Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Pubs Around Nunhead: 10

A rebooted series because I realise there were several pubs I didn't mention the first time around, including The Rye Hotel.
This pub is mentioned in Muriel Spark's The Ballad of Peckham Rye, but is no longer a proper boozer like it was then.  It has turned into an expensive gastropub.  Rumoured to be hard on the staff from time-to-time, it has a pleasant feel, is gay-friendly, and despite the high prices has been mentioned approvingly - but very briefly - in the Guardian (but only for being accommodating to dogs). 

Probably the biggest asset is the huge garden out back, which is often full to brimming on sunny days. 

But not in today's snow.

Poem of the Week

The Hollow Men
T. S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

            A penny for the Old Guy

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Mangan taste

It has finally become clear that the problem with Lucy Mangan is that from time-to-time she suffers a failure of taste.  Hence the Tory husband.  Hence her views on Billy bookcases.
And it appears, her views on Dr Who.  A week or so she ago announced that Christopher Ecclestone was clearly the worst Doctor.  So I checked. It isn't true.


Although it is far from being my favourite programme, I nevertheless frequently find myself subjected to Saturday Live on Radio4.  It's worse, of course, when it is fronted up by regular presenter Fi Glover  - just as it's predecessor Home Truths was worse when introduced by John Peel in mawkish mode; David Stafford was much better.
This weekend was particularly cold, so I was particularly unable to get out of bed to switch it off.  Which turned out to be all to the good, because Alexei Sayle's "inheritance tracks" (music that was passed on to him, and music he wants to pass on to others) were wonderful.
Brecht and Weill's "Pirate Jenny" and Robert Wyatt singing "Shipbuilding". 
After the first was played, I lay there thinking 'he can't equal this with his second track' - and then he did.  Absolutely marvellous.  And Sayle's explanations and reminiscences were a perfect accompaniment. 
Apparently he has a book out - so as a result of Radio4 it may get bought (by me that is).  And his blog (see links) is recommended.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Poem of the Week

Mine Own John Poynz
Sir Thomas Wyatt

Mine own John Poynz, since ye delight to know
The cause why that homeward I me draw,
And flee the press of courts, whereso they go,
Rather than to live thrall under the awe
Of lordly looks, wrapp├Ęd within my cloak,
To will and lust learning to set a law:
It is not for because I scorn or mock
The power of them, to whom fortune hath lent
Charge over us, of right, to strike the stroke.
But true it is that I have always meant
Less to esteem them than the common sort,
Of outward things that judge in their intent
Without regard what doth inward resort.
I grant sometime that of glory the fire
Doth twyche my heart. Me list not to report
Blame by honour, and honour to desire.
But how may I this honour now attain,
That cannot dye the colour black a liar?
My Poynz, I cannot from me tune to feign,
To cloak the truth for praise without desert
Of them that list all vice for to retain.
I cannot honour them that sets their part
With Venus and Bacchus all their life long;
Nor hold my peace of them although I smart.
I cannot crouch nor kneel to do so great a wrong,
To worship them, like God on earth alone,
That are as wolves these sely lambs among.
I cannot with my word complain and moan,
And suffer nought, nor smart without complaint,
Nor turn the word that from my mouth is gone.
I cannot speak and look like a saint,
Use willes for wit, and make deceit a pleasure,
And call craft counsel, for profit still to paint.
I cannot wrest the law to fill the coffer
With innocent blood to feed myself fat,
And do most hurt where most help I offer.
I am not he that can allow the state
Of him Caesar, and damn Cato to die,
That with his death did scape out of the gate
From Caesar's hands (if Livy do not lie)
And would not live where liberty was lost;
So did his heart the common weal apply.
I am not he such eloquence to boast
To make the crow singing as the swan;
Nor call the liond of cowardes beasts the most
That cannot take a mouse as the cat can;
And he that dieth for hunger of the gold
Call him Alexander; and say that Pan
Passeth Apollo in music many fold;
Praise Sir Thopias for a noble tale,
And scorn the story that the Knight told;
Praise him for counsel that is drunk of ale;
Grin when he laugheth that beareth all the sway,
Frown when he frowneth and groan when is pale;
On others' lust to hang both night and day:
None of these points would ever frame in me.
My wit is nought--I cannot learn the way.
And much the less of things that greater be,
That asken help of colours of device
To join the mean with each extremity,
With the nearest virtue to cloak alway the vice;
And as to purpose, likewise it shall fall
To press the virtue that it may not rise;
As drunkenness good fellowship to call;
The friendly foe with his double face
Say he is gentle and courteous therewithal;
And say that favel hath a goodly grace
In eloquence; and cruelty to name
Zeal of justice and change in time and place;
And he that suffer'th offence without blame
Call him pitiful; and him true and plain
That raileth reckless to every man's shame.
Say he is rude that cannot lie and feign;
The lecher a lover; and tyranny
To be the right of a prince's reign.
I cannot, I; no, no, it will not be!
This is the cause that I could never yet
Hang on their sleeves that way, as thou mayst see,
A chip of chance more than a pound of wit.
This maketh me at home to hunt and to hawk,
And in foul weather at my book to sit;
In frost and snow then with my bow to stalk;
No man doth mark whereso I ride or go:
In lusty leas at liberty I walk.
And of these news I feel nor weal nor woe,
Save that a clog doth hang yet at my heel.
No force for that, for it is ordered so,
That I may leap both hedge and dyke full well.
I am not now in France to judge the wine,
With saffry sauce the delicates to feel;
Nor yet in Spain, where one must him incline
Rather than to be, outwardly to seem:
I meddle not with wits that be so fine.
Nor Flanders' cheer letteth not my sight to deem
Of black and white; nor taketh my wit away
With beastliness; they beasts do so esteem.
Nor I am not where Christ is given in prey
For money, poison, and treason at Rome--
A common practice used night and day:
But here I am in Kent and Christendom
Among the Muses where I read and rhyme;
Where if thou list, my Poinz, for to come,
Thou shalt be judge how I do spend my time.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


I remember how Nick Lowe, in his great and witty talk Black Wine of Thentis, told us that creative writers - and especially the typical authors of science fiction and fantasy - would sometimes find that their muse had failed and as a result they would frantically look around their horrible writer's den seeking inspiration. 

The author's eyes would light upon that constant to almost all writers: a cup of a warm, mildly stimulating beverage, usually coffee, and they would use this desperately, somehow, anyhow, to pad out the text and prod their narratives back into life.

Klatchian coffee.  Black wine.

In a more mundane vein, I do the same when I'm attempting to solve the crossword and I'm lost for inspiration.  I look around, seeking help anywhere.  Thankfully, the Guardian helps with short articles of interest, appropriate to the back page, alongside the grid.  Weatherwatch, Starwatch, Spacewatch.  Rarely dull. 

And, to be scrupulously honest, they rarely help directly with the crossword.

A week ago on Friday, Kate Ravilious wrote in Weatherwatch:
Umbrellas first emerged in dry, hot places, to provide protection from the hot sun. The word umbrella comes from the Latin word "umbra", meaning shade or shadow. It isn't clear where and when the very first umbrella was made, but evidence from India, China and Egypt indicate that umbrellas have been around for more than 4,000 years. The Chinese were the first people to make waterproof umbrellas, by waxing and lacquering the paper parasol cover. Eventually umbrellas caught on in the west, especially northern Europe, during the 16th century. Many of these umbrellas were made from wood or whalebone and had oiled canvas parasols.

Amazingly they didn't find favour in soggy Great Britain until the Restoration, in the late 17th century. Rumour has it that the Puritans' disapproved of such frivolous devices, which would prevent Heaven-sent rain from properly wetting a person.

However, when umbrellas did arrive in Great Britain, the unpredictable climate soon made them popular. Coffee houses started the fashion; providing umbrellas to shelter customers as they walked to their carriages. At first they were considered a woman's accessory, but when English traveller and philanthropist Jonas Hanway began to carry one during the mid 18th century, men began to adopt them too. By 1830 the UK had its first dedicated umbrella shop in London, and nowadays every British household usually has at least one umbrella.
Which was a piece I quietly enjoyed (despite the weakness of the last line about 'every British household'), but it put me in mind of a more political take on the brolly by Neil MacGregor, presented to staff at the British Museum a few years ago (I was staff then). 

He looked at images across cultures and history showing umbrellas and sunshades, and found that in an awful lot of them they were used to show a power relationship.  The servant shades the Lord or Queen,  protecting them from the elements while having no cover themselves.  From overlords in ancient middle-Eastern cultures reviewing grain harvests to 1930s politicians speaking at rallies in wet North-of-England  rain, the brolly shows who is important and who is not.

Now it would, I think, be perfectly possible to construct an argument that the BM, built in part upon the spoils of political power, still can't avoid probing and testing issues of power, morality and hierarchy, like a tongue testing out a rotten tooth.  While the Guardian article by contrast is more free, and about personal use - liberal without even thinking about it.  Aren't stereotypes wonderful?

However, I'm minded instead to think about the UK's "first dedicated umbrella shop" - that Ravilious mentions in her piece.  This is James Smith and Sons, established 1830 and still going strong in New Oxford Street.  An establishment brand, the tiniest of walking distances from the Museum.

And I have to say, at the time a few of us suspected it was the inspiration for the Director's talk. You can see how it might happen, inspiration briefly fails, not even the black wine helps, so you decide to nip out for a walk around the block to clear the mind and get the creative juices flowing again.  And the first thing you spot is...

Brollies.  That will do nicely.

(Of course, I'm writing this after a week off, when I haven't felt minded or inspired to post much at all.  So maybe this whole meander is just my version of Klatchian coffee...)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Why Kew? (Age of Wonder)

If we spent a pleasant later-Summer day last month in Kew, looking at the buildings and all sorts of things, one of the stronger reasons why I wanted to go was that I'd just finished reading Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

This is his 'relay race of scientific stories' - telling the tale of the second scientific revolution in Britain (at the end of the eighteenth century).  From a starting point of Joseph Banks' trip to Tahiti, he tells the stories - in particular - of Davy and the Herschels, as well as those of the early balloonists; Mungo Park in Africa and Frankenstein.  Coleridge's philosophy and influence is ever-present, and Holmes also tells the story of the Royal Society under Banks, and the succeeding generation of scientists (John Herschel, Faraday amongst many).

It's very compellingly written, and although the subject matter in places may be gnarled and hard to cut through, he does so with a certain lightness of touch which can be quite beguiling.  (Although on the downside this does mean Holmes can be somewhat self-indulgent, as when he puts in a pleas for GM Food in one of his otherwise-excellent footnotes).

Banks of course was the first Director at Kew.  The book doesn't discuss his work there very much (by that point in Banks's life the narrative focuses more on his Presidency of the Royal Society and his growing influence on the development of all Sciences through that office.

So I thought it would be interesting to go to Kew.  Clearly correct (technically it hadn't been my idea originally but I'd been glad to go along).  There is a lot about the history & heritage on the Kew InterWeb site (where they also suggest that Banks wasn't the first Director - reading between the lines he was either the second, or he was a Superintendent, in charge but without the title.  So I suppose I got  that wrong).

Poem of the Week

Pubbe Gagge
Bill Bailey


Dandelion Mind is a new show by Bill Bailey, at the glorious, refurbished Wyndham’s theatre near Leicester Square.   On the general theme of doubt (or is it?).

Eldest and I went along.

What a good evening. BB - in case you don't know - is a highly talented comedian/musician; he came out, looked at the newly-decorated auditorium with its rich painted ceiling, chandelier and over-the-top pink-white ornamentation and immediately played something that sounded 18th century baroque-y harpsichord-y on his keyboard. “That’s what you need for a place like this, innit?”

This has to count as one of the best nights out I’ve had for many years (school events excluded of course – that wouldn’t be fair). We were in the second row of the stalls (an extravagance, plus we booked early), and the BB was at most 3-4 metres away from us for most of the show. From that angle, he seemed a God - admittedly a God that looked a lot like a bemused troll, but nevertheless…

Bailey seems to shamble on stage and do his stuff in a kind of stream-of-consciousness way, ad-libbing where necessary. And yet I think it's actually quite highly structured – with space for free-form flights of imagination where he needs them. So he begins with a structured rant against the Lib Dems (and Tories of course), which is very funny, before moving on to his despair at the England football team. He does them very well, but somehow I felt that there was little specifically Baileyish about these set pieces.

However, a little later, he reminded us just how superb his ad-libbing can be. Talking to a member of the audience, he said that the instrument he was holding was a lute. To which she apparently said “Ood”. This led to a wild fantasy which is very hard to describe properly – he repeated the word while slowly ageing on stage - imagining the ‘rise and fall of great civilisations outside the theatre – giant, scarlet crabs eventually taking over and superseding the human race’ while inside all was locked into ‘Ood. It’s an Oood. Ooood….’

This is an evening which ranges across a terrific range of subjects (and musical styles of course). At one point he explained why a spokesman for the Large Hadron Collider had said that there would be ‘inverse femtobarns’ of results. Ending – ‘it’s a kind of physicists joke, you see’. Which of course it is. (Look up the barn on Wikipedia – the physical unit – then the prefix femto – then consider the inverse. The spokesman meant there would be huge, uncountably many results). 

BB made this funny. A little later he gives us a speedy art-historical chat (with slides) on the history of the story of Doubting Thomas in renaissance paintings - also funny.  Marvellous.

Of course that approach means that some of the references he gives as asides don't work - he may have seen '2012' but it seemed few of his audience on Friday had...

A little later he moved back to science:

BB: Nuclear Fission, who knows how that works then? Come on, anyone?
(Nudged by eldest, I reluctantly raised a hand. Second row of the stalls, so I get spotted).
BB: Oh great. So you know about this stuff do you?
Me: Yes. (reluctantly)
BB: So I’ve always wondered. Is it like a kettle?
Me: Yes
BB: Great. So now I know. Nuclear fission’s like a kettle.
BB:Is it really like a kettle?
Me: No.
BB: So how’s it work then?
Me: Bits of stuff, bash together, bit of stuff left over comes out as energy, there you go.
BB: Great. Did you all hear that? Stuff comes together. Bish-bash-bosh (London accent - do I sound like that?) - Energy. So now we know.

I think he looked slightly disappointed. As though he wanted a proper description (and of course I’d confused fission and fusion in my ‘explanation’). Sigh.

And I do think he wants to know and talk about stuff properly. A little later, he was explaining how – in response to a London cabbie’s ‘Be Lucky!’ - he’d gone off on an existential rant on the meaning of luck and the pointlessness of the exhortation. Including a cross-reference to the feeling of being 'fated' as felt by Chaucer’s Palamon and Arcite in The Knight’s Tale. Nice.

I’d better shut up – although it is tempting to recite as much of the show as I can remember, that’d hardly be fair. Instead I’ll just end by exhorting all and sundry to go and see it for themselves. And stay for all of the encores…