimping for John McCain (and moaning about Democrat vote-rigging in NYC, naturally). A revealing Judith quote though: "Jimmy Carter only served one term and we are still trying to clean up the messes he made". Now Judith claims to have been a left-leaning liberal Democrat Clinton supporter until 9/11 (yawn) opened her eyes to something or other (insert wild-eyed rant du jour). O...K..... Now I'm not sure what the voting age was in the US back in the 1970s, so Judith may have been too young to have voted for Jimmy Carter when he was elected. But she would certainly have been old enough to have voted for him against Reagan, and if her views are as she represents them she would have undoubtedly done so. In which case to complain about the "messes" left by a president she supported would be hypocrisy of a very high order. Of course, she may simply be lying about the whole "I was a liberal who saw the light" 9/11 rubbish. Either way, she's a liar or a hypocrite (or both). Well, knock me down with a feather if I ever would have suspected it.

Apparently blogging keeps the lady from her Hebrew lessons. Well don't let it do that, Judith: you spend as much time as you want on those, dear, and don't hurry back. I can only hope that she's intending to emigrate to Israel, whose loss will be America's gain if she does.

Get well soon, Les Barker

Some of you may have recognised the perpetrator of Deja Vu (or the beginning thereof) in the last post as Les Barker. In which case you will be interested in this.

What's it doing in the middle of a sheep paddock?

Reading this report on NASA's reliance on an Australian receiving station to obtain the data downloads of Mercury images from its Messenger spacecraft, I felt a certain deja vu*. And when I got to the bit where an Australian storm nearly wrecked everything, I had a second deja vu (as it were). Of The Dish, of course.

(* A rhyme)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Norman Finkelstein, Edinburgh University, 25 January 2008

Well, I went along to see the great man, and duly got to shake his hand and get my copy of The Holocaust Industry signed. He arrived late because of a delayed flight, and then spoke for around 100 minutes ("not quite Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro but long enough") without notes and with no hesitation, repetition or deviation. An impressive piece of oratory, though memorable more for what he said than how he said it. His talk Palestine's Occupation: Roots of Conflict, Prospects for Peace was extremely interesting and well-constructed. Prof. Finkelstein's basic premise was that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not, as one so often hears, hugely complex and involved, but fairly simple and straightforward, so that there is essentially no disagreement on the facts of the matter whether one considers the history of the conflict, the preset human rights situation or the possible outcomes of the "peace process". On the matter of Palestine he kept returning to the generally agreed facts of the matter, though he did indulge himself a little when he came to discuss Alan Dershowitz's book The Case For Israel. It is because of Prof. Finkelstein's debunking of this book that Dershowitz launched a vendetta against him with a view to denying him academic tenure at St Paul University. (He was successful, but one suspects it was a Pyrrhic victory. ) Tonight he mentioned that "critics of the book are divided into those who believe the falsehoods in the book begin with the first page of the text and continue to the last one....(pause for sip of water)....and those like myself who believe they begin with the first name of the author on the cover." One of his main criticisms, you see, is that Dershowitz's book was plagiarised.

A few points that will stay with me. Discussing the degree of international unanimity concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, he points out that every year since 1968 the General Assembly of the UN has passed a resolution calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The way this is to be accomplished is not rocket science, but (1) withdrawal of Israel to its legal borders (2) dismantling of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (3) the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem (4) a just and equitable settlement of the refugee question in line with UN resolution 194. These resolutions have been passed with opposition from between 2 to 7 nations, always including Israel and the USA and otherwise comprising only tiny islands. There is, as he pointed out, pretty unanimous international agreement as to how the conflict can and one day will be ended.

Then again, the International Court of Justice, the world's highest legal authority, was recently asked to rule on the legality of the "Separation Wall" built by Israel on Palestinian land. By 14 votes to 1, it declared the wall illegal and required its removal and the payment of compensation to those Palestinians affected by it. But in order to reach this judgement, the ICJ had to consider the preliminary legal questions (1) what are the legal borders of Israel? (2) what is the legal status of East Jerusalem and (3) what is the legal status of the Israeli settlements in the OPT? the answers were (1) the recognised 1967 borders (2) Israel has no title to East Jerusalem and must withdraw from it (3) the settlements are illegal and Israel must remove them. Interestingly, one of the 14 majority judges was a British Jew. Even more interesting, the dissenting judge (the US one) wrote a "declaration" (less strong than a "dissent") to accompany the judgement. (Incidentally, judgements often run to thousands of pages: this one was just over a hundred, because the legal case was so uncontroversial.) In his declaration, the American judge stated that the settlements were definitely illegal (so the vote was efectively 15-0 on that count) and that insofar as the Separation Wall had been built to protect the settlements, then it too was illegal.

Prof Finkelstein asked for a show of hands of audience members who had heard of the Balfour Declaration; then of those who had heard of the UN Resolution calling for the partition of Palestine and the establishment of Israel. The he asked who had heard of the ICJ ruling. Far fewer people had Yet, as he said, to the Palestinians this is a Balfour Declaration and a Partition Resolution rolled into one; except that nobody knows about it.

One of the most interesting points came in answer to a questioner who wanted to know why Prof Finkelstein assumed throughout his lecture that a two-state solution was the desired outcome, rather than the dismantling of Israel or its remodelling as a non-Jewish state. (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, co-sponsors of the lecture, are much more enamoured of the one-state model than their English counterparts.) Finkelstein said, look: thirty years ago nobody would have imagined that the two-state solution would have been generally accepted by mainstream opinion. In those days, human rights organisations didn't dare to mention Israeli torture or hostage-taking (which they now admit were happening then). We have come so far, to the point where the Palestinian cause is now in the ascendant and Israel on the back foot. We should make the most of that, use it to obtain some kind of justice for the oppressed Palestinian people. One may argue that Israel has no legitimacy, but in international law, it has: the UN accepts it, and so do all the UN members, however grudgingly. To seek a one-state solution is to throw out all those gains: to say to the Palestinians "Sorry, but you'll be stuck with the occupation for another hundred years or so while we turn world public opinion round again." Prof Finkelstein quoted Mao Zedong, that the way to achieve change is to mobilize the many against the few. His whole lecture had been pointing out that "the many" now believe that Israel should withdraw, abandon the settlements, give up East Jerusalem and agree some arrangement concerning the refugee problem. His questioner on the other hand wished to mobilize the few (one-staters) against the many (two-staters). It's not wrong, or impossible, but it condemns the Palestinians to decades more of occupation. We should use the groundswell of public opinion worldwide, not squander it.

Which expressed much more eloquently than I could my own reservations about a one-state solution. As a lifelong supporter of the UN and international law, how could I believe otherwise? The bottom line is, practically the whole world accepts Israel's right to peaceful unmolested existence within its own borders (though Prof F did say that Hamas's views on the matter were somewhat ambiguous). Wouldn't it be great if Israel felt that it could give the idea a try: by withdrawing into, you know, its own borders instead of illegally occupying its neighbours' territory? The main opposition to a peaceful settlement - whose components are universally agreed - comes from Israel, supported by the USA.

The guy is, simply, a treasure, and if universities in the USA are too scared of dissent to employ him, send him to Europe where we take a more robust and basic view of academic freedom. If Tony Blair spent more time talking to Norman Finkelstein and less talking to Condoleeza Rice (who compared the Israeli murder of over a thousand Lebanese civilians with the pain of childbirth??? WTF???) he might have more chance of ceasing to be a total waste of DNA than he has shown to date.

Prof Finkelstein's current UK tour has now ended, but foreign readers may be able to catch him somewhere. It's worth it. Failing which, read his books, or visit his blog.

This production sponsored by Acme

Philip Taylor, prime mover of Edinburgh Players Opera Group which has now put on all seven of Wagner's designated "Music Dramas" in concert performances over the past seven years, is preparing for another trip round the block, to wit, a performance of Das Rheingold this September, once more under the baton of Mike Thorne (day job: vice-chancellor of the University of East London). He asked me to advise him on anvil requirements for the descent into Nibelheim, and lent me his score for that purpose. (I did ask what he'd done last time, and he seems to recall the percussionist having pieces of metal machined specially. If however those bits of metal ended up with Philip they've been lost over the past six-and-a-bit years.

Anyway, we appear to need "18 Ambose hinter der Scene". Nine dinky little F above middle C Ambose (three to the left, three in the centre, three to the right); six medium-size Ambose, two to the left, two to the right, two in the middle); and three great big Billy Ambose Gruff, and you can guess for yourself how they are distributed.

I can tell you right now that Acme Wagner Music Dramas will be making do with nine Roadrunner-flatteners rather than eighteen, especially if we have to get anything made specially. Last time I needed an anvil it was for Mahler's sixth symphony, and I felt a little conspicuous as I trailed round B&Q with a spanner, clouting just about every metal object they had and listening for that special anvil sound. In the end it came from an immersion heater spanner, and depending on how accurately F-like the Nibelheim anvils need to be (hey, this is a working sweatshop, right?) some Nibelungs may find they have been set to work with something similar. But come on, we won't have six harps either.

At least I won't have the problem of Mahler's hammer blows. ("Do you have a packing crate I could take away? No, not to fit anything in particular, I just want to hit it with a sledgehammer." The tea-chest I procured lasted, once the performance came along and the gloves were off, for precisely the three blows required, as demonstrated by its three splintered and devastated sides. It looked as though death had been wielding a GAU-8 cannon on it rather than a hammer.)

Maybe a better aviation metaphor for this post would be the Rockwell XB-70 Valkyrie:

Or maybe, given the anvils, the Avro Vulcan:

It can't be deep: it only comes up to the middle of that duck

Just to demonstrate that ignorance is restricted neither to Americans nor to the political far right, here's Matthew Taylor (chief executive of the Royal Society for Encouragement of Arts, and Tony Blair's former chief adviser on political strategy) writing in the New Statesman on 7 January:

When you read the next report bemoaning falling standards in our schools, remember the overwhelming evidence that average IQs have risen sharply over recent decades.

Er, no, but I will remember it when I read the next report bemoaning falling standards in arts administrators or Blairite apparatchiks.

(Hint for any such who are reading: what does it mean to have an IQ of 100?)

Incidentally, my wife, with her music degree, burst out laughing immediately.

I'll stick with Mad magazine, thanks, the foreign coverage is better

As an aside during his lecture tonight (of which more later), Prof. Norman Finkelstein drew his audience's attention to this editorial in Thursday's Washington Post.

I'm not sure which is the more asinine assertion: that the breakout from their Israeli-administered ghetto by a few thousand desperate Palestinians is a sign of Hamas's disruption of the "peace process", or that nobody in Gaza is starving, and they're all just streaming over the border for cheaper prices, like Brits going to France to stock upon cheap booze.

I can just imagine how the Post must have described the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Communist vandals show contempt for capitalism by destroying historic Berlin monument", perhaps. Or "Leftist layabouts break into West Berlin in search of cheap toilet paper".

If Bush reads this rubbish every day it's no wonder he's so ignorant.

Update: after picking the title for this post I found this wonderful cartoon by Latuff (a Brazilian who does a lot of political cartoons on the Middle East). Now there's synchronicity for you.

Final Solutions

...to the last lines meme.

1. When my body's landed, hope she dies of shame.
Sally Free and Easy (Cyril Tawney) (guessed by Phil)

2. And I guess, but I just don't know.
Heroin (The Velvet Underground) (guessed by Phil)

3. Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.
Time Passages (Al Stewart) (guessed by Joe)

4. The people with the questions smiled; the people with the answers lied, they lied (so no pizza for them)
Eclipse (The Beta Band) (guessed by Phil)

5. Fifteen years gone now, I still cling to the petticoats of the girl who died with me.
Leslie Anne Levine (The Decemberists)

6. Standing in the shadow of Clifton Chenier, dancing the night away.
That Was Your Mother (Paul Simon) (guessed by Udge)

7. And did we tell you the name of the game, boy, we call it Riding The Gravy Train.
Have A Cigar (Pink Floyd) (band guessed by Gert)

8. were we ever warmer on that day a million miles away / we seemed from all of eternity
South Side Of The Sky (Yes)

9. But what's the matter, Daddy, how come you're turning green? Could it be that you can't live up to your dreams?

Younger Generation (The Lovin' Spoonful)

10. Saint Peter don't you call me 'cos I can't go: I owe my soul to the company store.
Sixteen Tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford) (guessed by anonymous)

I'm very surprised Lisa didn't get #5; and Udge is presumably now kicking himself over #8. And did nobody really know the title of #7 once Gert had guessed it was Floyd?

Thanks to all who took part.

It was listening to #1 and #4 in the course of a single car journey that gave me the idea for the meme, incidentally.


The people of Oxford (or a vocal minority thereof) seem to be getting incensed by the idea of their local mosque's having applied to broadcast a call to prayer three times a day through a loudspeaker.

Well, OK, having had the experience of waking up in an Islamic city and hearing the amplified throat-clearings and subsequent ululations of a successions of muezzins at various distances, all overlaid until the effect was of a Yemeni Steve Reich doing a sort of Arabic "Come Out To Pray Dem", I can hear where they're coming from; but I don't think one mosque, thrice daily, will have quite the shattering aural impact. (Nor do I know if the throat-clearing is a required part of the warm-up or a specifically Arab thing.)

Meanwhile, I recall my days as a student in Durham, where my undergraduate rooms were never very far from the cathedral, that in my first year being maybe two hundred feet at the most from the mighty belfry. Over my first few days (and nights) in Durham I had become inoculated against the chimes of the clock (when I had been up for interview it had woken me at quarter past every hour of the night - I assume the hours had brought me nearly awake each time). As someone to whom Sunday mornings were made for sleep, I took a dim view however of the discovery that, in this city, Sunday mornings were for bell-ringing. Much, and long. And loud.

While Oxford (a city I have never visited) may have nothing with the campanological clout of Durham cathedral, I hope that Allen Chapman and his cronies will also be campaigning against such naked Christian imperialism - a sound, moreover, that many find threatening. If, that is, it hasn't already deafened them. Muslim calls to prayer are at least short and comparatively quiet.

Of course, it might just be that it isn't the noise or the religious intrusiveness that motivates these people but simple racial hatred and religious bigotry. I would think the belfry test should allow us to make that distinction, wouldn't you?

(No campanologists were harmed in the writing of this post.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Take that, terrorists

I've just finished reading Out Of The Tunnel by Rachel North. As a firm supporter of public libraries I must confess I borrowed the copy I read: sorry, Rachel.

I was familiar with Rachel, and with the outlines of her story, from her blog. Victim of a horrific rape a few years ago, she was able to confront her attacker in court and get him put away. She was reading an interview she'd given about the rape while travelling to work on the underground on 7 July 2005, when one of her fellow-passengers blew himself up. Rachel survived with fairly minor injuries, and worked through her Post-Traumatic Stress by setting up both her blog and a support group (Kings Cross United). She has campaigned long and hard for an official enquiry into the events of 7/7, not least to shut up the legions of conspiracy theorists who insist it was all faked. More recently she has been the target of a cyber-stalker, now behind bars, who makes an uncredited cameo appearance on page 149 of the book as an unpleasant blog commenter.

Even knowing Rachel's story fairly well, I found the book a gripping read, and was filled with admiration for a perfectly ordinary woman to whom perfectly extraordinary things happened, not once but twice, and who found the strength to overcome her demons. The book is a mosaic of little moments, some of which will stay with me. Rachel, unable to listen to music after the bombing because music broke down her self-control, forcing herself to listen repeatedly to "Fix You" by Coldplay. Rachel sharing the grief of a friend whose mother had just died, by joining her in a vigorous bout of pole-dancing choreography to Paint It Black. Rachel refusing either to submit to terrorism or to blame all Muslims for the attack. Rachel dealing very sensibly and sensitively with the tabloid revelation that one of her fellow passengers (who lost both his legs) had a previous conviction for rape.

Rachel North is a perfectly ordinary woman who makes me perfectly proud to be British and an ex-Londoner. I can't imagine anyone, except perhaps Melanie Phillips, whose life would not be enriched by reading this book.

Though I might wish Rachel's editor hadn't nodded off in the last few dozen pages so as to let through a couple of examples of conspiracy theories being "pedalled" (preumably by a bunch of cycle paths).

Buy it. Borrow it. Read it. Blog about it.

Which Side Are You On?

This quiz enables you to position yourself against the various US Presidential contenders, I cam out as more left-wing than any of them (much to my relief), and as socially progressive as Barack Obama who was my closest match. I was furthest from Fred Thompson (also a cause for relief).

Toxic crud floating in the Southern Ocean

It must be a cold day in Hell, for I am posting something nice about Greenpeace. Not only are they doing what they were originally founded for (saving the whales) rather than campaigning to increase global warming ban nuclear power, but they are demonstrating an unexpected sense of decency by distancing themselves from Greenpeace founder and utter bampot Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd terrorists. Yes, Greenpeace have been known to go in for the odd spot of piracy themselves (hijacking the Brent Spar, for example) but they have so far eschewed chemical warfare - or any other violence - unlike Watson & Co.

For a full discussion of the "harmlessness" of butyric acid and other Sea Shepherd lies, see my earlier post here with links to descriptions of its associated hazards.

I hope the whales get away from the Japanese. I hope the Japanese get away from Sea Shepherd. As to what happens to Sea Shepherd, who cares? If it never makes landfall again, that will be soon enough for me. If it does, I hope the Australian Government impounds it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why not try this one

My entry for the Normblog Novelists' Poll:

My top three:

1. Jane Austen
2. Lewis Carroll
3. P G Wodehouse

Also ran:

Peter Carey
Vikram Seth
Iain Banks
Mark Twain
Charles Dickens
E F Benson
Robert Graves

Taking the hairy with the smooth

Catching up with Udge's blog after a break, I happened upon this post. I was especially struck by the response by his friends to his quotation from the Old Testament (and commented on it should you care to delve that far - I see no point in repeating the comment here). It isn't an attitude I've ever encountered, even from the most, er, forceful Christians. Indeed, most of those I've met have tended to an irrational idolatry of the Biblical texts of whichever testament. (And if Udge thinks denying the divinity of Jesus confuses them, he should try expressing the opinion that excessive reverence for the Bible - a collection of books, after all, written by people - is tantamount to idol worship. It tends to make their heads glow red like Robbie The Robot's.)

Whatever your religion, or none, it's worth reading Udge's post if only for the Buñuel story at the end (which I hadn't heard before). Perfect.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Never Mind The Bollards (Part Two)

My wife emailed me this at work the other day.

These men are installing bollards to stop cars parking on the pavement outside an Irish sports bar and are cleaning up at the end of the day. How long do you think it will be before they realize???????

The original email Hilary received was entitled "Could Only Happen In Ireland", but there seems to be a consensus on snopes.com (the most awesome site ever for checking out urban myths etc.) that it's actually Quay Street, Manchester, and probably genuine. Also that yes, they are boxed in unless one or more bollard is removable (though could probably get out with some expensive dents).

Those of you with memories around a year long may remember this link I posted last January. What is it with Mancunians and bollards?

Of course, Elphaba and Glinda both demonstrate moral maturity (not to mention humanity) far beyond anything Melanie Phillips could understand

That'll teach me to go for allusive titles: since writing my previous post I've had a certain song from a certain musical going round in my head. Fair enough: the Fischer-Spassky match was clearly the inspiration for Chess on one level at least: the game was never the stuff of theatrical glamour before their Reykjavik contest.

And hey, it's a song which showcases the best of the abilities of Rice, Anderson and Ulvaeus, not to mention, in this clip, Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige. ( I have to agree with one of the YouTube commenters though that we shall always wonder how it would have sounded as sung by Frida and Agnetha.)

When I hear of Barbara Dickson I still think of the bespectacled folkie with a guitar who played Mary's Folk Club at Durham University in the mid-seventies. Which is like remembering Billy Connolly for the Humblebums; something good, not to be ashamed of, but totally unconnected with what they later became. (Though I see that BD's most recent album returns to exactly what I remember, albeit 35 years on.)

(An aside: if I Know Him So Well is the best female duet from a musical, surely Wicked furnishes several of the runners-up. For example, What Is This Feeling?, or For Good. )

OK, we've moved far enough from Mel Phillips now (though What Is This Feeling just brought her to mind again....)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

We knew him so well

Follwing Mad Mel P, here's a Jerusalem Post article about a rather more famous Jew who spouted poisonous religious and racial bigotry every bit as foul as hers. (Fischer must be, along perhaps with Gilad Atzmon, one of the few people to whom the epithet "self-hating Jew" could legitimately be applied.)

The difference, of course, is that Fischer also managed - for a while - to do something valuable with his life. Which is why he will be remembered for as long as chess is played, while Melanie Phillips will be forgotten the day after her last loathsome column hits the news stands.

An obituary of Bobby Fischer here.

A frightening demonstration of intellectual and moral cluelessness

Mad Mel Phillips loses the plot once again here.

While it's hard to know where to begin with such an oustandingly ignorant post, I think I'll go for the bit where she says to call terrorist murder "anti-Islamic" is "demonstrably ridiculous". And how does she go on to "demonstrate" her non-fact? Well, "to say therefore that this terrorism is ‘anti-Islamic’ is like saying that the Inquisition was ‘anti-Catholic’."

No, it's like saying that the Inquisition was anti-Christian. Which it very definitely was, last time I read the Bible. I can only assume that Phillips is no more familiar with that not-exactly-obscure work than she is with the Koran.

But then, to denounce torture as anti-Christian would mean that the poor bastards being regularly tortured in Guantanamo and elsewhere in America's Gulag might have a legitimate grievance; and to admit that would be "a total capitulation to terror".

As she says, you couldn't make it up.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It Furthers One To See The Great Man

I have posted about Norman Finkelstein before: the respected American academic specialist on the Middle East who was denied tenure by his university after a lengthy and hysterical campaign led by Alan Dershowitz (a far less-respected academic, presumably motivated by Finkelstein's having exposed the plagiarism in his book ) .

Imagine my delight to discover that Prof. Finkelstein is not only doing a lecture tour of the UK, but coming to Edinburgh next week! I am attempting to get hold of a ticket. I would expect he'll be very well worth hearing, and I encourage anyone with an interest in the region to try to get to one of his lectures.

21 Jan Manchester U
22 Jan Keele U
23 Jan London (LSE)
24 Jan Brighton (U of Sussex)
25 Jan Edinburgh U

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More Muppet nostalgia

And finally for tonight, another Muppet Show guest. I remember wstching this when it was first broadcast on British TV. I was in a pub on Holloway Road in London, a no-frills kind of place, and the Muppets were on the TV behind the bar. There was a huge bear of an Irish guy in the bar, and after this spot from Bruce Schwartz (the first bit) he looked round at me, almost in tears, and said "That was just fookin' amazing".

He wasn't wrong. With Schwartz's puppetry I can even stand to watch Cleo Laine. Just.

Dum DUM dum dum dum DUM dum dum....

I can't post a Youtube clip of an old ad without paying homage to the best series of all: Hamlet. For about a decade, people of my generation would start to hum Bach's Air from Suite No 3 whenever things went pear-shaped.

Happy reminiscences.

Let There be Drums

I realised recently that I'd never actually seen the famous Muppet Show segment with the drum battle between Animal and Buddy Rich. In case you haven't either, here it is. Not that there was ever any doubt as to how that one was going to turn out......

Here is the great man (without Animal this time), showing the way it's done.

I remember reading an intrerview with Karen Carpenter where someone asked her who she though was the greatest drummer alive. She said that if you meant big band drummers it had to be Buddy Rich, but if you meant combo drummers it would have to be Joe Morello (from the Dave Brubeck Quartet). I thought at was a pretty good answer. I never saw Rich but I did see Morello with Brubeck. Here he is showing what he could do (even without his sticks).

And this of course is their big hit. I feel very privileged, thanks to an older brother who was a jazz nut, to have seen the classic Brubeck line-up, probably on the same European tour as this clip. These guys were the epitome of cool. Hell, for me, they still are, even if Joe's shades remind me of the polar bear in the old Cresta ads "It's frothy, man!"

Hi! It's us. We're back

Around Mercury, that is. I was still an undergraduate last time we had a spacecraft there. I look forward to seeing all the flyby pictures when they've been downloaded and processed.

Green alternatives

Reading this report on cycling in Delhi from the BBC, I think the word "fearless" in the title should be replaced with "insane".

In my four months in Delhi the car in which I was travelling was only once involved in a (minor) collision (it was a taxi hitting another taxi). I didn't feel especially unsafe in cars; a little vulnerable in autorickshaws, though they are such fun I didn't really care. But bicycles? Nope. No way, Sanjay.

If you want to be safe in Delhi traffic, this is the only way to travel:

Find your best fit to a religion (or non-religion)

I found this rather interesting. Here's how I came out:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (91%)
3. New Age (91%)
4. Neo-Pagan (85%)
5. Taoism (84%)
6. New Thought (83%)
7. Hinduism (80%)
8. Mahayana Buddhism (79%)
9. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (73%)
10. Mainline - Liberal Christian Protestants (73%)
11. Scientology (66%)
12. Theravada Buddhism (66%)
13. Secular Humanism (61%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (54%)
15. Jainism (52%)
16. Reform Judaism (51%)
17. Bahai (42%)
18. Sikhism (41%)
19. Non-theist (37%)
20. Seventh Day Adventist (29%)
21. Orthodox Judaism (22%)
22. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (22%)
23. Mainline - Conservative Christian Protestant (17%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (15%)
25. Islam (15%)
26. Roman Catholic (15%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (12%)

I wouldn't argue with that. So what were your best fits?

Tail End Charlies

We've had the First Lines meme. We've had the Middle Eights meme. It stands to reason, then, that sooner or later we would scrape the part of the barrel containing the Last Lines meme.

Here are the last lines of ten songs, picked quasi-randomly from my collection. Nothing too obscure, and some very well-known. None of the lines contains the title of the song. Sometimes I've given you the last two lines if one would be too impossible to guess. A mix of vintages and genres. Place your guesses for song and artist in the comments box. As I get correct answers I'll annotate the post with them.

1. When my body's landed, hope she dies of shame.
Sally Free and Easy (Cyril Tawney) (guessed by Phil)

2. And I guess, but I just don't know.
Heroin (The Velvet Underground) (guessed by Phil)

3. Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.
Time Passages (Al Stewart) (guessed by Joe)

4. The people with the questions smiled; the people with the answers lied, they lied (so no pizza for them)
Eclipse (The Beta Band) (guessed by Phil)

5. Fifteen years gone now, I still cling to the petticoats of the girl who died with me.

6. Standing in the shadow of Clifton Chenier, dancing the night away.
That Was Your Mother (Paul Simon) (guessed by Udge)

7. And did we tell you the name of the game, boy, we call it Riding The Gravy Train.
? title? (Pink Floyd) (band guessed by Gert)

8. were we ever warmer on that day a million miles away / we seemed from all of eternity

9. But what's the matter, Daddy, how come you're turning green? Could it be that you can't live up to your dreams?

10. Saint Peter don't you call me 'cos I can't go: I owe my soul to the company store.
Sixteen Tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford) (guessed by anonymous)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hail to the Chief

This may be the first thing George Bush has ever done that didn't mark him out as a total waste of DNA.

The Israelis say they would not have chosen some of the language Mr Bush used - the word "occupation" is something with which Israeli governments have always had difficulties.

Well yes, along with "peace", "truth" and "not shooting any more children". Deal with it like grown-ups.

However, we may expect that "friends of Israel" (the ones so keen on the place they live in Manhattan or Camden and will fight to the last drop of genuine Israelis' blood) will shortly be denouncing Bush as the worst anti-Semite since Jimmy Carter, or Noam Chomsky, or Ehud Olmert, or anyone who doesn't march around with a big placard saying that "G-D gave the Jews the whole of Israel" (surely inviting the invitation to f*** off back to Israel with their Galils and their placards if they like the place so much). Michael Gove will accuse him of dishonouring the memory of 6 million Holocaust victims, Judith Weiss will accuse him of sucking dictators' cocks (and of dishonouring the memory of the 5.4 million Holocaust victims she pretends to care about), Mad Mel Phillips will tell us all how al-Qaeda has now taken over the White House, and Cinnamon Stillwell will blame it all on homosexuals.

He may be the worst president the USA has ever had, but even GWB can occasionally, briefly, do the right thing.

Guys in wigs: even less to be messed with than cats

I don't want to sound like one of those people who bangs on all the time about how everything British is better than everything American, not least because it isn't. I like Starbucks coffee, country music, Broadway musicals, Richard Feynmann, Kary Mullis, Richard Farina, Bob Dylan, Isaac Asimov, Charles Ives, Harley-Davidsons, the SR-71 Blackbird, The West Wing, Heroes, Love and Death, Quentin Tarantino - loads of things. Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens: even Smokey and the Bandit and Convoy. I also love the US Constitution: how could I not love a document which established a system of government predicated on the self-evident truth that most politicians are crooks who need to be kept in line?

But another example of how the far-from-perfect British legal system - IMO at least - knocks spots off the US one is given by the interesting case of the Holy Land Foundation. The HLF and
five other defendants were being tried to establish whether they had links to Hamas which would render their activities illegal. A mistrial was declared and the case will come round again in a few months' time. So far so good. But it's the comments of Kristina Williams, one of the jurors, that interest me. They have been widely reported in the American press and on right-wing blogs, implying as they do that the only thing preventing the conviction of the wicked Muslims was bullying by a jury member. (Alternatively, as one blog commenter put it, that Williams and her fellows are snivelling cowards who entered false verdicts rather than complain about Neal's behaviour, and much later - possibly after bullying from a different source - decided to retract those verdicts and whinge. I'm not saying that's a better description, by the way, merely that the facts bear several interpretations.)

My interest, and my patriotic emotions, were stirred by the fact that in the UK it is a very serious contempt of court to disclose any details at all of jury proceedings, not just during a trial but after it's over. Not even another court is allowed to access that information. Williams not only gives very detailed descriptions, she names particular jurors, and she does so to the national press. Judges, my law lecturer always said, loathe contempt of court, so I would expect that in Britain Ms Williams would now be facing the maximum penalty, which is a two-year stretch in prison.

There are good reasons for such an arrangement, as Williams' comments, however lucrative for her, cannot fail to prejudice the retrial and could as a result lead to guilty parties' being wrongly acquitted. But maybe Ms Williams and her interlocutors are more concerned with their short-term profit (and of course with smearing a wicked librul) than with justice, even if the effect is that a terrorist supporter walks free.

Lock Up Your Rhododendrons

At long last, Kenny Richey arrives home after serving 21 years for a crime he didn't commit.

In view of the fact that the person most likely to have been inadvertently (or negligently, depending on your point of view) responsible for Cythia Collins's death was her own mother Hope Collins, the intemperate outburst by Cynthia's aunt Valerie Binkley at Richey's final hearing ("I want you to know you've fooled nobody no more. Nobody. You will burn in hell.") is indicative not just of grief but of an inability to come to terms with an inconvenient truth. Or as Richey himself put it, less tactfully but understandably in the circumstances, when asked if he felt sorry for the Collins family: "Those fucking idiots? I was their scapegoat."

In the UK the system doesn't permit victims' families to make courtroom statements, so in the event that dignified grief gives way to vengeful shrieking it may get into the tabloids but it doesn't pollute the court proceedings, nor (quite rightly) does it have the slighttest influence on sentencing. So despite the best efforts of Blair to dismantle the parts he couldn't simply ignore our legal system is still better than the American one in some respects.

And our cops appears to be less dumb too. Ohio Sheriff James Beutler (yes I know he's actually a state official not a cop) went for the Buford T Justice (vide Smokey and the Bandit) award for Most Stupid Pronouncement of 2008 By A Law Enforcement Officer. He first described Richey as "a risk to the people of Edinburgh" and then said "He's not a risk to re-offend back in Scotland – he will definitely re-offend." Um, OK. The charges to which Richey pleaded "no contest", in other words the ones the state didn't simply throw out as bogus, were child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter, by way of failing to turn up as promised and babysit Cynthia. Does Sheriff Beutler believe that the sober and godly matrons of Edinburgh will be queuing up to ask him to babysit their children so he can get pissed instead and thus "re-offend"?

Oops - I almost forgot that Richey was also convicted of stealing a plant from a garden centre. Perhaps he'll reoffend on that count, but you know what? I don't feel threatened. (Someone stole a potted shrub from our garden once: we survived, in pretty good shape, and unlike Valerie Binkley I don't believe that the thief will burn in hell for the crime. Well, unless s/he didn't look after it properly and keep it watered.)

Now I need to rent Smokey and the Bandit again......

Amazing how potent old forgotten songs can be

I found myself singing this today, which is a song I haven't heard for many years, though it retains its power to move me. Not sure why it came to mind today, though a cousin of mine has just died so I was probably thinking about death.

Thinking of Harvey Andrews brings this - more famous - song to mind. It too has lost none of its relevance, at least not if you replace the Northern Irish references with those of, say, Iraq. Just because we shouldn't be there doesn't mean that all our soldiers are monsters, or even that none of them are heroes.

And here's Andrews singing it. (The song was indeed banned by the BBC as the description says, not for any reason of political correctness but for the same reason that British soldiers were advised not to sing it in public in Northen Ireland: that it might cause a riot. And if you doubt that, remember when the song came out, and how much more sensitive the subject matter was then than now, and then look at the comments under the Youtube clip.)

Pretty darned stupid design if you ask me

An interesting question and an illuminating (not to say illuminated) answer, from the Q&A page of this week's New Scientist.

I love little pussy, her coat is so warm, and if I don't attempt to fling her into a swimming pool she'll do me no harm

Thanks to Lisa for alerting me to this compulsively watchable gem.

Though like so many of the commenters I keep wondering just WTF all the adults in the vicinity were doing. Morons.

Cats, however, continue to rock.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Edinburgh Playhouse

OK - a little back story for non-UK readers.

Last year there was a BBC television talent show Any Dream Will Do whose purpose was to select a singer to play the role of Joseph in a West End Production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This followed the great success (in terms of both viewing figures and eventual outcome) of an earlier show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria (and it won't have taken you long to work out what that show was finding the lead singer for).

OK. The eventual winner, Lee Mead, is now starring in Joseph in the West End. The third-placed entrant, Lewis Bradley, takes over on Lee's days off. Meanwhile, the second-placed entrant Keith Jack (Narrator) and fourth-placed Craig Chalmers (Joseph) are appearing in the touring version of the same (Bill Kenwright) production. They both come from Edinburgh, where the show is on right now. So - what was it like?

In short, excellent. We'd had some reservations about Craig on the basis of the TV show, especially regarding his acting, but in fact he was very good. He doesn't have to do much acting as Joseph in point of fact, and was much better than we'd expected in any case. To pad out a quite short show to a full evening there was a "Joseph Megamix" tacked on at the end, a kind of glorified reprise of all the best numbers for the audience to clap along to. By the time he was into that, Craig's voice was going and his tuning was off, but he was fine in the show itself.

Keith Jack was a revelation. We'd though him a worthy runner-up on TV (we'd been rooting for Lee for about ten weeks) and were looking forward to seeing him in a role that is slightly bigger and quite a bit more demanding than Joseph while being less glamorous. He carried it off to perfection, from his first entrance singing softly yet perfectly (audible and in tune) to two small children, all the way through the show (he's hardly ever off stage). While he wouldn't look as good in a loincloth as Craig (let alone Lee), he is clearly going to have a career and a half. We all reckoned he'd be a fabulous Fiero in Wicked, a Danny in Grease, a Candide or a Freddy Eynsford-Hill (My Fair Lady).

We also loved the production, with its inflatable sheep (and a Maigret-esque Parisian lamp-post for Those Canaan Days). The trouble-prone animatronic camel of the West End production was nowhere to be seen.

A piece of trivia: Joseph was originally written for school performance and thus scored for piano only. The first actual orchestration, for a jazz combo, was done by my wife's present boss Ken Thompson (whom you may know from the Scottish Saxophone Quartet or latterly from Mull Historical Society).

And the coat? It was red and yellow and green and brown and
Scarlet and black and ochre and peach
And ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve
And cream and crimson and silver and rose
And azure and lemon and russet and grey
And purple and white and pink and orange
And blue.

Just another bunch of hoodies with guitars

There seems to be some dispute as to whether the band featured in the Youtube clip below are genuine or a hoax. I rather hope they're the real deal, but it's fun anyway.

The Burka Band.

An article about them.

Some discussion on their genuineness, veering towards acceptance, even if WYS may not be entirely WYG.

How did he know my call-sign was Yankee Mike Charlie Alfa?

There was a piece on the Scottish TV news last night about an aircraftman at RAF Lossiemouth who has become rather famous on YouTube (especially in the USA) on account of his dancing antics while marshalling Tornado fighter-bombers. I should perhaps explain that these are performed (a) with the foreknowledge of the pilots of the aforementioned pieces of expensive machinery and (b) for charity, or at least committed to video for that purpose. Apparently both his mother and his mother-in-law died young from cancer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Aircraftman Dean Tabreham. Sometimes I feel very proud to be British.

For non-UK viewers, the "118" on his running vest in the Scissor Sisters segment (disappointingly short on aircraft movement IMHO) is a reference to a British TV ad for a telephone number enquiry service.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Man With Sick Partner Blues

As many regulars will know, Clare of Boob Pencil is (a) pregnant (b) suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (c) fortunate enough to have the redoubtable Ally Fogg as her partner. Here is Ally writing in the Guardian's Comment is Free about (a) (b) and (c), and an excellent piece it is too.

And (whisper it lest she explodes into vomit again, but) Clare seems to be a little improved right now. Yay!


Let's leave the final word to The Goodies. Do (do, do...) you remember The Funky Gibbon? The B-side was Sick Man Blues (credited to Bill Oddie, and yes I do own a copy.....):

I woke up one morning, feeling so sick I thought I was dead (Oh yes I did)
I felt sick in my stomach and I felt sick in my head (Oh yeah)
So I rolled over on my pillow, and I threw up all over the bed
(You did, I know you did. You hear that? I heard that)

I turned round to my wife, and I threw up all over her (Why you do that?!)
I threw up on the cat, and I threw up on the baby's chair (All over the chair)
Now five years I've been travellin', and I've thrown up everywhere!

I've thrown up in California, thrown up in Timbuktu
Now come on over here baby and I'll throw up over you!
Throw it up, throw it up, up up [blech], throw it up, throw it up, up up [bleah]
Oh Lord I'm tellin' you, I got those sick man blues
(I'll tell you a little bit more now)

Well I've thrown up over Indians, I've thrown up over Jews
I've even thrown up on my blue suede shoes
Throw it up, throw it up, up up [blech], throw it up, throw it up, up up [bleah]
Oh Lord I'm tellin' you, I got those sick man blue … ooooooh … [bleah … bleah … bleah!]
(Better out than in, man!)

Friday, January 04, 2008

And now the real me

Following on from the previous post, here's what I get if I don't try to rig the result:

Which Roman Emperor Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Antoninus Pius

Your attention to good character and stability has earned you your standing as Antoninus Pius. Your long and moderate reign is probably one of the most peaceful epics in human history up to the modern age. It is too bad more emperors did not share your humility.

Antoninus Pius










Marcus Aurelius


















I, EineKleineRob

Which Roman Emperor Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Claudius

Dear Clau-Clau-Clau-Claudius. One of the most curious of the emperors, you have a clubbed foot and stammer all the time, but these have only served you well in avoiding notice. Behind the facade of a fool is a penetrating intellect that will lead the empire wisely. You conquer Britannia, and later the BBC will make a series about you. Your kind heart however will do you in, as your loved wife will poison you for her own schemes.



Antoninus Pius




Marcus Aurelius






















It's fairly easy to rig the answers to get your favourite emperor, as this shows.

Here's why he's my favourite. (I watched the series again not long ago.)

Mind you, whoever came up with the quiz apparently thinks a vomitorium is something to do with overeating rather than the exit from an amphitheatre, so they deserve to have their quiz mocked.

(via gillo)

Now click on "Safely Remove Bear"

This is just wrong (thanks to gillo again).

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A (post-) Christmas meme

A Christmas meme (via my LJ friend gillo)

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?

Wrapping paper. Not always specifically Christmassy but I like finding nice designs.

2. Real tree or Artificial?

Artificial, but green so it can be decorated properly. Can't be bothered with pine needles, and when the kids were young it was easier to hoist up out of collision range.

3. When do you put up the tree?

Depends. For many years now our children have hung the tree decorations, so these days it's planned around their availability. A week or so before Christmas, generally.

4. When do you take the tree down?

January 6th.

5. Do you like egg nog?

Ew. No. More of a mulled wine person.

6. Favourite gift received as a child?

Not sure, but likely to have been a book of some kind, or maybe a record (in my teens).

7. Do you have a nativity scene?

Yes: little faceless figures like plasticine ones but in clay, made by one of Hilary's cousins. It occasioned one of my favourite moments from Vanessa's (small) childhood: one of her friends was admiring it, and V said (while standing right next to both her parents) "Yes, it's very pretty. I'm not allowed to touch it, so I only play with it when Mummy's not in the room."

8. Hardest person to buy for?

My wife.

9. Easiest person to buy for?

My son.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

Mail. Email cards are OK but a bugger to hang in your living room.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

I couldn't possibly comment.... I once got what was a very well-intentioned but totally off-target present: an elaborate plastic kit of a hot rod in great detail. If I'd ever had the slightest interest in making plastic models it would have been great. The box was pretty.

12. Favorite Christmas movie?

Ooh, The Snowman? Muppet Christmas Carol? It's A Wonderful Life? Am I allowed the Nativity scene from Life Of Brian?

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

When inspiration strikes.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?


15. Favorite thing to eat/drink at Christmas?

Lebkuchen to eat; whisky & Glayva (together) to drink. Chestnuts are good too.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

Coloured, though all the same colour is best.

17. Favourite Christmas song?

Carol to sing: O Little Town Of Bethlehem (runner-up: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear)
Carol to listen to: Es ist ein Ros'entsprungen (runner-up: Bethlehem Down)
Pop song: Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (runner-up: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day)

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?

Stay home. Usually we stay with friends at New Year, though this year we just went up to the Ballater flat. Hilary's mother was with us, but Vanessa had to work so stayed behind. She went to the Hogmanay street party with friends though.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?


20. Angel on the tree top or a star?


21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning of Christmas?

Oh, Christmas morning, definitely. The children have pillowcases full of little "from Father Christmas" things that get opened before breakfast. The main present opening is later on, after we've been for a walk. Small "tree" presents are usually opened at New Year (this year, because Vanessa wasn't with the rest of us at New Year, we're doing them on Saturday)

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?

The way shops put up their Christmas decorations in November, and in some cases take them down on Boxing Day.

23. Favourite ornament theme or colour?

Don't have one. We like German tree ornaments, and not too much glitter..

24. Favourite for Christmas dinner?

Over the years the proportion of the food which is home-made rather than bought in has gradually reduced until it's only the things where it really makes a difference that are done from scratch: bread sauce, sprouts and Christmas pudding mainly. As to the menu, we start with mulled wine and nibbles, then for the meal proper it's turkey (Quorn roast for our veggie daughter) , two kinds of stuffing (veggie/non-veggie), sausages in bacon, sprouts, chestnuts, spiced red cabbage, potato croquettes, roast potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce. Red wine. Christmas pudding, cream with Armagnac, brandy butter. Dessert wine.

Mince pies come later.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?

Well, it's past now, but in general I like surprises best.

26. Who is most likely to respond to this?

Well, it's getting towards the end of the season, so maybe nobody. Lisa maybe? Or Joe?

27. Who is least likely to respond to this?

Elvis. At least I really hope so.

28. Shopping...Mall or on-line?

Depends what I'm buying. It's more likely to be a specialist non-mall shop than either, though DVDs, computer games etc. usually come from Amazon.

29. Do you decorate outside for Christmas or just inside (or at all?)

A small string of (non-flashing) lights festooning the little shrub outside our front door; otherwise just inside.

It's interesting to see how people's Christmases vary - if you haven't done this, why not have a go?

Been There, Done That......

Anyone out there turned pages in a live performance?

Listen to this.

(Repeats: we hates them, precious.......)

Most recently I did it for my wife; prior to that, for a girlfriend when I was at school. Nervous, moi?

P.S. performing is less stressful, even if you're not romantically involved. Or so I'm told.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Fan Club 4 - Abba

No comment needed really. The world is divided into those who get Abba and those who don't, and I can find nothing to say to the latter except generalised pitying noises.

So - a few of my favourites.

The Day Before You Came (official video).

One of their best lyrics: That's Me (from Arrival) (official video)

And another, One Of Us (from what Lisa once described as their "magisterially depressing period")

Anni-Frid solo, doing a well-known Leonard Cohen song in Swedish. And doing it so brilliantly that the language is irrelevant.

Agnetha making her triumphant return to recording with When You Walk In The Room.

Intermezzo - a forgotten instrumental gem, but always popular live (the video clip is from Abba The Movie, though the sound is from a live Hamburg 1977 concert, hence the lack of sync!)

The band rock out in On and On and On (in what, despite its Youtube billing as "Abba's last concert", seems to be a TV special). (Think their last live concert was in Tokyo in 1980.)

And possibly the finest Abba song of all, once again from Arrival: My Love, My Life (TV performance) .

A Happy New Year to all my readers

When I married a Scot I fairly soon discovered one of those pesky little differences that lurk to trip up the unwary Englishman in Scotland (or vice versa). Not the bank holidays/public holidays/local holidays one, or the house purchasing one, or the Sunday trading one. No, I mean the "Happy New Year" one. You see, in England, people wish each other "Happy New Year" when they are parting for the last time in the old year (e.g. as you leave work on 31 December). The Scottish way, however, is to do the whole shaking-hands-and-wishing-Happy-New-Year thing (and they do make rather more of it than we reserved Anglos) at the first meeting in the new year. It takes an Englishman aback somewhat to be wished a Happy New Year in late January, but I've had it happen. (Of course, it bemuses Scots colleagues similarly to be wished HNY in late December.)

So I shall be getting muchly handshook tomorrow whan I go back to work. You, meanwhile, are getting my best wishes in my first post of 2008.

Happy New Year.