Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Most popular?

But the thing that surprised me most was that the most popular poem I've published - so far - is this one.

Explanations on a postcard.


This was pointed out to me by eldest.  Quite fun. I liked the reference to the metal dog...

Lots of Symbolic Activity?

I've been looking at the stats for this blog. 

It seems the most viewed post is the long, meandering item in November 2009 about the symbolism in and around the local house that D. had bought, and was going to renovate.

Ironically, although that post has seen lots of activity, the house hasn't. 

It's pretty much in the same state as it was when I posted about it, Yew tree, Christmas tree and all...

Dan Dare

Tim Rice, speaking on Radio 4 a couple of months or so ago, said that Dan Dare was "Britain's Greatest Science Fiction Hero."

This is clearly untrue.  I guess he's just not up-to-date.

Well done!

Hmmm... The various miserablist comedies and other shows I've been praising in these scribblings seem to have done rather well at the Baftas the other night.  Let's see:-

Best Female Performance in a Comedy Role:  Jo Brand won for "Getting On"  Hurrah! a reasonably local win!  and Dawn French was nominated for "Roger and Val Have Just Got In" (no nomination for Alfred Molina in the Male equivalent, unfortunately - I raved over his performance).
(And we should also mention Katherine Parkinson's nomination for "The IT Crowd")

Male Performance in a Comedy Role: Well, it was won by Steve Coogan, bizarrely, but there were nominations for James Buckley from "The Inbetweeners" and Tom Hollander for "Rev"

Situation Comedy  was won by "Rev".  Hurrah!  Another local!

Lauren Socha won Best Supporting Actress for "Misfits"

"Being Human" and "Misfits" were nominated for Best Drama Series.

Oh, and the popular YouTube audience award went to "The Only Way is Essex" (sorry...).

But there were also several other nominations and awards that I thought were very well deserved, which I ought to mention:-

Leading Actor: Daniel Rigby for "Eric and Ernie" (that was very fine work. It was on over Christmas. Victoria Wood produced it and played Eric's mum.  I watched it twice).

Leading Actress:  Vicky McClure for "This Is England ’86"    (and Johnny Harris was nominated for the Supporting Actor role)

Lots of nominations for "Sherlock" and "Dr Who," of course - and Martin Freeman duly won Best Supporting Actor, while "Sherlock" won for Best Drama Series.

And both Lynda Baron and Jessie Wallace received nominations as Best Supporting Actress for "The Road to Coronation Street" -which was hugely excellent telly and deservedly won the Single Drama award.   I watched that twice as well.     "Eric and Ernie" was also nominated for that one.

So all in all, a pretty good year.  I've missed out lots of other productions I didn't much care for, but today I'd just like to celebrate the good stuff.  

Defined, for today at least, as the stuff I liked......

School for Scandal

We went to see "School for Scandal" at the Barbican last weekend.  A production that the critics haven't really liked.  And the attendance on Saturday was poor - so much so that they closed the Cricle, where we had booked seats, and upgraded everyone to the Stalls.

So we had a first-class view of something that turned out to be really rather good.  The production tried to capture the dissolute world of Sheridan's play through punky scene-shifters, and raucous club music, along with a certain scruffiness amongst the sets and staging.  Which I thought worked quite well.

The cast was strong, including Katherine Parkinson (from The IT Crowd and The Great Outdoors), and we had a great time.

I like the layout of the Barbican theatre a lot anyway (I went there often when the RSC were in residence  in the early '90s), and it also has some of the comfiest seats of any auditorium I know.

So the moral is, you shouldn't trust the critics.

(Not even me...)

Monday, 30 May 2011

Balconies: Le Blockhaus

After we left Le Touquet, we had time to spare.  So we went to visit "Le Blockhaus d'Eperlecques" (that is the French - we would say the Bunker) near St Omer.
This was built in WWII to be a V2 rocket launching installation, with comprehensive rail and road communications.  The site is now an historic monument, with AV presentations and displays.  You walk through a forest, finding out about the history of the site, until you are suddenly faced with the brutal shape and mass of the Bunker itself.
Operation Crossbow targeted the Bunker, and it was never completed.  The wreckage of the raid is still there.
There is a lot of information about the site, and about the awful conditions of the prisoners - the thousands of slave labourers - who were forced to build the Bunker, and the many who died as a result.

To try and put the site into context, they have also brought in other equipment from the Second World War.
I got the impression it was used as a liquid fuel factory after the raid, but because of the attack, the rockets were never actually launched from the site.

If the horrid, brutal military architecture echoes the Ayn Randian skyscrapers I referenced briefly in my original Balconies post, this is far from being the only connection. 

You can wander inside the huge, ruined Bunker (and watch yet another AV presentation);  there are big, damp empty concrete spaces like these:
But just inside the main entrance you come across this:
- which is when it really hit home to me that this horrid, brutal place of suffering and slavery was also part of the story of space travel that I've been looking at so romantically over the last few weeks. 

OK, so this isn't a real rocket, it is a huge (20 foot high?), well-painted, flat panel lit to look like a V2 sitting at the end of the corridor.  But it does its job. 

The classic streamlined rocket shape, with its pointed nose and stabilising fins, is exactly the same as that of Gargarin's launcher, and of all subsequent roamantic rocketeering pictures. 

The story of the building of these weapons - and particularly the V2 - is an inescapable part of the story of the development of space flight.  There is a V2 in the Space gallery of the Science Museum in London, as well as (if I remember correctly?) a diorama showing the earlier research carried out a Peenemunde.  It may even have been made by Mat Irvine, I don't know. 

And that was one of my favourite museum galleries to visit when I was a young teenager in London.  It captures the story of space travel as a historical narrative, leading up to Apollo (or it did then).   Richly engaging, I'd thought - not really thinking about the weaponry. 

Le Blockhaus really brought home the relationship.  The romance of space flight was and remains - at least in part - a product of brutal wartime weapons-making. 

On the way to France, we'd had a Tom Lehrer record on CD in the car, including "Werner von Braun" -

Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience
Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
"Ha, Nazi schmazi," says Wernher von Braun

Don't say that he's hypocritical
Say rather that he's apolitical
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun

Some have harsh words for this man of renown
But some think our attitude should be one of gratitude
Like the widows and cripples in old London town
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun

You too may be a big hero
Once you've learned to count backwards to zero
"In German oder English I know how to count down
Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun

A song I've known and admired for years.   But the Bunker really drove the point home, in a way the satire just couldn't.

And yet, and yet, I can't quite leave it at that. 

Because I still get a kick out of looking up at the night sky, and humbly identifying those tiny, wavering points of light. 

They remain.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Pubs Around Nunhead: 16 - Shaky Restart

So the Rye Hotel has reopened.

The kitchen is apparently being 'sorted out' - so they are doing uncheap food via a series of catering vans. 

They've reorganised the seating so it is less 'comfy' and more pub-like (which isn't that nice).

A few weeks ago I wrote:
One can only hope that the new plans include (i) removal of the large, hideous, over-photoshoped photographic prints that litter the walls, (ii) a brighter paint job than the ubiquitous battleship gray with which the pub is currently blighted, and (iii) fresh, new wallpaper that (at the very least) does not have a predominant colour of mud. Of the wallpaper that the previous owners favoured, one of our offspring has pointed out that it is exactly the wallpaper they use on Dave - only substantially less colourful.
Oh, and proper lighting would be quite nice, as would an attempt to get rid of the annoying small flies that flit around the bar.
So how have they done?

Well the hideous photos have gone, to be replaced with a print of a large, awkward charcoal drawing of a  naked woman posing like Manet's Olympia.  The ugly wallpaper remains, and the paint is untouched.  The lighting is slowly improving - although it is still dingy in places.  And the flies remain.

To be fair, they are talking about sorting it all out, 'but it will take a while'.  Only time will tell...

Poem of the Week

Killer Queen
Freddie Mercury

She keeps Moet et Chandon
In a pretty cabinet
'Let them eat cake' she says
Just like Marie Antoinette
A built-in remedy
For Khrushchev and Kennedy
At anytime an invitation
You can't decline
Caviar and cigarettes
Well versed in etiquette
Extraordinarily nice

She's a Killer Queen
Gunpowder, Gelatine
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind

Recommended at the price
Insatiable an appetite
Wanna try?

To avoid complications
She never kept the same address
In conversation
She spoke just like a baroness
Met a man from China
Went down to Asia Minor
Then again incidentally
If you're that way inclined

Perfume came naturally from Paris
for cars she couldn't care less
Fastidious and precise


Drop of a hat she's as willing as
Playful as a pussy cat
Then momentarily out of action
Temporarily out of gas
To absolutely drive you wild, wild
She's out to get you


Recommended at the price
Insatiable in appetite
Wanna try?
You wanna try.

Birthday Card

I really liked this....

Gil Scott-Heron

So, sadly, Gil Scott-Heron has died at the young age of 62. 

As eldest points out, he was right: The Revolution will not be Televised (well, not immediately), but it will be video'd on mobile phones, emailed, blogged, tweeted and Facebooked....

The take of the Daily Record?
Tributes poured in yesterday for Gil Scott-Heron after the rap pioneer died, aged 62.

The musician and poet whose father was the first black man to play for Celtic died in New York on Friday.

Friday, 27 May 2011


You know, I sometimes hear the criticism that this Blog yokes together widely dissimilar topics with no conceivable connection.  For example, given that it is meant to be about Nunhead, and Trees, why do I keep banging on about Dr Who?


I can see what they mean I suppose.

One response would be to note that our local Nunhead Labour councillor, Fiona Colley, is the  Southwark cabinet member for Regeneration...

I rest my case.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tory Rats

Also of interest this week was this article by Zoe Williams in the Guardian.   She begins:

...they say "the huge burden of debt the last government left us with", and although I smell a rat, I cannot smell how large this rat is
Before, after some work, confirming that:
The totem of the huge New Labour overspending that has brought us all to our knees is fiction...
It's time to start denying this deficit properly
She is right of course.   The rat is huge, it is where the smell is coming from, and it is the usual Tory stench of damaging, ideological, unnecessary cuts - and real harm to all of us.

Go, Go, Moldova!

It has to be said that this was one of the highlights of the last seven days...

Moldova's magisterial entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The UK gave them a joyful ten points (I think we all understand why - I certainly voted for them). Pointy hats, punk ska, a fairy on a unicycle, what's not to like?

The Guardian loved them too. Truly the spirit of Eurovision.

They deserved to win...

In the Garden


Divinity on the East Dulwich Road

When you call in for tonsorial attention at the  barbers on the East Dulwich Rd, she (the assistant) rough-hews your locks, then he shapes the ends.
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will
(Hamlet V ii)


... and although I'm not a fan of the programme, it is quite amusing that the Reverend Richard Coles refers to her as 'Mrs Gaga'.

Iain Banks' Inheritance Tracks

So, Oh Shenandoah is what he'd inherit - romantic song about the Wide Missouri - and he'd pass on Jackson Browne 'For a Dancer'.  A little disappointing, really - he should have gone with the Led Zep he'd thought of first.

Certainly Alexei Sayle was better.  But then he would be. 

I wonder what Iain M. Banks would have chosen?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Question for Wolfram Alpha

Eldest has just shown me this.
Go to Wolfram Alpha (link to the right) and enter:
Surely you can't be serious?
The things they can do with maths nowadays...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Poem of the Week

The Tunning of Elenor Rumming
John Skelton

Tell you I chyll,
If that ye wyll
A whyle be styll,
Of a comely gyll
That dwelt on a hyll:
But she is not gryll,
For she is somwhat sage
And well worne in age;
For her vysage
It would aswage
A mannes courage.

Her lothely lere
Is nothynge clere,
But ugly of chere,
Droupy and drowsy,
Scurvy and lowsy;
Her face all bowsy,
Comely crynkled,
Woundersly wrynkled,
Lyke a rost pygges eare,
Brystled wyth here.

Her lewde lyppes twayne,
They slaver, men sayne,
Lyke a ropy rayne,
A gummy glayre:
She is ugly fayre;
Her nose somdele hoked,
And camously croked,
Never stoppynge,
But ever droppynge;
Her skynne lose and slacke,
Grained lyke a sacke;
With a croked backe.

Her eyen gowndy
Are full unsowndy,
For they are blered;
And she gray hered;
Jawed lyke a jetty;
A man would have pytty
To se how she is gumbed,
Fyngered and thumbed,
Gently joynted,
Gresed and annoynted
Up to the knockles;
The bones of her huckels
Lyke as they were with buckels
Togyther made fast:
Her youth is farre past:
Foted lyke a plane,
Legged lyke a crane;
And yet she wyll jet,
Lyke a jollyvet,
In her furred flocket,
And gray russet rocket,
With symper the cocket.
Her huke of Lyncole grene,
It had ben hers, I wene,
More then fourty yere;
And so doth it apere,
For the grene bare thredes
Loke lyke sere wedes,
Wyddered lyke hay,
The woll worne away;
And yet I dare saye
She thynketh herselfe gaye
Upon the holy daye,
Whan she doth her aray,
And gyrdeth in her gytes
Stytched and pranked with pletes;
Her kyrtel Brystow red,
With clothes upon her hed
That wey a sowe of led,
Wrythen in wonder wyse,
After the Sarasyns gyse
With a whym wham,
Knyt with a trym tram,
Upon her brayne pan,
Lyke an Egyptian,
Capped about:
When she goeth out
Herselfe for to shewe,
She dryveth downe the dewe
Wyth a payre of heles
As brode as two wheles;
She hobles as a gose
With her blanket hose
Over the falowe;
Her shone smered wyth talowe,
Gresed upon dyrt
That baudeth her skyrt.

Primus passus

And this comely dame,
I understande, her name
Is Elynour Rummynge,
At home in her wonnynge;
And as men say
She dwelt in Sothray,
In a certayne stede
Bysyde Lederhede.
She is a tonnysh gyb;
The devyll and she be syb.

But to make up my tale,
She breweth noppy ale,
And maketh therof port sale
To travellars, to tynkers,
To sweters, to swynkers,
And all good ale drynkers,
That wyll nothynge spare,
But drynke tyll they stare
And brynge themselfe bare,
With, "Now away the mare,
And let us sley care,
As wyse as an hare!"

Come who so wyll
To Elynour on the hyll,
Wyth, "Fyll the cup, fyll,"
And syt there by styll,
Erly and late:
Thyther cometh Kate,
Cysly, and Sare,
With theyr legges bare,
And also theyr fete,
Hardely, full unswete;
Wyth theyr heles dagged,
Theyr kyrtelles all to-jagged,
Theyr smockes all to-ragged,
Wyth titters and tatters,
Brynge dysshes and platters,
Wyth all theyr myght runnynge
To Elynour Rummynge,
To have of her tunnynge:
She leneth them on the same.
And thus begynneth the game.

Instede of coyne and monny,
Some brynge her a conny,
And some a pot with honny,
Some a salt, and some a spone,
Some theyr hose, some theyr shone;
Some ran a good trot
With a skellet or a pot;
Some fyll theyr pot full
Of good Lemster woll:
An huswyfe of trust,
Whan she is athrust,
Suche a webbe can spyn,
Her thryft is full thyn.

Some go streyght thyder,
Be it slaty or slyder;
They holde the hye waye,
They care not what men say,
Be that as be maye;
Some, lothe to be espyde,
Start in at the backe syde,
Over the hedge and pale,
And all for the good ale.

Some renne tyll they swete,
Brynge wyth them malte or whete,
And dame Elynour entrete
To byrle them of the best.

Than cometh an other gest;
She swered by the rode of rest,
Her lyppes are so drye,
Without drynke she must dye;
Therefore fyll it by and by,
And have here a pecke of ry.

Anone cometh another,
As drye as the other,
And wyth her doth brynge
Mele, salte, or other thynge,
Her harvest gyrdle, her weddyng rynge,
To pay for her scot
As cometh to her lot.
Som bryngeth her husbandes hood,
Because the ale is good;
Another brought her his cap
To offer to the ale-tap,
Wyth flaxe and wyth towe;
And some brought sowre dowe;
Wyth, "Hey, and wyth, Howe,
Syt we downe a-rowe,
And drynke tyll we blowe,
And pype tyrly tyrlowe!"

Some layde to pledge
Theyr hatchet and theyr wedge,
Theyr hekell and theyr rele,
Theyr rocke, theyr spynnyng whele;
And some went so narrowe,
They layde to pledge theyr wharrowe,
Theyr rybskyn and theyr spyndell,
Theyr nedell and theyr thymbell:
Here was scant thryft
Whan they made suche shyft

Theyr thrust was so great,
They asked never for mete,
But drynke, styll drynke,
"And let the cat wynke,
Let us washe our gommes
From the drye crommes!"

But some than sat ryght sad
That nothynge had
There of theyre awne,
Neyther gelt nor pawne;
Suche were there menny
That had not a penny,
But, whan they should walke,
Were fayne wyth a chalke
To score on the balke,
Or score on the tayle:
God gyve it yll hayle!
For my fyngers ytche;
I have wrytten to mytche
Of this mad mummynge
Of Elynour Rummynge:
Thus endeth the gest
Of this worthy fest!

How Many?

Hmmm...  The Rally Against Debt.

According to Though Cowards Flinch:
The left said they couldn’t organise a piss up in a posh wine bar. They were right. Today’s Rally Against The Cuts gig was a wash out.
300 was the honest estimate, despite Guido Fawkes’ talk of 500.
That isn't many.  It is even less than the police used to say was on the average CND march.

Indeed, I've posted more times than that.  (This is 501)

On Not Doing O Level Astronomy

Of course, for me, sitting out late at night on our balcony, looking at the night sky, what I really wanted was to do "O Level" Astronomy.

I can remember reading books by Patrick Moore and others about how to grind your own mirror and mount it as a reflector (one of the typical ‘O’ Level projects, I think, taking several months). It sounded really interesting (and I’d end up with a better, cooler telescope).

But I got sidetracked by all sorts of stuff – not least the American spaceflights (this was the time of Apollo moon landings, and I've posted in the past about memories of watching Apollo 17 live.  And I also recall going to see the Moon rock on display in South Kensington (in the then Geological Museum, now the Earth Galleries of the Natural History Museum)).

But also, just stuff, books and TV (the Monty Python series were being broadcast for the first time) and stuff.

So I never did grind my mirror or build my own telescope.  And I don’t really regret it – it might have been quite hard to do (especially in our small flat).

And really, I suspect I just liked the romantic pictures…
(These aren't my photos - they were taken by eldest when he did his Astronomy GCSE at the Royal Observatory.  And I was quite right - it was actually a hard exam to do.  So I'm quite happy, now, sitting back and being the passive consumer...).

The Mouse and His Master

I had a few minutes to kill at Waterloo Station last week, so I wandered across to the old Eurostar platforms (now superseded by St Pancras).  There, I came across a large bronze statue of a painter.  You could tell he was a painter, 'cos he had a paintbrush and a palette and a cravat.

So, given where it was, it was pretty obvious - if all was right with the world - who the statue would have to represent.  I was clear about that even before I got close enough to read the inscription.

Terence Tenison Cuneo, OBE, CVO, (1907-1996).  Often known as the Railway Artist, and remembered and best known for his paintings of post-war railways.  However, he also painted other industrial and engineering subjects, and was the official painter for the coronation in 1953. 

Somewhere I have an old Hornby model railway catalogue with one of his paintings reproduced on the cover.  All flaring lights and belching steam, if I remember. And down between the tracks, fleeing from the oncoming train, is a little mouse.

The mouse was Cuneo's trademark from the mid-fifties.  Many of his paintings featured a mouse, either realistic or cartoon.  Often they were quite hard to spot, and finding them can be a little like looking at an early "Where's Wally" cartoon.

So I looked at the statue, hard.  No mouse.  All was no longer right with the world.

I just didn't believe it.

In the end I peered at the statue all over, and eventually walked around the back.  I must have looked quite odd. 

And then, finally, spotted the mouse right at the rear of the plinth, peering out from underneath the artists's discarded book of 'Railway Sketches'.

Which also answers the question I set a few posts back...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage

So we decided on France, as I wrote earlier, rather than be around for the wedding.  After Montreuil, the next day we went to Le Touquet.  It was beautiful, warm and sunny.
And then on to nearby Ste-Cecile-Plage:
Wedding-schmedding.  I don't think we missed much...

Yellow Lorry, Yellow Lorry

Stuck under a bridge outside our offices yesterday...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

I Saw a Mouse, Where?

This tiny little mouse is peeking out from underneath a book somewhere in London.  Where and Why?

Sunday, 8 May 2011


So having got to France we wanted to maximise the time we had away from WillandKateLand.
Montreuil pas-de Calais or Monteuil-ser-Mer is a pretty medieval walled town sitting on a hillside looking down on the river Canche.  It is somewhat inland from the sea, and has 17th century ramparts by Vauban. We wandered around, ate food in a small restaurant while a thunderstorm happened outside, and generally enjoyed ourselves...
Possibly the only drawback was the discovery that a 'Welch' (selected by younger teenager) was not quite cheese-on-toast, but rather a bowl of molten cheddary substance with some bread in it.  Sort of thick cheese soup.  Quite horrid.
On the other hand, the countryside around Saint-Josse, where we were staying, was warm and wonderful.  This site being what it is, here is a local tree.