Sunday, 30 January 2011

Poem of the Week

La Belle Dame Sans Merci
John Keats

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a faery's child:
Her hair was long, her foot was ligh,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said,
"I love thee true!"

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gazed and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild, sad eyes---
So kissed to sleep.

And there we slumbered on the moss,
And there I dreamed, ah! woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cried---"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill side.

And that is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Right of Reply

Bizarre.  Lionel Blair on the horrible Radio 4 live show on Saturday morning.  Asked for his reaction to the years of smutty jokes in his name on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. 
At first he claimed never to have heard them.  Then he admitted that as they were now on YouTube (sic) he had heard them, and some of them were 'naughty.' 
Then of Humph (who didn't write the jokes) -
'We should only speak good of the dead.  He's dead now.  Good.'

Thursday, 27 January 2011

... And as you might expect...

... it was even colder coming home...


Dull grey overcast sky, and a bitterly cold East wind scouring platform 2 at East Dulwich station as I waited for my commuter train.  Horrid.  Why don't they provide duvets?

Monday, 24 January 2011



Someone close to me sent me this chain spam email:-



"And we never had a whole Mars bar until 1993"!!!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL MY FRIENDS WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 1940's, 50's, 60's and early 70's !
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us and lived in houses made of asbestos...
They took aspirin, ate blue cheese, raw egg products, loads of bacon and processed meat, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes or cervical cancer.
Then after that trauma, our baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets or shoes, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.
Take away food was limited to fish and chips, no pizza shops, McDonalds , KFC, Subway or Nandos...
Even though all the shops closed at 6.00pm and didn't open on a Sunday, somehow we didn't starve to death!
We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.
We could collect old drink bottles and cash them in at the corner store and buy Toffees, Gobstoppers, Bubble Gum and some bangers to blow up frogs with.
We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soft drinks with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because........
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O..K.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of old prams and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. We built tree houses and dens and played in river beds with matchbox cars.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo Wii , X-boxes, no video games at all, no 999 channels on SKY,
no video/dvd films, no mobile phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no Lawsuits from these accidents.
Only girls had pierced ears!
We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
You could only buy Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns at Easter time...
We were given air guns and catapults for our 10th birthdays,
We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
Mum didn't have to go to work to help dad make ends meet because we didn’t need to keep up with the Jones’s!
Not everyone made the rugby/football/cricket/netball team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! Getting into the team was based on MERIT
Our teachers used to hit us with canes and gym shoes and throw the blackboard rubber at us if they thought we weren’t concentrating ..
We can string sentences together and spell and have proper conversations because of a good, solid three R’s education.
Our parents would tell us to ask a stranger to help us cross the road. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of.    They actually sided with the law!
Our parents didn't invent stupid names for their kids like 'Kiora' and 'Blade' and 'Ridge' and 'Vanilla' and 'Tiger'
We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL !
And YOU are one of them!
You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good.   And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.
PS -The big type is because your eyes are not too good at your age anymore

Clearly awful. 

Simple Interweb research shows its been wandering around the worst parts of the net (dailymail dot co dot uk, mobilehomes dot narrow minded for you  dot org) since the middle of 2009.  Still I felt I had to reply. 

You must. 

I wrote this quickly.  It could easily be improved....


Sorry to be boring, but before we go overboard with this ridiculous rant, we need to remember:-

Many people didn’t survive their childhoods – infant mortality has reduced by 75% since 1960.  That’s due to lots of causes, including better care and more intervention. And the rate of infant deaths is still dropping.

The bone deformity, rickets, was still prevalent in the 40s – and much higher than now, despite the badly-researched recent scare stories.

Lots of children were chronically deprived, and with poor diets.

Polio has been fought and eliminated in Europe, we no longer put sufferers in iron lungs and children rarely grow up crippled as a result, unlike in the past.

Yes almost everyone smoked. And lots of those people now have horrible lung or heart diseases, or have suffered amputation – if they have lived this long. And children couldn’t avoid the smoke in public places. Secondary smoking is a killer too.

And lead-based paints (and lead piping) can cause severe mental illnesses – which surely ought not to be celebrated?

As for: "They took aspirin, ate blue cheese, raw egg products, loads of bacon and processed meat, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes or cervical cancer."?

I find this sentence quite confusing. It lumps together so many things. Not being tested for an illness (and hence not being able to stop it early) is surely nothing to be pleased about.  We ought instead to celebrate the fact that the tests are now available, along with treatment.

The list of things to avoid sounds like a list of so many tabloid-ese scare stories about what you should and shouldn’t eat. The Daily Mail oncology ontology. It is miles away from what a sensible (science-based) nutritionist would focus on. Aspirin, aspirin?  Yes, aspirin taken too much can cause severe stomach illnesses (as it did to a good friend of mine’s mum in the 60s – she got very poorly) – so now pharmacists ask more questions and pay more attention to dosages. A wholly good thing.

I despair, sometimes, that the number of deaths and injuries from avoidable accidents in the past – that used to happen in factories and other workplaces, as well as public spaces – before the work of the trades unions and others helped to establish the need for laws that protected people - get totally lost in ranting about ‘Health and Safety gone mad’.

Seat belts and air bags have saved many lives. Adults and children. Don’t celebrate the fact that people died in the past when they didn’t wear them – be pleased that we have them and use them now!

When asked the reasons – and lots of work has been done on this – the main reason that parents say their kids don’t play out is the traffic (at least in cities, where most of us live nowadays). We have all become petrolheads.

People who want to ‘go back to the past’ will rarely give up their cars. The evidence is clear – kids started playing out less a long time before the computer games arrived in every household.

We did have better public transport in the past, that is true in the main – and we had far fewer cars. So if you care about this, you personally can do something to fix it. Stop driving. Encourage others to do the same.

There’s another thing about friendship, tho’. With the social networks, you can find like-minded friends – pursue interests that are different. You aren’t forced just to be friends with those nearby – neighbours and so forth. Ideally, friendships based on belief and shared interests rather just proximity.  Much better...

The idea of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ comes from 1916, from clear evidence. But the notion of Mum ‘not needing to go to work’ ignores the large number of women who want to work, earn and see themselves as equal to men – in that past, many women were told to leave their jobs when they got married. Teachers too.  We should praise and celebrate feminism, not invent falsehoods about an ideal past.

If you grew up poor in the 30s, 40s, 50s and for much of the 60s, your educational opportunities were dramatically reduced. If you wanted to, you couldn’t stay on at school. Most people suffered from being pushed into secondary moderns, rather than the lucky few in grammar schools. A good, solid three ‘R’s education was a pretty damn limited achievement, to be honest – about all you could achieve if you weren’t in the elite. 

The woman who sent me this email was told in the 70's that 'girls aren't good at physics' by her teacher - so she didn't do the subject, tho' she wanted to...  Crap.  The more recent social mobility, based on a dramatically widened educational entitlement, is another thing to celebrate.

And throughout many of those horrible decades, the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s sexual repression was rife.

Homosexuality was illegal. Remember that one of the UK’s greatest mathematicians, Alan Turing, who helped shorten the war by many years and founded modern computer science, was prosecuted and found guilty in 1952 for being gay, underwent chemical castration and finally died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning. Probably suicide. Only in 2009 did the government apologise.

And for every famous person like Turing there were thousands who lived lives of shame, secrecy and repression because of stupid vicious laws and small-minded beliefs. Why shouldn’t anyone who wants them have pierced ears? (For the record I don’t - but I would defend your right).

At the same time, child abuse remained uninvestigated and unchecked. Let’s not be pleased about that, nor about the bullying violence in schools that has now, finally, begun to be sorted out (although admittedly not yet fully).

As with sexuality, so with racism. Oswald Moseley’s blackshirts still find an echo in the BNP scum that remain to haunt us in deprived areas. But we should be proud that we have made (some) steps to stop people being victimised because of their skin colour. Think of all the abusive words that once were used to define people based on race and colour, in the playground and elsewhere. They are thankfully far rarer now.

As for getting into school sports teams “on merit” – why the huge focus on sports, and competitive sports at that? Oh I see – a coded attack on “political correctness” (or whatever chimera the awful, reactionary, tabloid press want to raise up today). For the record: schools still do a lot of competitive sports. Teams are picked on merit. They also do lots of other stuff too – noncompetitive outdoors things and indoor activities. And many of these are judged on merit (maths Olympiad, chess club, debating societies). Sports aren’t everything.

And some children self-select by interest. And sometimes teachers encourage children because it will help them in other areas.

There is really nothing to complain about here.

In summary: Yes there is lots wrong with life today – and for kids in particular. Crap food is still too prevalent amongst the underprivileged. We could take more exercise. We could drive our cars less.  We appear to have surrendered to the worst forms of global capitalism (look at our High Streets, consider our culture). But much is also much that is fantastic today – or at least a huge improvement on the past. Fewer children die, fewer are injured, fewer have debilitating injuries, child abuse has reduced, there is much less smoking, there are laws protecting us from bad employers and unsafe practices, we are no longer prosecuted for not being heterosexual, we are less racist, education is broader and deeper and available for longer to more people. Social mobility has increased. Science is used more and more to improve our diets and everything else about our lives.

So let’s not concentrate upon a golden age of the past - it just didn’t exist.

And anyway, I quite like Nandos.
So, again.

That's wot I wrote.

Happy to discuss... (smile)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

JK Rowling's Harvard Commencement Speech

I'm not particularly a fan of Rowling, but I thought this was fun.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

The Great Outdoors

When I wrote in December to praise a certain group of new comedies and other shows, I somehow missed out The Great Outdoors.  There were only three episodes, and it was consigned to BBC4, but there was a certain wonder to it. I liked it a lot.  The cast includes:

- Ruth Jones (from Gavin and Stacey)
- Mark Heap (Alan Statham in Green Wing)
- Katherine Parkinson (from The IT Crowd) and
- Joe Tracini (from Coming of Age)

so it comes with a certain pedigree.

This minor gem has just started being repeated on BBC2, but now finds itself up against the might of Channel 4's attempt at the TW3 crown, Ten O'Clock Live - broadcast at the same time.  Which does seem a little unfair. 

Still, thank goodness for the i-Player.  Otherwise I'd have had to make a hard choice...

Poem of the Week

Sonnet 1: Loving In Truth
Sir Philip Sidney

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain;

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burn'd brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay,
Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows,
And others' feet still seem'd but strangers in my way.

Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite--
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write."

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


A beautiful, fine, clear, frosty morning on the Rye today.  Under a mackerel sky - cirrocumulus. Marvellous.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Of course, for all of my praise for the Guardian Cryptic Crossword in the last post, it should also be noted that the Saturday Prize Cryptic was a repeat of a crossword we'd seen a few weeks ago.  "Synchronised Swimmers" indeed...

Ill fitting jeans, mockery left and right

As I said a few weeks back, I'm no longer doing the crossword.  At least not regularly/often. 

But today's Paul was fun with '4dn: 5th show' clueing "Top Gear" and "22ac, 20: 4's Ill fitting jeans, mockery left and right" signalling "Jeremy Clarkson" (anagram of "jeans, mockery, l & r").  So appropriate. 

Hamster and James May turned up as well. 

And "Top Gear" was also used to clue jerseys, jumpers and pullovers...

But 22,20 was best.  Close-ish to the famous Arucaria "Old Vicarage, Granchester" clue...

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Milestone passed

... and that last was my 400th post.  Golly.

Flat Out

So yesterday we decided that we’d have a fish supper this weekend; after discussion, lemon sole was identified as the dish of choice and around elevenish I toddled off to Sopers to purchase same.

The man in front of me bought three lemon sole and there was only one left on the ice, so I asked if there were more out back. “No,” came the reply, “there’s been a real run on flat fish this weekend – brill’s your best bet now.”

While I pondered the notion of a run on flat fish in Nunhead, the man behind me started ordering brill as though they were a vanishing species – as indeed they rapidly appeared to be.

So finally, and despite the fact that I had to supplement it with some less-fat seafood to make the meal complete, I did get the last lemon sole in Nunhead this weekend.

And I still feel quite bemused by the notion of a local run on flat fish.

And just a little guilty.

Poem of the Week

The Wreck of the Deutschland
Gerard Manley Hopkins
To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875

Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World's strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones & veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

I did say yes
O at lightning and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height:
And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

The frown of his face
Before me, the hurtle of hell
Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?
I whirled out wings that spell
And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,
Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,
To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

I am soft sift
In an hourglass—at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall
Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ's gift.

I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:
Since, tho' he is under the world's splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

Not out of his bliss
Springs the stress felt
Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt—
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—
But it rides time like riding a river
(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

It dates from day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden's knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

Is out with it! Oh,
We lash with the best or worst
Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,
Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,
To hero of Calvary, Christ,'s feet—
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

Be adored among men,
God, three-numberéd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man's malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out swéet skíll,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

"Some find me a sword; some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood" goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But wé dréam we are rooted in earth—Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,
Two hundred souls in the round—
O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing
The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;
Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing
Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

Into the snows she sweeps,
Hurling the haven behind,
The Deutschland, on Sunday; and so the sky keeps,
For the infinite air is unkind,
And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,
Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;
Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow
Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.

She drove in the dark to leeward,
She struck—not a reef or a rock
But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
Dead to the Kentish Knock;
And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;
And canvass and compass, the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

Hope had grown grey hairs,
Hope had mourning on,
Trenched with tears, carved with cares,
Hope was twelve hours gone;
And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day
Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,
And lives at last were washing away:
To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.

One stirred from the rigging to save
The wild woman-kind below,
With a rope's end round the man, handy and brave—
He was pitched to his death at a blow,
For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:
They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro
Through the cobbled foam-fleece, what could he do
With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?

They fought with God's cold—
And they could not and fell to the deck
(Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled
With the sea-romp over the wreck.
Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,
The woman's wailing, the crying of child without check—
Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,
A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

Ah, touched in your bower of bone
Are you! turned for an exquisite smart,
Have you! make words break from me here all alone,
Do you!—mother of being in me, heart.
O unteachably after evil, but uttering truth,
Why, tears! is it? tears; such a melting, a madrigal start!
Never-eldering revel and river of youth,
What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?

Sister, a sister calling
A master, her master and mine!—
And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;
The rash smart sloggering brine
Blinds her; but she that weather sees one thing, one;
Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine
Ears, and the call of the tall nun
To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm's brawling.

She was first of a five and came
Of a coifèd sisterhood.
(O Deutschland, double a desperate name!
O world wide of its good!
But Gertrude, lily, and Luther, are two of a town,
Christ's lily and beast of the waste wood:
From life's dawn it is drawn down,
Abel is Cain's brother and breasts they have sucked the same.)

Loathed for a love men knew in them,
Banned by the land of their birth,
Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them;
Surf, snow, river and earth
Gnashed: but thou art above, thou Orion of light;
Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,
Thou martyr-master: in thy sight
Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them.

Five! the finding and sake
And cipher of suffering Christ.
Mark, the mark is of man's make
And the word of it Sacrificed.
But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd and priced—
Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token
For lettering of the lamb's fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters
And five-livèd and leavèd favour and pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling "O Christ, Christ, come quickly":
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wildworst Best.

The majesty! what did she mean?
Breathe, arch and original Breath.
Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?
Breathe, body of lovely Death.
They were else-minded then, altogether, the men
Woke thee with a we are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth.
Or ís it that she cried for the crown then,
The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen?

For how to the heart's cheering
The down-dugged ground-hugged grey
Hovers off, the jay-blue heavens appearing
Of pied and peeled May!
Blue-beating and hoary-glow height; or night, still higher,
With belled fire and the moth-soft Milky way,
What by your measure is the heaven of desire,
The treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing?

No, but it was not these.
The jading and jar of the cart,
Time's tasking, it is fathers that asking for ease
Of the sodden-with-its-sorrowing heart,
Not danger, electrical horror; then further it finds
The appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart:
Other, I gather, in measure her mind's
Burden, in wind's burly and beat of endragonèd seas.

But how shall I . . . make me room there:
Reach me a ... Fancy, come faster—
Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there,
Thing that she ... there then! the Master,
Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:
He was to cure the extremity where he had cast her;
Do, deal, lord it with living and dead;
Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, despatch and have done with his doom there.

Ah! there was a heart right
There was single eye!
Read the unshapeable shock night
And knew the who and the why;
Wording it how but by him that present and past,
Heaven and earth are word of, worded by?—
The Simon Peter of a soul! to the blast
Tarpeian-fast, but a blown beacon of light.

Jesu, heart's light,
Jesu, maid's son,
What was the feast followed the night
Thou hadst glory of this nun?—
Feast of the one woman without stain.
For so conceivèd, so to conceive thee is done;
But here was heart-throe, birth of a brain,
Word, that heard and kept thee and uttered thee outright.

Well, she has thee for the pain, for the
Patience; but pity of the rest of them!
Heart, go and bleed at a bitterer vein for the
Comfortless unconfessed of them—
No not uncomforted: lovely-felicitous Providence
Finger of a tender of, O of a feathery delicacy, the breast of the
Maiden could obey so, be a bell to, ring of it, and
Startle the poor sheep back! is the shipwrack then a harvest, does tempest carry the grain for thee?

I admire thee, master of the tides,
Of the Yore-flood, of the year's fall;
The recurb and the recovery of the gulf's sides,
The girth of it and the wharf of it and the wall;
Staunching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind;
Ground of being, and granite of it: past all
Grasp God, throned behind
Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;

With a mercy that outrides
The all of water, an ark
For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides
Lower than death and the dark;
A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,
The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost mark
Our passion-plungèd giant risen,
The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.

Now burn, new born to the world,
Doubled-naturèd name,
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.

Dame, at our door
Drowned, and among our shoals,
Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward:
Our Kíng back, Oh, upon énglish sóuls!
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,
More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,
Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,
Our hearts' charity's hearth's fire, our thoughts' chivalry's throng's Lord.

Susannah York

Listening to the Radio, last night, they announced the death of Susannah York.  Lots of mentions of The Killing of Sister George and her other films.  Occasionally they mentioned that she continued working on the stage.

It was on stage, in a small London basement theatre, that I saw her about a year ago.  She was translucent, wonderful. 

I guess it may have been, if not one of her last performances, at least a very late one.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


"The 1970's was a tough time for the comprehensible lyric"
(David Quantick, earlier this week on Radio 4, discussing 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway')

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Primeval Archers

Well, the 60th anniversary episode of The Archers seems to have received a lot of criticism.  It was certainly hard to listen to: every line seemed freighted with additional meaning - for example the comments on Tony's driving as he sped with Helen to the Hospital.

I was struck the following day, not so much by Vanessa Whitburn's gaffe - when she came on The Today Programme and gave away the fact that Nigel was dead 12 hours before the next episode made it clear - but by the way in which she claimed that the episode would have ramifications and reverberations for "the next ten years".  The Archers, it seems, can plan for the long term.  It isn't at risk (unless the current bad lot in power sell off the BBC and Murdoch doesn't like it), so they have the luxury of plotting strategically.

Now in this household, there was a challenge because that 60th anniversary clashed with the first episode in the new series of Primeval.  Which certainly seemed as though it had been cancelled a year ago, with multiple plot threads dangling.  No sense of a long-term strategy there.

Most of the family went off to watch telly, while I stayed behind with Radio 4, and joined in later.

Primeval was weird - topped and tailled by exactly the same adverts for Haven holidays as a year ago - they look even tackier now.  Haven come across as though they are part of the show, they've been there so long. 

The show retains its style of unreflecting bright lighting and thin, superficial relationships (or is it deeper and I've missed the point?).  It is incredibly sub-Doctor Who in all departments, but that is still clearly the audience it is aiming for. It must be expensive to mount, and it feels like it still only just clings on for survival, so the whole story seems a bit random, with threads picked up and dropped with no rhyme or reason.  Yet it is fun in a shallow way.  The Guardian Guide called it a "crisps and salad cream sandwiches" kind of show - which is close enough.

Ah - I've just found out what has happened - ITV are sharing costs with Watch, a digital channel: "ITV1 will premiere the fourth series of the show in early 2011. Watch – which already airs sci fi shows Doctor Who and Torchwood – will repeat it soon after and then premiere the fifth series later the same year, followed by ITV1".  Which I suspect means it'll cost extra to see series 5?

Between the long-term plotting of soaps like The Archers and a series at risk like Primeval, is there a middle ground in between, and what lies there? 

Very little I suspect.  Doctor Who perhaps, and similar long-term shows.  But they do tend to be structured quite episodically to maintain a thrill factor and keep their audiences excited.  Or like The Last of the Summer Wine, nothing happens, repetitively.  Comfort keeps the audience coming back for more.

Maybe it is only after a show has been aired for 60 years or so that you get the benefits of more novelistic pace and narrative...

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Poem of the Week

The Lie
Sir Walter Raleigh

O, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless arrant!
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If court and church reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates they live
Acting by others' action,
Not loved unless they give,
Not strong but by a faction.
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
Seek nothing but commending:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it is but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust:
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honor how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favor how she falters:
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in over-wiseness:
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention:
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay:
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and school reply,
Give arts and school the lie.

Tell faith it fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood shakes off pity;
Tell virtue least preferreth:
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing,--
Although to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing,--
Stab at thee, he that will,
No stab the soul can kill.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Nunhead Hollander

When I posted about Rev last month, I didn't know Tom Hollander was as local as this...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Size and Scale

Of course, to understand size, you need to understand scale.
See here for help.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Amazing Stargazing

Right at the end of today's BBC2 Stargazing Live show on astronomy and space, they closed with photos sent in by viewers. 
Amongst which was one credited to the doughty Mat Irvine - the well-known technical effects specialist and model maker.  And who for many, many years has been an officer of the Astronomical Society of Haringey.  I remember him from when I was a young member, 35 years ago.

Monday, 3 January 2011


I intended to post this some time ago, and just forgot...

Pigeon: Impossible from Lucas Martell on Vimeo.

Haldane and Engel's Thoughts

In On Being the Right Size, Haldane worries about how well socialism might run large organisations, but remains silent regarding the ability of capitalism and representative democracy to do the same.  He wrote the essay just before the stock market crash of course, and in our own time we have  witnessed the substantial failiure of the Western banking system, built around capitalism.  So it is at the very least a legitimate question to ask.

By coincidence, it is also one of the questions which drives Matthew Engel's Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain (revised edition, 2010), which I got for Christmas.  He makes a whole series of telling points.  For example: 
- That Bitain's railways, originally created through the competition of entrepreneurial capitalists, are inefficient, poorly organised in terms of routes and stations, and much less effective than the later continental railways.  The latter were far more commonly state-planned and delivered - and all the better for it. 
- That the influence of politicians, almost universally with short-term interests, on the railways has been pretty much entirely malign or ineffectual - not least because of their relatively short-term planning horizon, which is wholly inappropriate for creating and sustaining a major National infrastructure and service.
- That as a result of both of these effects there has been little or no true strategic thinking regarding the railways in Britain for most of their life.  And it truly shows.

And barely needs to be said that many of his arguments about rail could be readily extended to the rest of British life.  He's fairly unsparing (although always a good read).

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Frozen Ouse

Bedford late December.
(Eldest being foolhardy...)


Mentioning Haldane a post or two ago couldn't help but remind me of  his famous saying about God being 'inordinately fond of beetles'.  Which upon further examination is hard to track down. The Quote Investigator site seems to summarise what we know quite well.

And the phrase certainly gets around, including Pterry's conclusion that the God who is fond of beetles is - paradoxically - the God of Evolution (see The Lost Continent)...

Its also worth noting that On Being the Right Size does not end up as an essay about comparative anatomy.  The last two paragraphs read:
And just as there is a best size for every animal, so the same is true for every human institution. In the Greek type of democracy all the citizens could listen to a series of orators and vote directly on questions of legislation. Hence their philosophers held that a small city was the largest possible democratic state. The English invention of representative government made a democratic nation possible, and the possibility was first realized in the United States, and later elsewhere. With the development of broadcasting it has once more become possible for every citizen to listen to the political views of representative orators, and the future may perhaps see the return of the national state to the Greek form of democracy. Even the referendum has been made possible only by the institution of daily newspapers.

To the biologist the problem of socialism appears largely as a problem of size. The extreme socialists desire to run every nation as a single business concern. I do not suppose that Henry Ford would find much difficulty in running Andorra or Luxembourg on a socialistic basis. He has already more men on his pay-roll than their population. It is conceivable that a syndicate of Fords, if we could find them, would make Belgium Ltd or Denmark Inc. pay their way. But while nationalization of certain industries is an obvious possibility in the largest of states, I find it no easier to picture a completely socialized British Empire or United States than an elephant turning somersaults or a hippopotamus jumping a hedge.
So he's actually using arguments from biology to question whether socialism is able to run large Nation states or Empires.  Can it ever be used effectively to run the British Empire?  Haldane was a socialist for much of his life, but he could and did apply a sense of scientific scepticism to his ideology.
He was a somewhat controversial figure to some. From Wikipedia:
Haldane was a friend of the author Aldous Huxley, who parodied him in the novel Antic Hay (1923) as Shearwater, "the biologist too absorbed in his experiments to notice his friends bedding his wife". Haldane's discourse in Daedalus on ectogenesis was an influence on Huxley's Brave New World (1932) which features a eugenic society.
C.S. Lewis wrote much of his three interplanetary space novels, The Space Trilogy, in response to Haldane, whom Lewis considered to be an immoral man. Lewis modelled the character Weston, featured in the first two books, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, on Haldane.
- and Weston is of course the baddie. 

Much of this also ties in quite nicely with the Mark Miodownik RI Christmas lectures (not the bit about sleeping with his wife, but the  linking across disciplines and the predictive, futures-oriented visionary scientific rhetoric).

And of course Haldane was known for a clutch of other quotations, including:
My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], p.286
Theories have four stages of acceptance:
i. this is worthless nonsense,
ii. this is interesting, but perverse,
iii. this is true, but quite unimportant,
iv. I always said so
(Source unknown)
Which sounds a very familiar position, to me at least.

Boxing Day: Nunhead to Bedford

It was cold, and snow was still on the ground.  We headed up for Bedford.  The roads were pretty empty...

On Size and the RI Christmas Lecture

This year's RI Christmas Lecture was given by Mark Miodownik, Head of the Materials Research Group in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences School at King's College London.  Appropriately approachable in suit and trainers and a slightly hesitant speaking style, he did rather well I thought.  His topic was 'Size Matters' and he covered a lot of ground.

For example, he discussed the old question of why small animals can survive long falls and large ones can't (using crash test pets).  He did this quite well - but I wish he'd mentioned J.B.S Haldane's famous 1928 essay (On Being the Right Size):
You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal's length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.
OK, I suppose perhaps not quite right for his young audience - commendably brief but the Christmas Lecture requires more spectacle (the crash test pet dog did splash...). 

Anyway, Miodownik covered this, why larger animals are cumbersome (can't dance), the relative strengths of creatures (against there body weight), and so forth, before he moved on to strange materials and then to very large scale structures.  He gave three lectures (I seem to remember recent speakers giving four?  maybe that is a false memory).   The last lecture took us from how high a building might we be able to build one day, given the limitations of the Earth's surface as a base to start from, to the space elevator, by way of carbon nanotubes.  It ended with him on wires, high above his audience and a model of the earth, paying out model nanotube cable to get the elevator going.

There is a kind of convention whereby the Christmas Lecturer ends by exhorting the younger generation to discover new things and follow in the scientific and/or technological footsteps of their parents and predecessors... He did this bit especially well, I thought - moving from the moon landings of the 60s and 70s to the possibilities of the space elevator - if they can do it.

His delivery was hesitant, as I said, and there seemed to be a large number of strange diversions into different types of new material which at the time I thought didn't really aid his argument much, but in retrospect that was too critical of me.  The whole piece came together very well, and worked.  I ended up feeling quite inspired by the dangling man.

And it was back on the BBC where it belongs.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Week Before Christmas

Snow on the Rye a week before Christmas:-

In the distance of this last image you can see the horrid Shard being built at London Bridge.

Christmas Stuff

And so it behoves me to discuss some of the radio and telly over Christmas.

The BBC belatedly decided to repeat The Goodies - albeit too late at night to be really helpful. And they got the schedule wrong – I almost missed the End of the World Christmas episode because it was advertised as Ecky Thump (which I have on DVD). I also caught the Bunfight at the OK Tea Rooms. Great and Silly.

Elsewhere, I found Dr Who merely adequate and the eulogising of Ronnie Corbett over the top. Although at least the latter reminded us of the great writing of Gerald Wiley, who wrote a number of famous sketches including Fork Handles:

and Swedish Made Simple:-

Gerald Wiley was of course Ronnie Barker.

There was a lot of telly picking over its own past, including nights full of Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. The former was pleasant if only because they seemed to make a lot of the episode with Bernard Cribbens (quite right too).

Cribbens also appeared on the obituary programme on Radio 4, when they discussed Elizabeth Beresford. I'd forgotten he did the voices for the Wombles on TV. Mind you, I always preferred the Borribles.

Poem of the Week

Mad Blake
William Rose Benet

Blake saw a treeful of angels at Peckham Rye,
And his hands could lay hold on the tiger's terrible heart.
Blake knew how deep is Hell, and Heaven how high,
And could build the universe from one tiny part.
Blake heard the asides of God, as with furrowed brow
He sifts the star-streams between the Then and the Now,
In vast infant sagacity brooding, an infant's grace
Shining serene on his simple, benignant face.

Blake was mad, they say, -- and Space's Pandora-box
Loosed its wonders upon him -- devils, but angels indeed.
I, they say, am sane, but no key of mine unlocks
One lock of one gate wherethrough Heaven's glory is freed.
And I stand and I hold my breath, daylong, yearlong,
Out of comfort and easy dreaming evermore starting awake, --
Yearning beyond all sanity for some echo of that Song
Of Songs that was sung to the soul of the madman, Blake!

A Warning

As I suggested towards the end of last year, it looks like 2011 might be horrid for many, although how the cuts may actually pan out is hard to say.  But the threat to the weakest hasn't been captured much better than this, about another period of planned ideological cuts:
If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.
I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment.
I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.
I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.
I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.
I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.
I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.
I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.
I warn you that you will have defence of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.
I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.
I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.
If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–
- I warn you not to be ordinary
- I warn you not to be young
- I warn you not to fall ill
- I warn you not to get old.
Neil Kinnock in Bridgend, Glamorgan, on 7 June 1983 - some time before he became leader of the Labour party.

But however great that rhetoric was, the damn Tories were still elected.

So given that, with the release of her cabinet papers under the 30-years rule,  there is a lot in the press about Thatcha's first term in office at present, I just thought it was worth reminding ourselves how criminally inept, damaging and dispiriting the regime was, to individuals and to the country as a whole. 
We still have a long way to go to fully recover.  And under this bunch of clowns we seem instead to be making great strides backwards.


A Happy New Year to all my Reader.