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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dan Cruickshank, Edinburgh Book Festival 18 August

Dan Cruickshank is best known as a TV presenter of programmes about architecture. He is immensely enthusiastic, waves his arms a lot, and comes across as a kind of architectural Patrick Moore. (My wife described his speaking style as "like Rob's but with even more hand-waving". Hmmm.) Certainly the attempt by his interviewer at the Book Festival to corral him into a one-hour slot by any means other than simply shutting him off after 55 minutes and asking for a couple of questions was doomed to failure. Dan wa delighted that his talk was beng signed for the deaf, and said he would try to use long and interesting words so we could all watch the signer. In the event the only ones I remember are the signs for "igloo" and "yurt".

Anyway...he was talking about his book (and TV series) Adventures in Architecture. he had slides, and much (much!) anecdote to accompany the various types of buildings he was enthusing about, which in the time available came down to igloos, Yemeni mud-brick skyscrapers and a Mumbai shanty town. It's a long time since I saw someone so totally intent on sharing a passion for something non-political.

An amusing igloo anecdote: he went to a town in Greenland to find someone who could build an igloo (which were only ever hunting shelters so nowadays not in great demand). The houses in the town all appeared remarkably similar apart from colour, and this turned out to be because they had all come from IKEA flat-packs.

If you ever have the chance to see him, either live or on television, do take it. A national treasure.

R.I.P. Abie Nathan

I was over at Adam Holland's blog (posting critical comments mainly - Mr Holland and I do not exactly see eye to eye over matters of Israel and Palestine) when I saw this post, which I thought deserved a wider readership.

I have to say, Abie Nathan sounds quite a guy. I look forward to reading a decent biography of him, if one exists.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lost In Translation

While Googling for information on the Jerusalem Quartet I came across this column in Ha'aretz. It's the book review in the first part that interested me: pity it's only published in Hebrew so far. Still, I shall watch out for When and How Was The Jewish People Invented? by Prof Shlomo Zand of Tel Aviv University.

Monday, August 25, 2008

This is the first time I have stood in the marketplace and shouted.....

...well, actually it isn't, but fans of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond books (at least those of a certain age) will recognise the reviewer's puff from the back covers of the 1970s paperbacks. But this isn't about Lymond or Dunnett, it's about Torchwood and Narnia. I've been a fan of the latter since my student days (about the same as Lymond, in fact) but never really got into the former other than noting its existence as a Dr Who spin-off.

Here, though, courtesy of a friend (also from those far-off student days) on LiveJournal, we have an amazing piece of fanfic (hate the word, but there it is). Amazing in the sense of being really well-written. Amazing in the sense of being a beautiful amalgam of the two storylines. Amazing in making sense of Susan's otherwise inexplicable (except in terms of Lewis's misogyny) disawoval of Narnia. Amazing in being extremely moving.

Make up your own mind.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rose Street Ensemble with Murray McLachlan, Greyfriars Kirk, 17 August

I was performing in this one, doing both the Brahms Piano Concertos. Tiring for the orchestra so God only knows what it must have felt like for the pianist. Still, Murray McLachlan did a good job on them and we didn't screw up. I'll leave detailed reviewing to someone less biased:


Murray McLachlan, Greyfriars Kirk


August 19 2008

Star Rating: ***

To hear the two Brahms piano concertos in one evening is such a rarity - this critic, in a lifetime of concert-going, had never before experienced them 'back to back,' as the printed programme put it - that it gave Murray McLachlan's presentation of them an aura the moment he touched the keyboard of the sonorous Bosendorfer that was his chosen instrument on Sunday.

Though the second concerto is the obverse of the first, the challenge each of them poses, along with their daunting length, has always kept them apart. But McLachlan proved he had the stamina and concentration to bind them together and, in performances of notable breadth and vigour, he held the attention of a packed house from start to finish.

But not only the soloist needs Brahmsian muscle for these works. So does the orchestra, and here McLachlan profited from the presence of the recently-formed Rose Street Ensemble, whose 50 freelance professionals, conducted by Robert Dick, brought firm articulation to the music, holding enough in reserve to make the second concerto - with a thundering scherzo and lovely cello tone in the slow movement - sound even more rewarding than the first.

The Herald


To which I shall add only a few observations:

(1) Some of the RSE may have been "freelance professionals", but some of us were resolutely amateur (some string players were still at school!)

(2) The sonorous cello soloist was Pete Harvey of the Rose Street Quartet

(3) I was amused to see all the boards on which the piano (brought in for the occasion as the Greyfriars piano is woefully underpowered - a bit of a disgrace really in a prestigious venue) was parked. A few years ago my own orchestra brought in a Bosendorfer to do the Beethoven "Emperor" Concerto. Greyfriars had just had a new wooden floor laid over its old uneven flagstones, and clearly had failed to support it properly, as when we arrived for our rehearsal the piano had already made several holes in it while being delivered. While moving the beast from its storage area to the stage we put two more holes in, and even after we'd supported it on lots of big boards we still wondered whether our piano and pianist would be vanishing through the floor in mid-Beethoven, rendering the performance akin to that of Everybody Wants To Be A Cat in The Aristocats. Fortunately there were no further mishaps; but you never know what might happen, and Greyfriars clearly don't take chances any more.

Chuck Palahniuk, Book Festival, 16 August

This wasn't my first visit to the Book Festival this year: I'd been to see Iain Banks a few days earlier, and while he was as delightful as ever I didn't feel I'd anything much to write about him.

Not so Chuck Palahniuk. I'd never read any of his books, knowing him only by reputation (never even saw the film of Fight Club), so wasn't sure what to expect.

Things I didn't expect: proceedings kicking off with Chuck and his interviewer hurling several dozen cheap inflatable sex dolls into the audience and having a competition to see who could blow one up fastest. (Two separate prizes as the male dolls were easier to blow up.) I should add that while the dolls were clearly make and female they lacked orifices, whch could be why they were cheap. The prizes were DVDs of Chuck's favourite horror movie (sadly I didn't catch the title, but he said he preferred to watch parts of it with the sound off).

Then we were given a choice of readings. Chuck does a lot of literary events, and likes to read unpublished work at them so people feel they've had something more than they could have had by just reading a book themselves. he gave us the choice of (1) a new piece or (2) a piece called Guts which he had read to great acclaim in Brighton recently. We chose (1) - it seems Guts is on YouTube anyway - so he read us a piece called Loser, about a guy undergoing a fraternity initiation consisting of taking part in a TV game show while tripping on blotter acid. Stylistically quite different from Hunter S Thompson, but his kind of story, I thought.

(Update: I have since discovered that Guts is published in CP's collection Haunted. Also, he has read Guts at a number of forums, and at almost every one members of the audience have fainted. Here's why. )

Next it was Q & A time. Anyone asking a question got another doll for a further competition round. How did he come up with story ideas? He likes to start with a concrete physical sensation and take it from there. Every answer was fringed with marvellous anecdotes, so that for example by the end we knew about apprentice initiations ranging from TV studio technicians to French veterinarians.

Finally, more dolls, more DVDs, and we were out, watching with amusement looks on other festivalgoers faces as we stuffed deflated plastic people into our bags.

Secular and Spiritual Music from Georgia - Greyfriars Kirk, 15 August

This concert by the Anchiskati Choir was given particular resonance by the fighting which was still going on at the time in their home country. There had been runiurs of cancellation, but as a choir spokesman said, "In Georgia when things are bad we sing our way through". And sing they di, in a programme of fifteen pieces. Some were unaccompanied, some featured plucked instruments of a kind I didn't recognise, like big rectangular ukeleles, and one song featured a chap on the bagpipe. Now this was a mouth-blown bagpipe, so we had all got used to his blowing away, when suddenly he took the pipe out of his mouth and began to sing along to it. From the gale of laughter which resulted I clearly wasn't alone in having forgotten what the bag was for.

The songs covered a wide range, both in terms of Georgian geography and purpose. We had an Easter hymn, a Christmas song, a work song, a ritual song, a joke song (from Abkhazia where they presumably weren't using it right then), a drinking song.... you get the picture. All brilliantly sung by eleven splendidly costumed blokes. I'd sort of imagined that the sound might resemble the Orthodox church choirs I'd heard, but while they had the same wonderful Slavic voices, the harmonic world was very different, even for the sacred music.

I could have listened to them for as long again.

Jidariyya - Palestinian National Theatre, Lyceum, 14 August

This was a stage adaptation (by Khalifa Natour) of a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, who died the week before the show opened here. And therein lay its strengths and its weaknesses. The piece is a meditation on death, land and language by a dying man (written when Darwish had thought - wrongly as it turned out - that he might not have long to live). Its language is highly poetic, but unfortunately its language is also Arabic, and the surtitles tended to the literal (or sometimes the opaque). One was always conscious that one was taking in the language at one remove, though the rhythm and sound of the original was clear. The piece has striking images, some of which have been added in the stage version (death appearing as a group of people in sheep masks) and some of which seem to have grown out of the poem (the woman who walks across the stage, the train of whose dress was covered in dunes and crops). The music was a rather odd, mostly electro-acoustic score, but at the end when the cast simply joined together and sang onstage with a live musician it made its greatest impact.

As a poem and a meditation the piece worked fine, but I remain unsure as to how much value the staging added. Makram J Khoury as the dying (eventually dead) man, and Khalifa Natour as his younger self gave fine performances; there were some good lines; but it never really gelled as a piece of theatre. Perhaps if the audience had been able to understand Arabic without surtitles it would have been more successful.

2 Drummers Drumming - The Bongo Club, Holyrood Rd, 10 August

The two eponymous drummers were Matthew Priest from Dodgy and Maurice Bacon from The Love Affair, and theor show basically aimed to send the audience away feeling that while they might not wish to become drummers they would be proud to be drummers. A rehabilitation exercise, then, for the butt of musicians' jokes down the ages. (Q: What is the difference between a drummer and a drum machine? A: With a drum machine you only have to punch the infornation in once.)

It sort of worked. They told anecdotes from their careers, played film clips, drummed together, had a "Guess the drum break" quiz (where our audience were especially good). They also had an interminable running gag about their attempts to invite celebrity drummers to join them. The film clip of Matthew Priest, at a Stones appearance, attempting to pass a message to Charley Watts was not a success.

Still, they could certainly play. And I had to acknowledge the primacy of rhythm in music. As Maurice said, at the start of 2001 you see a caveman bashing two bones together. You do not see him wearing a ponytail and playing a fretless bass. I'd give them 4.5 out of 10: the show has promise and could be worked up into something better.

Are you sure you wanna hear more?

Answers to the Abba quiz of earlier this month.

1. No respect - On and On and On
2. Nothing I can do - My Love, My Life (guessed by Lisa)
3. Waiting for a call - One Of Us (guessed by Phil)
4. To live is to be free - Another Town, Another Train
5. I'm in no hurry - Take A Chance On Me (jointly guessed by Phil and Lewis)
6. Maybe I should walk right up to her - Angel Eyes (guessed by Lisa))
7. I'm not ashamed - Fernando (guessed by Lewis)
8. The world stood still - When I Kissed the Teacher
9. I don't believe in fairy tales - That's Me
10. I can see you are beginning to care - Why Did It Have To Be Me?
11. A single episode of Dallas - The Day Before You Came (guessed by Phil)
12. Like King Kong - Marionette
13. The sun that follows every rain - Move On
14. The spotlights of the city nights - Tiger (guessed by Lisa)
15. Early this morning I drove in the rain - Happy Hawaii
16. The anguish of humiliation - The Visitors
17. Now and then become entwined - Like An Angel Passing Through My Room
18. The brave new world - Happy New Year
19. All your generous love - When All Is Said And Done
20. I let my feelings take over - I Let the Music Speak
21. Staying alive though the city is dead - Cassandra
22. I'm falling apart - Under Attack
23. Sub luna saltamus - The Piper
24. A thousand butterflies - Andante, Andante (guessed by Lisa)
25. A blown out candle - Chiquitita (guessed by Lisa)

36% guessed, which is fewer than I'd expected, but then it's become clear that identifying phrases is a lot harder than doing whole lines. I'm gobsmacked that nobody got When All Is Said and Done or Under Attack (in the film and stage Mamma Mia! respectively). A little surprised nobody got Why Did It Have To Be Me? (my kids both knocked that off in seconds, and neither of them goes further than greatest hits compilations) or When I Kissed The Teacher. And On and On and On was a hit. Another Town, Another Train was on the vinyl Abba's Greatest Hits which all my friends had when we were students. You may remember the cover, with Benny and Frida snogging on the back, while on the front Bjorn read a paper and Agnetha looked desperate. (To give you some idea of how premature it was, the latest track on it was Fernando.) The rest I will grant were fairly tough, with Happy Hawaii, The Piper, Marionette and Cassandra all somewhat obscure. (I couldn't resist putting in The Piper once I realised it's the only Abba song with a line in Latin; and Cassandra is classic Abba shamefully neglected.)

I shall do another of these some time. Maybe the Beatles, or Paul Simon, or Dylan, or Neil Diamond, or Jarvis Cocker. The most difficult thing actually is ensuring that the phrases set are unique.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who took part.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Guns and Rosin

These splendid chaps (/irony) are performing at the Queen's Hall on 29 August. It's perhaps fortunate that I will be at work that day so wasn't planning in any case to listen to their Haydn, Smetana and Brahms.

For the three immigrants, carrying a rifle in one hand and a violin in the other is the ultimate Zionist statement.

Probably just as well they won't be playing Tippett then (he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during WW2). Or Beethoven (they'd have to forget the Ode to Joy, or his tearing out of the dedication of the Eroica on hearing of Napoleon's imperial ambition).

Last year they were inducted into the Israeli Defense Forces and endured a month of basic training. Bressler (second violin) says his only fear then was that something would happen to his hands.

Yes, punching Palestinians at checkpoints can be hazardous to those of refined sensibilities.
Anyway, with a violin in one hand it's usual to carry a bow in the other. Perhaps you have to go beyond basic training to learn that.

Say no to Israeli riflemen-violinists in Edinburgh
Queen’s Hall Fri 29 Aug 10am

And before the usual chorus of accusations of anti-semitism weighs in, I have no problem with Jewish musicians. Indeed, if I did I wouldn't get to hear very much music. On Thursday I shall be attending Alfred Brendel's recital in the Usher Hall. However, to the best of my knowledge the Jerusalem Quartet are unique in proudly proclaiming their militaristic associations. Alfred Brendel, I gather, does not play the piano with a (metaphorical) rifle in one hand, or even stashed under his stool.

Perhaps the reason why the JQ are Israel's only professional string quartet is that the thousands of other talented Jewish chamber musicians prefer to work somewhere where they are not co-opted as propaganda tools for ethnic cleansing.

I shall be at the Usher Hall the night after the Jerusalem Quartet's concert, to hear Tippett's A Child Of Our Time, a masterpiece inspired by an act of collective punishment. I wish I thought the four "Distinguished Musicians" in the IDF would stay in Edinburgh long enough to hear a truly distinguished musician's excoriation of what has been standard IDF procedure in the Occupied Territories for over forty years.

Update: A protest took place. While I have, as you may imagine, every sympathy with the picketers outside, the disruption inside was probably counter-productive. Yelling "Judas" at Dylan didn't do him any harm, after all. Not to mention the fact that to protest inside you have to have bought tickets costing at least £7, probably more, thus subsidising the quartet about which you are complaining.

Tell me: why is nobody worried about what might happen to Pakistan's real nuclear arsenal when they make so much fuss about Iran's imaginary one?

So Musharraf decided to resign before he could be impeached. Smart move.

Smarter than David Milliband, who in that article is quoted as referring to Muharraf's "commitment to tackle terrorism". Ah: that would be why hundreds of Pakistani residents were kidnapped and sold (cash in hand, no inconvenient questions) to the Americans who wanted "terrorists" with which to fill - and justify - Guantanamo. Also why Osama bin Laden is still evading capture somewhere in Northern Pakistan. And obviously a key way to "root out corruption" is to sack all your independent judges.

Another demonstration that just because the awful Alastair Campbell nicknames someone "Brains" that doesn't mean they possess any.

Craig Murray is equally unimpressed with M&M.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Only The Brave, George Square Theatre, 9 August

This is the world premiere production of a musical by Matthew Bond, Stephen Coleman and Rachel Wagstaff, loosely based on the story of John Howard, commander of the D-day force which captured the Pegasus bridge. Renamed as John Coombes, he was played here by Gerard Bentall (Les Miserables, Whistle Down the Wind) and his wife by Cassidy Janson (fresh from appearing as Elphaba in Wicked in London). I suspect though that most of the pre-production excitement was generated by the other couple in the story, Charlie and Belle, played by Keith Jack (runner-up in last year's Any Dream Will Do on television) and Niamh Perry (placed fourth in the similar casting show I'd Do Anything just a few months back).

This production seems to have been dogged by bad luck. We had booked to see it on Thursday 7th, but that was a day of heavy rain and flooding throughout Eastern Scotland. The theatre was unaffected: however, the musical director was stranded in Berwick, so the show did not go on (though the cast appeared and sang to the disappointed crowd a bit). Our tickets were revalidated for the Saturday evening, and back we went. The performance began rather later, which turned out to be because the lighting panel had completely stopped working. The performance this time did go ahead, but with stage lighting consisting of a general wash. This was less of a handicap than you might might think, though Keith Jack did have to sing his big duet with Niamh while standing in shadow. (Still, being forced to look at Niamh was no hardship.)

The show as we saw it was a shortened version of the full thing, and I like to think that the story would have hung together better at full length. For example, there's a sub-plot involving Belle and a German soldier that goes nowehere and is simply confusing. Certainly there wasn't very much character development. There's the core of a decent musical there, but I think it needs some more work. The oddest thing must be the treatment of John Coombes's death. As in real life, his wife was told of his death in error ("mortar wound" confused with "mortal wound"). Now that's an idea with great dramatic potential; but why throw that potential away by having him actually die later on in the battle? (In real life he survived.) I doubt the creators of the show are going to change the ending to fix that: but they really should, as it's just plain daft at present.

All four of the central performances were very strong indeed. Niamh as Belle doesn't get to dance, though she appears as an anonymous girl at a dance hall earlier and struts her stuff brilliantly. (We know it's not Belle because it's a London dance and Belle is a French nurse in France.) Both her singing and her dancing are well up to the standard we have come to expect from I'd Do Anything. Her lack of stage experience (she's 18, just finished her A-levels, and this is her first professional production) shows mostly in her not very riveting acting. (Though the shortened script does her no favours there.) Keith Jack was great. We saw him as the narrator in Joseph when it toured to Edinburgh last year, and he was just as good here. The show itself is no Joseph, of course. The music rather resembles Les Mis ("lots of tunes with big intervals", said Hilary), and like that show its strongest numbers are the big set pieces. I think I was alone among my family in not finding "Oh Mrs Hitler" (a bit of comic relief, very well done) the best number. Maybe I was in a darker mood, because the stand-out for me was "Letter Writers", in which we see seven (I think) women all composing letters to tell women their husbands or sons have been killed. Both musically and dramatically I thought that one could hold its head up in any company. (Cassidy Janson's contribution as the letter-writer who suddenly realises that the letter she's writing concerns her own husband should be acknowledged.)

Overall, a good show but not a great one, though it could be a great one with a little revision. Keith Jack goes from strength to strength, and Niamh Perry makes an auspicious debut.

The Other Other Hand, The Music Box (Stevenson College), 9 August

You may remember that back in May I attended a performance in Glasgow of The Other Other Hand, a multimedia event involving music (I still think of it as a "happening" but that shows my age) by J Simon van der Walt. Well, the same people put on a series of performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, one of which I attended.

This time there wasn't a gauntlet to be run on the way in of people dressed in period costumes playing antique instruments. The acoustics of the performance space were better, though at the performance I attended the size of audience wasn't (it was admittedly a Saturday matinee: I gather other performances had better houses). The piece itself had developed somewhat since the Glasgow show, with some bits that had outstayed their welcome then (e.g. a briefly amusing euphonium effect with one of the crooks removed) being shortened and others changed (the alto clarinet was now an E flat clarinet). The performers who got to play into the lampshade (kitted out with a microphone attached to some software doing various transformations of the sound) had got more adept at playing with the machinery (and I think the transformations themselves had become more complex). The video segment with the Sibelius gags is still very funny. The whole thing is still a completely whacked-out hour or so of entertainment. Still an interesting response to Parry's patronising view of musical evolution. Still great fun for the performers to play with while the rest of us watch and listen. Still worth a look if it comes to your town.

Mixed messages

A heartening story in the Guardian last Friday demonstrating that women who are raped shouldn't lose hope, and should report the crime to the police. And that rapists who haven't been caught yet should remember that highlighted word.

Then a less heartening report in the Guardian the following day. Accompanied by this case study.

I remain convinced that we need to get away completely from the idea of rape as a sex crime, something on a continuum with indecent exposure and making obscene phone calls. Rape should be seen as what it is, grievous bodily harm which happens to involve the sexual organs of one or more of the attacker or the victim. At a stroke it would take away the whole business of she-was-asking-for-it, what-did-she-expect-going-out-dressed-like-that and she-was-drunk-so-of-course he-shagged-her that seems so characteristic of public attitudes and hence of defence strategies. It wouldn't change the attitudes themselves, at least not quickly, but it would take them out of the courtroom and into the Daily Mail where they belong. If you treat rape as a crime of violence pure and simple you have to imagine a defence of "He was begging me to knife him", or "If you go out in a skirt that short of course someone will shoot you". (Sadly, a defence of "she was a prostitute so being sliced up is an occupational hazard" might still sway a British jury.)

Knowing that a rapist is on the Sex Offenders' Register and that I can find out if he moves into my area is less of a comfort that knowing that his address would be starting with a number and "HM Prison ______" for the foreseeable future.

You may think you want houses to live in, but we know you really want a highway beside which to squat in the mud.

After the sorry tale of bureaucratic inflexibility, incompetence, and total ignorance of what was going on on the ground (or more accurately in the water) that characterised the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, it might not occur to you that these qualities could become a US export. Sadly, they can.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nowadays they let them drive and everything

An amazing story I missed at the time, via the comments at Drink Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays For War (the post itself is worth reading too - thanks Cloud for the tip).

66a Church Road - Traverse, 8 August

Daniel Kitson's one-man show was receiving good reviews when it was still in development before coming to the Fringe. Since arriving here it has had what may be the most consistently excellent reviews I've ever seen for a Fringe production. For example. Or this. Or these two.

What can I possibly add to those encomia? Well, the show is remarkably intimate: it's in the larger of the two Traverse spaces but even so it's like chatting with someone in your living room. It's very moving, not just because Kitson lets you share his own feelings so well, but because it pretty much forces you to look back on all the places where you yourself have lived, and to remember all their quirks. And it's very funny for much of the time, as for example the description of litter from the nearby fast-food places as "parcels of chicken bones left on my doorstep like a kind of ill-mannered voodoo". Or his priceless depiction of someone urinating on his fromt door.

If my examples make 66a Church Road sound less than appealing, let me assure you that (in Kitson's time at least) it wasn't. I know. I've been there, in spirit at least, for a hour and a half.

This one is on until 24 August, so I can urge you to go and see it. It's the best thing I've been to in the 2008 festival so far, and must have a good chance of retaining that title.

Big Village Theatre - The Virtuous Burglar (Augustine's, 8 August)

A one-act Dario Fo farce, and one I didn't know: Mamma mia, how could I resist it? It turns out to be a play that could have been designed for the Fringe, with not much scenery required (a French window, a couple of doors, a telephone and a grandfather clock), no complex lighting, and fitting easily onto a small stage. The seven actors of Big Village (an Edinburgh outfit apparently) made the most of Fo's very funny script. In typical Fo fashion, the burglar of the title is the only character (except for a second burglar who appears right at the end) who isn't involved in adulterous high jinks. Mind you, his wife wouldn't let him. The first big laugh of the play comes just after he breaks into the house, when the phone keeps ringing and eventually he picks it up. A strident female voice (his wife's) bellows down it, to which he replies "How many times have I told you not to call me at work?"

This play doesn't have the big comedy set-pieces of Trumpets and Raspberries, nor is its wordplay as clever as that in Can't Pay? Won't Pay! But it has all the essential farcical elements of mistaken identity, deliberate imposture, hiding and revealing, and of course being a Fo it has a few small political digs at Italian local government, as well as a hard-working burglar trying to earn a living at his trade. Very well worth seeing.

I was about to advise booking ahead as it was packed out on Friday, but its run ended on Sunday. Ah well. Here's their website instead.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paul Meyer and Erik Le Sage - Queen's Hall 11 August 2008

I know I'm a few days in arrears with my Fringe reviewing, but today Hilary and I went to our first event in this year's official festival: a recital by the French clarinettist Paul Meyer and the pianist Erik Le Sage. And what a recital. The programme was demanding: the two Brahms sonatas began and ended it, with the filling in the sandwich provided by the Martinu Sonatina, the Lutoslawski Dance Preludes and the Berg Four Pieces.

Meyer's Brahms performances were, in Hilary's phrase, "very French", though none the worse for that. His breath control was simply staggering: at the start of the E flat sonata he took the first eight bars in a single breath as far as we could tell. He made a very beautiful sound: Hilary and a couple of fellow clarinettists who were sitting close by spent some time trying to work out what kind of instruments he used. * (Clarinettists in conversation with each other are every bit as nerdy as gun buffs or sports car enthusiasts.)

But the Brahms sonatas, lovely as they are, wouldn't have got me to that recital. I wanted to hear what he did with the other pieces. The Martinu has a lot of notes, but as Hilary (who has performed everything in the programme at one time or another) pointed out, it's the ensemble difficulties that make it an utter killer. Meyer and Le Sage shrugged them off as minor inconveniences, delivering a stunning performance of a piece that's all too rarely heard. The Lutoslawski preludes are much better known, not least because the first one is a Grade VIII (I think) exam piece. Hilary says it's timed at 58 seconds for exam purposes, and wondered how fast Paul Meyer would take it ("it's not possible to take it too fast"). I'll need to check with a watch when the BBC broadcast the concert (on 27 August) but he was well inside that time. The odd-numbered preludes are quick and flashy while the second and fourth are more lyrical; Meyer did full justice to both. Finally (in my list, not the running order) we had the Berg. Intense, complex, distilled down to their essence, his Four Pieces are among the hardest things in the general clarinet repertoire (for the pianist as well). You have to produce the sounds to begin with, over extremes of pitch and dynamics and with several bursts of flutter-tonguing (a bit like blowing a raspberry with a clarinet in your mouth). Then you have to control them musically so that the whole thing makes some kind of sense. I'm not sure I've ever heard a performance that managed to make sense of the four pieces as a single entity (perhaps they simply don't), but today's was one of the ones that made four separate pieces of sense. A tremendous display of musicianship, and the pair were hauled back for a well-deserved encore. They performed the slow movement from the Poulenc sonata. Rather oddly, the big ascending swooshes (very rapid two-octave scales) which come several times failed to loiter on the bottom note each time as long as they should, which if one is familiar with the piece sounds very peculiar indeed. A strange piece of waywardness in an otherwise pretty exemplary recital.

* Buffet Élites, apparently.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ship-shape and Winchester fashion

I was reading about cathedrals and encountered this picture of the nave of Winchester cathedral:

And I was reminded of my one visit to the place, when a friend pointed out to me a sloping mirror provided for easier inspection of the vaulting without craning one's neck. He mentioned that if I went and stood on the other side of the mirror and looked down the nave the effect was rather dramatic, and demonstrated nicely why they called it a "nave". Behold:

Look who's here

Meanwhile, on a less surprising note, Israel continues to emulate the old apartheid-era South African regime by exporting terror to anywhere prepared to put up the cash. In this case, Georgia.

I liked "Meanwhile, the Israeli trainers are trying to glean from reports on the movements of the Georgian army whether their trainees have internalized Israeli military technique". I mean, gosh, I don't know. Have they been planting booby traps outside South Ossetian schools and firing flechette shells into civilian areas? Have they been shooting handcuffed captives? Bulldozing houses onto their occupants? So far I haven't heard any such reports: some people just won't be taught, eh?

Purity of arms

A few weeks ago when I posted about the Israeli soldier videoed shooting a handcuffed and blindfolded prisoner in the foot, I was cynical about the chances of the incident's being seriously investigated. Well, the shooter (and his commanding officer who lied to investigators in an attempt to cover the incident up) are being charged in a military court with "unworthy conduct".

It's one of those glass half empty / glass half full situations. One can be very pleased that for once someone is actually being charged for one of the IDF's regular human rights abuses. On the other hand, an "unworthy conduct" rap is not exactly throwing the book at the trigger-happy, lying bastards, though one assumes it will at least dent their promotion prospects a little.

In which Tom Daley hopes to windfall his gush

I was looking at the BBC web site for items to do with the British Olympic team, and I found a piece which initially I couldn't read because I was at work and the firewall was blocking it. So I Googled some key words and got it. Only first of all I found this:

Welcome to the real world Tom Daley!
Posted on 11 August 2008 by MMB Agency

Beijing, copiously Cube

There is no irresolution that Tom Daley and Blake Aldridge were properly underneath their most artistically today, finishing endure of the eight pairs in the 10m synchronised diving ending .

It was frustrating because their aerial arouse and synchronisation was wonderful but they were both displeasing with their entries into the pass water. You apophthegm the Chinese and Russian pairs thriving in with by no means any stain, while our boys weren’t erect and throwing up lots of bespatter. That meant they were penalised heavily by means of the judges and they were altogether a equivalent to off work the gauge in the wind up.

Nerves played their share b evoke. It’s a well event and Tom and Blake are at their from the start Olympics. The other teams in the unalterable had a destiny more savoir vivre and that shone through.

There has been a oversized amount of prominence on Tom but I don’t mull over that had any weight on the acquiesce he performed today. In the one-time insufficient days, the troupe about him - including me as his mentor - beget tried to take under one’s wing him. In actuality, I ended up doing a a mountain of interviews in the interest of the media so he didn’t play a joke on to.

There has been a tremendous amount of prominence on Tom but I don’t ruminate over that had any hold on the temperament he performed today. In the hardly days, the unite nearly him - including me as his mentor - attired in b be committed to tried to safeguard him. I ended up doing a tons of interviews because of the media so he didn’t experience to.

The imbecile truth is that it was unexceptionally a immense quiz after them to drag a medal. It was a in actuality intractable hound and a vast produce. Don’t collect me unjust, I’m desperately let down with a view them. I was hoping in compensation a bronze. They had an demeanour inadvertently b perhaps if people were making mistakes and if they performed at their most - but they didn’t.

I spoke to Tom bluntly after the terminal once he and Blake faced the media scrum. The for the most part on cloud nine’s media seemed to be there scrabbling during a dressing-down of them. My scheme is to allow them a gather and fastener up if things go well later on today.

That execution today - disconcerting as it was - means that there bequeath be more realism from the media and the accessible when it comes to Tom. When it comes to the specific upshot, he can rarely lighten up on, get high on it and windfall his gush. There is no bring pressure to bear on on him whatsoever, and that’s accurately what I’ll be too revealing him.

Distinctive qualifying is not until Friday 22 August , with the absolute the next light of day, so Tom last wishes as beget a hardly days to invite out it nonchalantly and I’ve told him to sample to be afflicted by some of the other events. Pete Waterfield , who’s also in the living soul, is absolutely booming chasing to the GB training camping-site in Macau. every now, being in the Olympic village can appropriate for a hint samey and you require to practise away and liven up up if your in any case’s pronto at the tip.

But Tom’s opted to reinforcement in the village because he wants to be painstaking to his species so they’ll as likely as not suit each other postponed and do some rarity-seeing together, ahead of knuckling down the distinct take a week beforehand.

I don’t make up today’s involvement liking bear anything but a constructive drift on him. It was about no means a cataclysm and he has said all along that this Olympics was far gaining exposure - which is truly what he at the present time has. What pushes you in serious trouble makes you stronger. There was no fairytale today but there will-power be anyone in the approaching.

Then I found this......

Welcome to the real world, Tom!
Leon Taylor

Beijing, Water Cube

There is no doubt that Tom Daley and Blake Aldridge were well below their best today, finishing last of the eight pairs in the 10m synchronised diving final.

It was frustrating because their aerial work and synchronisation was fantastic but they were both off with their entries into the water. You saw the Chinese and Russian pairs going in with hardly any splash, while our boys weren't upright and throwing up lots of splash. That meant they were penalised heavily by the judges and they were quite a way off the pace in the end.
Nerves played their part. It's a big occasion and Tom and Blake are at their first Olympics. The other teams in the final had a lot more experience and that shone through.

There has been a massive amount of attention on Tom but I don't think that had any influence on the way he performed today. In the past few days, the team around him - including me as his mentor - have tried to protect him. In fact, I ended up doing a lot of interviews for the media so he didn't have to.

There has been a massive amount of attention on Tom but I don't think that had any influence on the way he performed today. In the past few days, the team around him - including me as his mentor - have tried to protect him. I ended up doing a lot of interviews for the media so he didn't have to.

The simple fact is that it was always a huge ask for them to get a medal. It was a really tough field and a massive occasion. Don't get me wrong, I'm desperately disappointed for them. I was hoping for a bronze. They had an outside chance if people were making mistakes and if they performed at their best - but they didn't.

I spoke to Tom briefly after the final before he and Blake faced the media scrum. The whole world's media seemed to be there scrabbling for a piece of them. My plan is to give them a call and catch up hopefully later on today.

That performance today - disappointing as it was - means that there will be more realism from the media and the public when it comes to Tom. When it comes to the individual event, he can now relax, enjoy it and find his flow. There is no pressure on him whatsoever, and that's exactly what I'll be telling him.

Individual qualifying is not until Friday 22 August, with the final the next day, so Tom will now have a few days to take it easy and I've told him to try to catch some of the other events. Pete Waterfield, who's also in the individual, is actually going back to the GB training camp in Macau. Sometimes, being in the Olympic village can become a bit samey and you need to go away and freshen up if your event's right at the end.

But Tom's opted to stay in the village because he wants to be close to his family so they'll probably go off and do some sight-seeing together, before knuckling down for the individual about a week before.

I don't think today's experience will have anything but a positive effect on him. It was by no means a disaster and he has said all along that this Olympics was about gaining experience - which is exactly what he now has.What pushes you back makes you stronger. There was no fairytale today but there will be one in the future.


I think the thing I like most about the automated translation of a translation (or whatever it purports to be) is the way the accidentally duplicated paragraph is rendered differently each time. Though "saw" translated as "apophthegm" is pretty damned good too.


This article by Mark Almond was also in Saturday's Guardian.

I thought he made some good points. However, as usual when dealing with that part of the world, I wondered what Craig Murray made of it all. This, apparently.

Now both these gentlemen know far more about the region than I do, but I am forced to wonder how things would have panned out had Britain decided to give the Falklands / Malvinas to Argentina against the wishes of their inhabitants. Because that seems to be the situation in which the South Ossetians (for the most part) find themselves: officially part of one country when they want to be part of a different one (of which many have citizenship). If we add to the mix sustained Argentine mistreatment of their hypothetical Malvinan population; the posting of British troops to the Malvinas as peacekeepers (and OK, I have no idea who decided that Russians would be good for that role in South Ossetia, but that wasn't very clever); the invasion of the islands by Argentina and the deliberate killing of the peacekeepers: I think under those circumstances then even if the Malvinas were legally Argentine, the pressure on Britain to take military action would be huge, and with dead British soldiers and a population clamouring to be relieved of the Argentine yoke, I doubt there would be much argument.

And so it is here, as far as I can see. I don't see the Russians as the good guys, but I certainly don't believe Georgia should be backed to the hilt in its attempts to hang onto its unwilling residents. It should have been clear when the EU and USA recognised Kosovo that every discontented minority in Eastern Europe would be looking to achieve the same. And look! It's happened. That the US happens to like Saakashvili (for what it can get from him) and didn't like Milosevic (no oil) is no reason to treat the two lots of secessionists differently.

Update: Here's a good piece on the same topic from Jews Sans Frontieres, pointing out that the USA consistently sides with mass murderers against their victims. And despite the title of the blog, it doesn't even mention the most egregious example.

Someone needs to lighten up a bit here

From Saturday's Guardian:

Care home apology after employee dresses to thrill

A care home apologised yesterday after granting a 90-year-old woman her lifelong wish by arranging for her to be served fish and chips by a man wearing only a thong. The elderly woman was given her treat as part of her care home's 'make a wish' initiative in which staff try to make residents' dreams come true, Jim'll Fix It style. An employee at the Woodland House home in St Austell, Cornwall, dutifully donned the undergarment to grant the woman's wish. Tracie North, director of operations and quality for Cornwall Care, which runs the home, apologised and said staff had "overstepped the mark".
Steven Morris

Why apologise for doing something nice for a customer? And more important, to whom did the idiotic Tracie North feel the need to apologise?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Holding Up a Mirror

My attention was captured by this article in the Guardian last Saturday.

I was taken by this:

But there is something in us that expects to see an outward sign of evil - as in medieval times when a woman was burned because a mole was taken to be the devil's mark, we monitor his facial expressions for signs of his extreme cruelty.

We look for anything that might possibly justify our belief that he is different, that he is a monster and nothing like us. That is the most important thing, to convince ourselves that an alleged war criminal is different from ordinary people. But time after time, from the Nuremberg trials onwards, all we see is our own reflection in a mirror.

I was taken by this because I had for a while been thinking of posting a piece on the topic of how we expect our villains to look, well, villainous. It's part of the whole celebrity culture thing: if someone looks cool they are cool; if they look normal they are normal; if they look weird they're a psychopath.

I was moved to ponder this issue when I thought of the pictures of Ruth Ellis, last British woman to be hanged and the main news story from the year I was born. She looks quite glamorous.....

and maybe that has contributed over the years to the fact that she never seems to have been viewed by the public as especially wicked. (To be fair, the circumstances of her crime may have played a part, but matters of criminological fact don't usually play much of a role in the public assessment of murderers.)

OK. Now let's try a little Rolf Harris-type experiment. Can you tell who this is?

No? How about this?

Surely you'll recognise her from this one?

But if I show you this one:

the familiar monster appears.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not in the least degree attempting to minimise the horror of Myra Hindley's crimes. I always believed she shared full responsibility with Ian Brady, and to be honest, even if she shared only a hundredth part, the sheer awfulness of what they recorded on tape during Lesley Anne Downey's final minutes would be sufficient for me to want her in jail until she died. (Which of course is what happened.) She may or may not have repented of her crime in later life, and that may or may not have given her inner comfort and peace, but I don't even slightly wish she'd been released. All I'm saying is that - even for me - to see a picture of Myra Hindley looking like a normal human being seems really weird. It's just as Slavenka Drakulić put it in the article I linked back at the start: we're desperate to convince ourselves that Myra Hindley differs from us in what she is rather than simply in what she did; and when we see the pretty girl standing by the budgie's cage with a drink in her hand, or learning to fire a shotgun, we see someone very like ourselves (albeit with 1950s hair). And the realisation that any of us (at least if we were to fall in love with an amoral psychopath with a penchant for torture and weird sex) might be capable of crimes like hers is hard to bear. As I understand the Christian doctrine of original sin, it says that we all have within us the capacity for the most terrible acts: it goes with the territory, it's part of being human. Good call there.

Jury's Inn Jeffrey Street, 7 August - Working Girls

This was a student production by five women from Bishop Grosseteste University College near Lincoln. As Temptation Theatre they wrote, directed and acted in it. It was a slightly disorienting mixture of drama, dance and (recorded) music, exploring the subject of prostitution. The initial idea came from third-year student Michelle Glass as part of her course work. "We had to choose a topic that would be a bit different and I was interested in doing something about prostitution after the Ipswich murders in 2006" she has said. The play focuses on the lives of five young sex workers and dares us to judge them or steroetype them. One became a prostitute to feed a drug habit; one because it was what her mother and sister had done before her; one used the job as a way of gaining temporary power over men, revenging herself on them by humiliating them; one did it because she was a nymphomaniac who couldn't live without constant sexual variety; and the last had been left as the sole provider for her family when her single mother became too ill to work. Their stories are based on real testimonies from the English Collectve of Prostitutes, and are by turns moving and funny.

The evening started very slowly: indeed I was beginning to wonder whether this was going to be purely a dance event when the speaking began. For the most part I didn't feel greatly challenged: the only story which really stirred the emotions was the last of the five, where the fear and self-loathing of a 15-year-old girl driven by poverty to sell herself for the first time came across very strongly. But the final segment, where all the girls combined to point up the lack of sympathy that sex workers experience when they are raped, whether in the course of business or not, did bring me up short. Especially the description of a rape survived with only minor injuries as a "lucky escape".

Not a patch, then, on the film of the same name by Lizzie Borden, but not bad all the same. And not badly attended.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Perfect Ann Coulter

Nice to see the most hateful (in every possible sense of that word) woman on the planet - yes, worse than Melanie Phillips, worse than Cinnamon Stillwell - getting a metaphorical pie on the face from a Jew who doesn't much care for being called imperfect.

How conflicted the Judith Weisses of America (yeah, they come in value six-packs - bigotry and hatred don't need to be costly) must be over AC: on the one hand, a darling of the extreme right who hates liberals and gays so can do no wrong, but on the other hand a strident anti-Semite telling them they're not Aryan enough. In the days when Weiss still bothered to blog she was forever misusing the phrase "cognitive dissonance" (for example here if you have the stomach to read that far, or here; and the clown who now runs her blog for her keeps up the tradition), but her feelings about Coulter? Cognitive dissonance defined. (A: I am a Jew. B: I adore Ann Coulter C: Ann Coulter hates Jews D: Wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Um. Quick. Change the subject. Find a Muslim to abuse.)

If you steal an mp3 file I suppose you get it one bit at a time

I have to link to this. Doctor Mooney's 115th Dream is a blog where those who might wish to do so can download mp3 files, perish the thort... One of his recent offerings is my all-time favourite Johnny Cash song One Piece At A Time. Apparently the record company had an auto spares guy cobble together a car like the one on the song as a promtional tool, and they presented it to the Man In Black. There is a wonderful picture on Doctor Mooney's site (and on Wikipedia) of JC in the "psychobilly Cadillac".

Friday, August 08, 2008

Books Do Furnish A Meme

A meme from Phil, connected with the BBC's Big Read.

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated. (I see no reason to restrict ‘books I hated’ to school - there are only a couple of books on the list I really disliked, and neither of them was a school text.)
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks.
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Well, I made it to 49 of the hundred. (Though as 36 forms part of 33 maybe I should claim 48 out of 99.) The ones I have struck out are mostly simply casualties of life being too short, and in a few cases my not having heard of them (Rohinton Mistry? Mitch Albom?) of the ones I have read, there are very few I didn't enjoy. Lord of the Flies left me rather cold, and while I found Catch-22 memorable in parts I hated it. As for books I love, I found that quite hard to call but erred on the side of loving too few rather than too many.

And I agree with Phil that the list is a long way from my tastes. Where's Snow Crash? The Crow Road? Oscar and Lucinda? Mary Poppins? E Nesbit? Lewis Grassic Gibbon? David Nobbs's Reggie Perrin books (well, the first two)? Rosemary Sutcliff? Anthony Powell?

Anyway, do have a go.

One Day In The Death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

On my birthday Alexander Solzhenitsyn died. I've never understood the hero-worship he received in some quarters. I read One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich which I thought one of the worst-written books I'd ever ploughed through, though I had a shot at The Gulag Archipelago a little while later and found that both interesting and well-crafted. But Jings! the guy could whinge at Olympic level even if his writing was dodgy. And while I hadn't paid him much attention since we got shot of him back to Russia, other than to note that he still hadn't stopped complaining (Q: How do you tell which plane Solzhenitsyn is on? A: It keeps on whining after the engines are turned off) I see from Wikipedia that he wrote a delightful little tome blaming the Russian Revolution (and remember, kids, that was ALL BAD) on the Jews.

Even his Nobel prize for literature (and there must be a strong suspicion of political influence in that award) was soiled by his vendetta against fellow-laureate Mikhail Sholokov.

I'm sorry he's dead - he was a character, at least - but I shan't miss him.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Call It Freedom

So Osama bin Laden's driver has got five and a half years in prison for "supporting terrorism", which wasn't a crime that even existed when he was first imprisoned. As he's already done just over five years in jail he should, you would think, be released in about five onths, but the Pentagon have announced that they're going to keep him locked up anyway. So what the **** was the point of having the trial at all? I though it was supposed to show that even the "worst of the worst" (most of whom were kidnapped from their homes for money) would get fair trials (OK, with secret evidence and confessions extracted by torture, but with real judges and juries and everything). And it seemed to be working, in that instead of the thirty years the Bush administration wanted for Salim Hamdan, the unfortunate taxi-driver was basically told he could go in a few months. And then they go and spoil it by saying they're going to keep him in a concentration camp forever regardless of the verdict. Jeez, it's the Chinese who should have been protesting at Bush's human rights record when he arrived in Beijing.

I note that when lecturing the Chinese (from the safety of Thailand) on the importance of democratic freedoms Shrub apparently made no criticism of his South Korean buddies, who you may recall were last seen throwing trade unionists in jail. Colour me unsurprised.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

The other night my son went with a friend to see Barry and Stuart, a pair of magicians who are also very funny. A while back they did a TV show where they did tricks themed around the miracles of Jesus. Here is a clip of them doing the Old Testament Plagues of Egypt.

They didn't do that when Ruairidh saw them though they did summon up a locust or two, and they did turn water into wine (and his friend tasted it and found to his surprise that the result was, in fact, wine).

Traverse Theatre 5 August 2008 - Free Outgoing

A production by the Royal Court Theatre of a play by Anupama Chandrasekhar.

India is a land full of contrasts, and one of the most evident is that between the avid adoption of new techology such as 4G mobile phones and a moral conservatism that seems to Western eyes quaint at best and suffocating at worst. Chennai, centre of Tamil society (and thus of Tamil cinema) is renowned for its moral stringency in the way that Aberdeen used to be in Scotland. In this play, technology and morality both play their parts. Meet the Haridas family. Widowed mother Malini (38), son Sharan (16), daughter Deepa (15). A model (albeit one-parent) family: until Deepa is suspended from school for having sex with her boyfriend on the premises. And it gets worse: the boyfriend filmed some of the action on his phone, and of course while Deepa appears in it he does not. He sends the video to a friend and in an instant it's all over the school and beyond, and by the next day it's on the web. Deepa and (the innocent) Sharan are expelled from school, and a media scrum develops outside their house which leads to such inconvenience for residents of their estate that they are asked to leave. In desperation they agree to appear on a TV talk show in return for passage out of India (Deepa's boyfriend and his family have already done a runner).

The play deals with many issues: teenage sexuality in a deeply conservative society; the effect of technology on privacy; the difficulty of knowing whether a "friend" is truly disinterested, or motivated by lust for the mother, or for the daughter; the culture of celebrity; media intrusion; television as a moral arbiter. And it manages all this without Deepa's ever appearing on stage. It is as though her transgression is so great that not even the audience can be permitted to see her.
I thought this was an exceptional piece of theatre. The acting, especially by Lolita Chakrabarti as Malini and Amit Shah as Sharan, was superb, and the script was wonderful. I never for a moment found any character less than fully believable, and while it's tempting to come over all colonial and imagine that we in Britain are more enlightened in our attitudes, the fact is that when I was a child we were not so different, and there are communities in Britain (not Tamil for the most part) which even now take a similarly uncompromising view of sexual morality. The play's title refers to the tariff for text messaging, but could also refer to Deepa's personality. That hers is the one point of view we never get to hear seems to me completely true to modern Indian life.

This play, then, is one for which I would recommend you try to get tickets by fair means or foul. If you couldn't get tickets for David Tennant in Hamlet at Stratford, then OK, bummer, but this production (while shorter on eye candy and TV stars) is right up there with the best. See it if you can.

Cold as a new razor blade

Leonard and Marianne is one of those great little programmes that turns up in the BBC Radio 4 schedule from time to time. Listem and marvel (at least, if you're a Leonard Cohen fan).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Traverse Theatre 5 August 2008 - Finished With Engines

A production by New York's Riot Group theatre company of a play by Alan McKendrick. A two-hander, it featured Stephanie Viola and Drew Friedman as two US sailors moored off...where? Iran seems to be implied: there is mention of ayatollahs, and it's stated that they're some way outside the tropics. They are observers, watching the playing out of a civil war, and the play progresses in ten scenes which form little vignettes. We see the contrasting characters of Megan (belligerent, feisty, convinced that worldwide nuclear war is imminent and hoping to help bring it about) and Hemingway (writer, an artistic type not really cut out for the military, though with a degree in nuclear physics as well as one in French). Hemingway spends a lot of time peering at the shore through his binoculars, especially at girls when he can (though he more often ends up viewing murders or starving people eating dogs). Megan enjoys winding him up over his artistic sensibilities; meanwhile she's convinced their ship - supposedly unarmed - is in fact carrying a nuclear weapon. At the end, as far as I could tell, the US launches a major air strike (nuclear?) and the pair are left floating alone.

Finished With Engines was billed as a comedy, and while it most certainly had some very funny moments I don't think it really worked as a complete play. It's not just that the ending was rushed and unclear, the whole structure was too episodic to hang together. Stiil, the actors handled the patchy material well, and as I said there were some marvellous moments. One whole scene is simply the physical comedy of Hemingway constructing a gigantic sandwich, a scene whose best moment comes when he pulls a lettuce out of his store, throws it into the air and catches it on the point of his sandwich-making knife. Megan's description of why, for purely aesthetic reasons, the next nuclear attack should be on somewhere on France is also very funny. ("Uh, Megan....Brussels is in Belgium." "Not when we're through with it, it isn't.") As is the scene where they are striving to outdo each other in the I-was-an-abused-child stakes (loser makes the coffee).

An OK way to pass an hour, but I wouldn't recommend going if you haven't already bought a ticket. And having written my piece, I see Lyn Gardner in the Guardian, and others, agree with me.

Meme-a Mia!

I've done first lines.

I've done last lines.

I've done middle eights.

But when I started thinking about an Abba-themed quiz for the blog it rapidly became clear that all those approaches would be just far too easy. While I still feel I've only managed to crank the difficulty up to moderate, here is my challenge. Twenty-five phrases snipped out of twenty-five different Abba songs. Some were singles, some were album tracks. There are no tricks, and the difficulty ranges, I would say, from ludicrously easy to really surprisingly tough. Each phrase appears in only one song so far as I can tell. And you wouldn't be cheating by using Google now, would you?

OK, here you go.

1. No respect
2. Nothing I can do - My Love, My Life (guessed by Lisa)
3. Waiting for a call - One Of Us (guessed by Phil)
4. To live is to be free
5. I'm in no hurry - Take A Chance On Me (jointly guessed by Phil and Lewis)
6. Maybe I should walk right up to her - Angel Eyes (guessed by Lisa))
7. I'm not ashamed - Fernando (guessed by Lewis)
8. The world stood still
9. I don't believe in fairy tales
10. I can see you are beginning to care
11. A single episode of Dallas - The Day Before You Came (guessed by Phil)
12. Like King Kong
13. The sun that follows every rain
14. The spotlights of the city nights - Tiger (guessed by Lisa)
15. Early this morning I drove in the rain
16. The anguish of humiliation
17. Now and then become entwined
18. The brave new world
19. All your generous love
20. I let my feelings take over
21. Staying alive though the city is dead
22. I'm falling apart
23. Sub luna saltamus
24. A thousand butterflies - Andante, Andante (guessed by Lisa)
25. A blown out candle - Chiquitita (guessed by Lisa)

Answers in the comments box please. As I get correct guesses I shall annotate the list above.

Good luck.

Personally I always thought of Catholic priests as Hostbusters

From the marvellous xkcd, this.

Henbane and sausages


As Barry Cryer memorably said, 'I bought a packet of Anthony Worral Thompson sausages in the supermarket the other day. Underneath his picture it said "Prick with a fork", which I thought was a bit harsh'.

On the other hand, some good news

Also from Labourstart, this story. I remember seeing representatives of both the PGFTU and Histadrut sharing a platform at the STUC (Scottish Trade Union Congress) a few years ago when I was a delegate. It gladdened all our hearts to see Israelis and Palestinians putting aside their governments' differences to concentrate on the tangible progress they could make by working together: realism defeating rhetoric. So it is especially heartening to see them advancing to the next stage in their common fight for their members against exploitation.

I thought it was the North Koreans who were supposed to be the axis-of-exil guys

Last Thursday I bought a new car, replacing my 11-year-old Citroen Saxo with a new Hyundai I10. (Hilary normally drives the family car which is a rather more spacious Citroen Picasso.) And very nice it is too: you get a lot of features for very little cost, and so far I've only found a couple of those little irritations that you know will drive you mad over the years. (A really dumb way of stowing the rear headrests when the seats are folded down; and the ease with which you can forget to fold the parcel shelf back down when you've been into the boot.) So, 9/10 to Hyundai.

Then today I read about this, and felt slightly soiled to have been supporting the South Korean economy, especially when it's Hyundai workers in particular coming under attack.

Please sign the online petition. Not just to assuage my conscience, but because it's the right thing to do. You don't have to belong to a trade union to fill it in; nor to know that arresting trade union leaders is not the act of a democratic government.

I look forward to hearing these arrests denounced by George W Bush and by Gordon Brown in the same vigorous terms used by their predecessors Reagan and Thatcher when it was the freedom of Polish trade unionists in Gdansk that was under threat from the government of General Jaruzelski.

What's the Korean for Solidarnosc?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A taste of the Caribbean in Edinburgh

Went here last night for dinner with the family plus Hilary's mother. It was an early birthday dinner for me as I'm on call this weekend so don't want to be committing myself to a night out that I might have to miss.

I'd been looking ay Coyaba whenver I passed and thinking it looked fun, and I can announce that we all thought it was really good. very laid back (not a place to eat if you want a hurried meal) but a great atmosphere, friendly service and simply amazing food. I had ackee and saltfish followed by curried goat (fairly spicy but not as hot as Hilary's jerk chicken), then a piece of their marvellous rum and raisin cake. We'd wondered how much choice Vanessa would get as a vegetarian, but she was fine: and she was in heaven to discover that they sold all kinds of strange soft drinks she hadn't had since she was in Malaysia. (She asked about a kind of root beer and was told that they kept cases of the stuff because the manager loved it.)

And it wasn't expensive either. We'll definitely be going back. Even my mother-in-law, who isn't normally much into spicy food, thought it was wonderful.

Fan Club - Weird Al Yankovic

At various times in my life I have attempted, often with quite decent success, to come up with alternative parody lyrics for songs. However, when my daughter introduced me to the oeuvre of 'Weird Al' Yankovic, I knew I had been bested, and then some. As Robert Schumann said on hearing Chopin play, "Hats off, gentlemen: a genius!"

Here is the first of his songs she played me - still my own favourite.

And then of course she followed it with this.

Her own favourite is Pretty Fly For A Rabbi.

But he's extremely versatile, as shown by Addicted To Spuds, Like A Surgeon, Ebay, Amish Paradise, Smells Like Nirvana, I Think I'm A Clone Now and Jurassic Park.

He even does sublimely surreal songs like this which as far as I know isn't a parody of anything.

This one seems appropriate for the week my daughter moves out to a shared student flat... As does this one.

Achy Breaky Song is priceless (and I speak as one who not only owns the original but has, God help me, line-danced to it).

Canadian Idiot is great too (sorry Penelope)(whoever you might be...and also Persephone).

How can I not love his Frank Zappa parody Genius In France ? So accurate it hurts, even though it's not based on any single Zappa song . Mind you, having Dweezil Zappa guesting for the opening guitar solo doesn't hurt....

And in my humble opinion it takes a special kind of genius not simply to make a parody of Dire Straits' Money For Nothing, but to do so by combining it with the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. Or to create a Bob Dylan song entirely from palindromes. All of which rhyme. (I didn't even know that many palindromes before I watched the video!)

No wonder artists usually consider it a huge accolade to be "done" by Weird Al.

The old ones may not be the best, but they're...well, the oldest

Dr Paul McDonald and colleagues at the University of Wolverhampton have been studying some very old jokes indeed.

The defendant gave two fingers to the judge......


(Note for US readers: the British equivalent of "flipping the finger" involves two fingers rather than one, and here's why:

It has long been told that the famous "two-fingers salute" derives from the gestures of English archers, fighting at Agincourt. The myth claims that the French cut off two fingers on the right hand of captured archers and that the gesture was a sign of defiance by those who were not mutilated.

This may have some basis in fact - Jean Froissart's (circa 1337-circa 1404) Chronicle, a "journalistic history" of Europe in the fourteenth century records the twists and turns taken by the Hundred Years' War. The story of the English waving their fingers at the French is told in the first person account by Froissart, however the description is not of an incident at the Battle of Agincourt, but rather at the siege of a castle in another incident during the Hundred Years War. Froissart died long before the Battle of Agincourt, so, if the "V sign" did originate with English longbowman, it was well before that battle.


The normally fairly definitive snopes.com appears to reckon this is a myth, but the article seems to be based on a number of misunderstandings, AND doesn't mention Froissart at all. There is an extensive set of comments which quite frankly don't help too much one way or the other, except for one that reckons the Fortean Times investigated the myth and could find no evidence from chroniclers on other side. So either the Froissart citation is bogus or the FT concentrated on the battle of Agincourt alone.


The jury agreed to adjourn the trial after a show of hands....

If many hands make light work, do Other Hands make sound work?

You may remember my review of The Other Other Hand by J Simon van der Walt (also incidentally a member of the Naga Mas gamelan). Well, Simon has just posted a link to my review on his blog (details in my review post) and while I was over at his place I discovered that the piece is getting four Edinburgh performances next week, at The Music Box, Stevenson College (0131 535 4840). They are on Thursday 7 August and Friday 8 August at 1915, and on Saturday 9 August at 1315 and 1715. I'm free on the Saturday so might take another crack at it: tickets are £7 (£5 concs).

I just checked again and for some reason (last minute scheduling?) it doesn't appear in the printed Fringe programme or the online one. So not so much Let's Make An Opera, more Let's Build an Audience. Spread the word, EKN readers. Better still, go and see it.


I've just had to remove Sitemeter from my blog page, as with it in there I got error messages from Internet Explorer whenever I tried to view the blog. Thank heavens for the Blogger help forum, first of all for reassuring me that I wasn't alone and secondly for pointing me to a work-round.

So if anyone else out there is getting "Internet Explorer is unable to open the web page http://name-of-web-page. Operation aborted." messages, my advice is to ditch Sitemeter (for now).

Friday, August 01, 2008

The pun had occurred to me but I'd never worked it up properly into a gag

(Thanks to B3TA.)

Everything you need to know about the Iraq "surge" in 6 cartoon strips