Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wedding bands (not bans)

When I think of wedding bands, I don’t immediately think of the rings that go round your finger - although obviously that’s an integral part of a wedding - but of the groups that play at weddings. Having been involved in a number of weddings in my long and illustrious career, I know the stresses and joys of playing at weddings.
Of course most wedding bands are groups that actually play at the reception. My experience (thank goodness, say I) has been limited to playing during the wedding service. I’ve played at weddings by myself, with other musicians - both experienced and inexperienced - and with singers. For some reason it’s always a bit of a nightmare: the musicians don’t often get to rehearse when all the other people are rehearsing, and in a number of cases, various musicians who’ve never played together before are called together for the day and expected to sit down and make the best of it.
I don’t know which is worse, playing for a wedding by yourself, where the whole onus of the couple’s future happiness seems to be falling on any dud notes you play, or playing with an ad hoc group who do their best to come in together, to play the same sort of rhythms and in general keep their ears at full pitch in order to achieve something reasonable.
Of course I know that the couple’s happiness doesn’t depend on what the musicians do. If most couples I’ve known are anything to go by, they barely notice the music. The groom is standing nervously for hours (so it seems to him) before the bride arrives, and when she does arrive the last thing his focus is on is the music. The bride has far more important things to worry about, like whether the flower girl will actually make it down the aisle without (a) dropping the flowers, (b) bursting into tears and wailing for her mummy, or (c) deciding that she’s the sole focus of attention and making sure everyone in the church notices her.
So on most occasions the musicians could play what they like and only a few attentive members of the wedding party would pick it up. And as long as the musicians get their little envelope with the amount of cash inside, everyone’s happy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Not playing the victim

A friend sent me a classic piece of computer cartooning called Animator vs. Animation by Alan Becker. It’s about what happens when an artist draws a little man, regards him as a ‘victim’ and then discovers that the victim doesn’t want to play ball. It’s so well animated that I’ve watched it several times and am still only picking up on the detail. Check it out!
Alan Becker, it appears, is no elderly artist working at the top of his game. He’s only just graduated from high school and is still deciding what he‘s going to do with his life.
He’s working on a game version of Animator vs. Animation with a young programmer who creates games for fun.
He was planning to attend a spiritual workshop in Korea this (northern) summer and then get involved with a missionary youth group with his church. They were aiming to travel the USA raising money to fund leadership training programs.
In spite of saying he’s wondering what he’s going to do with his life, he’s already planning to go to the Columbus College of Art and Design for four years, and find a career in art after that. Sounds like he’s got himself fairly well sussed out!

Listen to the Younger Brother

'Many years ago Umberto Eco wrote that the greatness of Casablanca stems from its shameless deployment of every narrative cliché known to humankind: "Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion."'

Alan Jacobs quotes this in a very good article on the subject of the Harry Potter books, called The Youngest Brother’s Tale. The Harry Potter stories have been classed as everything from evil to defaced by heteronormativity, from unliterary and unsophisticated to being penny dreadfuls, from being bourgeois in their concerns to being a bundle of clichés lumped together.

I have a great deal of time for Alan Jacobs. Quite apart from having written an excellent biography of C S Lewis, he’s a stylist par excellence and yet remains essentially readable; and he speaks good sense.

This article on the sequence of seven Harry Potter stories is full of good things. It doesn’t just aim to show the value of the books (which is far more than most critics would allow) it also shows how the morals and virtues that underpin them are the stuff of legends, myths, and great stories from the past.

Practicing not quite enough...

I haven’t been playing much music while I’ve been on holiday. Partly it’s a matter of having had much less access to a piano, and partly it’s laziness. Where we’re staying at present there’s a piano, and I’ve been working on a Bach piece, the Italian Concerto. (At least I think that’s what it is: I have this great ability to ‘know’ something until I come to try and write it down correctly.)

I was just reading one of my old posts again, about trying to play the first sonata by Michael Tippett. Compared to the Tippett, the Bach is a breeze, although I still have a few sticky patches to contend with. It’s not helping that my fingers aren’t feeling at all flexible at the moment; typing on the computer isn’t a substitute for playing the piano, even though you’re using the same digits.


I’ve more than once appeared in a play or show where disaster could have struck if I’d suddenly fallen ill or had an accident. It’s never happened yet, and I’ve never yet been in a show where the thing had to be cancelled because someone else went AWOL, but there have been some near misses.

In one musical entertainment I played for one of the young girls slipped while walking down the theatre steps in the semi-dark at the beginning of the act, sprained her ankle badly and carried on performing. She struggled through the next performance too (there were only two in all) and even carried on dancing. But after that she needed some recuperation!

On another occasion one of the leading singers in a similar concert-style entertainment pulled out two days before the show was due to go on. She was under enormous stress at the time, and just couldn’t cope with both performing and dealing with the imminent sale of her late husband’s business. Remarkably, a friend of the show’s director stepped in and took over, and did very well. The value of long experience! But if she hadn’t been able to do it, the show would have had to have had a major last minute overhaul.

I see that there are companies now who provide what they call key man insurance. This is in case someone who’s a key player in the business suddenly dies. With small businesses this can be a major crisis. Insurance that covers the death of a key person can keep a business afloat until a long-term rescue has been achieved. I’ve never personally known anyone in the theatre business who died in the middle of a play or show, though I’ve heard of it happening in the wider theatre scene, as when Gertrude Lawrence died while starring in The King and I, and many years later Yul Brynner did the same. And professional shows usually have understudies – that’s their kind of insurance. Businesses never do.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A growing glossary

The great thing about writing on the Net is that often takes an intriguing turn, because there are always people coming up with interesting ideas. For example, there’s one nifty idea in process at the moment on It involved asking forty bloggers to provide a glossary of definitions of forty words related to the world of blogging. The glossary is a work in progress, so if you look at it at the moment, you’ll only see half a dozen words defined. But in due course it’ll be like a short course in the world of blogging. I’ve learnt something already, so check it out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Treat it like it's mom's

As a writer who usually works in rooms with one window and not necessarily the best of lighting, it would be great to work in one of the conservatories I’ve been in since we came to England. One of them is in the house we’re staying just now: a lovely window-filled space overlooking the garden, and the other was in my niece’s place. Like the first, it had been added to the house at some point in recent years and was a lovely place to sit and think - and type - in the sun.
Writers need open, airy spaces, don’t they? Well, tell that to the writers you know and see what they say. Most writers work in whatever happens to be available - that’s if they’re lucky enough to get a room to themselves in the first place.
I’ve been looking at a site where they do replacement window installation, which means in other words that they open up a dark area and make it light. This company has a catch phrase: "Treat it like it is mom's..." by which they mean that they treat every home they’re asked to decorate like it was their mother’s. Not a bad policy!
I’d be happy if they’d treat my home like it was mine, and add on the conservatory at the back of the house that my wife would really love.

Play Misty for Me

We watched Clint Eastwood’s early directorial effort, Play Misty For Me, last night. Roger Ebert claims it grips the audience even in the parts that don’t appear to be suspense-focused. Well, it might have done thirty-something years ago, and certainly there are several nasty shocks, but the quiet bits just seemed quiet, almost inconsequential, rather than undercut with suspense.
And in some scenes, where the characters carried on an ongoing conversation while seeming to flit from location to location reminded me of those old comics where the artists do the same thing with their characters. It’s just a little irritating.
There’s no doubt Eastwood is a good director; certain scenes in this film are excellently done, and the build-up of confrontation between the character Eastwood plays and his nemesis, played by Jessica Walter (far better known as a tv actress than a big screen one), is good and solid. Donna Mills, however, is weak in her role as the woman Eastwood really loves, and there are a couple of characters in the film who could have been excised without anyone missing them. This is more the fault of the script than of Eastwood’s directing.
Eastwood has gone on to direct much better movies than this, such as Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, so there’s no need to be too hard on this early effort. It’s a small-scale piece not quite up with the later Hitchcock style, but still worth watching.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dick Francis back on track

While travelling we’ve started listening to one of Dick Francis’ older books on tape - Against the Odds. It stars Francis’ most used character, Syd Halley, the jockey who lost a hand in a racing fall. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished one of Francis’ most recent books, Under Orders, which also stars Syd Halley, now with an electronic hand in place of the one he lost.
I’d been looking forward to reading this recent book, but it turns out to be a bit flaccid in places, padded in others, and with a weak ending. This is most unusual for Francis, as his books have normally appeared taut to me, and invariably the ending is violent and takes up a substantial amount of room in the later part of the story. Perhaps the fact that this is the first book he’s written since his wife died is part of the problem, or maybe he’s can no longer be bothered.
Syd still goes on about his (electronic) hand frequently. Plainly it’s something that bugs him a good deal, or maybe Francis thought we needed constant reminding of it, since it affects the ending. Syd apparently hasn’t aged much at all, as he has a fairly young girlfriend in this story, and he still has plenty of that old ability to recover from knocks to his body. And whereas in the book we’re listening to he’s plainly living in the 70s, in this new book he talks about things that belong to the current age: computers, cellphones, digital cameras, you name it. And the language has changed too; his characters swear - in the past they ‘uttered a stream of curses.’ The language is still nowhere near as offensive as many other thrillers, but it comes as a bit of a surprise to find it in one of Francis’ books.
Regrettably I have to say this is one Dick Francis I didn’t enjoy much. Maybe his wife did contribute more to his books than we’d thought!

Friday, August 24, 2007

More on Deric

While we were out in King’s Lynn today, checking out the op shops, I came across Deric Longdon’s Diana’s Story. I’d thought this had something to do with Princess Diana, but in fact it’s the story of his wife’s gradual decline due to MS, and his struggle to care for her until she died. So I thought I’d get it, as he refers to it in Lost for Words, on a number of occasions.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Once was lost and now is found

I’d been reading a book called A Play on Words by Deric Longdon up until about ten days ago, and then it inexplicably vanished. It was about the making of his previous book, Lost for Words, into a tv play. His words were literally lost, in this case.
I gave it up as a bad job, which was a pity because I was enjoying Longdon’s offhand humour, his love of cats, his absolute lack of plot or anything amounting to it, and his nice line in self-effacement.
And then suddenly today, there it was sitting on the couch. I said to my wife: where did that come from? That’s the book I’ve been looking for, for the last week or more.
She stared at me with that stare that says I have no idea why you’re making such a fuss, and told me that it had been sitting in the bottom of the bag that contains her embroidery work. Yes, of course! That’s always the place to look for a book.
A Play on Words deals ostensibly with the process of filming Lost for Words, but there’s far more about Longden’s cats than about the filming. The cats all have distinct personalities, and create a somewhat demanding life for their owner. Added to that, Longden’s writer wife, Aileen Armitage, has now lost much of her sight, and needs help in a variety of ways, such as checking that she hasn‘t got too much make up on, or hasn‘t burnt the breakfast, or is wearing clothes that match. (She’s still writing, though.) And then there are the tall and short bird that wake Longden up very early every day, or the various oddball characters he meets, all of whom seem to have a nice line in unintentional humour. And the way in which everything in Longden’s house has a life and personality of its own. I don’t think I’ve come across a writer since Dickens who could do this so effectively.
Longdon is called Deric on the cover of his books, but he’s also listed as Derek in other places. Several of his earlier books have just been reissued under new covers.

Book of the Week

Okay, book of the week: The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements by Michael Murray. 576 pages of information on improving your health naturally. I thought it was only sports people who took nutritional supplements, but seems like everyone and his brother/sister is into it.
I find it hard to imagine anyone working their way through nearly 600 pages of stuff on such a topic, but plainly I’m lacking in imagination. As one reviewer on puts it: This is an excellent reference book on vitamins and other nutritional supplements and a "must have" for those interested in learning more about improving their health naturally. It is very well laid out and chock-a-block full of useful information on the dosage, available forms and reasons why each supplement is beneficial. It makes me more confident when I'm shopping for supplements and I'm able to avoid making mistakes buying "snake oil" or empty supplements that have little nutritional value. Thank you Dr. Murray.
I just had a thought. Maybe this is the book to check up on when you’re trying to find out about athlete’s foot and athlete’s fingers, as so many people on Google seem to be doing. And since sportspeople are amongst the highest users of nutritional supplements, the book must surely contain something about this topic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

John Adams - composer

I’d never heard of the American composer, John Adams, until today, and now it’s obviously time to catch up with the man. He writes operas, symphonic works, chamber music. He conducts. He’s regarded by some as America’s greatest modern composer. He has a sense of humour. He still regards his Grand Pianola Music as music that must have ‘doubtless have seemed like a smirking truant with a dirty face, in need of a severe spanking’ because it crashed across the seriousness and abstractness of much music, where lack of melody and harmony and lack of accessibility were often the norm.
I heard the finale of this piece on the radio today, coming home from the supermarket. It’s a bit like a music group at a Pentecostal church in a praise time, stuck on the same three chords, but happy to be there, and happy to keep hammering away at those three chords because in the midst of it all is an exuberance and life and energy and enthusiasm that’s often missing in the day to day world.
I don’t suppose Adams thinks of it in those terms; in fact, on the radio he claimed the inspiration for it had come from an LSD trip where pianos transformed into stretch limos. His explanation of its origins on his website are somewhat different but has similar imagery. But the pianos are in the music - two of them - as well as three wordless sopranos, various wind and brass instruments and lots of percussion. It’s something I’m going to have to track down on CD, and get to hear properly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The School Year

Here in England my great-nieces and nephews go back to school in early September. In New Zealand, where things are much more organised, they go back closer to the beginning of the year, around February.
When I applied to come to the London Opera Centre back in the mid-sixties (where I met the now-famous Kiri te Kanawa - excuse the name-dropping!) I thought I’d have several months to get some money together before the start of the new academic year, which I assumed would be in February. It was a bit of a shock to discover that the English start school in September, and that I was going to have to arrange a flight, accommodation, pay my fees, get myself some money together (I lived on £500 that first year) and finish up doing what I was doing in Dunedin all within a much shorter time.
When you assume that everyone else in the world does things the way you do it can be quite a culture shock to find out that your bit of the world is so different.

Othello - and moor....!

The only times I’ve seen Shakespeare’s Othello have been at the movies. Sadly I missed a staged version of it in Dunedin last year, which, from the reviews sounded well worth seeing. Only in one case in the movie versions has Othello been played by a black actor. Years ago I saw the Laurence Olivier version of it, where his makeup was sweating off his face, and there was also an Anthony Hopkins edition, if I remember rightly. But the film in which a black actor actually played the black character of Othello was Kenneth Branagh’s film, where Laurence Fishburne got the title role. That would have been fine, as Fishburne is an excellent actor, but the film should perhaps have been called, Iago. Iago was played by Branagh, and he dominated the movie, shouldering Othello out of the way most of the time.
While the play is about jealousy, and what it can do to people, the interracial aspect is also a vital element, and as potent as when the play was written. I was reminded of this by a relationship sites (dating sites, if you want to call them something more crass) I came across. This one advertises itself as being for interracial singles though when you look at some of the people I’m not sure that they’d endear themselves to black or white partners.
One bloke who seek good sex and passionate love making says he’s over sex [I think he means over-sexed], sadonistic, [?] selfish, selfcenter, and greedy. Occassionally, I can be a nice guy, he adds.
I think even Iago would have problems with him!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Staff not well provided for?

One other thing I noticed about the movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, was that all the people in the top positions had desks that were very commonplace, and not at all indicative of their status. What’s the point of being executives if you can’t have executive desks? Is this telling us that the CIA doesn’t provide well for its staff? Even the offices were pokey. And as for the people doing all that typing and watching of CCTV monitors and figuring out who‘s on what phone, they were crammed into spaces that you’d hardly call workable. With all that tension going on, the need for top quality deodorants would be essential.
On one hand you have Jason Bourne with a bank balance that seems to have no limits (though he does travel by train and ferry rather than plane, which is commendable in these carbon footprint days), and on the other you have staff with skills far beyond the range of mere mortals sitting at work stations that barely give them elbow room. Time for the CIA to spend money where it really counts, I’d say.

The Bourne Ultimatum

As it happened, I watched The Bourne Supremacy again on DVD last night. Its plot was pretty much as follows:
Jason Bourne is under attack. He knows too much. An asset is sent to kill him. (An asset is an assassin paid by the CIA.) Asset fails. Jason goes on the run again. Pamela Landy has an underlying sense that Jason isn’t just a loose cannon, but she is put down by her superiors. Her superiors turn out to be corrupt. In the end, Jason defeats the assassin, and brings down the corrupt superiors. There are lots of car chases.
Tonight we went to see The Bourne Ultimatum at the movies. The plot was pretty much as follows:
Jason Bourne is under attack. He knows too much. An asset is sent to kill him. Asset fails. Jason goes on the run again. Pamela Landy has an underlying sense that Jason isn’t just a loose cannon, but is put down by her superiors. Her superiors turn out to be corrupt. In the end, Jason defeats the assassin, and brings down the corrupt superiors. There are lots of car chases.
Notice any similarities?
The Bourne Ultimatum is loud, full of car chases and spectacular crashes, chases of people up and down buildings and in and out streets, and several unpleasant deaths.
Did I mention it was loud?
The photography is forever on the move, even in the quiet scenes, so that our eyes are worn out trying to adjust to what’s going on. The movement in the quiet scenes uses that recent development, particularly noticeable in tv shows, where the camera is apparently handheld, and keeps jittering. On a big screen this is just plain annoying. But the photography in the various chases is worse. The cutting is so fast that no shot lasts for more than a second or so. Consequently the audience can barely keep up with who’s who and what’s what and where we are. And many of the shots are blurred, as though it was easier to disguise what was actually happening that way. This becomes increasingly irritating as the movie goes on. The car chase towards the end, when the assassin gets back in on the act, is barely understandable. Jason Bourne’s vehicle is almost written off, yet keeps on going. He survives falling off a building in a car, being smashed into by everything in sight, and smashing other cars. At no time does he get whiplash, or any of the other normal consequences of his driving. His limp turns up again after he climbs out of an almost completely demolished car, but is gone again shortly after. The assassin is virtually wiped off the map, yet he turns up a few scenes later with not a scratch on him!
The Bourne Ultimatum, I hate to say, is basically absurd, derivative, and hard to watch. And did I mention loud?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

American Opera Composers

Okay, so who is D C Meckler, and who are Joyce Whitelaw and Eddie Orton?
I can’t tell you a lot about David Meckler, since the page that most relates to him is out of date by about five years. Still you’ll get some info about him, and there's a photo at the left. It looks as though he works, or has worked at Cañada College and taught/teaches various classes there. He’s composed a wide range of music, from chamber to opera.
I can’t tell you a lot about Eddie Orton, apart from what’s written in this article that appeared just before the opera was premiered in 2000. But Joyce Whitelaw has her own website; she’s even taken the title of the opera she wrote as it’s domain name. She’s a pianist, a singer and composer - and she plays a mean game of golf. You can even hear her sing All the Things You Are on her website (and it‘s not too bad at all), and listen to some excerpts from Il Giocatore (which didn’t quite grab me on first hearing, but maybe they’ll grow on me.)

Golf and Opera

Okay, you opera buffs, the second act of what opera ends with the following event?
Shepard hits a couple of golf balls and Mitchell throws an improvised javelin.
Give up? You should, since unless you’re really into obscure American operas, you won’t know that this comes from an opera D C Meckler composed at the beginning of this century called Apollo 14: a space opera.
Meckler’s opera is about three men who land on the moon (where one plays golf, briefly), and about the dramatic contrast between their reactions to the space travel. `Mitchell began to rethink the potential of human consciousness. Shepard’s reaction was more about satisfaction and achievement after years of work and frustration, all topped off by the first golf swing on the lunar surface. Roosa said he was unchanged by the experience.’
The opera has never been performed in its entirety, yet, but sections of it have been showcased. There are female parts in it too: Shepherd and Mitchell have ‘inner voices’ sung by sopranos.
And if you thought no other opera was likely to include golf, then think again. Joyce Whitelaw and Eddie Orton wrote Íl Giocatore,'' around the same time as Meckler was working on his opus, and it requires the cast not only to sing about golf, but to play the game in one scene that’s set in the Loch Lomond Golf Club. It was first performed in the Julia Morgan Theatre, Berkeley on Nov 14th, 2000.

When Google pulls ideas together...

Someone did a search on Google the other day for Kiri te Kanawa tattoos. It was surprising how many results came up that had both Kiri and tattoos together. However, when you checked them out (including the one that came up with my blog) you found that New Zealand opera singer Kiri te Kanawa was in general keeping a good distance between herself and tattoos. Mostly the two ideas appeared on the same blog page, for instance, but days apart.
The same thing happened with Garrick Tremain, the New Zealand cartoonist, and the word, smoking cartoon. To my knowledge, Tremain has never done a ‘smoking cartoon’ but from the Google results you might think he had.
I find this blog is now appearing on German Google search results. Of course it helps if they go looking for Löffelkippzylinder, which you’ll all remember means ‘bucket crowd ram’.

The Lady in Question

Somehow managed to catch an old movie from 1940 on tv this afternoon. It was a very classy print, and fitted the wide screen format without anybody looking twice their size, so obviously some work had been done on it to make it viewable.
Seemingly this particular movie was notable for being the first in which Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth appeared as a romantic couple. It took me a while to recognise Ford because he looked so young. By the time he came back from the war, a few years later, he’d aged considerably, and was much more the way I remember him. Hayworth plays a very subdued role; she’s a character who’s under suspicion and always on the back foot. None of the temptress here, even though Ford falls for her at first glance.
The film was The Lady in Question adapted from an earlier French movie called Gribouille. It concerns a bicycle shop owner played by Brian Aherne who’s called into jury duty, and, by speaking out at the right moment, manages to get Hayworth (the accused) acquitted. He’s a bluff, good-humoured character - a bit too off-hand about the other relationships around him, and not always wise. However, he offers to give Hayworth a job after the trial, and she comes and lives with the family. Of course one of the other jurors believes she was guilty and keeps popping up every so often; and of course both Ford and his sister’s boyfriend know who Hayworth really is. It’s surprising half the town doesn’t, but that’s neither here nor there.
The acting is all a bit over-the-top - these are Americans being French people, remember, (even though they call their wives ‘Mrs’ rather than ‘Madame’ and speak with good, solid American accents), and anyway the French are more ebullient than the Americans - aren’t they? The script isn’t well written, never being sure whether it’s a drama or a comedy, and several scenes are played for their comedy effect, which undercuts the dramatic ones. Nevertheless it’s an interesting example of a typical studio production, with the small parts being played by actors who bring an eccentric quality to their roles.
One piece of trivia: the part of Lurette, the little accountant who causes so much hassle, is played by Curt Bois. Bois’ career in German movies began in 1907, when he was only six (!) and ended in 1989. Around 1937 he came to Hollywood and appeared in nearly forty movies before returning to his native Germany. He’s often uncredited in the Hollywood movies, or has tiny parts (such as a pickpocket in Casablanca). But he kept on working, and survived long enough to revive his career in his own country, appearing in some 35 movie and tv roles, including that of Homer the poet in Wim Wenders’ famous Wings of Desire. (Later remade, like Gribouille, into a much less worthwhile movie, City of Angels, starring the lugubrious Nicholas Cage and the super-cheerful Meg Ryan.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ideal for Opera Singers

When I had a day in the Emergency department of our local hospital last year, they covered me with various bits of machinery (a couple of which, like the character in the novel that I’m reading at the moment, This Book Will Change Your Life, I still had clinging to me when I got home). I now discover that one of the little machines is called an pulse oximeter. It’s that feller that sits on your finger to keeps track of your pulse and makes an electronic beeping noise (similar to the one your computer makes if it’s overheating) if your pulse starts to climb too high.
Apparently these are readily available for anyone who might like to go through their day checking their pulse. The retailers suggest people like pilots or those involved in high activity sports - or even joggers, I suppose - to check out their heart rate. They tell us that the item is so durable it can be dropped on a concrete floor and show no damage, rather like your average insect falling from a great height.
I think they’d be useful for opera singers as well, especially tenors and sopranos like Anna Leese (who's always turning up in these posts). All those high notes tend to make singers a little light-headed, so keeping a check on their pulse would be ideal, in case they felt they were about to pass out. The only problem would be ensuring that the electronic beeping was in the same key as the orchestra.

Valerie Grosvenor Myer

For whatever reason, I've never heard of Valerie Myer until today, and it was only because I was checking out Brian Sibley's blog that I found a brief note about her death, and the following poem. It's the sort of piece older people write in spite of their achievements; there are always more things we wish we could have done. (Getting a tattoo, for instance.)

Sing a Song at Sixty

It is too late alas to learn a musical instrument,

To become a downhill racer on skis or compete at Wimbledon;
I shall never be able to read Dostoevsky in the original.

I have not won any cups for achievement,

And so many things I dreamed of will never happen:
I shall never achieve my own chat show on television,
Or dissolve gracefully into artful tears, clutching my Oscar.

I must reconcile myself to clothing which is

Comfortable rather than glamorous,

And acknowledge that hair dye after sixty is usually a mistake.

I refuse to lament the loss of my beauty and my slender waist,

Instead I will be grateful that I retain my teeth,

More metal than ivory, it must be frankly admitted,

Propped, pinned, posted and padded with plastic,

But I can still eat with them.

I will be glad that that I was not born in the Dark Ages

Before the invention of spectacles. I will not agonize

Over tests I have failed, but will concentrate on remembering

The ones I have passed, and the people who have loved me.

It is futile to lie awake brooding over old animosities.

It is time to forgive one’s parents, and to contemplate the young

Not with envy but with tender concern and generosity,

Betraying no awareness of how vulnerable they are.

- Valerie Grosvenor Myer

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on Advertising on Blogs

I now write for several different sites that pay bloggers to include posts in their blogs with some advertising in them. I’ve discussed the issues of this before, so won’t be going into it again, except to say that someone contacted me a few weeks ago on the subject and said that there were other ways to make money on the Net. I’m going to get back to her in due course - in fact should get back to her sooner than in due course - but in the meantime, I’m just making a note here about another site where you can get blog for money called Smorty. I thought I’d done this before on one of my blogs, but can’t find any post coming up when I do a search.
Anyway, Smorty’s claim to fame, perhaps, is that it’s a site that’s been going quite well for a few months, but has very few opportunities on it. Four, in fact! And I’ve used them all up.
This seems to happen with these sites, sometimes. They start off with a whiz and a bang, and then suddenly there are just no more opportunities available. Can’t quite figure it out, but it happens. There are at least two other similar sites that I’ve been involved with.
Anyway, if someone wants to do pay per posts and would like four opportunities, Smorty is the place to go!

Here Lies Eric Ambler

Finished reading Eric Ambler’s autobiography last night - it’s called Here Lies Eric Ambler. I suspect there may be a bit of a play on the word, lies, in the sense of: is he telling us the whole truth, or has he made his own life into something of a novel?
Be that as it may, it ends rather abruptly just after the second World War, though the introductory chapter is set much later, when he has an accident caused by being overcome by fumes in his car. Perhaps he intended (or even did) write a second volume.
I bought it at a secondhand bookshop somewhere along the road from Cromer to Blakeney; they were having a half-price sale. I thought it might be interesting in terms of what it said about Ambler’s way of writing, but he talks a lot more about his (quite adventurous) life, and the books almost seem to come together by themselves. He mentions some incidents that found their way into the books, and how he tended to change things as he went along and then rewrote and rewrote after he’d finished, but beyond that there isn’t much.
One thing that he makes an emphasis on is his refusal to believe in any sort of God, or to have any sort of faith. That would be fine if he didn’t then set out to make it seem that anyone who does have faith is some sort of fool. Right towards the end, when he’s in the midst of some World War II battle and thinks he’s a goner, he finds himself repeating some words learnt from the past: Into thy hands I commit my spirit. He’s immediately ashamed of himself, and goes on about the foolishness of chaplains in wartime who claim that no man is an atheist in a foxhole. He doesn’t consider that he may be the one who’s wrong, but like so many secularists he can’t see that his point of view isn’t necessarily the correct one.
Coincidentally, in a recent Books and Culture ezine, it mentions Eric Ambler as being a writer of note and one to re-read. I’d like to track down some of them and see what they’re like, and to see if the worldview in them is different to the one he portrays in his autobiography. The editor, John Wilson, writes: Eric Ambler's novel The Intercom Conspiracy (1969), [is] currently out of print, alas, but used copies are readily findable, and there's always the library. Bonus for journalists: an editor is one of the key figures; the newsletter he edits is based in Geneva. It's a brilliant, chilly tale, best read alongside an Ambler novel from thirty years earlier, A Coffin for Dimitrios (UK title: A Mask for Dimitrios), his best-known book. Both feature the character Charles Latimer, a novelist. It's fascinating to see how Ambler's view of espionage and power-politics evolved in the intervening years.

Listening to stories

We’ve been listening to cassette tapes in the car when we’ve been travelling. We usually tend to wait until we get to a stretch of road that several miles long because it isn’t easy to concentrate while we’re also trying to listen to instructions from our Sat Nav, or when we‘re looking for signposts and turn-offs and so on.
We’ve done this for years in New Zealand when we go on long trips. Because we know the roads there better, we don’t have to interrupt our listening pattern quite so much, and it certainly makes the trips go faster.
However, one of the disadvantages of listening to stories in the car is that you can miss vital bits, especially in mystery stories. We often have to ask: was that character the husband of some other character, or the father? When did that character come into it and why is he now being accused of murder? Is she married to him or the other bloke?
Overall, we manage to make sense of the stories - it can depend on the storyteller as to how clear things are. Most of them tell the stories at a listenable pace, but that’s fine when you’re not trying to drive at the same time. What’s listenable when you’re lying in bed trying to go to sleep is different altogether to what’s listenable in a car, especially when there’s a lot of other noise.
So far on this trip we’ve got through one of Dick Francis’ stories (To the Hilt) which neither of us remembered reading before, although we must have. And then it got to a point about three-quarters of the way through and it all came back to me. We listened to The Marketmaker by Michael Ridpath (not an author I was familiar with) and it turned out to be an exciting story, though complicated by the details of large scale wheeling and dealing. The latest story was Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendall’s alter ego). This seemed a slow-paced mystery, told partly through diary entries, but as it went on the complications increased and it needed careful listening. We listened to one of Rendall’s Inspector Wexford’s stories, A New Lease of Death, which was written way back in 1967 (the last time I came to England, in fact). This was a rather odd story, in which a man who committed a murder and was hung for it turned out to be the murderer all along, rather than someone else. But the murder was being investigated again by an amateur detective and his son, rather than Wexford, for the most part. We listened to C S Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which had the most delightful and evocative harp music scattered throughout. Michael Hordern was the reader, and the harpist and composer was Marisa Robles.
Finally, we began to listen to Clive James’ autobiography. But by the time he’d begun to describe his fifth or sixth masturbation episode, and the length of other boys’ penises, and the sexual behaviour of other boys he knew, we gave up. There’s only so much of that sort of stuff you can take. And did we really need it at all?

Touchy-feely giraffe

When we went to the Royal Norfolk Show early in our stay in England, we saw children everywhere carrying large stuffed toys, many of them as big as the children themselves. It was only when we went for lunch that was discovered that the tent was right opposite the lunch place.
Apparently they call stuffed animals plush animals in the US, and there’s a site called The Jungle Store where you can get plush animals of every kind. Being a giraffe fan, I checked out the choices for giraffes. There are some 178 possibilities, but far less when it comes to the plush kind. Some of these look rather like short-neck giraffes, if there such a thing, but there are a couple of delightful characters that have a proper long neck, or at least an attempt to make the animal appear that way. Their names are Orson Jnr and Orson Snr - the latter is the better of the two in neck length. He retails on the site at US$20.95, but I’m not sure that spending that amount of money on a stuffed toy is quite what my wife would consider to be an essential purchase.
It strikes me that plush is a rather odd word to use instead of stuffed, since it’s normally associated with the feel of the material something is made of (softer than velvet but feeling like it), or else (according to the One Look Dictionary) means characterised by extravagance and profusion, something that stuffed toys are really not usually characterised by. Perhaps plush toys are made of something softer to the touch than velvet.
Maybe I should buy that giraffe after all, to check it out.

You want Random? This is Random.

I could have called this post the Second Lesson in Writing Random Notes, because it is really a thoroughly random list of people who've appeared on my blog at some time or other, and who now come together (like strangers at a party) only because someone has searched for them and found a reference to them on my blog.
Composers, painters and writers are turning up on my HitTail reports with regularity. Gao Ping, Gareth Farr, Trevor Coleman and even Vaughan Williams amongst the composers; Karl Maugham amongst the artists, and a really mixed bunch of writers: Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willie), Fred Reinfield the chess writer, Anthony Berkeley Cox the mystery novelist, Colin Cotterill (who wrote The Coroner’s Lunch), James Berardinelli the film reviewer, my friend Sanchona, whose first novel A Family of Strangers is selling steadily, Winifred Kavalieris the poet, George Monibot who writes in The Guardian and Murray Grimwood who wrote in the Otago Daily Times.
Equally those two favourite subjects: fallacious arguments and athletes’ feet and fingers are having a field day, as they nearly always do. I wonder if those people who are into SEO realise just how interested people are in fallacious arguments and athletes’ feet/fingers.
And the oddball searchers turned up the following. Yoko Ono and her supposed appearance in Lost in Translation was searched for by a Norwegian user, and someone wanted to know about dockominium depreciation. The Fibonacci sequence of numbers came up; Wymondham newts; Centrum Laban, a site I mentioned in passing and about which I know next to nothing because it’s in Spanish; the pronunciation of Popadics, that young lady who is engaged to a football player; and views on the ballpoint pen by non-regular users. Hmm, I wonder what that user thought of the results?

Of the making of books there is no end...

"We have reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire." That is, "unless we try to prevent this danger by separating those books which we must throw out or leave in oblivion from those which one should save and within the latter between what is useful and what is not."

A quote from someone in the 21st century? Nope, the words of a 17th century scholar - and he was only echoing what Vincent of Beauvais in the 13th century said: "Since the multitude of books, the shortness of time and the slipperiness of memory do not allow all things which are written to be equally retained in the mind, I decided to reduce in one volume in a compendium and in summary order some flowers selected according to my talents from all the authors I was able to read."

Even Solomon is known to have said something along these lines: Of the making of books there is no end. The problem ain't new!

The two quotes come from an excellent article by Alan Jacobs on the subject of information overload.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cookware Issues

One of the fun things (not!) about babysitting other people’s houses is dealing with their saucepans and pots. Sorry, their cookware. The problem is that you have this thing about being much more careful about other people’s stuff than they are themselves, or you would be about your own pots and pans in your own home. Okay, when things are new, you’re careful, but saucepans and posts/cookware are the sort of things that take a fair amount of punishment in the course of meal preparation: considerable heat, oils and food that may stick (even in so-called non-stick pans), and the rough and tumble of contact with other metals or hard surfaces. My wife was drying the dishes in one house we stayed at, and didn’t realise that the handle came loose from the pot. One click and the pot - an enamel one - was on the floor in umpteen pieces. We were far more worried about it than they were, as I said above, but their lack of worry doesn’t assuage the awful feeling you have when it falls to the floor.
Talking about cookware (saucepans and pots for the uninitiated), the Berndes Cookware site advertises both stainless steel cookware and cast aluminium (except they spell it aluminum). I was under the impression that aluminium cookware had come under suspicion for its cancer-inducing properties. Sounds like that must have been one of those many scientists-have-just-discovered-and-now-they-want-to-bring-the-bad-news-to-the-word pieces of hype.
Maybe. I checked this out on the Net, and there are still a number of places warning of the possible hazards of aluminium cookware, though one site says that it’s only certain foods that react such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, or leafy vegetables. Hmm, that’s quite a few common foods! Seemingly the foods absorb a level of aluminium during the cooking process, which of course ends up in us. It may depend on how much the body can cope with. Obviously this is something that I need to check out further!

Monday, August 13, 2007

50 Greatest Comedies? Hmmm

Last night I caught the end of the program on the Greatest Comedy Films. I don’t know whether the films were chosen by some sort of poll or not, but it seems they may have been when I look on the web.
The list is okay when you work from 50 towards the top; there are some oddball films there, but that’s probably good. But as you get into the top 15, things take on a curious turn. I caught up with the list at Groundhog Day, which isn’t just a comedy, it’s a philosophical statement about life and repetition and the order of things. The Blues Brothers, which comes next, is mayhem personified. I’ve never managed to see all of it, but it looks like an odd combination of lots of car crashes (Americans seem to find this amusing for some reason - maybe they actually hate cars rather than love them) and some interesting uses of music.
Annie Hall is next on the list, with Woody Allen at his neurotic best, and then we come to This is Spinal Tap, a film I’ve barely heard of, and which, from the clips they showed, may be worth a look. It was hard to tell. But it seemed a strange choice to be so far up the list.
Now we come to the level of comedy where the crude and gross excel. On screen in the documentary we had various people proclaiming how far they’d gone and how producers had actually let them get away with it. There’s Something About Mary is famous for some very unpleasant use of semen and for Ben Stiller getting himself caught in his zip. Beyond that it’s hard to know whether it’s of any value as a comedy or not, because this is all you ever hear about it.
Blazing Saddles came next, and certainly this is a pretty crazy movie. Again, one scene has stuck in people’s minds, which seems to say a lot about what people think is funny, and that’s the scene in which a bunch of men eating beans fart a good deal. The film is a lot better than this one scene, though again it’s pretty crude.
But crude and gross and generally offensive is about all I can say in regard to the next choice, American Pie. I’d heard that it was pretty puerile, but the clips shown last night show that I’d barely guessed at the level of puerility. It may be funny in some people’s minds, but it wouldn’t make my list of comedies.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is another kettle of fish. The Python gang can be pretty offensive in the sexual area sometimes, but seldom get to a disgusting level. This isn’t a movie I’ve seen, but the clips seemed to indicate it had a typical Python sense of the surreal, and could actually be quite funny.
The last five on the list are an extremely mixed bunch: South Park, Austin Powers, Shaun of the Dead, Airplane! and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
To take the top one first. The Life of Brian has always been controversial because of its closeness to the Christian story, and in spite of what the Python clan claim, it mocks Christianity continually. For them to say that people like Malcolm Muggeridge and some Archbishop who appeared on television with them were too ‘serious’ about the film, and seeing things in it that weren’t there is just nonsense. No one with any knowledge of Christianity could miss the constant references, and time after time it undercuts the faith and sincerity of real believers. The language is foul as well, as though the Pythons had finally discovered the F word. It’s almost as common in here as in a Gordon Ramsay episode. This film would never make the top of a list of my favourite comedies.
Airplane! is absurd in every respect, and probably deserves to be on the list somewhere. Whether second place is its place is another matter.
Shaun of the Dead comes out of nowhere. A frequently brutal piece - in a funny way, according to the makers - about killing off zombies, it has its points (as far as I could tell from the clips) but when one of its makers and actors said that the other main actor had the filthiest mind he knew of, I wasn’t inclined to chase up a copy of the film and watch it.
Austin Powers has some wonderful madness in it. It certainly sends up the Bond movies hugely and makes nonsense of the sexual content of them. And Mike Myers is one of the few actors who can make himself spectacularly ugly and still come back for more. Again, a possibility for a list, but not in 4th place.
And South Park. Well, I have no time for this program at all, anyway, so a movie version of it isn’t going to grab me. I know plenty of people think that the offensive humour has something going for it. Not me.

On the search for cufflinks

While we’ve been in England we’ve been going to a lot of car boot sales and op shops, as I’ve mentioned on my Travel Blog.
One of the things I’ve been looking out for, apart from books of course, are pairs of cufflinks. At home I have a collection of some sixty pairs (I’d guess), and I’m always on the lookout for more. I don’t go for the fancy and expensive ones, the shiny gold jewellery that’s back in fashion. Rather my idea of a cufflink is a fun item, one that is either outrageously ridiculous (those large coloured ‘stones’ that have no gem value whatsoever) or ones that have been put out by a company or organisation, or ones that are just plain fun, like a pair - a rather large pair, in fact - I got yesterday in Diss which have four blokes playing various homemade musical instruments on them. And then there’s the pair that aren’t a pair: a golf club and ball. Or the ones that took us some time to figure out in the shop. The volunteer in the op shop and myself were puzzling over them until my wife came up and said: They’re computer mouses. And they were.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Up steps homo habilis; in comes a harem

I know I’m considered dumb when it comes to discussing things evolutionary, but let’s consider the following and see who‘s dumb. I’ve just come across a headline in The Times newspaper for the 9th August, 2007. It states Evolutionary theory overhauled after the discovery of ‘handy man’ fossil. All I can say is, I wish. I wish the Evolutionary theory was being overhauled, but regrettably it’s not.
What the report was about was that two human fossils have been found in Africa, by Mrs Leavey and her daughter. From the way the report reads you’d think that these were full blown skeletons, possibly complete with various anatomical parts. Nope. The two fossils are a jawbone and a skull.
From the first fossil, the scientists have deduced that the idea that two previously ‘discovered’ species of humans, one called homo erectus and the other called homo habilis (he’s the tool-maker) has to be reconsidered. Now, as a result of finding said jawbone, they have come (rather quickly, I feel) to the conclusion that instead of one descending from the other - descending in evolutionary terms that is, which means millions of years, they actually lived side by side for a long time. (You know all that time evolutionists have to play around with - it’s very convenient.)
But if the finding of a jawbone brought us to this overhauling of the theory, the finding of the skull brought us even further. I have to quote this bit: “The second fossil is significant for what it reveals about the probable sexual habits of Homo erectus.” Keep that stuff about the sexual habits in your head for a minute and remember that this is nothing more than one skull.
Apparently it’s the smallest skull ever found, but do the scientists just say that? No, they say, it’s the smallest homo erectus ever found. Pardon me? They then go on to tell us that it’s an adult skull, almost certainly that of a female. Now because they think it’s a female they deduce from this that the males of the homo erectus group were much large than the females. I think Homer Simpson has it right when he says, Duh. Haven’t you noticed that the males of the currently existing homo erectus happen to be larger than the female? Obviously this has been overlooked by the scientists writing the discovery up. .
You could forget this point if they didn’t go on to burble on about the disparity between male and female gorillas and between modern male and female apes and monkeys. Because the latter are monogamous, and the gorillas tend to have a male who has a form of harem, therefore - wait for it - the homo erectus was a male who kept a harem. This is deduced from the small size of the discovered skull. Which is almost certainly a female.
Oh, dear. Evolutionists can get away with anything, because no one can actually prove them wrong.
You can read an article that's almost identical to the Times on here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More on Asbestos

I wrote the other day about mesothelioma, that extremely nasty form of cancer which can be caused by asbestos inhalation, and that particularly affects the membranes of the lung, though it can damage other membranes as well. I’ve been reading up a bit more on the subject now and it’s appalling to discover that the dangers of working with asbestos were established in the 1930s, and the knowledge that asbestos workers were at risk had been known since the turn of the century.
Why did it take so long then, for companies to stop using asbestos? Asbestos was used as insulation on pipes and boilers, as fire retardants, as thermal insulation in blankets, mattresses and gloves, in roofing, weatherboarding, shuttering and cladding, in plumbing and heating systems, in floor tiles and PVC vinyl flooring, as insulating board and in the brake pads of cars, lorries, buses and trams. We were surrounded by the stuff. The moral viewpoint of the companies using it in all these forms must have been tainted by the profit they were making. Why otherwise would they have continued to use it when they knew so many people would suffer?
Perhaps at first they thought their lack of concern would never be followed up on, and that the workers in particular wouldn’t have the gumption to face up to them and demand restitution for what was being done to their bodies. And they were right as far as that went. Workers were in no position to complain, even if they were aware of the damage they were suffering. The system relied on the companies being able get away with it, on one hand, and the workers being largely unaware of their danger, on the other.
Workers would have to suffer not just mesothelioma, but asbestosis, in which fibrosis progressively scars the lungs; calcification of their lungs, and the thickening of the lung’s lining - along with lung cancer - in ever-increasing numbers before society began to take notice.
Workers in a wide range of jobs would be affected, from men (and it was invariably men) working in power stations, men doing painting and decorating, men in ship yards, roofing and construction, men working in railways, as motor mechanics, joiners and laggers, as heating engineers, and of course, men producing the asbestos itself. Families would be affected in vast numbers, as husbands, fathers and sons died painful deaths.
Now, of course, since the 1980s, the problem has come to a head. It’s far too late for the men involved - many of them have long since died and the rest are virtually incurable - but legal companies around the world these days are battling for the men’s families in an attempt to redress the failures of companies to take precautions on behalf of their workers for more than a century. Even with the best of lawyers it’s a long, hard battle.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Curious indeed

Finished reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon this afternoon. It’s a strange book that grips you while annoying you; that’s funny even in the dark moments; and that gets you sufficiently inside the head of someone with Asperger’s to make you appreciate just how difficult their life can be. Haddon says in an interview with Dave Weich of, that a woman from a publishing office who’d read the book said, "Oh, I didn't realize there was actually anything wrong with Christopher." This seems almost too naïve for words. What on earth did she think was going on? Yet, the book never explains anything except through the main character’s voice - because he only sees things through his own filter - and so you have to deduce a great deal about him from the clues that appear. Perhaps she isn’t the deducing kind of reader.
I enjoyed it, but don’t know that I’d recommend it readily to other people, mostly because I don’t know how they’d react to it. You can be enthusiastic about what you feel is a great book only to find other people snubbing it. (As happened to me with Freakonomics, which I thoroughly enjoyed.)
Anyway, I’m glad I picked the book up at a Car Boot Sale recently - I’d already been tempted to buy it at Sainsbury’s supermarket, but kept putting it back. So instead of paying £4 for it, I got it for one.

Art processes again

Not being random again, I meant to mention in the last post that I’d found a site where they describe the giclée process in reasonable detail. There’s certainly a lot of work goes into getting the pictures as near the original as possible, always a difficult task when you’re working with digital cameras and computer printers. But obviously it does work, and its increasing popularity amongst art enthusiasts testifies to this.

Art processes

A couple of weeks or so ago I wrote about the giclée process in which original art work is reproduced to such a high standard that it’s almost identical to the original painting. And I spoke about atelier too, where the artist adds real paint and real brush strokes to a copy. Curiously enough, when I entered the two words into Google just now I came across a painting called Mon Atelier by Lucie Attinger, done in the giclée process.
What reminded me of this is that I was visiting the site I’ve written about before called Coupon Chief, and found that a company called Brushstrokes is producing ‘original’ works in this way, although they don’t actually mention either of the words Giclée or Atelier.
Brushstrokes have a number of specials going at any time - up to 50% off. Quite a deal on an almost original painting. And I like the way their site works: when you roll your mouse over a picture it automatically enlarges. I’ve seen this before on some other art sites, and it’s very effective.
Brushstrokes sells both old masters and original works by artists like Gary Holland, Curt Walters, Charles Pabst, Alexei Adamov and Julia Klimova. (For your first purchase you can get 10% off the price.) Some of this work is a bit too sentimental for my taste, though at least it doesn’t sink to the level of Thomas Kinkade!

1st lesson in Random Notes writing

I’ve just found that someone went searching for the phrase, ‘How to write random notes.’ Of course, my blog came up in the results, though not first. Perhaps I could start a course in the subject, as I seem to be doing fairly well at it. According to, there are some 534 posts on this blog. That’s enough to keep anyone going for a while in terms of learning how to write random notes.

Lesson 1. What is a random note?
A random note is one that by its very nature has no particular connection with what has gone before or what comes after it - if, in fact, anything does. It also has the nature of being something spontaneous, with a serendipitous element to it. In the true sense of the phrase, a random note will have no home; it may be attached to the fridge, for example, and will quickly lose its raison d'être, because the person who wrote it will often have forgotten why he or she wrote it.
It’s the sort of note that lies around a desk waiting to be handled, and is eventually consigned to Bin 13 along with other random items, such as the straw out of a drink, or last year’s festival button.
To write a true list of random notes, in the plural, requires an ability to skip from one subject to another without concern for continuity. (In this sense, this blog may be said to be something of a failure at times, as there are occasional consecutive posts that treat the same subject.) It requires readers to be whisked along like leaves on a breeze, skipping from one spot to another in the garden, or along the road, or across the field, until all sense of origin and direction is obliterated.
If these objects are achieved, then the random notes writer is well on his way to random notes success!
The photo of someone trying to write Random Notes comes from a blog called Hallam Foe.

More on searching

I’m amazed to find that a couple of posts I wrote about Chrissy Popadics some time ago still mean I turn up on the search engines whenever anyone goes looking for her. I doubt that I’m very high on the list, but I’m on the list, nevertheless. And the same applies to Brent Stavig, who I’ve admittedly written rather more about.
In terms of topics that people search for that bring this blog into view, the highest on the list, believe it or not is, ‘shrinking shirts!’ And perhaps even more amazing is ‘athlete’s hand’. Two such topics as I never did expect to see any results from.
Slightly further down the list are a real mixed batch: Anna Leese, the opera singer; The Coroner’s Lunch - an amusing detective novel set in Laos; endowment express which apparently relates to a piece I did on endowment mortgages; and finally, actor James Mason and his role in the film, Odd Man Out.

Our old enemy, Asbestos

Hands up if you know what Mesothelioma is. Okay, give up? Well, perhaps you can help with telling me what the mesothelium is. No? This just isn’t your day.

Well, one of the advantages of writing about things you’ve never heard about is that you learn something. And learning something, as Tony Buzan tells me more than once in a book I’m reading, is what the brain - that incredible instrument - enjoys. So here we go, brain! Try Mesothelioma on for size.

Mesothelioma is a nasty cancer (as if there were any nice ones) that affects the mesothelium. Okay, I know you’re going to tell me you’re none the wiser, but just wait, and I’ll enlighten you. The mesothelium is the protective membrane that surrounds the chest cavity, the abdominal cavity, the cavity around the heart, and the internal reproductive organs. Sounds like a fairly important piece of equipment. I didn’t even know I had a membrane protecting all those bits. One of these days I’m going to do a degree in anatomy and see if I can actually learn what this is that I’m walking around in.

So, what’s Mesothelioma? It’s a form of cancer that’s linked to asbestos exposure. It occurs in the sac lining of the chest (pleural mesothelioma) or abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), or the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma). I presume the sac linings are similar to the membranes. If not, that’s another piece of stuff I carry around.

You wouldn’t think we’d be much affected by asbestos anymore, since it’s been banned as a building material for nearly forty years. But my brother-in-law worked with a man at one time who is now making a mint clearing out asbestos from old buildings. It’s a job that requires more than membranes and sac linings; these guys not only wear full-on protective clothing, but work in specially-made tunnels and other such equipment in order to avoid contact with the asbestos.

So unfortunately there is still a need for Mesothelioma treatments. And the worst thing is that this particular cancer has no effective cure. All that can be done is treat it as other basic cancers are treated - which may not be the best option.

And where there are asbestos victims, there are people to work behind the scenes in dealing with claims for the loss of work and health and so on. Belluck and Fox in New York, for example, is one company that specialises in this issue. They investigate where and when the asbestos caused problems and aim to apportion blame. Not that this much helps the victim, usually, as few people who get Mesothelioma pull through. Still, it will give some degree of compensation to the victim’s family.

Church Street Gallery, Cromer

While in Cromer I went to the Church Street Gallery which is on the main street. They had a lovely exhibition of etchings by Kathleen Craddock which focused on wintry countrysides, gaunt trees and the sun low in the sky. The colours were all sombre, yet they works were very appealing. David Carson Shaw was also on show, and his colour palette is the opposite: greens and blues and reds and yellows, done in oils but with the feel of pastels. His works are small (with large frames) and require attention, as they’re full of little details that aren’t noticeable on first glance. And there was a third artist who painted misty beach scenes, or scenes near a beach perhaps, in which a solitary figure is almost melting into the background, and looks as if he’s been caught contemplating when he should have been doing something else. I thought I'd lost his name, but it's John Bond.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lost in Translation

I probably didn’t give Lost in Translation enough of a mention, since there were quality aspects to it. The Japanese/American interplay is often quite zany: the handing over of business cards at the beginning to Bill Murray by a half dozen people who are somehow involved with his next few days; the appalling prostitute who invades his room and nearly cripples him; the insane chat show host; the director of the commercial Murray is making who can’t say something simple without a hundred words – all in Japanese and at great speed. It’s then translated into almost nothing by his offsider.
Then there are the weird people whom Murray and Johansson meet in their night wanderings, strange people who seem to pour out their heart – in Japanese. Or the man who is a rather fat John Lennon imitation; and then his lady moves into the shot, and she’s Yoko Ono. And there’s the crazy starlet who can’t stop talking long enough to let anyone else speak, or the anonymous fourth person at the table with Johansson and her husband and the starlet, who talks enthusiastically in pop music-speak for a minute, asks her if she understands, and she says no. He might as well be speaking Japanese.
The humour is quiet and subtle, and because Murray underplays his character to such an extent even the mad moments, such as when he’s trapped on an exercise treadmill with a Japanese voice exclaiming at him, aren’t over the top. These are the qualities of the movie.
But there’s no storyline; almost nothing really happens except the revealing of a man’s life on autopilot, and a girl wondering why she married a young man who doesn’t seem really interested in her. Both of them find it hard to sleep at night and they meet accidentally and on purpose in various places in the large hotel they’re staying in. Both of them have lost their way for the time being, and really don’t find it by the time the movie’s over. While this is interesting, it’s not exactly stimulating, and as I said in the earlier post, there’s a great sag in the middle of the movie where eccentric Japanese night people take over but don’t really contribute anything to what’s going on. People wandering around Tokyo, or staring out of hotel windows, or drinking whisky in the bar, or doing karaoke are interesting, but only up to a point. Unless something moves in their lives, we’re left back at square one. Which I think is the problem – for me – of the movie. For all their meetings and odd conversations, we’re no further on at the end than we were at the beginning.

Sound for the Deaf

We’re babysitting a house at the moment that has a wide-screen tv, and I mean wide-screen. Full-scale action movies appear as they would in the cinema. However, with the benefits of such a system come the negatives: the remote controls. There are two required to get the DVD working, and they have more buttons on them than the computer keyboard has keys. Not only that, many of them have more than one function. And if you don’t get things in the right sequence you don’t get the movie – or even the tv channels as we’ve just discovered.
Last night we watched Lost in Translation, the Bill Murray/Scarlett Johansson movie about a couple of insomniacs in Japan. It started off well, with a quirky sense of humour, but seemed to lose the plot (there wasn’t much of one) in the middle, and sagged for about a quarter of an hour. When we first tried to play it we got closed captioning – that system that not only tells you the dialogue but also indicates the sound effects. Mission Impossible III is on at the moment – the sound effects would be along the lines of car crash noises, glass breaking, more glass breaking, even more glass breaking, many people going Ahhhh!, villain mutters under his breath, and so on.
Lost in Translation was considerably quieter, for the most part, and only required things like: shower noise, phone rings.

The Cast

I’ve now found the programme for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this is the cast.
Aaron Kelly – Egeus and Peter Quince.
Marcus Cooper – Demetrius and Starveling.
Katherine Bower – Helena and Snug and Cobweb.
Miranda Heath – Hippolyta and Titania
Dan Styles – Theseus and Oberon
Jamie Brown – Lysander and Flute and Mustardseed
Alice Brockway – Hermia and Snout and Peaseblossom
Daniel Creasey – Bottom
Zack Polanski – Philostrate and Puck.

Just thought I'd record them here, since their names don't appear on the website for Chapterhouse.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Chapterhouse Players

The Chapterhouse Theatre Company came to Barnham Broom last night, and performed A Midsummer Night's Dream outside on the golf course. Their scenery consisted of a tent big enough to hold the nine actors, a few pillars and a couple of urns on pedestals. The props weren’t much more extensive, apart from when the rude mechanicals brought their props basket onto the stage and produced a ‘wall’, a ‘dog’, and a few other items. Even Bottom’s ass’s head was minimal.
But if the props and scenery were lacking, the energy certainly wasn’t. The quartet of lovers also played the other fairies, and the rude mechanicals. Oberon and Titania played Theseus and Hyppolita as well (a fairly normal course of events, I’d suspect) and even Puck, who never stopped moving, almost, played Theseus’ rather camp servant. Only the guy playing Bottom got away with a single role.
I don’t know any of the players; they were a fairly mixed bunch with some excellent talent and some slightly weaker actors, more especially when it came to speaking the verse. Some of them missed the mark and the beauty of it at times; nevertheless the clarity of the words was excellent, particularly as there were no mikes to amplify the voices. (Curiously enough, there’s no listing of the actors on the website.)
The quartet of lovers gave huge amounts of energy to their roles, but even more to their parts as fairies, where they rolled and pranced and leapt and cartwheeled. These fairies were eccentric to say the least, but not at all lacking in spirit! And the guy who played Puck (he’d gone round selling programmes beforehand and didn’t seem all that lively a chap) was on fire. His relationship with Oberon wasn’t at all ‘gay’ but their intimate contact was very physical – not in any offensive sense, just without any sense of personal space, one might say!
The mechanicals were just a bit too over the top for my liking, especially in the last scene when they perform before the Duke and his wife (who have a bunch of sarcastic lines typical of their class, but which are fairly dull and were probably covered up by the audience’s laughter in original performances). But it was interesting to hear how Shakespeare sends himself up so thoroughly in the lines he gives to the country actors: mixed metaphors galore, and verbs that don’t belong to their nouns (‘I saw with my ears’ type of thing) and lines full of nonsense.