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

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Can you sum up 2005 in just 24 words?

If you can, do so here. I did.

If you can't, try harder. Really, you can.

Two nations divided by a common language, Well, and a border, in fact.

I was just over on Ruth's blog. She described such a delightful Christmas that it seemed superfluous to wish her a happy (belated) one, so I wished her a happy New Year.

Which got me to thinking of one of those culture-shock moments that hit you occasionally when you move from one country to another, even if only from England to Scotland. You see, in England, people wish each other "Happy New Year" when they last see them before January 1st. So you might have heard people leaving work tonight wishing their colleagues a happy new year. Not so in Scotland, where you do it the first time you see people on or after January 1st. Thus the culture shock, of having people come up to you on about 10th January, warmly shaking your hand (another Scottish thing) and wishing you a happy new year.

I tell you, it's a whole different country. (Though you have to love a place where "uplift" means "collect", where they use "outwith" for "outside the boundary of"; where "messages" means "shopping" and where a "bucket" is a rubbish bin.) It's funny to think that until comparatively recently - certainly in my lifetime - Christmas day was a normal working day up here, and New Year was not just the main holiday, but the only one. And as Scottish Country Dancing (highly telegenic) is much more a part of the cultural mainstream than its English equivalent, it's easy to see how the Scottish celebration of New Year has come to dominate the airwaves and has thus become a North-to-South export.

As I come on call for work at 0800 tomorrow for 72 hours, I shall be boringly sober as 2006 arrives. Never mind.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas Highlights

1) I got the new Darkness CD. Yay!

2) As a result of my having played her the Rocky Horror Picture Show CD in the car on the way to Ballater, my daughter now sings The Time Warp incessantly.

3) Ballater looking exceptionally beautiful after a snowfall, and with great plates of ice floating along on the surface of the Dee.

4) Wonderful notice at the information centre at Loch Muick, which conjures up visions of suffocating dogs:

  • If your dog defecates please pick it up and take it away with you. Do not leave it in a plastic bag for others to dispose of.
5) For once we managed a Christmas with my in-laws without any crossness or other unpleasantness. Good will to all men etc.

6) Watching My Family and Other Animals on TV on Wednesday: a hoot. Never read the book, but clearly I should have. The Saunders family's favourite moment was when Spiro (a Greek) tries repeatedly and unsuccessfully to say "magpie" without interpolating an extra syllable. "Listen: 'MAG....PIE'." "MAG....enpie". Like trying to persuade a Spaniard that "Stephen" doesn't begin with an "e", as in "Estephen".

7) Some lovely walks in the Ballater area for which the weather stayed mostly fine.

8) Seeing The Constant Gardener at the cinema a few hours ago. Not a great Le Carre fan, I went to see it purely on the recommendation of friends and blogmates, but blow me if I don't think it's about the best thing I've seen all year, with a terrific central performance from Ralph Fiennes.

9) Lochnagar remaining clear much of the time so that by lining ourselves up we could view its summit from the comfort of our living room (we have the only flat in the block from which that's possible, we now realise). Which is nice. (You have to love a mountain whose summits are named Big Tit Hill and Little Tit Hill, all the more so when Little Tit Hill is actually the higher, by 18 feet.)

10) The Christmas lights in our flat are very pretty, but the house directly opposite is occupied by a Christmas Light Fetishist, and is festooned with Santas climbing neon ladders, flashing reindeer, motorised waving Santas, and all kinds of other festive tat. Magnificent.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Very Merry Christmas To All My Vistors

I shall be up in Ballater ("the country estate") for the next few days, blissfully out of range of Internetty things, so I won't be posting. Therefore:

We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year

...though I'll be back before then.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Now where are my chopsticks?

This Christmas, let's remember poor Mike (Troubled Diva) stuck over in China, having to get used to a wholly different kind of Christmas dinner:



(Sorry Clare.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs or trying to eat your poo...

A pre-Christmas treat from Heather Armstrong.

Maybe if Clare reads it it will cheer her up. Nothing like a good poop story to give one a sense of perspective.

Lead to Gold we can do these days, but Uranium to Carbon?

SO Alan Whitehead is planning to oppose any government proposals for new nuclear power stations as part of its strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This intellectual powerhouse is quoted in the Guardian today as saying:

“If there was a free market in energy, ie no assistance for new nuclear build, no long term promise of a guaranteed market and no minimum price for nuclear, no one would build a new nuclear power station.” Which may be true. Still, electricity from coal-fired power stations is sold to the national grid at £18/MWh; electricity from wind turbines at £68/MWh. Who would build wind farms, or buy their electricity, if construction and operation were not both hugely subsidised by the taxpayer? But of course Mr Whitehead, as a board member of Southampton Sustainable Energy Limited, would hardly want to emphasise that.

Also:

“Nuclear is not carbon-free.”

Other than the exhaled breath of the employees at the plant, and their car exhausts, both of which apply equally to wind power, would Mr Whitehead, or anyone else, care to explain to me where CO2 emissions originate in a nuclear power station? After all, he has a degree in Politics and Philosophy while my own is only in Chemistry. Until such enlightenment is forthcoming, I shall continue to harbour the suspicion that Alan Whitehead is as knowledgeable about science, and as scrupulous with the truth, as Tom DeWeese and Stephen Byers.

Of course it is right that there should be proper debate on the relative merits of all the various forms of energy production. I agree that we should be putting more money into research on renewables. But telling outright lies at the very start of his anti-nuclear campaign is not the most auspicious beginning, and for that if no other reason I hope it blows up in his face.

If bike-riding is a form of pagan Earth worship how come the last time I saw a nude woman on a bike was in a Queen video?

Thanks to Anna of Little Red Boat for linking to this article by George Monbiot. Sometimes I like George, sometimes not. Here he mostly talks sense. He mentions the Association of British Drivers website, which I thought might be amusing to take a peep at, especially as he mentions its many links to websites "claiming that global warming is a fraud". Now when Greens describe people as treating global warming as imaginary what they usually mean is that those people fail to toe the Green party line in every respect. For God's sake, Bjorn Lomborg is routinely derided as a "global warming sceptic" despite explicitly stating (in The Sceptical Environmentalist) not only that global warming is a reality, but that it is mainly, possibly wholly, caused by human activity. This makes him many degrees less sceptical than many reputable scientists, including David Bellamy. (Also than me. FWIW I think it's a reality, don' t think we're mainly to blame, but think it would be a good idea if we didn't actually make it worse while we argue over the causes.) So I thought I'd take a look at these sites and see just how flaky they were., or weren't.


Well, here's the page. (Click the "Global Warming" tab.) Some of the links would seem to fit George's description, some not so much. Some simply point out that the situation is less clear-cut than George and his buddies would have us believe, while falling far short of rubbishing the whole idea of global warming. The link near the bottom labelled TCS - the British Lysenko? worries me because of the Blair government's attempt to censor scientific discussion, not in Britain (which would be bad enough but no surprise) but in Russia. Happily they failed (embarrassingly).

But the post that worries me the most is one that undeniably fits George's stereotype. I can't decide whether it is more deserving of an award for bad science or bad journalism. When reading it I thrice (*) had to check to convince myself it wasn't a spoof.

* Once at "Anyone who tells you that scientific research shows warming trends................is wrong." (But, er, around 10,000 years ago the spot where I'm sitting now was under 80m of ice. Of course there's a warming trend, jackass, we're on our way out of an Ice Age.) Once again at the description of NASA as "the most trusted name in American science". (That would be the NASA routinely castigated by astronomers for wasting money on manned missions - often defence-related - that could be going on far more productive robot probes like Voyager, Galileo, Cassini etc. And the NASA trusted by hardly anyone since their cavalier attitude to safety on those manned missions lost two shuttles and their crews.) And finally at "Every single product that is produced with the use of energy would increase in price. This includes items such as aspirin, contact lenses and toothpaste." (And also, presumably, items such as rifle bullets, swimming pools and vibrating latex masturbators. Aren't examples wonderful?)

Actually, you have to wonder too at the hymn of praise to the pesticides that have made America the "safest and healthiest country in the world". Quite apart from the fact that AFAIK it isn't either of those things, the banned pesticides are for the most part compounds you really wouldn't want to spend quality time with. And I'm pretty sure that Tom DeWeese must have owned stock in a major freon manufacturer to judge from his glowing descriptions of this "valuable product". Of course, the whole environmental movement is a wicked communist plot to destroy the American way of life by driving up petrol taxes to (shock!) 60 cents per gallon.

Maybe the Dieldrin and freon have damaged Mr DeWeese's brain. Reading his article came close to damaging mine.

So - to return finally to George Monbiot - why on Earth does the Association of British Drivers link to this tosh from its website?

P.S.

In the link "Science sceptics meet on climate" (and I must reluctantly agree with the ABD about the BBC's biased labelling there) there is a wonderful quote from Stephen Byers MP, that "Our planet is at risk" (from climate change). If I hear one more moron say that, I may hang her/him by the neck until s/he develops sentience. Listen: 130 million years ago our planet had the vast majority of its species (and a substantial number of whole families of species) totally wiped out by global warming. It not only recovered, it evolved flowering plants, social insects, and a load of other lifeforms such as dinosaurs. Then 65 million years ago there was a slightly smaller extinction, which removed the dinosaurs. Now look around you. Do we live on a planet devoid of life, or one whose biodiversity we celebrate? Has this fool ever heard of evolution? The planet isn't remotely at risk. We are, but that's a whole different story. The planet will get on fine without us, and I will get on fine without Stephen Byers' cretinous grandstanding.

P.P.S. If you Google Tom DeWeese you get some cracking links that show you where this guys is really at. Personal favourite: Is Your Church Teaching Pagan Earth Worship In Sunday School? (A: Er, no.) Contains this passage:

In a Group Workbook entitled: "Sunday School Specials" a chapter tells students that "real conservation means remembering to turn off lights, hiking or biking instead of hitching a car ride, and cooling off in the shade instead of in the air conditioning. Kids are often tempted to do things the easy way instead of the 'green' way. They need lots of encouragement and affirmation to develop and stick to an environment-conscious lifestyle..." That one line demonstrates an important key to the purpose of Group's Sunday school curriculum—to promote a political agenda based on pagan earth worship rather than Christian values.

Wake up and smell the freon, Tom.

Poetic justice (*)

It was serendipitous that, having got behind with my Doonesbury reading, I should encounter this strip (from last Sunday) on the day that Judge Jones told the Intelligent Design scammers to sling their unconstitutional hook well away from any US schoolroom. (Amen.)

As Woody Allen put it in Annie Hall when he had Marshall McLuhan weigh in on his behalf in a cinema queue argument, "If only real life were like this". Imagine if we could be rid of the creationists, in a manner not only demonstrating the evolution of bacteria, but also the operation of natural selection against pig-headed stupidity.

Bliss.

(*) As the secret policeman puts it in Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, that means we bring you into line even if it means we have to chop off one of your feet.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Divine Secrets of the Yo-Yo Ma Sisterhood

I couldn't pass by this post from the wonderful Ruth of Meanwhile, here in France.

I just wish that Ruth were a novelist and could spin these fascinating lives into a proper book.

Now perhaps we can put a name to the cat in Neo's deja vu

Just read a great piece by Zoe Williams in last Tuesday's Guardian all about The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. (via Danzor.) I liked Danzor's remark that people complain about the death-and-resurrection business in TLTWATW but don't bat an eyelid when Neo dies and comes back to life in The Matrix. He even has a kind of ascension to heaven in Matrix Revolutions.

Allegories are what you make them. Really, you don't need to know, or care, about Christianity to enjoy the Narnia stories, any more than you need to know The Tempest to enjoy Forbidden Planet. (Which my daughter loved when small, expecially the steps bending under the tread of the invisible monster...though she did hide behind the sofa when the same monster was melting the door of Morbius's control room!)

Jauchzet, frohlocket.

Another concert last night (Saturday). This time all I had to do was play my violin, though, as it was a different orchestra. We (Edinburgh Players) were accompanying the Jubilo singers in a Christmas carol concert. Same sort of mixture as every year: some carols for the audience to join in, some just for the choir, some for choir and orchestra. What choirs did before David Willcocks and John Rutter made their hundreds of (very well-known - trust me, you've heard at least one) carol arrangements it's hard to imagine. There was a moderately substantial centrepiece in Gerald Finzi's In Terra Pax, and after the interval the orchestra played a short work without the choir (this year it was a CPE Bach Symphony). Then it was encore time, and we all whipped out Santa hats, antlers, tinsel etc for Jingle Bells. I had my bow festooned with red tinsel; the flutes both had hats which emitted birdsong, some of the choir sported flashing lights, the first bassoon had a snowman sticking out of the end of his bassoon, and our section leader had a red nose and antlers.

Hilary and I were watching John Eliot Gardiner conducting the first part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Weimar on BBC 4 earlier this evening. The performance was excellent, and we hope that on day 6 when they finish they'll bring out the antlers and festoon the baroque trumpets with tinsel. After all, the final chorale "Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen" is one of the most extrovert, ebullient things Bach ever wrote; if ever a piece of Bach called for flashing ear-rings and Santa hats, that would be the one. (The suites for solo cello, not so much.)

But apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?

I just heard this wonderful anecdote from Sir Timothy West on a Radio 4 programme all about how extraneous noises and occurrences disrupt the audience's suspension of disbelief.

He was acting in a play in Brighton, and had to go on through the only door in the set, which was locked. He had a key, of course, but one night someone from the stage management had accidentally put up the latch on the lock, so he couldn't open the door. The audience could see him (and his stage wife Connie Booth) through a glass panel in the door, and eventually West turned to a stage manager and said "You'll have to do something", whereupon the SM said he'd get the curtain rung down. However, the flyman (curtain operator) having no cues for the next 50 minutes had gone to the pub so had ti be fetched.

Meanwhile, a small Assistant SM had crawled between the set and the proscenium and gone out front; explained that there had been a technical hitch, and opened the door (to applause). West and Booth duly made their entrance, just as the first SM returned with the flyman and brought down the curtain.

That SM then went out front to make an announcement, and decided to go through the division in the curtain. This division hadn't been used for around 30 years as the curtain was always simply used as a drop, so when he got through, his dinner jacket was completely covered in cobwebs and grey dust. Some people screamed at the sight; a lady fainted.

So, for the third time, the performance began. West and Booth entered, and (probably through nerves) the Chief Electrician hit the blackout button, plunging the stage into darkness.

At this point Hugh Whitemore, author of the play, decided it was time to leave. He got up, and as he left the auditorium the 'Exit' sign fell on his head.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Awwwww

Awwwww (via)

Eeeuw.

Words fail me. (via)

Only in Australia

Here's another very funny post from Saltation's blog.

And I don't mean it would only happen in Australia. I mean that only in Australia would someone write to the paper about it. Even as a joke.

Left, right, left, right,...

Saltation has a great post concerning a test you can try at home to check out your brain switching rate. Go and try it. I tried twice (if you're on your own, dial up the speaking clock) and came out disappointingly average both times. It will be interesting to try under different conditions (though not when drunk).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And soon, new paragraph, it is music.

From Counago & Spaves, this marvellous example of Babelfish in action(via.)
I laughed so much I was in danger of floating up to the ceiling like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I think I like "the actor Horseradish tree Kingsley" best, though the terse description of the five live appearances by Gorillaz as "Five plenty" is not without charm. Nice to know that the mass of students is "one of the most nourished of Great Britain"; must be all those Indian restaurants.

Radical Militant Librarians of the World, Unite!

This from Francis in Stockholm. I love the thought of librarians kicking the FBI around. "Agent Mulder, if you don't turn that cell phone off RIGHT NOW I'm going to have to cancel your ticket for the special collections. And Agent Scully, if you want to be allowed to borrow any more books on cryptozoology I'll need your solemn promise that you won't get them covered in slimy stuff nest time."

Your Email did not reach a humanoid. It only reached Replicant Level 1.

Let's celebrate the Plain English Campaign 2005 Awards. Nice to see the Guardian getting Best National Newspaper; even nicer to see the Edinburgh Evening News getting Best Regional Newspaper. Take a look at the Scottish Borders Council website, and join me in wondering why all government websites can't be like that.

And of course, enjoy the Golden Bull awards. I can't suppress the suspicion that the UK2Net one is simply a joke that was unappreciated; but some of the others are terrific. My favourite, I think, is the Australian one, not so much because it's unclear ( I agree with most commentators that the Halton Borough Council one is out on its own there) but because it's surely only a matter of time before the British Government writes something like this into law....

Lucky thirteen

A good day.

(a) The man came and replaced my hard drive. I am typing this on my own computer again. Yay! Don't have all the software reinstalled yet, and seem to have selected a moderately crappy font for the browser default. Everything on my screen is slightly bigger than I used to have it, but I haven't tweaked the right setting yet. But I'm back online.

(b) A joiner came and looked at our back steps, and they're not (as we feared) about to collapse under us. They just need a coat of paint (which we knew). How cool is that, though? A joiner who, when given the opportunity to suck air through his teeth and tell us we need all the steps replacing (as he is doing next door) tells us we don't need him to do anything at all? Maybe I imagined him.

(c) I wrote all my Christmas cards. This may be the first year ever when I've done that before about the 20th.

(d) Good rehearsal this evening: carol concert, nothing too taxing, all good fun.

(e) Yesterday I got rid of the last instruments from my garage (tubular bells, tam-tam, vibraphone). I declare the British music concert OVER.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I suppose I asked for this

See, children, this is what happens when you post sarcastic comments about Tofurky and then do a "How Do You Taste?" quiz (via):


tofu
You taste like tofu. You are a bit tasteless, but
you feel as smooth as silk. You're good for
the body and are preferred in the company of
hippies and health enthusiasts.


How do you taste?
brought to you by Quizilla

...but then tomorrow morning. Oh then you come down.

On the way home from the Runrig concert we pulled off the A8 into the Showcase Cinemas leisure park, to patronise the drive-thru Macdonald's (not having eaten anything since about four o'clock). Hilary' s carload collected their food and parked, and I (with two kids) collected three meals, went to go to park, and...whoops, no engine. Dead. As. A Dodo. And the alarm began to emit mournful intermittent bleeps. My first thought was that the alarm's immobiliser had decided to go AWOL. Anyway, got pushed into a parking space, ate food, then phoned for the RAC. The lady on the phone (Jenny, hi there!) was insistent that, unfortunately, knowing we were at the Showcase Leisure Park by the Uddingston turnoff on the A8 just outside Glasgow was NOT going to be specific enough for her to send me someone. What part of Glasgow was I in? The correct answer (see above, as we were just outside Glasgow, on the A8, etc) did not satisfy her, and a postcode had to be supplied. God only knows what I'd have done had Macdonald's not still been open to tell me they were G69 something. Anyway, I sent all the others home in Hilary's car and settled down to wait for the predicted 75 minutes.

After five minutes, the contractor the RAC had contacted rang me up and we talked about my problem (he reckoned my battery had got flattened somehow) and where I was. When I told him (see above) he knew at once where I meant, and said "Oh, the RAC told me you were in Glasgow City". I may campaign against it, and know in my heart that it's wrong, but I can sometime understand why call centre staff receive verbal abuse. It's because they're so ******** incompetent. Sometimes. (Hi, Jenny, from the West Midlands.)

After 79 minutes, man with truck appeared and confirmed that my battery was flat. Also, old and clapped-out, hence probably not really charging properly any more. He jump started me, I drove home, arriving about an hour and a half after the others, and today I got a new battery.

Technology doesn't love me.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

And you made this land great, and you made this nation bloom...

Last night the Saunders family, accompanied by our friends the Walkers, trooped through to Glasgow to see Runrig at Barrowlands. I was the only one who had been to Barrowlands before, as it turned out: a wonderfully seedy establishment (metal detectors at the door; no bottles of water or anything else to be taken in; my Swiss army knife was confiscated on an earlier visit). The actual concert space reminds me of nothing so much as the dance hall in "The Boys"; it should rightfully be full of teddy boys and their squeezes going through the "Ur ye dancin'?" "Ur ye askin'?" "I'm askin'" "I'm dancin'" ritual.

Last night, though, it was full of Riggies. Not sure how often the others have seen Runrig, but this was my seventh time and Hilary's eighth. Runrig have provided part of the soundtrack to our relationship ever since we bought The Highland Connection and were bowled over by it. We'd grown up with electric folk (Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span et al), and had heard Alan Stivell make something special, a political tool, even, of the Celtic version. This, though, had left its folk roots in the car outside, and was very definitely Celtic Rock. Richard Thompson and Ashley Hutchings once dreamed of an English rock-and-roll, one that looked to Cecil Sharp, Percy Grainger, mummers and morris dancing for its inspiration rather than Afro-American slave music. Well, here was a genuinely Scottish rock and roll, rooted in Gaelic psalm singing, the Highland Clearances, and the everyday life of the Scottish Islands - ferries, unemployment, alienation, a fierce sense of history, Westminster remoteness and ignorance. OK, they weren't - and aren't - Led Zeppelin, but they could rock when they wanted to, as well as stirring the emotions. Their songs over the years included both Ard, surely the most bitter Well-I-woke-up-the-morning-after-the-election-and-the-Tories-really-had-been-re-elected song you could wish for, and Maymorning, penned the day after the positive referendum result on devolution and adopted by BBC Scotland as its theme music for the opening of the Scottish Parliament a year or so later.

However much Runrig entered our lives, they touched other people's more. Our friends the Walkers had been fans as long as we had, and more faithfully. Sue and Nick were with us (and Vanessa) at Runrig's last gig with their original vocalist Donny Munro, on the night Princess Diana died. When Nick died last November, Sue picked some Runrig tracks o play at his funeral, discarding some as simply too painful. Saturday was her first Runrig show without Nick, and inevitably they played all the most evocative numbers (though to be fair, whatever they had played it would have been a very difficult experience). Sue got through it, not without the occasional bad moment, but far better, I suspect, than I could have handled something similar. Her children - our godchildren - with the resilience of youth, or perhaps simply less susceptibility to musically-induced emotional turmoil, were fine.

Making allowances, then, for my attention's having been at least as much on those around me as on what was happening on the stage, I can report that Runrig were on great form on the final night of their tour. I can't provide a whole set list, but they certainly did:

Flower of the West
The Wedding
The Cutter
The Old Boys
Skye
Alba (as part of a medley)
Protect and Survive
The Stamping Ground
The Engine Room
Pride of the Summer
Proterra
Siol Ghoraidh
Life Is
Only the Brave
The Message
Maymorning
Loch Lomond

A few surprises: the first time I've seen them when they haven't done Rocket to the Moon (a personal favourite, quoted in the title of this post). The first time I've seen Bruce Guthro (their current lead vocalist) measure himself up against one of the big anthemic numbers from the Donny Munro era (Flower of the West) - and acquit himself magnificently. A new arrangement of Only the Brave, more rhythmic and driven than the old one, and uncovering new aspects of the song. A cursory nod to Alba.

As ever, though, the finale was Loch Lomond. It's hard to describe the place of this song in the Runrig canon, or in their mythology. First aired on The Highland Connection, their version was an attempt to free the song from a million aural shortbread tins and to give it its due place in the Scottish tradition of Jacobite songs. To quote from the liner notes:

Written to his sweetheart after the '45 rebellion by a young soldier awaiting execution at Carlisle for his part in the Jacobite Rising. The low road refers to his impending death while the high road is the sign of hope for which he has sacrificed his life.

I can't speak for anyone else, but up to that point I had never actually considered the significance of the high and low roads.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the song became very much associated with the band, becoming in effect their theme tune and the closer for all their gigs. The arrangement became a little more elaborate to match, with more upbeat interludes. And thus it remains: the fans have their own traditions (there is a set of clap-clap, point, clap-clap, point gestures which go with the introduction, and when left to sing by themselves the fans always speed up until brought - very firmly - back into line by the band).

So. Another great Runrig gig. Same old material (they aren't promoting a new album apart from a recent "Best Of"), but continual reinvention of it, which is reassuring. Bruce is beginning to relax about doing numbers heavily associated with his predecessor, and is taking his fair share now of Gaelic backing vocals (the band's founders were from Skye, while Bruce Guthro is from Nova Scotia).

Next album, please.

I'm a boy, I'm a boy....

...according to the BEM Sex Role Inventory Test. This measures how well you fit gender stereotypes,and on that basis I seem to be 80% masculine and 43% feminine.

Should I worry that I fit a stereotype, or adopt my best Woody Allen swagger?

Thanks to Norm for the link.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Soya beans don't vote for Thanksgiving either.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a Thanksgiving dinner given by some American friends of ours and how I'd learned various new things about Thanksgiving. One of those new things was the existence of Tofurky (which is what vegetarians eat if they really really have to have something turkeyoid at Thanksgiving). Chip and Eddie did not provide Vanessa (who is veggie) with Tofurky, I am relieved to report.

Anyway, somewhere on my surfing of Bloggie-nominated sites I encountered this picture which I had to share with you:



I especially like the idea of Tofurky Giblet Gravy.

It's your vote, your vote, we're asking for your vote....

First of all, go here and vote in the 2005 Weblog Awards. No, I've not been nominated (dream on...) but some of the finest blogs on my blogroll are in there. For example, Mike has been nominated in the Gay BLT category (I don't know, something to do with sandwiches, I think). Petite is up for best European (non UK) blog, and while I'e been voting for her I should point out in fairness that Vit is also a nominee. The marvellous Boing Boing is up for overall Best Blog. A new addition to my blogroll, which I found via the Weblog Awards site, is D-flat Chime Bar, nominated in the catchy "Best of the Top 6751 - 8750 Blogs" category. And bringing up the rear for no other reason than that she's the only one currently leading the field in her category, we have Dooce in "Parenting Blogs". You can vote once every day in each category until the closing date (whenever it is - look it up yourself). Seems weird, but there you are.

Second, if you look at the 18 November post on D-flat Chime Bar, you will find a link to this site which looks rather fun. I'm sure I shall be posting various things in it.....

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Deck the boat with lots of money, tra-la-la-la-la etc etc

Anna is collecting money here for a good cause.

Give. Her. Some. Money. It needn't be much. And it will let you have that warm Christmassy feeling without having to spill mulled wine down your front.

A Good Man Not Content To Do Nothing

I have just watched Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize lecture on Channel 4. First of all, full marks to Channel 4 for showing the whole thing, uncut, uninterrupted by advertisements, and on the terrestrial channel (having shown it live, I think, on More4 earlier).

You can see the lecture here (high bandwidth) or here (low bandwidth). Or you can simply read it.

Like so many other Nobel lectures it was fascinating, all the more so because for once we could watch it being delivered (Pinter was too ill to attend the ceremony but made a video of his lecture and sent it in). While most media attention will undoubtedly - and rightly - focus on its political content, I found myself enthralled by Pinter's description of how he writes plays. How he starts with a line; that suggests an image; then he follows the image. He doesn't start out knowing anything at all about the characters or the story; he has to deduce that from what the characters reveal. While I've heard of writers who set characters going with no clear idea of where they will end up, Pinter is the first writer I've heard of whose characters only reveal themselves a little at a time to allow him to write at all. An extraordinary working method and one which, I am confident, explains the enigmatic character of so many of his plays.

The main part of Pinter's lecture is concerned with an analysis of United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War, with particular reference to the Iraq war but also to the Reagan (and Bush senior) administrations' support for the "contras" in Nicaragua. I suspect most regular readers of this blog will find few facts in the lecture which they didn't know (though Pinter's description of his conversation about Nicaragua with the deputy US Ambassador to Britain is chilling). However, you won't often find the sentiments so well expressed. As David Hare put it in his introduction to the lecture, most writers start out radical and settle down in old age to comfortable membership of the establshment. Pinter, on the other hand, has been speeding in the opposite direction. Watch the video: you won't often have the chance to see a Knight of the British Empire calling for the arraignment of the Prime Minister of war crimes charges.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Yet another festival of collaborative bloggery

I started this post on Monday night at work, but Blogger was playing silly Bloggers as so often and repeatedly trashed my browser if I so much as tried to post a comment. Yesterday I was away, and tonight Blogger merely takes five minutes to open a window. No surprise, then, that Clare has been posting comments on my blog about the subject of this post before I've finished the post.

OK. Anyway....

Vitriolica is running a collaborative online novel project, with a number of participants all writing a chapter each. Clare got to go first, and blimey, didn't she do well.

Go read it.

Duncan the Fair has a cool tombstone

Thanks to Croila for this link to pictures of Duncan Ban MacIntyre's monument in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Last night Blogger wasn't letting me post comments. (Their server had a "technical issue", meaning that it always asked for the same word in the word verification box, then failed to accept it and displayed blank images for all subsequent attempts. Helpful.) So I had to respond to her comment on this post via email, saying that I'd heard of Duncan Ban but that he was just a name to me, and I couldn't find a picture of his grave. Hence the link she sent me.

That is one awesome tombstone. I have to find that next time I'm there and not busily shifting instruments. Apparently Croila has never seen the actual monument either. Maybe we'll bump into each other in a MacIntyre-inspired informal blogmeet.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Once More With Feeling

I'm sitting here blogging feeling very happy at present, an effect partly attributable to a large Havana Club and coke but also to today's rehearsal and concert having gone very well. Nobody failed to turn up (though the harpist cut the rehearsal pretty fine, and one of the percussionists arrived tonight as we were lining up to go on). No major instrument moves in the car today (a pair of congas, that's all), and plenty of help from the various players with moving everything from the storage area in the church to the stage and back.

The audience was rather disappointing (under a hundred), although the programme may have been less obviously appealing than sometimes. Good pieces all, though, especially the Macmillan, which everyone seemed to think we'd brought off really well. It is often (and truthfully) said that the big difference between amateur orchestras, however good, and professional ones is the quality of the ensemble - how well they play together, how tight they are as a band. Fair comment: ours isn't up to professional standard, but we don't play together as often. Not everyone can make every rehearsal, people leave, people join. Another thing that often sets pros and ams apart is commitment, with amateur players sometimes being very tentative. I once heard a conductor giving a pep talk to an amateur orchestra about to perform Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, which is technically ferocious as well as being an exhausting play. He said that if we played a wrong note, or missed an entry, or committed any number of technical and musical gaffes, we'd know, and a few players around us in the orchestra might know. Perhaps one or two people in an audience of several hundred would notice. But if we didn't play the piece as though we meant it, if we shied away from committing ourselves and played it half-heartedly, everybody in the hall would notice. One of the best pieces of musical advice I've ever had. Anyway, tonight ESO played all the pieces with real commitment, and while I suppose it was far from the most accurate performance either the Walton or the MacMillan has received, I was very proud of them.

One of the percussionists had flown up today from Oxford where he plays with the Univeristy Orchestra. He has been a big fan of theMacMillan since he first did it with them many years ago. Anyway, he thought we did a rather better job of it than they had, and was asking whether we were an entirely amateur orchestra. yes, we are (and one of several decent ones in Edinburgh): the odd music teacher (like my wife Hilary), but mostly doctors, laywers, IT professionals, teachers, university lecturers, with the odd psychiatrist, biochemist, librarian, accountant, civil servant. Just dedicated hobbyists, is all we are.

No instrument moves tomorrow: day off. Yay!

Fancy th@

This is rather interesting (via).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

He's not wrong

I hadn't heard this quote from Barry Norman before finding it on Tiny Pineapple's blog. Rather good, I thought.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How could I forget?

I suppose you all want a picture of the memorial to Greyfriars Kirkyard's most illustrious inhabitant?


No, not this one.


















This one.

The Roadie Speaks

... or at least blogs. Today was the big moving day: squillions of percussion instruments from various garages, store-rooms, etc into Greyfriars Kirk for our concert tomorrow. All handled impeccably by Neil of Intransit Removals with his, er, Transit. Except for the eighteen tubes from the tubular bells which were lovingly transported in the back of my car after I'd taken out yesterday's kettledrum. (For Joe's benefit, the only thing I played were the bells, after I'd strung them all together, to make sure I hadn't misread a C# as a C and screwed everything up.)

All I have to do tomorrow is play my violin. And worry a bit. Worry that the harpist won't turn up (though she always does). Worry that the percussionist who's arriving on the 0830 flight will be delayed. Worry that the layout of seats and risers will be wrong and that we'll have players who can't see. Worry that I can't play the music.

Last time I was responsible for this stuff was when the guy who then regularly arranged all the moving was in hospital, back in February when we did Mahler's Sixth Symphony. I remember coming out for the Saturday morning rehearsal absurdly chuffed that nothing had gone wrong, that everything worked, that I could play the music, and I was so elated I went and backed the car into a lamp-post. A very nice old-fashioned, "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" kind of lamp-post, in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. But still a lamp-post, which received less of a dent than the car did. I shall be watching it tomorrow to make sure it doesn't leap out and attack me again.

I'm sorry, just found this really cool bit on the Greyfriars site. Round and round we go, wondering who the guy is who was captured for posterity in mid-aisle. We shall be performing down at the end underneath the organ.

We have to link to this

Beacuse it's Christmas. Yes, 'Tis.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I had that 24" timp in the back of my car

We are entering a busy period of intrument moving. Yesterday I had a pair of congas and an anvil in my boot (actually, although the sound is authenically anvilesque, the noise in question is generated by a metal mallet on an immersion heater spanner).

Today was the turn of a borrowed 24" copper kettledrum.

To be continued.....

Gobble gobble

Last Thursday I learned all kinds of Thanksgiving-related stufffrom our American hosts, including the whole "hand turkey" business. As Thanksgiving is a wholly secular holiday it's OK to celebrate it in schools, so teachers and kids go crazy over it. The hand turkey is a kind of cartoon turkey you get by drawing round your fingers and adding stuff. I think we're talking about primary kids, though maybe the odd grad student....

Well, visiting Defective Yeti today I found this, which made me laugh.

In which I comfortably exceed my previous record for hyperlinks per line.

So anyway, I'd just been reading Mike's post all about his fruity ceramic oddity, and had posted a picture of the Dunmore Pineapple in his comment box (as you do). When we lived in Stirling it was one of the places we liked to take visitors. We also liked to take them to meet Hercules the bear. I mean, you can't avoid Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (we had a stunning view of the Wallace Monument from our living-room, and Bannockburn is a Stirling suburb) but one tries to diversify, to avoid the obvious where one can.

Anyway...I was idly Googling around looking for more pictures of the Pineapple (and I bet that isn't a sentence that gets typed very often) and thus encountered Tiny Pineapple. Her blog contained this post, which I submitted to Mike as a Post of the Week contender. It also contained this gallery (hence the Google hit) of general pineappleabilia. Divinely bizarre; I would have sent her a picture of Mike's botanical/sculptural monstrosity were it clearly not, as qB pointed out so wittily, a Pumpkinapple. Mike, you'll just have to wait for a Tiny Pumpkinapple blog to evolve.

Taking "Caveat Emptor" into a whole new dimension

Comment would be wholly superfluous.(via.)