Three things to cheer up any sorry Englishman:
- The sun is shining
- Freddie Flintoff hitting a tempestuous 167 against the Windies (17 fours, 7 sixes; three of those in one over)
- ‘Mountain Snow’ from Candidate’s new album
Quod petis, hic est, Est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit aequus
Three things to cheer up any sorry Englishman:
I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of either photographing or recording every piece of street furniture on a single pavement. That is, every manhole cover, bin, pipe, every little metal thing under your feet that defies or eludes explanation. I haven’t done it yet largely because there are so many even on a short stretch of pavement. Try counting up next time you walk down your road.
Some measure of the effect, though, can be gained from taking a look at Diamond Geezer’s tally of all the signs currently up at Bow Road tube station while it undergoes redevelopment. Obsessive, yes. It’s also fantastic. I’ve seen much much less interesting lists being displayed in funky London galleries.
(Safety) hats off to DG for that one.
Ah, Daily Mail, sing to me of the internet.
I couldn’t help noticing on the train this morning (over someone’s shoulder, naturally) that the Mail ran two whole pages based on internet memes. One was the quite venerable Animals on the Underground site. The other was the rather thin Preparing for Emergencies I noted in the linklog a couple of days ago.
Two whole pages.
When he comes to write up his definitive history of the internet, it will be with gleaming pride that Sir Tim Berners-Lee will be able to boast: “I built a worldwide network to deliver dirt-cheap copy to the Daily Mail”.
Fair makes the heart beam, doesn’t it?
Charming spam comment I’ve just deleted from this site:
“I love [useless product], even though I’ve no idea what it is. And this sentence is just filler”.
When I was a student, my rubbish summer jobs generally involved going door to door (delivering letters, free bottles of water, anything). I’m now imagining impecunious students chained to PCs for days on end, belting out 500 spam comments an hour. I think I’ve just found the cause of the national obesity epidemic.
I spent most of the last week watching my grandmother die in hospital.
I’m drained, emptied, exhausted. I really don’t have anything coherent to say about her, or about the whole experience. More than that, I don’t have anything about it all I want to share with the shadow world. I’m sure you understand.
Let me add, though, that the next person I hear criticising the NHS is going to get a piece of my mind. It’s a common mistake to think that a hospital is there to provide treatment. It’s not. It’s there to provide care.
The amount of care I’ve seen in the last few days is extraordinary. It’s both heartening and humbling, and I am immensely grateful on my behalf, and on behalf of my family.
I am, despite most appearances, still here. This week has involved, not in any particular order, a family hospital vigil, too many hot train journeys, Book IV of the Iliad, waiting for the newly plastered kitchen ceiling to dry and, tonight, a north-south blogmeet (in which what had been planned initially as a proper chance to catch up with folk from the deep north has been progressively shaved down to a fleeting ‘hello’)
But mostly, of course, the hospital.
It’s been making me think a great deal about what ‘being here’ means, particularly for those of us who have surrendered a certain part of their person to this kind of virtual presence on the web. When I was travelling this week I felt a vague low-level guilt about not being here. For better thoughts on this matter I refer you to the ever-present things.
I was at the splendid Somerset House last night to see the utterly lovable Belle & Sebastian, part of a very hip summer season also featuring PJ Harvey, Lemon Jelly, Orchestra Baobab and the Afro-Cuban All-Stars. That’s quite a line-up.
B & S were, indeed, as lovely as their records suggest, winsome in the peculiarly Glaswegian manner that always takes me by surprise. Their music glittered and shone, whistled and shimmied, sweetly harmonised and rang out across the courtyard and up into the purple evening sky.
In deference to their surroundings there was a quick version of ‘Taxman’, and in deference to their slightly broader surroundings a full blown version of that old Madness stager, ‘Embarrassment’. And a bowler hat.
I was very struck how everyone there failed to be any taller. I’m an unexceptional six feet tall, and I found that I had a pristine, unobstructed view of the stage. I couldn’t spot one person in front of me who I would have said was a six-footer.
I think the band themselves are all not particularly tall; though these things are notoriously difficult to judge on stage. After the sparkling music had faded away, I was left wondering whether:
(a) A small band attracts small fans.
(b) Belle & Sebastian happen to make music that attracts small fans.
(c) By a sort of sympathetic recognition of the very limited confines of Somerset House, larger fans had shied away, leaving only the smaller ones to attend.
(d) The same as (c), but with the additional factor that Belle & Sebastian themselves had unconsciously been selected for the venue by virtue of their essential unlargeness.
(e) The same as (b), but with the added consideration that Belle & Sebastian were chosen to play Somerset House because their fanlets would be conveniently small.
(f) Short and tall people are attracted to different types of music; or, at least, tend to look for and express different emotional sets in their choices of music. Thus, both band and fans grew alike together in their musical education, and are bound evermore in a swirling mutual appreciation of the smaller person’s universe.
(g) I could have been standing on a step.
I’m not a particular admirer of Dr John Reid, the so-called Minister for the Today programme. But it’s easy to see why he got the gig. To label as combative this epic standoff from this morning’s show would be to understate the man’s pugilistic expertise. Like Dennis Wise, Reid is a man who could start a fight in an empty room.
This morning’s display was a classic. Reid was brought on nominally to talk about the government’s increased funding for trainee dentists. He knew as well as we did that this would mean one minute on dentists and ten minutes on Butler, faulty intelligence and the JIC.
The two by elections last night where Labour suffered a 20+ point swing were quickly dismissed by both interviewer and interviewee as being low on the card. Everyone was jumpy for the main bout.
Suddenly, we were off, Reid repeatedly landing body-blows with jibes about the BBC’s supposed bias and willingness to lie (compared with the Hutton-stamped probity and even-handedness of the government).
In fact, in these circumstances he’s more like a judo wrestler than a boxer, letting the questions come onto him, then using the attack to unbalance his opponent with (frankly paranoid, were he truly to believe them) claims of prejudice and misleading reporting, aiming relentlessly at the areas where the Beeb carries a recent injury.
Reid’s finest minute or three was the way in which he was able to talk repeatedly about the Butler Report essentially vindicating the government’s judgement on Iraq, while simultaneously complaining that the BBC had failed to ‘cover’ this in its reporting (as though, post-Hutton, they could do anything but cover it carefully). This is not so much having your cake and eating it as punching someone, nicking their cake, eating it, then blaming them for being so careless.
Reid memorably summed up the by election results as a “score draw”. This interview was a 4-0 drubbing in which he not only avoided answering the key question (about why intelligence apparently withdrawn by the SIS in July 2003 was not declared as such either by Hutton or the government), but made political capital out of even being asked.
I can’t imagine Dr Reid will be the next prime minister, even in times of such fevered speculation, but I can quite see him as deputy prime minister. I can even imagine him asking John Prescott outside to settle it once and for all.
It’s difficult to credit that this whole saga of invading Iraq started, really, two years ago. More than enough time, you find, for statements and claims to swing back and hit the people who made them in the face.
I remember particularly enjoying Tony Blair complaining that the BBC had run a report based on a single uncorroborated source. The report was, of course, about the government making claims about Iraq based on a single, uncorroborated source.
These days, I’m watching Alistair Campbell’s famously triumphant post-Hutton challenge:
“If the government had faced the level of criticism that today Lord Hutton has directed to the BBC, there would clearly have been resignations by now - several resignations at several levels.”
Aitken, Jonathan: admires risk-takes, 59; goes to jail, 60
Merton, Robert: says markets aren’t too volatile, 272, loses fortune because of market volatility, 273
tycoons 29; as heroes, 59,277-8; sexiness of, 40; superstitions of, 56; wearing socks in bed, 60
In fact in some respects the index is rather better than the slightly disorganised book itself (see, again, Philip Hensher on the index).
Now news comes that not only have Wheen’s American publishers renamed the book for the US market (it’s now “Idiot Proof”), they’ve redone the index, taking out the wit and screwing up the page numbers in the process. Proof, if needed, that nothing in this world is too delicate to be stamped all over by a publisher.
Barclays Bank have depressed me even more than they manage to every month. They now have posters up declaring that “The Barclays Premiership Starts Here”.
No it doesn’t. Not just yet, at least. Ye Gods, people, we haven’t even had the summer test series against the West Indies yet.
Second, there is a billboard car ad, at the bottom of which is a checkbox labelled “Left Brain”, implying that buying this particular motor is a good left brain decision.
I hadn’t realised the left/right brain hoodoo was so pervasive. Now tell me, is not knowing the difference between left and right brain characteristics a characteristic of being left brained or right brained?
Is there anything guaranteed to cause as much of a critical ruckus as a best-of list?
The New York Times has released its second list of the 1000 best films.* All lists like this are a challenge.
First, how many of the films have you seen? A quick count-up shows that I’ve seen 275, including only those I’ve seen from beginning to end and can specifically recall seeing (which rules out several of the westerns, which I would probably recognise as having seen before if I watched them, as well as Topsy-Turvy, in which I fell asleep). That’s over 1 in 4: not too shabby, particularly as there’s a whole bunch of supposed classics that I’ve completely missed: Godfather II, The Sound of Music, Get Carter.
The next challenge is to see how far the list is ’standard’ and how far it is idiosyncratic. To this end, bear in mind that 1,000 films is a very large sample; around 10 for every year that cinema has existed. Try to think of 10 must-see classics from 2002. See? You do get the feeling that the list should contain pretty much every great film you could name.
You would, of course, be wrong. Looking down the list we find some extraordinary sideways choices.
For a start there’s the bargain basement comedy of Airplane!, Clueless and Naked Gun, but barely any Marx Brothers, no Monty Python and no sign of the grandaddy of the lot, Hellzapoppin!
Worse is the great tranche of middlebrow arthouse flicks, grotesquely overrepresented by the likes of Little Women (the 1994 version), The Piano, Driving Miss Daisy and Howards End.
Then there are the curious selections from a director’s work. Peter Greenaway is represented by the sly Drowning by Numbers and the awful Pillow Book, but why no Draughtsman’s Contract? Karel Reisz gets in the list with one of his least films, the deeply eccentric Morgan A Suitable Case for Treatment (as well as the must-have Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), but why not The French Lieutenant’s Woman? The Coen brothers are represented by Fargo (yes) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (no, no, no). Hitchcock inevitably appears throughout but who, honestly, could say that his late, feeble Frenzy is one of the best films ever made? For every challenging selection (Mike Leigh very well represented, including the little-seen High Hopes) there is an oddball omission (nothing by Ken Loach, not even the impossible to dislike Kes).
I could go on: Broadcast News, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Risky Business but no Passion of Joan of Arc, no Sunrise, no Metropolis, no Magnificent Ambersons, no Burnt by the Sun, no Spirit of the Beehive, nothing at all (unless I overlooked it) by Eisenstein, Tarkovsky or Kusturica.
Ah, best-of lists. The most fun you can have with consecutive numbering, and no mistake.
* Actually, the NYT calls it “The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made!”, which is ugly in oh so many ways, not least the redundancy of “ever made”. It’s like saying “the 100 most beautiful statues ever sculpted”.
So the last great American actor is dead.
As usual, Jack Nicholson provides the ringing summation:
“Brando is the best, the actor that we all look up to. When he goes, the rest of us move up one place.”
[In the fine Kubrick documentary A Life in Pictures, Nicholson offered the rather similar: “Everyone says that Stanley was The Man. I’m inclined to think that underrates him”.]
All the same, Brando’s last interesting performance was in the late 70s, and his last great one the early 70s. Think what he could have done if he’d kept it together.
Funny, but I was going to post about a completely different titan of the cinema. I saw with absolute, unadultered delight today that both Nick Broomfield and JG Ballard fingered Tarantino’s endlessly childish Kill Bill as the worst film of all time.
One of the many delights of hosting The Deep North is that I get to see some of the search strings that bring users to that account of life in the further stretches of the country. Unfortunately, I can’t disentangle theirs from mine, but I’ve had a guess. I think the list tells you a great deal about the whole houseful up there. See what you think
Compare, if you will to a sample list I believe to be from Rogue Semiotics:
There only remains one puzzle. Are there any jokes about recycling?
I’ve already mentioned it in the linkbar on the right, but you really should take a gander at this page by the translator of Harry Potter into ancient Greek.
The question of how best to translate has always taxed even the nimblest linguists and the most poetical of scholars. In essence, the translator must find a satisfactory point along the continuum that runs from ‘what the original author must have meant’ to ‘what sounds best in the destination language’. The problem is clearly seen in attempting to translate idiomatic phrases (such as ‘as happy as Larry’), but will occur throughout.
The problems are usually seen, though, in the light of wishing to translate a living language into another living language, or from a dead language into a living one. Andrew Wilson’s experience in translating a modern book into ancient Greek isn’t unique (I have a copy of the fabula de petro cuniculo tucked away somewhere), but it is very unusual, and his comments on the exercise are fascinating.
He’s particularly good on the problem of translating fictional names. Now, for most translations you wouldn’t bother even translating the names - maybe just tidy up the endings a little - but Wilson has made a serious attempt to acknowledge that the names in fiction (not always, but certainly, as with so much children’s fiction, in JK Rowling) are intended to trigger associations.
So, Voldemort, by name alone, must be a villain. Wilson goes for Pholidomortos, meaning ‘Scaly Death’. Hareios Poter himself means ‘goblet belonging to Ares’, which seems a good compromise between homophony and meaning.
I was most pleased, though, to learn of the untranslatable Greek verb phthano, meaning, according to Wilson, “I do something before someone else realises that I’m doing it”. It is, you must agree, a vital concept. The next time I’m asked what I’m doing, I’ll reply that I’m just phthanying about.
I was listening this morning to, of all people, Monty Don being interviewed by, of all people, Bel Mooney.
Monty (a gardener) was fluent and passionate about the feeling of spiritual connectedness that he gets from gardening, and from just being in a garden.
It was quite clear that the garden he was describing was an English idyll sprouting cow parsley, chestnut trees and long green grass. It hums hot with all manner of insects, and implicitly involves a discreetly separated kitchen garden.
Well, I can see what he’s getting at. It’s the sort of vision with which I tease myself with increasing regularity. Sadly, my urban garden is more a bricolage of outsize paving slabs, raised borders, bags of green waste waiting for disposal and, predominantly, shed.
The shed is going, to be closely followed by half of the paving slabs. Then we’ll see what those borders are made of.
We have made positive changes, but they are in the main chopping out odd and hopeful plantings that have gone straggly or died, and adding in Things That Will Do Well (such as potted hostas and lilies that are doing frighteningly well).
Now it is time to change the nature of the garden. I’ve been reading a fine book on growing edibles in urban gardens, and it’s turned my head rather.
The first tomato plant went in a couple of weeks ago, and is looking splendidly hale. Yesterday, working from home due to the tube strike, I had time to go out and get lettuce seeds. The runner beans, peppers and beetroot might have to wait until next summer (particularly as we have yet to see how the cats respond to the temptation of tender young vegetables appearing on a kind of feline deli counter).
I can already almost taste, as a form of roundness in my mouth, the home-grown tomatoes (slugs and cats permitting). I am coyly eying reserved areas of flowerbed for tightly-packed crunchy green leaves. Unoccupied trellises promise that they can bear the weight of a full crop.
There does seem to be something in the soil. I don’t think I’m alone in yearning after a life of bucolic fruitfulness. I sense that it’s bursting up through the tarmac again, like the Slow Food movement and the gradual emergence of recycling into everyday life.
Alternatively, perhaps this need for the slow seasonality of living things is a human desire that’s always there, and I’m just beginning to approach it.
On consideration, I prefer the latter for its implications of continuity with a past way that has, therefore, never really been lost. It makes me feel like a child again.