Sunday, 28 February 2010

Poem of the Week

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


Its strange, I know, but I've only just thought of searching for 'Nunhead' on YouTube. There's quite a lot of stuff, mostly cemetary-related, like this short Goth-y clip from an Open Day a couple of years ago.

By the Elephant

There are trees all over London, of course. And if you look closely, many of them are now just coming into bud.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Poem of the Week

In Nunhead Cemetery
Charlotte Mew

It is the clay what makes the earth stick to his spade;
He fills in holes like this year after year;
The others have gone; they were tired, and half afraid
But I would rather be standing here;

There is nowhere else to go. I have seen this place
From the windows of the train that's going past
Against the sky. This is rain on my face -
It was raining here when I saw it last.

There is something horrible about a flower;
This, broken in my hand, is one of those
He threw it in just now; it will not live another hour;
There are thousands more; you do not miss a rose.

One of the children hanging about
Pointed at the whole dreadful heap and smiled
This morning after THAT was carried out;
There is something terrible about a child.

We were like children last week, in the Strand;
That was the day you laughed at me
Because I tried to make you understand
The cheap, stale chap I used to be
Before I saw the things you made me see.

This is not a real place; perhaps by-and-by
I shall wake - I am getting drenched with all this rain:
To-morrow I will tell you about the eyes of the Chrystal Palace train
Looking down on us, and you will laugh and I shall see what you see again.

Not here, not now. We said "Not yet
Across our low stone parapet
Will the quick shadows of the sparrows fall.

But still it was a lovely thing
Through the grey months to wait for Spring
With the birds that go a-gypsying
In the parks till the blue seas call.
And next to these, you used to care
For the Lions in Trafalgar Square,
Who'll stand and speak for London when her bell of Judgement tolls -
And the gulls at Westminster that were
The old sea-captains souls.
To-day again the brown tide splashes step by step, the river stair,

And the gulls are there!

By a month we have missed our Day:
The children would have hung about
Round the carriage and over the way
As you and I came out.

We should have stood on the gulls' black cliffs and heard the sea
And seen the moon's white track,
I would have called, you would have come to me
And kissed me back.

You have never done that: I do not know
Why I stood staring at your bed
And heard you, though you spoke so low,
But could not reach your hands, your little head;
There was nothing we could not do, you said,
And you went, and I let you go!

Now I will burn you back, I will burn you through,
Though I am damned for it we two will lie
And burn, here where the starlings fly
To these white stones from the wet sky - ;
Dear, you will say this is not I -
It would not be you, it would not be you!

If for only a little while
You will think of it you will understand,
If you will touch my sleeve and smile
As you did that morning in the Strand
I can wait quietly with you
Or go away if you want me to -
God! What is God? but your face has gone and your hand!
Let me stay here too.

When I was quite a little lad
At Christmas time we went half mad
For joy of all the toys we had,
And then we used to sing about the sheep
The shepherds watched by night;
We used to pray to Christ to keep
Our small souls safe till morning light - ;
I am scared, I am staying with you to-night -
Put me to sleep.

I shall stay here: here you can see the sky;
The houses in the street are much too high;
There is no one left to speak to there;
Here they are everywhere,
And just above them fields and fields of roses lie -
If he would dig it all up again they would not die.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Shut Up, I'm Talkin'!

So Lionel Jeffries has died - sad. Just a little while ago, I was writing about Ian Carmichael, and now another British character actor from the '50s and '60s has gone.

The comment I've seen so far has seemed to emphasise his role as Dick Van Dyke's dad (despite being younger by 6 months) in Chitty, Chitty, Bang! Bang! and his film The Railway Children (one of four or so that he directed).

I'd like instead to remember two of his earlier comedies:-
The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963) (this is an early trailer)

Two Way Stretch (1960)

I marginally prefer the latter, although I love the slightly more 'jazzy' feel of The Wrong Arm...

Note that in both Jeffries plays against Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbens. amongst togers - fantastic ensemble playing.

Pubs Around Nunhead: 2

Another Nunhead Pub I've never been into...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Poem of the Week

Ode to Himself upon the Censure of his New Inn
Benjamin Jonson

Come, leave the loathed stage,
And the more loathsome age;
Where pride and impudence, in faction knit,
Usurp the chair of wit!
Indicting and arraigning every day
Something they call a play.
Let their fastidious, vain
Commission of the brain
Run on and rage, sweat, censure, and condemn;
They were not made for thee, less thou for them.

Say that thou pour'st them wheat,
And they will acorns eat;
'Twere simple fury still thyself to waste
On such as have no taste!
To offer them a surfeit of pure bread
Whose appetites are dead!
No, give them grains their fill,
Husks, draff to drink and swill:
If they love lees, and leave the lusty wine,
Envy them not, their palate's with the swine.

No doubt some mouldy tale,
Like Pericles, and stale
As the shrieve's crusts, and nasty as his fish--
Scraps out of every dish
Thrown forth, and rak'd into the common tub,
May keep up the Play-club:
There, sweepings do as well
As the best-order'd meal;
For who the relish of these guests will fit,
Needs set them but the alms-basket of wit.

And much good do't you then:
Brave plush-and-velvet-men
Can feed on orts; and, safe in your stage-clothes,
Dare quit, upon your oaths,
The stagers, and the stage-wrights too (your peers)
Of larding your large ears
With their foul comic socks,
Wrought upon twenty blocks;
Which if they are torn, and turn'd, and patch'd enough,
The gamesters share your gilt, and you their stuff.

Leave things so prostitute,
And take the Alcaic lute;
Or thine own Horace, or Anacreon's lyre;
Warm thee by Pindar's fire:
And though thy nerves be shrunk, and blood be cold,
Ere years have made thee old,
Strike that disdainful heat
Throughout, to their defeat,
As curious fools, and envious of thy strain,
May blushing swear, no palsy's in thy brain.

But when they hear thee sing
The glories of thy king,
His zeal to God, and his just awe o'er men:
They may, blood-shaken then,
Feel such a flesh-quake to possess their powers,
As they shall cry: "Like ours
In sound of peace or wars,
No harp e'er hit the stars,
In tuning forth the acts of his sweet reign,
And raising Charles his chariot 'bove his Wain."

Saturday, 13 February 2010

More Wars

I'm not going to witter on about every crossword I manage to do (honest!) - that would either be too many posts or far too few.

However the 'Star Wars'-themed puzzle from Paul earlier in the week was good fun - if a little easy... (don't say that don't say that!)... once you got the theme.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Pubs Around Nunhead: 1

As you know, I was not that impressed by the reference to the Herne Tavern as a Nunhead boozer in the Guardian recently. Not that I have much against the pub - it just isn't in Nunhead. Or if it is, it's right on the edge. The boundaries of Nunhead are a little fuzzy.

Anyway, to put the record straight, here are a few local pubs I've never been into.
This is Skehans: This I think is a pub no longer:-
The Golden Anchor:-
The Swiss Tavern:-
The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby, apparently:-

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Spain Tour 23: The Bitter End

Even as we were leaving Altamira, some of us felt troubled...
As we arrived at our last hotel of the holiday, just outside Santander, some of us began to feel very troubled....

it was what might in a less enlightened time have been called Spanish tummy. What a hospital nurse will call D&V. Three of us were laid low - oldest worst of all. Not fun.

Let's just draw a veil over the next day or two...

Here are some of the views from the hotel window:-
Wife did manage to get a little further, and saw this sculpture. ... and then we were in Santander, and on the ferry home. Farewell!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

War is Peace

Just one of the (easier) answers to today's Brendan-authored themed cryptic. Which also included:
etc. Along with quite sharply worded clues. Marvellous. Full answer at the Fifteensquared link below.

Monday, 8 February 2010

But Not in the South

So, Ian Carmichael has died, aged 89. I stopped to think of all the films I'd seen him in: a lot were comedies (Boulting Brothers) from the late 50s and early 60s. He was in one acknowledged masterpiece, I'm Alright Jack, with Peter Sellars, Terry-Thomas, Denis Price, Richard Attenborough, Margaret Rutherford... crikey! ...and the list goes on.

But although he had the lead in that film, it is successfully stolen away from him by - well almost everyone around him, but particularly Sellers. He was also in Lucky Jim, but miscast, I thought.

So I'd like instead to remember him in School for Scoundrels - the film based on Stephen Potter's One-Upmanship books.

So I've just had an enjoyable afternoon looking at excerpts of the film on YouTube. And yes, it is another one of those movies - a little like Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Mouse That Roared - that I can remember almost every scene and line from, although I have no specific memory of ever watching the whole thing through from beginning to end.

These two clips bookend Henry's ownership of the appalling 'Swiftmobile' - in the second he has had his Yeovil training.

Which lead me to look at the original books - dated and class-ridden, but still very entertaining.

A word of warning: There is a 2006 remake, which looks absolutely awful from the clips.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Poem of the Week

A Valediction Forbidden Mourning
John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
-Whose soul is sense-cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Spain Tour 22: Altamira

After leaving Orviedo, we drove along the coast road, took a short stop for an hour or two on the beach, and then arrived at the Altamira Museum. This is built close to the Altamira caves, celebrated for their cave paintings.

The Museum is very well done indeed. The main, permanent exhibition is well laid out and the explanations are sensibly done. Light and airy, and the cases are not cluttered. The Museum also has a complete mock-up of the caves, through which tours can be taken. This does give a sense of how amazing the real cave paintings are, and I suppose it does help to conserve the original. But there is still something about authenticity... which was a little missing.

All in all, a really impressive museum, and not too large.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Sharing a house is hard - everybody does things a different way, and has their own beliefs and foibles. College fridges bear mute testimony to that.

Given this rule, Wife and I have differed over the years about the right way to do stuff. So I store jam in the fridge (after an unpleasant experience with sugar free jam many years ago), while she insists I don't have to. I tip quite a lot of stuff down the kitchen sink that she believes I shouldn't.

And so when I heard a bit of ' How to Get Things Really Flat' by Andrew Martin on the radio a few months back, and it seemed a witty take on, and guide to, men and housework, it was very interesting. The title comes from the section on ironing - and the tone suggests that a sensible, male, no-nonsense approach is what is being offered. I thought I'd get it - and it is out in paperback, so why not?

Unfortunately, I've now read it, and there is a problem.

Wherever Wife & I have disagreed on how to carry out a domestic chore over the years, and have agreed to disagree, (or more typically to continue arguing about it), and wherever I was hoping for some moral and well-researched support from Andrew Martin, the book is 90% certain to get the answer wrong. To side - dare I say it - with her.

This is most unhelpful. Apparently you don't need to store most jam in the fridge, and you shouldn't chuck fat down the kitchen sink, and you should empty bins when you see they need emptying. Or so he claims. And it isn't enough that his wife is clearly mad:
Tasteful people, it seems to me, wear black clothes and live in white houses. The walls in our house are all white, as are the blinds (we don't have curtains: 'they block the light', even when open, apparently); most of our upholstery has white covers, and our lampshades, duvet covers and pillowcases are all white. (p.199)

He is clearly giving advice I don't want to hear (and certainly don't want anyone else in my family to find out about).

Thankfully, however, I then came across this:
...I especially enjoyed those episodes of Thunderbirds in which the more obscure rescue craft crawled from the belly of Thunderbird Two: the rarely-seen Mole, for example... (p.77)

Rarely seen? Rarely seen!!? The Mole not only appears on the end-credits for every episode, it is the pod vehicle that is used in rescues most often (apart from Thunderbird 4, of course). Check if you don't believe me. And it is the pod vehicle that appears in the appallling and yet strangely appealing live action film from 2004. Amongst my coterie, growing up in North London in the 1960s, the problem with Thunderbird 6 was that we all already knew that the Mole was secretly T6, so what was the point?

It is clear that Andrew Martin cannot be trusted. If a man can't get his knowledge of Thunderbirds right, the kind of straightforward material that should be readily at everyone's fingertips, then how can he be trusted regarding more abstruse data, such as that associated with, say, cleaning or hoovering? The man clearly doesn't do research properly.

Thank goodness. I thought I might have to change my ways. But no, I can safely ignore him.

Brightening up Nunhead Lane.

So a light shower of rain was just ending, and I was in the greengrocers near the dry cleaners on Nunhead Lane, when one of the women serving squealed (I kid you not) and dashed outside with her phone.

I followed more slowly, in my lumbering, leaden way. This is what we saw:

I have to say it really brightened up my day. Why can't they put these on more often?

Re-imagining the Medieval

The list of books on the right is not, of course, a set of recommendations; it merely records what I’ve read over the last year or so. And I am sure I’ve left some items out.

That is clearly of somewhat limited interest (others might be moved to substitute ‘no interest’); except for the fact that I sometimes feel moved to write about what I have been reading. As when, a few days ago, I commended Derek Jarman’s wonderful Modern Nature. At some point soon I will also be compelled to heap praise on Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

Before that, however, I need to discuss a far more annoying book. The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the 14th Century (2009) by Ian Mortimer has received some very good reviews. On the front cover the critic Alison Weir calls it ‘Amazing’ while the back bristles with longer puffs from the Literary Review, the Telegraph and the Guardian – including one from the otherwise-marvellous Kathryn Hughes.

So why did I find it so annoying? Well, a little of my niggledness is caused by the extreme claims being made for his method. It is “(a) radical new approach (which) turns our entire understanding of history upside-down” according, again to the blurb. Well, no it isn’t. What the book does is perfectly OK – he tries to use historical materials (Mortimer is a professional historian) – to show what it would have been like to live in 14th Century England. His conceit is that you have travelled back in time to the period, so he can concentrate on those elements that seem truly different – those which would strike you most strongly (and which might get you into trouble if you got them wrong). He is happy to share the most unpleasant details (he begins with the idea that the stream near every village is called the Shitbrook), and some of his descriptions do seem quite vivid. But nothing more than that.

And every so often, despite quite a large apparatus of references and bibliography, he drops in a passage where his claims seem to be based on the purely imaginary.

For example, on p.247 while discussing how much quieter the medieval period is, he writes:

As a result of this comparative quiet, people listen differently. They hear with greater clarity. When a dog barks, they can recognize whose dog it is. They are more sensitive to voices. And above all else, they listen intently to music.
No supporting material, no evidence. Just pure assertion. Elsewhere he seems to me to mishandle his evidence. On p.91, in a section called “Greeting People” he provides a longish quotation from a French-English dialogue book containing a number of phrases to be used in greeting people. Here is some of it:

Sire, God give you good day
Fellow or friend, ye be welcome
What do ye? How is it with you? Where have ye been so long?
I have been long out of the country.
In what country?
Sire that should be overmuch for to tell, but if you please, anything that I may do, command it me as to him that gladly shall I do it.
Sire, grammercy of your courteous words and of your good will.
God reward you.

For Mortimer, this is taken as true and accurate and obvious. He seems to have little sense that this dialogue:

- might be an exhortation for people to do more than they normally do on meeting,
- that if true it may be notably class-based, or
- would not be used by those who knew each other well - who would not speak like this.

All of which to me seem possibilities. He takes it at face-value, and, I think, incorrectly as a result.

But the biggest problem I have with the book is that he neglects to mention an earlier attempt to put a modern-day reader ‘into’ the medieval mindset. C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature – his last published book.

Admittedly, Lewis is attempting something subtly different: he is attempting to capture the medieval ‘Model’ – the ideas, beliefs and cast of mind – that seem a given to medieval writers of all kinds – and by extension to the early modern period also. Mortimer’s focus is more on lived experience and the vernacular. But they are related, I feel, and Mortimer gives no indication that he knows the Lewis. A lacunae at the very least.

Lewis’s book is also unquestionably the better. Oh, it certainly has its own weaknesses. For Lewis, it is not necessary to describe Ptolemy’s Almagest “because a French translation exists”. He can write:

Plato’s Republic, as everyone knows, ends with an account of the after-life, put into the mouth of one Er the Armenion who had returned from the dead.

As everyone knows? His ideal elite imagined audience is not the same as Mortimer’s – and it may I think have dwindled somewhat since the early sixties. But although I don’t know my Plato, I still enjoy him.

And he can be truly marvelous. Speaking of the medieval picture of the heavens he writes:

These facts are in themselves curiosities of mediocre interest. They become valuable only in so far as they enable us to enter more fully into the consciousness of our ancestors by realizing how such a universe must have affected those who believed in it. The recipe for such realisation is not the study of books. You must go out on a starry night and walk about for half an hour trying to see the sky in terms of the old cosmology. Remember that you now have an absolute Up and Down. The Earth is really the centre, really the lowest place: movement to it from whatever direction is downward movement. As a modern, you located the stars at a great distance. For distance you must now substitute that very special, and far less abstract, sort of distance which we call height; height, which speaks immediately to our muscles and nerves. The Medieval Model is vertiginous. And the fact that the height of the stars in the medieval astronomy is very small compared with their distance in the modern, will turn out not to have the kind of importance you anticipated. For thought and imagination, ten million miles and a thousand million are much the same. Both can be conceived (that is, we can do sums with both) and neither can be imagined; and the more imagination we have the better we shall know this…. Hence to look out on the night sky with modern eyes is like looking out over a sea that fades away into mist, or looking about one in a trackless forest – trees forever and no horizon. To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at a great building.

And as we find out later, one that is very much inhabited.

OK, so Lewis also makes the bold unsupported assertion; his references are scanty; he’s writing for an elite. I disagree with some of his claims. And later on in the book, towards the end, he name checks Tolkien and science fiction, I think just because he can. But he is so much more fun than Mortimer, and he really does make his period come alive.

So if you've been reading the Mortimer book with anything like pleasure, fine. But do have a look at the Discarded Image - it truly is smashing.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

It must be a Meme

Tueday, I think, this week, I went to a conference. Quite hard work, it lasted all day. One thing I noticed though - and which kept me awake in the longeurs, were the intermittent references to, and quotations from, The HithchHikers Guide To The Galaxy.

So one speaker asked all of us 'carbon-based life forms' to settle down, while another one referred to his role as 'Vogon guard' (as in 'I'm just in it for the shouting'). I realised that quite a few people there must have stayed up late to catch the recent dire film, when it was broadcast on BBC3 a day or so earlier. And it had stuck in their minds. And they were relaxed about sharing. Lovely.

Of course, I switched it off after about half an hour (still couldn't take what they'd done to Marvin), and in any case I'd always preferred the radio series to every other manifestation. But actually, since they were mostly quoting stuff from the original scripts, what the hell. I enjoyed it anyway.

Tonight on the Rye

Around 8pm-ish.


The Guardian today has a celebration of Nancy Banks-Smith. And why not? I'd have chosen different pieces, I must admit, and more jokes - like the one she occasionally repeats about her name sounding like something that fell off a horse at Hickstead. This I particularly recall from a review of a TV play in which a young girl is shown to be getting cleverer because she is caught reading Nancy B-S; so she was reviewing a piece of TV in which she herself was used to delineate character - crikey. Like Wilde, she repeats her jokes and like him she is allowed to because they are good ones. Any way, a nice piece - apart from the 'talking head' columnistas praising her. Only NBS herself didn't write anything new for it. I can understand why, but a pity.

I've written earlier about how NBS is just about the last truly great writer left at the paper (pace all of the columnists praised in recent awards - also puffed in today's chipwrapper). And at last, they've recognised it too. 'Bout damn time. Grump.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Spain Tour 21: Oviedo

We stayed in the Hotel Castro Real, on the Calle de Bermudez De Castro. Not a great neighbourhood and the hotel seriously oversold its proximity to the centre (and, indeed its closeness to the attractive “San Julián de los Prados pre-Romanesque church”).

Google maps suggests that the church is 800-900 metres away at least - if not further - and the city centre is about the same again. Although the capital of Asturias, and a World Heritage site, Oviedo is not that large – it has a population around 220,000. So I would have expected that ‘near to the centre’ would have been a bit, well, nearer. Unimpressed. OK, the distances still aren’t that far – but we felt it was a clear case of misrepresentation and said so (but only as we left!)

This was the view from outside the hotel. Ok, yes you can see the cathedral in the distance...
The hotel was pretty modern, with lights going on and off automatically as we walked through hallways, and windows that didn’t open. Quite annoying, really.

Parking in the underground car park was difficult in our little people mover. On one occasion I got the thing jammed on the tight curve of one of the steeper ramps. It took some effort to extricate it.
Anyway. All of those irritations aside, the centre of Oviedo was pretty pleasant. This is the cathedral closer up:

But the real charm - and tourist trap - of the city are the pedestrianised medieval streets.
Aswarm with cafes and bars - competition to get an outside table is severe.
We met one or two inhabitants...
... and strolled around

The orange, we found was really orange...
... and building sites were really blue.
So were some buildings.
After some looking around, I finally had a huge Asturian fish soup. Delicious, full of multi-legged, complex-shelled creatures, plus octopi and fishy bits. I suspect I was given soup for 4. Anyway, not understanding I ate the lot as a main course. Yum. Waddled a bit after, tho'.
We spotted these in the main park. I don't think they were being prepared for soup...

And, of course, where would we be without a tree?