Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Trees around Nunhead on Tour 15: Doune Castle

Doune is one of Scotland's many fine and well preserved castles.
We had a fun couple of hours wandering around, both inside and outside.

Doune also has another claim to fame....

Can you see what it is yet?

Imagine a Franche Accent....

No idea yet?

The inside doesn't really help (but it is quite stylish and well-preserved) ...

The floor is amazing.

But nothing to do with it, really, you silly English King. Your mother was a hamster...

... your father smelled of elderberries.

So there we have it. This is the castle from which the bizarre Franchman with the 'outrageous accent' insults King Arthur and his Knighuts in "Holy Grail". It also appears in other parts of the film, I gather.

The gift shop is - unsurprisingly - stuffed with appropriate gifts and frippery (eg "Holy Grale" beer), and I suspect they get loads of additional visitors because of the connection.

Otherwise, it really is quite a nice, well preserved old bit of history...

(The YouTube serch seems to have lots of videos of fans re-enacting bits of the film around the site... see previous post for the relevance of this).

Thursday, 25 June 2009


The other night I was talking about YouTube with a fellow trustee of a charity I help out with. My take was that YouTube had become an immensely powerful archive of much-loved TV and film (and also to a degree of radio and records). He didn't disagree - but suggested that you could get an interesting perspective on life if you changed your default search engine to YouTube for a couple of weeks.

Ever the sceptic, I tried it none the less. Given a recent post I typed "Inchmahome" into both Google and YouTube. The former, unexceptionally but as expected, returned tourist advice and guide sites, relevant Wikipedia pages and so forth.

YouTube returned this as the first hit:

With a narrative that read:-

The Lake of Menteith is Scotland`s only natural body of water named as a lake, instead of a loch.
In January 2001, during a cold spell, it froze over, raising hopes that a curling Bonspiel, or "Grand Match", could be held for the first time since 1979.
It was thick enough for people to have curling matches and walk out to the island of Inchmahome in the middle of the lake.
Sadly a thaw set in before the ice was thick and safe enough to hold the hundreds of curlers involved in the "Grand Match" between the North and South of Scotland.
Due to global warming and milder winters there may never be another outdoor Bonspiel in Scotland again, but we can live in hope!
Deep Sky Divers composed When Heaven Freezes Over after seeing the frozen lake.
The Lake of Menteith is near Aberfoyle, Scotland.

I found this ever-so-slightly astonishing. Although the video was really just a collection of stills with some music overlay, the place came alive. The reference lead serendipitously to other information, just like I always hoped search tools would. And of course the Lake seemed to have been photographed from roughly where we had stayed last Summer, which helped.

So far, therefore, a very interesting experiment.

I must try more.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Panning Fry

Well the BBC gave it a news item, and Clue is back. With Stephen Fry in place of the late and much-missed Humph, for the first of this (the 51st!) series. So what was it like?

Not bad - Victoria Wood was a brilliant guest, as she uses enormous wordplay in her act and fitted in perfectly. Uxbridge English dictionary was near-perfect - "Chatelaine" particularly. Oh, and she can sing.

The best for me was the moment when she suddenly and to be honest inadvertently launched into a quick Joyce Grenfell impression. Smashing. I also enjoyed Barry Cryer's "Clement Freud memorial buzz" in Just a Minim.

But the big question of course was did it work without Humph? Well, the script was strong, as good or better than most of those from recent series. All of the panellists did well. But Stephen Fry had an almost impossible job. He had a Humphish script and all he could do was deliver it. It was just so much less funny. As I listened I had a curious double effect: I could imagine, almost hear Humph reading out the same lines and getting the laughs. SF just did not have his delivery, and sounded somewhat out of his comfort zone. We'll see how the other two guest presenters do, but I do feel Clue is now a little bit more ordinary...

This isn't a particularly radical view, I know. Many of the comments on the ISIHAC Comedy Blog have been saying the same.

Fry has also been annoying elsewhere. The Saturday Guardian gave him a column-cum-avertising feature for the latest i-Phone and firmware upgrade. Tiresome in the extreme. He is full of love for these little shiny baubles, but doesn't - to me at least - really show that much understanding. For example, he is a eulogist for the Apple apps, but never mentions that actually their popularity is essentially modelled as an extreme power series. Most of the vast panoply of offerings are used by very few people indeed, if any. Clay Shirky is better on this sort of thing (See "Here Comes Everyone" and his discussion of the activity of Wikipedia editors). Presumably the Guardian only ran the piece because it was by Fry, a Famous Person. And, for me, one who is beginning to come across as a kind of all-pervasive cross between Thora Hird de nos jours and Douglas Adams. Not, to my mind, a particularly workable combination.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Trees around Nunhead on Tour: 14: Inchmahome

Sitting in the lake of Menteith is the tiny Island of Inchmahome (that statement is technically rather like River Ouse; as "Inch" means "Island", I gather).

We caught the boat over on a damp, occasionally rainy day. After a little while sheltering in the (almost but not quite wholly inadequate) gift shop and visitor centre, we went off on a little tour.
Little is the operative word, you can walk around the island in under twenty minutes.

The Island is overgrown with a tangle of trees. We circled around on the lake-side path, seeing what we could see.

At one point in our circumnavigation, we came across a felled oak tree - it had seemingly been blown over and mostly uprooted - but it was still alive! Sufficient of the roots were still hale and intact underground, it seemed, to keep the tree flourishing, and branches were now beginning to take a new direction. Growing through the wreckage of the roots were young birch and aspen trees - the former topping out much higher than the latter. And finally, the old crown of the oak had become encrusted and entwined with holly. It was a great confusion of different trees that these pictures, unfortunately, don't properly capture.

Also on the Island is this tiny manicured lawn and bench, which I felt was rather twee (and there are stories of fairies and bogles associated with Inchmahome, but I suspect more in and around the trees than here).
The island is also the home of the ruins of the Augustinian Inchmahome Priory.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Garden in June

Well, I have to say that our tadpoles don't appear to be developing very speedily this year, but the frogs all look pleasantly happy. Viz:-

And the Birch is growing catkins (I think) very nicely:-

and there are hollyhocks and poppies in various states,

and buttercups

and a strange fencey-thing on the wall. Nice sandy colour to the wall, by contrast.

Just put the X in the Box

Why do we vote?

I know that may seem a very open-ended question, although in the context of the recent election in Iran it may be too tempting to give it a more specific spin. I don’t know if that election was rigged or not, but the notion that, whatever the electorate decide, the result is the same would seem to have prompted the question above. Ken Livingstone’s autobiography, “If Voting Changed Anything, They’d Abolish It” covers somewhat similar ground. So the question, “Why do we vote?” might be read rather as “Why do people bother voting if their choice is going to be undermined or ignored?”

One answer to that question, I suppose (were it to have been the question I intended to ask), is that sometimes we at least want to register our views. Yes, they are going to be ignored, but maybe, just maybe, if we all protest enough…? We don’t expect to have our choices enacted, but we at least want the world to know what they are.

And again: there is always the chance that - given a sizeable enough group of us - we may sway political behaviour and debate even if we don’t win outright. The Green argument:- indirect influence through coming a surprisingly healthy second. Or third. Or whatever. The motivation for voting for any small minority view, perhaps. So called 'protest' voting.

I have to admit, however, that when I typed in the question above, that that wasn’t what I was really thinking about. Not “Why do we vote when we can have no – or little - effect”. Rather, “How do we choose who to vote for?” (I know that should be whom but it just looks wrong). What influences me, and what measures do I apply?

Do I vote for the person who will do the best by me personally – given my current position, the candidate who will make sure I am most well off? Or do I vote for the “common good” – perhaps as a minimum that translates as the candidate who will do best for society’s poorest?

That is the “altruism axis” – how much I allow a disinterested moral altruism, concerned with others, to influence the voting choice I make. And how do I make that judgement accurately? Someone voting for the BNP scum may have been personally, selfishly interested in reducing local competition for jobs and houses from people who feel very distant from them in their lives and experiences – or they may believe passionately that the BNP programme is the best possible outcome for all concerned (weird I know, but possible – or at least I’ve heard it claimed).

This leads perhaps to questions of efficiency. Who is actually going to deliver, effectively and with the fewest number of unacceptable (unexpected) side effects, on the goals they have set? You might call this the effectiveness axis. Again, that is really hard to measure.

One simple example: Yes, Labour are unlikely to meet the targets that they set on reducing child poverty – so from one, target-oriented, perspective their measures have been ineffective. However, it is possible that all other choices would have been less effective. We are prone to assume that in the absence of policy the steady-state dominates. It is possible (unlikely in this case, perhaps) that child poverty would have got very much worse without the New Labour interventions. Maybe the improvements that were made were among the best that could be achieved? Note, I’m not arguing that this was the case, merely that effectiveness is hard to judge.

To take another example, the reduction in Hospital waiting times has been astonishing, and a true success on most accounts. Yet it has come at a significant financial cost. Was there a cheaper way to achieve it just as speedily?

Given how hard it might be to form such judgements, I would nevertheless suggest that form them we do, based on a range of good and bad sources of data. So if we do have a base of information about who is who, and who would do what, the question remains: How do we decide?
There are other axes and influences, of course. There is the perennial Local vs National question. And how far ahead are you looking? And in any case, different voters (I think) engage to widely differing degrees before putting pen to paper.

A further complication is that we are encouraged to filter all of these questions through the personalities (or perceived personalities – as seen through the meeja) of a few high-profile individuals. The Blair effect, or Brown effect. This to my mind complicates things further as it introduces a bifurcation – it splits why we voted from why we think we voted.

And finally, perhaps it is the wrong question. I'm less interested in knowing how people choose to vote the way they do than I am in getting them to vote better. The question is, how should people vote. Because as far as I can see, we aren't very good at it, and keep coming up with some really stupid answers (see those filed under "Johnson" for one). Phrased that way, I believe there is a quite straightforward solution.

And here is the answer:

Next time, just copy what I do.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Not enough posts

On the InterWeb, not enough posts cite Ken's rants. Educated, graceful, witty, reserved, balanced, but somehow insufficiently leftwing...

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The trees around Nunhead on Tour 13: Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle, I must admit, was not a place I was very inspired to visit. We first saw the town of Stirling itself on a wet, overcast day a few days earlier. Then I had been more than a little grumpy, and I hadn't been very encouraged by the notion of coming back.

However I really quite enjoyed the castle, when we fiinally got up to it. It is a rather motley collection of different buildings, in different styles, from different periods.

The buildings have been undergoing renovation to varying degrees - and inside a couple of them the feeling is light and airy, as can be seen. There is also a great interest in the local Castle tapestries, particularly the hunting scenes and the captured unicorn. They are quite wonderful. There is an interesting workshop in the grounds.

The shop also sells copies of many these - but I felt the offering was substantially botched. They were trimmed around the edges to such a degree that all of those little medieval and early-modern images - which you often find informing or undermining the central picture - were removed. So they came across as rather unironic and single-minded. A naive view of great art, and quite annoying.

The view from the castle is very impressive - here is a quick shot snatched through a window.