After weeks of speculation, the education secretary Ruth Kelly admitted this week that she receives ’spiritual support’ from the secretive Catholic sect Opus Toni. But even if reports of bizarre rituals are exaggerated, why would she be involved with the controversial group in the first place?
(As not quite reported by Andy Beckett, here)
I will lay money that there is at least one reference to ‘Opus Toni’ in the next Private Eye.
I thought, if I’m going to react, I might as well over-react.
Worryingly, as the years roll by and Alan Moore makes ever unusual judgement calls (such as deciding to become a magician to see if it worked and refusing the cheques for his increasingly frequent Hollywood adaptations), he sounds ever more reasonable. He jokes that when he asked his loved ones to rescue him if the magic turned him mad, they asked him how they would know.
On Radio 4’s Chain Reaction, Stewart Lee has a lovely half-hour interview with the man and the beard. You will be able to listen to it here until next week, when Moore will interview Brian Eno, which sounds equally a treat.
(Sadly, the current BBC deal means that you must use RealPlayer, which in turn means that even though it is free to install, you have to provide your credit card details to a third party (RealPlayer) in order to listen to publicly owned, free content. Pah.)
Now that was quite some cold. After a weekend spent, like some Dickensian waif, sweating out a fever in bed, I’ve tumbled in to work today feeling that rather nasty thrill of light-headedness that’s also a lightness of body. I’m unsure whether it’s now that I’m hallucinating, or whether it’s just the last couple of weeks that were made up.
Aside from a number of all too convincing vivid dreams which refuse to coalesce in the memory into any kind of sense, I’m forced to wonder:
Did Professor Greer really appear on Big Brother?
Is the political debate at the moment really dominated by the son of immigrants arguing against immigration, and a daytime TV host arguing against cravats (causing, I suppose, a cravat spat)?
Are we really discussing the US invading Iran, or have I timeslipped back two years and suffered some consonantal shift?
Are England really close to winning a series in South Africa?
And, of course, now that I’ve read this index to an unwritten book from the Deep North, I’m starting to see visions and hallucinations of paradise everywhere.
Some lovely cricket writing this morning on Hoggy’s Test, too much of it hidden behind registration screens.
The pick of the bunch must be Mike Selvey’s homely anecdote:
A brief conversation on the eve of the game, a statement rather than a question, was revealing: “Your pitch then Hoggy.” He just grinned and made that wristy two- fingered glove-puppet motion that fast bowlers like to make when suggesting seam movement. He knew that this was his time and he had the wherewithall to make it count.
OK, I’ll stop going on about it now, I promise.
Hoggy Hoggy Hoggy.
“Have you seen? Hoggy’s got two already.”
“Three. Kallis first ball.”
“Any advance on thirty-six for three?”
“They’ve reached fifty.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s all about whether the light goes before we bowl them.”
“Hoggy’s got another!”
“Four? He’s on fire.”
“Not four, five. Diepenaar and Boucher for a duck.”
“Good old Hoggy.”
“Ninety-eight for five at tea. What do you reckon?”
“We’ll do it as long as Hoggard doesn’t tire.”
“I’m not so sure. Will Smith bat? [South African captain Graham Smith had been concussed the day during catching practice with the ‘unconventional’ SA coach. The team doctor had told Smith to sit out the rest of the game, advice he was likely to ignore]?”
“If he can walk, he’ll bat. He’s as tough as.”
“Hoggy’s got another. Boje. Caught and bowled.”
“That’s six down.”
“I think they might just do it.”
“One fifty eight for six now. Gibbs is on for a ton, and Smith looks determined.”
“God. If Smith sees them through, he’ll be a national hero. Again. It’s like the Alamo.”
“Another wicket. Who is it?”
“Gibbs. Gibbs for 98.”
“Poor beggar. So close, eh?”
“Surely we’ll do it now.”
“Running out of time, still.”
“Down to Smith and the rabbits, now.”
“That’s Ntini gone.”
“One more. One more to go.”
“C’mon Freddie, c’mon Hoggy.”
“I can’t bear this any longer.”
“I know. They’d better not blow it this time.”
“Oh yes. Got’im, got’im, got’im.”
“That’s bloody marvellous.”
“Not Hoggy, surely.”
“But it was. Seven, and twelve in the match. You beauty!”
That was quite a Test, and you know, sometimes following cricket at work is just the most perfect thing.
Some spam comments are fun. This morning I deleted one with the header:
You’re the hypochondriac, pal
Whatever he was selling, how could I possibly refuse?
The man in Smith’s was wearing jeans and a lavish baby-blue jacket picked out with thread of all the brightest colours. My guess was that it was a traditional Lapp coat. Not quite.
“I was in Iceland,” he told the woman behind the counter. “I was herding reindeer. I wrote a book about it.”
She asked him the name of the book. He looked slightly embarrassed.
“It was never published. But I did write it.”
She asked him if he’d seen that film, you know, the one about the crying camel.
“Yes I did.”
It was in Outer Mongolia, or somewhere.
Did he like it?
“I was in Iceland. Herding reindeer.”
The graveyard was first uncovered during work on the Jubilee Line extension in the 1990’s, when workmen unexpectedly started digging up human remains.
A little historical digging then revealed that this had been an unconsecrated, and therefore uncelebrated burial place for the prostitutes or “Geese” of Southwark, who had worked the many brothels, stews and bawdy houses of this area in the 14th 15th and 16th Century.
I’d never heard of Robert Elms’ Footnotes and Queries. More fool me.
He covers all kinds of London hidden history and geography, from the sorry story of Borough’s Crossbones graveyard (above) to the supposed system of Masonic temples in Picadilly:
This query came from a listener who had been taken to the top of Lillywhites store on Piccadilly Circus about ten years ago. A friend of his worked at the store and took him to the very top of the building where most staff never went.
Here [on the top floor of Lillywhite’s store] he was amazed to see a large ballroom, and even more intriguingly a Masonic temple decorated in full symbols and signs. This though was not all, he was told that there were a series of Masonic temples around Piccadilly Circus, which together created a Masonic symbol that could be seen from above.
The supposed pattern seems to be a construal added by shop workers familiar with London psychogeographers (the theme appears not only in Alan Moore’s From Hell but earlier in Iain Sinclair’s fiction). I do like the idea of each venerable department store having its own Masonic temple. The idea reeks of old-fashioned capitalist power.
The decision to include Germaine Greer in the First XI of Decent People was right after all. Before leaving Big Brother, Professor Greer attempted to get the ragbag of microcelebrities and models to stage a naked protest.
I’ve been scanning the papers for the obvious headline, but it looks as though I’ll have to provide it myself:
GREER DENOUNCES BIG BROTHER AS ‘FASCIST’
And that, children, is why she holds a university post teaching English literature, and you do not (excepting, of course, the significant proportion of this journal’s readers who do). Orwell would have been so relieved.
Andrew, clever journo-type that he is, has spotted that the Decent People XI self-evidently requires an equal and opposite Beastly People XI. The only problem is that I fear that once people get going, it will be something like 37 vs. 11, and we’ll be looking at a game of village football.
As luck would have it, Paolo di Canio, a footballer best described as ‘volatile’, has reminded everyone of his club Lazio’s intimate relationship with Il Duce by giving a fascist salute to the crowd. He’s much to interesting a fellow to be truly a rotter, but, my my, don’t footballers keep on coming up with ever new ways to behave like total idiots?
Thank you everyone for contributions to the Decent People XI, AKA the John Peel memorial pub team. The short definition for membership was as follows:
There are plenty of people who you would, for one reason or another, stand a pint, though you’ve never met them in person. Peel was one of the few who you would expect to be good company while drinking it.
The criteria for qualification were being:
- a decent, essentially good person
- a person good to be around
- defiantly themselves
- in the public realm
As many of the early candidates were, like John Peel, recently deceased, I’m adding a fifth qualification lest the whole thing become too much an exercise in maudlin:
Without more ado, here’s the teamsheet, with the numbers indicating playing position, not any kind of ranking:
1. Moore, Patrick
2. Tutu, Archbishop Desmond
3. Greer, Professor Germaine
4. Flintoff, Andrew
5. Martin, Sir George
7. Strachan, Gordon
8. Fry, Stephen
9. Palin, Michael
10. Snow, Jon
11. Benn, Anthony Wedgewood “Tony”
12. Mowlam, Mo
13. Jones, Terry
14. Bennett, Alan
15. Benaud, Richie
16. Glover, Fiona “Fi”
Well, any surprises there? Some very, very late entries for sure. Benaud and Bennett made the bench probably because there was a last minute scramble for players and they seemed available. Patrick Moore didn’t get a mention up to this point, but the manager decided that he is clearly a good egg, has happily ploughed his own curious furrow for almost half a century, and is a useful xylophonist to have in a tight corner. If he wasn’t a goalie in his youth, then he damn well should have been, and it’s about time he started pulling his considerable weight. For similar considerations (except the xylophony, for which we have no obvious back-up), Mo Mowlam is the reserve keeper.
For the outfield positions, I’ve tried to match persons to the well-known stereotypes for various positions. Hence, the relentlessly enthusiastic and rather diminutive Tutu makes a fine full-back in the Emlyn Hughes manner, while on the other side of the pitch Germaine “bite yer legs” Greer is a classic left back, combining never-say-die commitment to the cause with a surprisingly complex off-pitch persona.
There was, of course, a bit of a kerfuffle about whether anyone appearing on Celebrity Big Brother shouldn’t be disqualified on principle, but the voting came down about equal, and two considerations swung it definitively in her favour. First, pick you favourite Germaine Greer story. There you go. Second, drinking with the antipodean professor is always, always an entertainment.
In the centre of defence, genial giant Andy Flintoff and Sir George Martin make a curious partnership. Flintoff could play anywhere, do anything, but is here as a kind of Duncan Edwards centre-half, liable to charge up the pitch and score whenever things are a little tough. Sir George is an upright, elegant defender in the spirit of those Liverpool greats like Hansen and Lawrenson.
The midfield runs Strachan (playing in his old position) - Socrates (ditto) - Fry (in the middle of things as ever) - and Benn on the left. This is purely so that we can unfurl the traditional “veteran left winger” joke last seen in the vicinity of Michael Foot. Benn was a shoe-in, and I’m surprised nobody mentioned him. Any middle-rank politician who can sell out a lecture tour has to be both interesting and a human. The only concern with Tony Benn was that the drink of choice would be tea not beer. Some sacrifices must be made.
Up front, Palin and Snow make a very mobile attack, with Snow getting on his bike enough to please even the very-much-not-in-this-team Ron “Racist” Atkinson, and Palin a sort of Lineker figure in that his iconic niceness overlays a wide streak of naughtiness.
On the bench, Benaud, Mowlam and Bennett we have already discussed. Jones T. is both smart and funny, lives near me, and took time off from being a film-making comedian to complete and publish a very good book on Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. Glover is an exceedingly good, personable broadcaster and was absolutely not added to the team because the manager realised with a start how few women had made it onto the list.
Thank you all for your help. Now, please just imagine walking into a warm pub with them all.
Some administrative points of note:
My, Wordpress is being easy to run. It needs PHP 4.1+ and MySQL 3.23.23+, but if you’ve got those it’s a snap. It’s also hilariously easy to install and administer plugins, which for me at least so often caused problems in Movable Type.
This means that finding and installing the necessary anti-spam plugins took me about 10 minutes, rather than the day or two of fiddling, troubleshooting and rolling back that MT always needed. That was a heavy burden because I don’t have the time for those fun and games (or more precisely, my fun and games don’t leave time for that), particularly as the last version of MT was in the end a sorry sufferer of comment spam overload:
In fact, we have found that there is a fairly major bug (in terms of effect, but not code size) which causes page rebuilding even in the case of a comment submission which would be moderated and hence should have no effect on the live page. This means that even if you are using comment moderation in Movable Type and even force moderation in MT-Blacklist, your server load is impacted just as if a comment had been posted to the live site. This bug has been fixed in development.
(Jay Allen, Six Apart)
For me, it got so bad across Rogue Semiotics and The Deep North that my host disabled the scripts. They were eating up too much CPU time.
I see that the latest version of MT (3.14) is aimed squarely at addressing this problem. Too late. I’ve switched, and I’m happy enough with WordPress to stay switched.
I haven’t yet bothered to do anything to the default template for this site. When I first started this, the template was of course the very first thing I monkeyed about with. Now, a couple of years down the line, I realise that it is by far the least important thing. I’ll prettify when I have some free time; maybe even this weekend.
I’ll also add back in the sidebar, which is a just a listing out of my del.icio.us bookmarks.
Also this weekend, I’ll finally get round to posting the patiently awaited Decent People first XI. Thank you Jacky for the prompt.
Two comments on this.
First, it looks as though it will be an XI. Any hold-out hopes of a rugby team of either code look short of the mark.
Second, Professor Greer’s latest stunt has placed a serious question mark over her prior status as one of the first names on the team sheet. Any advice on this matter is welcome before the final team selection (set for the traditional matchday timing of Saturday afternoon).
Ah, the lad Derren Brown, the most interesting if daftly named man on the television these days.
Tonight (Friday 7th January) he has another of his controversial one-offs. This one is called ‘Messiah’. It may well be the epitome of everything that Brown has done to date:
It’s a personal journey for me, quite a dark journey. It’s a documentary styled show where I go to America and meet some influential people behind certain belief-systems that people are encouraged to base their lives upon. Two targets are new-age beliefs and mainstream Christianity. Using my techniques and showmanship can I get these people who are responsible for the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of people, to endorse me as being the real thing? I approach these people under different pseudonyms, demonstrating to each of them an ability I have which is somehow proof to them of my abilities in that particular field. I allow them to decide how much they are going to endorse it and embrace it. If at any point they say to me this is some sort of trick I will confess and tell them.
It remains to be seen if the delivery is as carefully nuanced as the set-up, which clearly offers a provocatively Dawkinsian view of religion as an aberrant belief on a level with new-age claptrap. The counterpoint is that neat gamble; that all the victims have to do is ask if it’s a trick.
The cleverness lies, in part, in the fact that while this question will seem hideously obvious to the audience, it’s a formulation that is actually fairly unlikely to be uttered in full.
I just know I’m going to enjoy this programme. For once the assertion that this is television that will ask questions seems very likely to be true.
Professor Allen Koenigsburg:
When Bell invented the phone, Alexander Graham Bell, he didn’t use ‘hello’ at all. He used ‘ahoy.’ He used it twice, ‘Ahoy. Ahoy.’ And apparently he was the only one that used it, because I’ve never heard anybody to this day say, ‘Ahoy.’ And Bell was not even in the Navy, so I don’t know why he insisted on using a call that way. But if you study the origin of the word ‘hello,’ which may come from ‘halloo,’ is the call of a ferry boat operator, and you call them over when you want a ferry boat to come to your doorstep. And you say, ‘Halloo.’ So the word may have come from that. Hello just began to be used all over the place, and by the 1880s, it was fairly popular.
(from All Things Considered, NPR, 19 March 1999)
All Things Considered helped to keep my brain ticking over during a long, cold year in the USA. Odd little things like this, the semiotics of answering the phone, are the reason it’s so good. I well remember a story about how shredded motor tyres were being used as fill for roads in the USA. The presenter noted that, to date, only two such roads had caught fire.
I travelled in today on a route I’d never used before.
I caught a hummingly fast train from Denmark Hill station, which is tucked into a deep cut opposite the vast redbrick bulk of the Salvation Army headquarters. The station, I note with envy, has a funky looking bar (albeit one with a poor reputation). Within five minutes I was coasting smoothly across the river as river tugs heaved past below. It was like being on a very horizontal version of the London Eye as we eased into Blackfriars, a station that I realise I had never before passed through.
The final treat was the interchange at Westminster station, the escalators of which are in a large open space (to which this picture does incomplete justice), forming a thrilling architectural play as you spiral around them. They seem to me to be the sort of thing that Piranesi would have come up with had he excitably shared several espressos with a Futurist of an afternoon. There are, of course, no prisoners or torture contraptions on show, but this being Westminster, they are there in spirit.
A very good day, and not just for the reasons outlined above.
“I try to listen out for things - accidents and coincidences and hidden messages. I am a person who always finds photographs on the street and I think they are messages for me.”
Inadvertantly continuing the paranoia/edges of perception trope from the previous post, the next thing I read contains the lines above. It’s the brilliant, idiosyncratic Lukas Moodyson talking about how he doesn’t know what he’ll do next, and how he is certainly not the designated son of Ingmar Bergman:
“I was putting together a list - just because I like lists - of the things that have influenced me most in my life. And at number one was the Cure. At two, three and four were Swedish music and writers you won’t have heard of. And Morrissey was at number five. I tried to put some films in there but the first director was David Lynch at number eight, and that was more because of Twin Peaks than anything else. So you see, Bergman really was not a major influence.”
The winds must be whispering again. A film based on Electronic Voice Phenomena is about to be released, and the excellent Mind Hacks site is talking about the balance between our bottom-up experience of the world and our top-down interpretation of it:
You can see your top-down processes at work best in situations where the bottom-up processes are weak. With vision this might be in the dark, or where you only glimpse something or someone for a fraction of a second. In hearing this might be where background noise is loud. Poor resolution, brief or noisy information tips the balance in favor of top-down information. What we see comes to reflect more of what we already know and what we expect. Hence we see things in the dark: our brains fill in what is most likely there, what might be there, or what we fear could be there, based on small clues from what actually is perceivable there.
I just wanted to make clear which Hamlets I wasn’t talking about in the previous post about different Hamlets.
I hope it’s clear that I wasn’t talking about Dashiell Hamlet, the well-known author of hard-boiled existential thrillers such as The Thinking Man, in which the murderer typically bottled out at the last moment, and who coined the utterly memorable phrase “A hit. A goddam hit.”
I also wasn’t talking about the fashion designer Katherine Hamlet, best known for her iconic “Choose Life…Or Maybe Death” t shirts.
Thank you for your understanding during these confusing times.
Bless the Wikipedia and all its funny little ways.
I was chasing an allegation that the term ‘hamlet’ refers to a village which is supported by orchards (Wikipedia disagrees, stating that it is, in Britain, purely an ecclesiastical distinction). Of course, on my way I passed through Hamlet disambiguation, which led to the Hamlet legend, which led to Saxo Grammaticus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, which led to…
I forget where it led next, or indeed where I thought I was going in the first place. I have to admit, though, that the encyclopedia is the one type of labyrinth in which one enjoys getting lost more than finding the way.