Friday, 31 December 2010

Christmas Day on the Rye

A little cold, a little damp.  It's Christmas!!

Friday, 24 December 2010

It's gonna be a bad one...

Bread and circuses.   If they think they need to put on two Royal Weddings to distract our attention in 2011, it really is going to be a bad year. 
So panic now, before the rush.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Snowy Garden last Saturday

Poem of the Week

My Girl
Madness (Michael Barson)

My girl's mad at me
I didn't wanna see the film tonight
I found it hard to say
She thought I'd had enough of her
Why can't she see
She's lovely to me?
But I like to stay in
And watch TV on my own
Every now and then

My girl's mad at me
Been on the telephone for an hour
We hardly said a word
I tried and tried but I could not be heard
Why can't I explain?
Why do I feel this pain?
'Cause everything I say
She doesn't understand
She doesn't realise
She takes it all the wrong way

My girl's mad at me
We argued just the other night
I thought we'd got it straight
We talked and talked until it was light
I thought we'd agreed
I thought we'd talked it out
Now when I try to speak
She says that I don't care
She says I'm unaware
And now she says I'm weak

The Joy of Fez

- and porkpie hats, plastic trombones, skinheads and their children, ties and two-tone jackets...
In summary, to Earls Court through the snow to see Madness play the last gig in their latest UK tour:
A mixed crowd, to say the least. Age range from 4 to 60 and still older.  But then I suppose they have been going a while...

The crowd were quiet when the supporting act was on (some dancing when classics were covered), but exploded when Madness started.  And stayed raucous, noisy and exploded to the end.  Youngest likened it to being a marble on a tin tray full of marbles, when suddenly someone picks it up and starts shaking it vigorously.  And you aren't the biggest marble.

But everyone seemed to know the words, and it was pretty good-natured.  Lots of apparent skinheads singing and dancing to anti-racists songs.  All of the well-known tracks -  Our House, My Girl's Mad at Me, Night Boat to Cairo, Baggy Trousers, Driving In My Car, It Must be Love, One Step Beyond, plus the the marvellous Clerkenwell Polka from Norton Folgate.

Immensely enjoyable, I thought (but then I'm a bigger marble I suppose...).

Monday, 13 December 2010

Misty Rye

At 8am this morning...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Poem of the Week

Pirate Jenny
Bertolt Brecht/Marc Blitzstein (English translator in 1954)
Music: Kurt Weill

You people can watch while I'm scrubbing these floors
And I'm scrubbin' the floors while you're gawking
Maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell
In this crummy Southern town, in this crummy old hotel
But you'll never guess to who you're talkin'.
No. You couldn't ever guess to who you're talkin'.
Then one night there's a scream in the night
And you'll wonder who could that have been
And you see me kinda grinnin' while I'm scrubbin'
And you say, "What's she got to grin?"
I'll tell you.

There's a ship, the black freighter
with a skull on its masthead
will be coming in.

You gentlemen can say, "Hey gal, finish them floors!
Get upstairs! What's wrong with you! Earn your keep here!
You toss me your tips
and look out to the ships
But I'm counting your heads
as I'm making the beds
Cuz there's nobody gonna sleep here, honey
Nobody! Nobody!
Then one night there's a scream in the night
And you say, "Who's that kicking up a row?"
And ya see me kinda starin' out the winda.
And you say, "What's she got to stare at now?"
I'll tell ya.

There's a ship, the black freighter
turns around in the harbor
shootin' guns from her bow

Now you gentlemen can wipe that smile off your face
'Cause every building in town is a flat one
This whole frickin' place will be down to the ground
Only this cheap hotel standing up safe and sound
And you yell, "Why do they spare that one?"
Yes, that's what you say.
"Why do they spare that one?"
All the night through, through the noise and to-do
You wonder who is that person that lives up there?
And you see me stepping out in the morning
Looking nice with a ribbon in my hair.

And the ship, the black freighter
runs a flag up its masthead
and a cheer rings the air

By noontime the dock is a-swarmin' with men
comin' out from the ghostly freighter
They move in the shadows where no one can see
And they're chainin' up people and they're bringin' em to me
askin' me, "Kill them NOW, or LATER?"
Askin' ME! "Kill them now, or later?"
Noon by the clock
and so still by the dock
You can hear a foghorn miles away
And in that quiet of death
I'll say, "Right now.
Right now!"
Then they'll pile up the bodies
And I'll say,
"That'll learn ya!"

And the ship, the black freighter
disappears out to sea
And on it is me.

German version:
Brecht and Weill

Meine Herren, heute sehen Sie mich Gläser abwaschen
Und ich mache das Bett für jeden.
Und Sie geben mir einen Penny und ich bedanke mich schnell
Und Sie sehen meine Lumpen und dies lumpige Hotel
Und Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden.
Und Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden.
Aber eines Abends wird ein Geschrei sein am Hafen
Und man fragt: Was ist das für ein Geschrei?
Und man wird mich lächeln sehn bei meinen Gläsern
Und man sagt: Was lächelt die dabei?

Und ein Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird liegen am Kai.

Man sagt: Geh, wisch deine Gläser, mein Kind
Und man reicht mir den Penny hin.
Und der Penny wird genommen, und das Bett wird gemacht!
(Es wird keiner mehr drin schlafen in dieser Nacht.)
Und sie wissen immer noch nicht, wer ich bin.
Und sie wissen immer noch nicht, wer ich bin.
Aber eines Abends wird ein Getös sein am Hafen
Und man fragt: Was ist das für ein Getös?
Und man wird mich stehen sehen hinterm Fenster
Und man sagt: Was lächelt die so bös?

Und das Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird beschiessen die Stadt.

Meine Herren, da wird ihr Lachen aufhören
Denn die Mauern werden fallen hin
Und die Stadt wird gemacht dem Erdboden gleich.
Nur ein lumpiges Hotel wird verschont von dem Streich
Und man fragt: Wer wohnt Besonderer darin?
Und man fragt: Wer wohnt Besonderer darin?
Und in dieser Nacht wird ein Geschrei um das Hotel sein
Und man fragt: Warum wird das Hotel verschont?
Und man wird mich sehen treten aus der Tür am Morgen
Und man sagt: Die hat darin gewohnt?

Und das Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird beflaggen den Mast.

Und es werden kommen hundert gen Mittag an Land
Und werden in den Schatten treten
Und fangen einen jeglichen aus jeglicher Tür
Und legen ihn in Ketten und bringen vor mir
Und fragen: Welchen sollen wir töten?
Und an diesem Mittag wird es still sein am Hafen
Wenn man fragt, wer wohl sterben muss.
Und dann werden Sie mich sagen hören: Alle!
Und wenn dann der Kopf fällt, sag ich: Hoppla!

Und das Schiff mit acht Segeln
Und mit fünfzig Kanonen
Wird entschwinden mit mir.

From Rev to Essex

Another Saturday, another inadvertently listened-to Home Truths. At least today’s was fronted up by the Reverend Richard Coles (ex Bronski Beat and the Communards - far better than Fi Glover – see my previous on that topic), and Tom Hollander was the studio guest. He played baddie Cutler Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean, but more recently was the Rev in  Rev.

I didn’t see that much of Rev, but what I saw impressed me mightily – and I was please to hear from the radio that Rev Series 2 is on the way. But hearing him on the radio caused me to reflect on the amount of very high-quality TV we are getting at the moment.

I don’t mean the big headline-grabbing celeb stuff like X-Factor, Strictly and so forth. I mean the other stuff. The hard-to-properly-characterise stuff.

Misfits has had an awful lot of praise, as has the Inbetweeners, (not the Goodies’ song). But I would also point at Getting On, Roger and Val Have Just Got In, … and Rev. They all seem to feed from a strand of ‘realist’ ‘comedy’, like The Office and The Royle Family, but take it to a new level of both subtlety and rigour. Being Human may also fit in to the same group.

Of these, perhaps the one that was least well received was Roger and Val… - which I thought remarkably good, to be honest. It may have been that viewers wanted to see fat funny lady Dawn French being a fat funny lady rather than something more nuanced – however what made it so good for me was that Roger was played by Alfred Molina. (Kenneth Halliwell in Prick Up Your Ears and Doc Ock in Spiderman 2 – according to an uncited reference in Wikipedia he is the only character to have three Lego minifigs modelled after him). He can stand still and breath silently in a scene and still be the only person you want, intensely, to watch – you can see French visibly improve as she works with him. Marvellous stuff.

And yet, it may also be that my judgement is growing impaired with age.

It isn’t just that I have a sneaking and impossible-to-justify preference for Coming of Age over the Inbetweeners. No, that may be an aberration and somewhat alarming, but taste and enjoyment don't always have to coincide. Or Balamorey! As DK would put it.

This is far worse.

I’ve become hooked on The Only Way Is Essex (on ITV2. ITV2?!?).

Now this is simple and silly and people keep telling me that I’m letting my brain rot by watching it.

And yet, and yet.

Strange bronzed people in odd clothes, challenging and romancing each other in such odd language - so formal and stilted and banal, all at the same time. If only to defend my reputation I’ve resorted to telling people it has something in common with classical Greek drama – read in translation, at least.

And I almost believe it.  The behaviour and speeches conform to a code I don’t understand and have no access to. It is so bizarre and outlandish in performance that I end up helplessly diverted and horribly fascinated by the strange aliens on display.

Maybe I need help on this one...

Tebbbit memories

So I heard on the radio that apparently the Duchess of Cornwall was poked with a stick during the window-breaking and paint-splashing event that she and Charles got themselves caught up in last week.

So it is official. The Royal Family have become more popular.  Someone has touched them with a bargepole.

That was a left-wing memorial joke first heard in the mid-1980s, when the subject was one Norman (skinhead) Tebbit.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Pubs Around Nunhead: 10 1/2

Having got over that brief burst of Tourettes, I should just note that when  I discussed the Rye Hotel a few days back I forgot to include the usually-obligatory outdoor photo.  So here it is.

Monday, 6 December 2010


I've just been reading a wonderful book about swearing and swearwords (Filthy English: The How , Why, When and What of everyday swearing, Silverton, Peter, (2009)).

It therefore follows - given I am about to speak of the book and recent Radio 4 broadcasts - that I'm about to swear. 
A lot.
So if you want not to read or hear this filth, look away NOW!

(Otherwise scroll down...)


Cunt, Fuck, Bum. Armpits,


The Silverton book is wonderful. Please buy and read it.

It tells me that my favourite newspaper (The Grauniad) is easily the sweariest in the World.


And the book is also highly analytic - it speaks of how the nastiest words change; eg as we become more attuned to racism, disability, sexism, what we (as a group) think of as unacceptable or allowable alters substantially.


But PS also claims that the strength of the traditional bad words has generally decreased enormously - shit, bastard, fuck, cunt, etc. No one cares anymore...?

Overall, and speaking for myself, I doubt there is an absolute measure.

And focusing on the swearingness of something may mean the politics can get lost.

It is clearly true that when Jim Naughtie spoonerised the name of Jeremy Hunt, our Hulture Secretary (sorry-one of those H's should have been a C) - and Andrew Marr an hour later copied him, it was amusing and the 'bad' word was copied aound a lot.  An awful lot.

But it was too funny, and we forgot the point. 

Given his cutting of the Beeb, it is clear the man is a rotter. So the rude word is probably precisely accurate. Not just funny.

At least he is justifiably hated from within Auntie. 

They say there is  no longer a bad word bad enough for the man.

So perhaps we should all swear at him by what ever means we have, and not pretend it was a slip...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Poem of the Week

Clive William Langer and Declan MacManus

Is it worth it?
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy's birthday
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we'll be shipbuilding.......
Well I ask you
The boy said "Dad they're going to take me to task, but I'll be back by Christmas"
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding........
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls.

Friday, 3 December 2010

So now we know...

Send Ken Livingstone and some National Labour politicians - win the Olympics for London, defeating the perfidious French.
Send Boris Johnson, other upper-crust Tories and Royals - cede the World Cup to the Russians and well, almost anyone else.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Hubris: Five in a Row

On Radio 4's Brain of Britain, if you answer your five questions in a row you gain an extra point. 

My achievement last week was far more modest - but I did at least achieve it.  I solved all five of the weekday cryptic crosswords (in the Guardian). (Wow!)

Quite astonishing, for me. 

I guess in part it just shows the extent to which solving crosswords is a learned skill, and is much less to do with inherent wonderfulness.  I started regularly attempting the hard crosswords at the back of the paper about 2-3 years ago.  And at that point, I didn't solve them - or only very, very rarely on my own. Perhaps one every 2-3 months.  Instead if they did get finished it was because I collaborated with others, sharing and pinching answers.

But you improve - or I did, anyway.  And I also started to become more entertained: I began to enjoy the wordgames more as I became more able to solve them.  Eventually, and in a sad way, I even gave clues little exclamation marks if I thought they were particularly witty or graceful. (I'm not proud of this).

And then a few months back I realised I was solving one a week on average, and then two.  Usually the easiest ones of course - which I think often occur at the start of the week.  The tough ones can be really tough, for me (and I'm not discussing the Saturday prize grids here - they seem to be more variable, somehow).

Actually cryptic crosswords go back much further with me.  I remember sitting in the school library in the mid-seventies, with mates who shared the same free periods, finishing an Arucaria.  You remember stuff quite randomly sometimes: I remember that the last clue we solved of that puzzle was 'Begin description of dining room. (8)'   (*).

So I've kind of known how the cryptic clues worked and occasionally solved them, or attempted them with friends for many years.  Doug Gray, Neil Frowe.

But it is harder on your own.

A year or so ago, I also discovered the Fifteen Squared Web site (see links).  I never look there beforehand, but sometimes it helped me after I'd given up to see how a particularly knotty clue worked.  So, thanks to them also.

Anyway, here are the five.

Monday, 22nd November
I think it is fairly easy to see that I found this one quite straightforward.  You can see I even wrote down that it only took me 40 minutes.  Since I tend to try my hand at them on the train journey coming home from work, there is usually an upper limit of around an hour and a half or two hours.  After which there is no time left in the day.  Still, 40 minutes is not bad, even for the first grid of the week. Redcoats seemed difficult, and Audience took me a while.

Tuesday, 23rd November
I found this a little harder, and it shows - not just because it took longer (50 minutes plus), but because of the big question mark I'd left by 15 down.  I did enter the solution correctly in the grid (without help, honest), but I didn't know that 'foramina' was a word meaning little openings.  It just had to be the answer from the rest of the clue.

Wednesday, November 24th
This was easily the prize of the week.  Amazing.  A clue in French (with an answer also in French), with some Italian, German, and Latin used elsewhere.

I vaguely remembered Amoretti was a little cupid/cherub/putto (ie fat boy).   Gourde was the last solution - I had no idea it was Haitian currency (settler is a stretch I think), and had to construct it from the rest of the clue. Quatre Bras was also hard, as I only had the faintest of memories of some kind of battle and had, again, to construct it.  And Crucible took a while because of the brilliant misdirection.

Altogether it took me well over three hours - but I had the time as I was in town seeing someone. 

I was pleased to finish it, but it had been hard.  So when I looked at the comment in FifteenSquared I was pleased that many other people also said they found it tricky.  It wasn't just me. 

Then someone pointed out that not only was it a pangram (all of the letters), but it also, if you looked carefully, contained the French integers from Un to Neuf scattered around the grid.  Amazing, indeed.  (If I'd spotted that it would have made Gourde easier to solve!)

Thursday, November 25th
Again, you can see I found it really tough.  Clues full of unforgiving surfaces, I thought.  I went down to Southampton Uni with eldest that day, so I had the three hours+ it needed for me to complete the solution, whilst sitting on the train. 

But in all honesty more than half of it came in about an hour of the journey back.  I needed to make the odd correction along the way, as you can see - but more because of simple spelling errors than major mistakes.  8 down was a joy when I spotted it, but 15 across I disliked (Father Christmas as a Ho-Ho-er?)

Friday, November 26th
You have to imagine how tense I was by Friday.  I was on a full house, or a hat trick, or whatever, having finished two tough crosswords during the week that would normally have defeated me.  Whether that was only because I had the time for them, by chance, was neither here nor there.  They were both realistically challenging.  It hadn't been an easy ride.

So anyway there was this new goal, which made me try extra hard. 

I think you can see that I was quite stressed by this one.  With several solutions, although I worked out the answer, I couldn't get the clue to make sense (9 across was a case in point - only when I later read FifteenSquared and saw 'Bess' in 'Pub, Essex' did it seem logical to me).  And I struggled for far longer than was necessary with Eclair.  On the plus side, I quite liked the 'shops' theme, which I spotted early and it helped a lot.

To be honest, however, I nearly gave up right at the end with one clue left.  For some reason I drew a blank on 9 down (which at other times might have proven to be pretty easy).  Indeed, it only got solved when I saw, belatedly, that it formed 'John Lewis' with 16 down.  Altogether, just under two hours. 

But what next?  Last week felt like a real achievement, but also like something completed.  Something over. Time to move on?  But where to?  Harder crosswords? Shorter solving times?  But those options partly miss the point - the pleasure and enjoyment of the wordplay.  (Of course, it is also unquestionably true that I'll probably fail horribly at the next puzzle I try. Too much hubris just at the moment).

Or stop.  Draw a line, and use the time released to do something different - more 'meaningful' or 'creative'?

I don't know.  But I do know that this week I've gone cold turkey- no crosswords.  And I'm having a think.

(* - Ans: "Initiate")

Bleak, Snowy Peckham Rye

The trains are intermittent (translated: only the ones I don't want are moving), some buses are breaking down (their drivers want to go home), and the snow on the Rye makes it look bleak and washed out...