Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Paris 4: Tour Again

Wrapped around the first level of the Eiffel Tower are the names of 72 scientists, engineers and other notable Frenchmen. 
Several of these names I recognised - Le Chatelier, Gay-Lussac above for example. 

But this can be misleading: the Le Chatelier recognised on the Tower is Louis - it is his son who is the more famous, and  whom Le Chatelier's Principle commemorates.   So the Le Chatelier I thought I recognised was not actually there.

Wikipedia has a good entry on all of these names - all apparently chosen by Eiffel, and all men. 

The names were chosen in the 1880s, of course.  Just before the worlds of chemistry and physics were  overturned by atomic theory, radioactivity, relativity and quantum mechanics.  I couldn't help wondering which famous French men (and women) would have been memorialised if the Tower had been built fifty years later  - or a hundred.  The younger Le Chatelier and Carnot; both Curies, of course.  Who else?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Brazil Together

We all sat down and watched Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" the other night.  I still think this is a bravura, tour-de-force piece of film-making, taking all sorts of risks and mostly getting away with them.  A mordantly dark, comic dystopia.

We noticed in passing that the posters the masters and rulers of the dystopian society in the film (managing lives, loves, and - most emphatically - information) had plastered over the walls of the poor and disenfranchised read:


Does that sound familiar?

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Paris 3: Another Tour

After Les Invalides, we headed off for another Tour.  This one (as seen from the wet and rainy Batobus river cruise a day or so before):
The building is a gorgeous latticework of metal, even when just seen from the ground:
We'd booked ahead (for the others, not me - I don't do high things) - so all queues were avoided.  As I didn't ascend, the next few photos are by younger son.  (And there are others scattered through the other Paris posts...)

Missing chunks

The Tim Minchin Comedy Prom was broadcast on BBC2 last night.

Seeing it, rather than just hearing it on the radio, it came across as better and more coordinated.

But.   And but again.  The Beeb in its infinite wisdom decided they could cut it.  Gone was the Kit and the Widow satire on Sondheim (which I'd thought was one of the strongest pieces in the original).  But they'd kept in the Lloyd-Webber piece, which was aimed at a much easier target.

And they cut down Beardyman's set in the same way, removing most of his piece on Pachelbel's Canon - which was also pretty good.  

I'd like to claim they took out the less-populist stuff, but that isn't quite right as they also took out the Kit and the Widow singalong to Nessun Dorma ('Chicken Korma').

However, can you imagine them cutting any other (ie, serious) Prom the same way?  "No, I don't like that bit of the Brahms, so let's leave it out."

My real complaint, I suspect, is the attitude this editing shows to comedy, and the often-disregarded comedy in music at that.  

Just as the recent Guardian Guide to the Opera missed out anything which might be called light or comic opera (and heaven forfend we should mention G&S), so I would suggest this editing out of part of the Comedy Prom also demonstrates the aloofness and high-handedness that can still be seen in some British "High Cultural Circles."  Art has to be serious or its nothing; comedy is easy so we can dismiss it.

Anyway, it was quite annoying.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Poem of the Week

I Don't Want to be Nice
John Cooper Clarke

Here he comes now...

The fast fingers, the expert eyes
And the same old 'how'd you do'
Disgust is just his dumb disguise
He wants a word with you

His problems are the end
His mouth needs exercise
The last thing I need is another friend
I don't want to be nice

I don't want to be nice
I think it's clever to swear
Better seek some sound advice
Better look elsewhere

Your face is an obvious case
You shouldn't put it about
This is neither the time nor place
To sort these matters out

What you see is what you get
You only live twice
A friend in need is a friend in debt
I don't want to be nice

No we never met before
I'm very happy to say
Far from perfect strangers
I'd like to keep it that way

I'm not your psychoanalyst
I'd rather talk to mice
You're so easy to resist
I don't want to be nice

I don't want to be nice
I think it's clever to swear
Better seek some sound advice
Better look elsewhere

Your face is an obvious case
You shouldn't put it about
This is neither the time nor place
To sort these matters out

What you see is what you get
You only live twice
A friend in need is a friend in debt
I don't want to be nice

Friday, 26 August 2011


Well, last week was fun.  'A' Level results are incredibly stressful, already.  But UCAS don't help at all.

It appears they opened the results Web sit early (at sevenish rather than eight in the morning) for a 'soft launch'.  In other words, anyone who connected in at that time could find out there results early, and possibly hae a head start with Clearing if they hadn't achieved what they had hoped for.  Not a good idea, perhaps.

But then it got worse: the fact that the site was open early was Tweeted and Facebooked and otherwise socially networked around the Web.  So by eight o'clock (the original published opening time) it was swamped, with no chance of anyone connecting.  So they had to take the site down.

This is not the first time it has happened of course.  But with the demand for  courses (as students try to avoid the iniquitous £9000 fees), clearing has become much more competitive, with the remaining places going much faster, it appears.  So for the students involved a much worse experience.

There are well-established technologies to prevent such problems happening, but it appears UCAS don't use them.

However, what I don't understand is why clearing has to open on results day.  Why not set up a couple of days as a gap, so that everyone can see their results, and get their head straight about what they want to do, and research alternatives, before clearing opens up? 

That way, UCAS would have to cope with a much smaller number of eager users (albeit still large-ish), with a much clearer focus.  Further, if the site went down for a while on Results day, no-one would really be disadvantaged,

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Paris 3: Tour, Invalides

 24th July 2011.  The Final day of the Tour de France; Mark Cavendish wins the Green Jersey. It was teriffically crowded on the Champs Elysees, even relatively early in the morning.
The very centre of Paris was closed to traffic, and all the attractions we'd been interested in (eg an exhibition in the Grand Palais) were closed. 

So we left and wandered over to Les Invalides. We sat for a while outside, by the highly ornate Pont Alexandre III before we went in.
The Les Invalides complex includes the Tomb of Napoleon as well as several museums and collections.  We went for the collection of arms and armoury.
 Including this marvellous dragon-crested Chimera Helmet

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Still Missing

The Guardian published a fairly harsh review of the Tim Minchin Comedy prom.  It reads, to me, like the reviewer was out to get him and settle old scores.  To the extent that he doesn't even mention Concerto Populare, despite the fact that it comprised a major part of the second half. 

It feels like all memories of Hoffnung are rapidly disappearing...


A smashing fig tree in the entrance to the Harris Girls Academy on Homestall Road.

Aquarius Festival

The Aquarius golf course is a small nine-hole course above the covered Aquarius reservoir in Nunhead.  We used to own a flat looking over it, but we'd never been inside the grounds. 
So we went along to the Festival & Fun Day" yesterday when it stopped raining.

This was the panoramic view from the clubhouse terrace (which makes it sound posher than it is).
And the odd close-up
The crowds weren't huge, probably because of the rain earlier in the day.  But we hung around for Steve Bolton's excellent rock and roll guitar stylings.
He really is very good, and his CV  includes playing with The Who and many other old rock greats. I once sat listening to him play in Page 2 when Jude Law came in (special, like) and proceeded to buy drinks for, and dance with, everyone in the pub.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Paris 2: Louvre, d'Orsay, Pantheon

After Notre Dame, we had a tour up and down the Seine followed by supper in the Latin Quarter.  The next day we were up early (on advice) and headed for the Louvre.
The reason for going early was to avoid the crowds heading for the Mona Lisa.
So that worked well.
 In fact, the galleries were crowded all around the painting.
So we headed for a quieter, less famous Leonardo:
We had intended merely a quick whistlestop, 'smash and grab' raid on the Louvre, just a quick look at one or two famous old masters and out.  Instead we got seduced, and wandered around quite a number of galleries looking at stuff.  And such stuff!

But the other star of course, is the Louvre itself - particularly the new, underground spaces beneath the Pyramid - the connecting areas which pull it all together.  Absolutely marvellous.

After the Louvre we wandered through the Jardin des Tuileries...
...and then over the new footbridge (at least I don't recall it from last time) to my favourite art gallery - the Musée d'Orsay.  And I do mean the gallery of all those that I've been to that I love the most of all, anywhere.

It isn't just that it is housed in a refurbished and repurposed railway station (so much more romantic than Tate Modern's power station), nor the sumptuousness of the original building.  It is mostlly the art.  All those impressionists and post-impressionists.  Favourite Monets, Manets, Cezannes and Van Goghs.  Whistlers Mother (that isn't its real title).  Delacroix, Daumier, Rousseau, Millet (a new fave), Courbet, Renoir, more Monet, Pissarro, Caillebotte, Sisley, Degas, Berthe Morisot, Redon.  And Seurat, Signac, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Bonnard, Vuillard, Klimt and Munch.  Aaaah.

However, the gallery was going through a major refurbishment and rehang when we were there (just finished  now, according to the Web site), so all of the most famous works - and very many of those I most wanted to see - were on temporary display.  ALL IN THE SAME CORRIDOR.  We had thought the Louvre was crowded, but that was nothing to the number of people in that corridor.

But I ignored them all and enjoyed myself hugely in my favourite arty space.  (Hence no photos).
The Panthéon was new to me: 
According to Wikipedia:
"It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve and to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics but, after many changes, now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens."
Which is fair enough, but doesn't really convey the overwhelming French Nationalism that pervades the state.  This is a cathedral to secular male Frenchness.  The state and its instruments.
The building is huge, and awesome in its own right.  The statues and other memorials scattered around it are large in themselves but can seem overwhelmed by the place.  We wandered and pondered.
 Diderot, famous for the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.
Apparently one of Foucault's first pendulums was originally set a-swinging in the Pantheon, although this is a replica.  The original bob he used then is at the the Musée des Arts et Métiers - as any reader of the Eco novel will (of course!) recall.
The latin apparently translates to "Christ tells the Gallic angel to guard the fate of the fatherland" - very much in keeping with the nationalistic and patriotic tone of the place.
 Georges Guynememer I believe, a WWI flying ace.
 Statue to the glory of "La Convention Nationale".
The author of The Little Prince.

And I've missed out all the others, like Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Carnot, Emile Zola, the Curies and Dumas pere.  Many of whom are buried in the crypt underneath.

So anyway, after that we wandered down to the Latin Quarter and had a cheap supper in a kebab shop... Very French!