Monday, 31 October 2011

Tail-Eating Brendan

Today's Crossword was a nice Brendan about crosswords, clues and setters.  With himself as one of the answers.  Quite fun, and not that easy, surprisingly.

I loved the anagram of Enigmatist (Estimating).

Poem of the Day

Share and Enjoy
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Share and Enjoy
Share and Enjoy
Journey through life
With a plastic boy
Or Girl by your side
Let your pal be your guide
And when it breaks down
Or starts to annoy
Or grinds when it moves
And gives you no joy
Cos it's eaten your hat
Or had sex with your cat
Bled oil on your floor
Or ripped off your door
You get to the point
You can't stand any more
Bring it to us, we won't give a fig
We'll tell you, 'Go stick your head in a pig'.

Sirius Cybernetic Hallowe'en Treat

As it is Hallowe'en, and as the Brits around here all seem to have learned the US rite of "Trick or Treat", we bought some packets of sweets to hand out to young callers.

On turning to the back of an M&M's pack (another American import), I found the large message: SHARE AND ENJOY.

Don't you think someone should tell them?

Versatile Hugh

Well, after seeing Peter's Friends it was clear that Hugh Laurie could turn in a performance which was more than just upper-class twit Bertie Wooster - or Blackadder's dumb friend - so I wasn't truthfully that surprised to see him make such a success of House.

What has just surprised me is how good his Blues album, Let Them Talk, has turned out. 


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hardly Anonymous

The new film Anonymous is annoying.  Not because it is good or bad - I am sure it is well made -  but because it promotes a stupid thesis.  ie that someone else wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.


No. They. Didn't. 

The contemporary secondary evidence, primary textual evidence, and the character and consistency of the texts all say this is a stupid idea.  

It is only promoted by people who don't believe lower class people can't be creative or clever.

Misery Bear

It is probably worth noting that Misery Bear, who has been mentioned here before, not least because of a connection to Nunhead, now has his own Website.

Poem of the Week

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Berlin 5: And Elsewhere

While we were in Berlin the riots were occurring in England.  My sister called to ask whether we were we OK (because Peckham was in flames) - which was the first we had heard of the rioting in S London.  Then we used the telly and Internet to see the videos of burning shops on Rye Lane. 

It was worrying to say the least, but there was little we could do apart from reassure the family that Berlin was not in flames, and so we seemed to be OK.

Then we went off to Hannover (friends) - where we had a nice noodle-y meal outdoors (street food I think) and Hamburg, where we went to see the BIGGEST MODEL RAILWAY IN THE WORLD.

 Set in a warehouse, in the somewhat gentrified docks area, this covers two whole floors, and is whopping.  Many countries are represented (not the UK, but many others), and there is a working airport.  Highly recommended.

Dulwich Hill

The above is from the Cary Map of London from 1786.  Click on sheet 35 from the main map. 

As you can see above, this map, published around 30 years after  Blake was born.  As I wrote a few weeks back:

As far as I know the story of Blake seeing the Angels comes only from the Gilchrist biography, written many years after Blake's death, which although excellent in its way does not, I think, have corroboration for this story from the Blake papers.

The location of the sighting (if there was one) is given as Peckham Rye (Dulwich Hill) which some have put closer to Warwick Gardens and not on the present-day Rye itself. So this recognition of an event which we aren't sure happened was probably in the wrong place.
The map, assuming it is reasonably accurate and shows the position roughly as it was in the 1760s, suggests instead that most of Dulwich Hill was further West than that, roughly the locaion of Champion Hill today.  And note the Fox Under the Hill in Cary, which seems to be in the same spot as today's Fox on the Hill.

However, Gilchrist actually writes "on Peckham Rye (by Dulwich Hill)." And if we look at the next sheet of the map, we can see what he might mean:
 The words "Peckham Rye" appear alongside the current day Rye Lane (as I estimate it), just to the east of Dulwich Hill.  Although it does give the sense that it is labelling the green area to the right of the words on the map.  So somewhere around Warwick Gardens, or the Bellenden Rd estate generally, may indeed be correct, or it could be that the "bespangling" was a little further east.

And I still wonder - did Gilchrist actually know the area or was he working from a map like Cary? 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Pubs Around Nunhead: 17 - Closure?

So. It appears the Rye Hotel is about to shut - imminently - for "Refurbishment".  Since it is currently quite horrid, we can only hope...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Poem of the Week

The Prayse Of The Needle
John Taylor, the Water-Poet

To all dispersed sorts of arts and trades
I write the needles prayse (that never fades).
So long as children shall be got or borne,
So long as garments shall be made or worne,
So long as hemp or flax, or sheep shall bear
Their linen woolen fleeces yeare by yeare,
So long as silk-wormes, with exhausted spoile,
Of their own entrails for man's gaine shall toyle,
Yea till the world be quite dissolv'd and past,
So long at least, the needles' use shall last

Walter and Water

With a couple of hours free to meander in London last week, I popped in to the Courtauld Gallery.  I haven't been there much, but it has several paintings I really like, and it is small and easy to get around when you don't have much time.  (For those who don't know, it is on the Strand, at the entrance to Somerset House).

A new painting was on show, by Walter Dobson.  The Courtauld Web site has more about this, which is part of a series of displays and films instigated by Waldemar Januszczak, as part of the anniversary of his birth 400 years ago.

This is part of what the Courtauld Web site says:
The Courtauld possesses one of Dobson’s most accomplished and intriguing pictures, Portrait of an Old and a Younger Man. The two richly dressed gentlemen have generally been recognised as a father and son lost in private grief, perhaps at the death of a wife or mother. However, recent research by Januszczak has identified them as two poets exiled in Oxford with Charles I during the English Civil War.  The older man is John Taylor (1578-1653), a notorious London figure, nicknamed the Water-Poet.  Before developing his literary ambitions, Taylor began his career ferrying people across the Thames at Southwark, and during the English Civil War, as an ardent Royalist he joined the King in Oxford where he was made the official Water Bailiff. The younger man is Sir John Denham (1614/5-1669), a more typical gentleman poet of the times, and author of the first great topographic poem in the English language, Cooper’s Hill.  Centred on a description of the Thames, Cooper’s Hill is actually a poetic rumination upon British history from a Royalist perspective.  Having been governor of Farnham Castle, Denham also joined the King in Oxford in 1643
 And there is a dedicated Web Site set up for the anniversary.

So anyway, here we are again with John Taylor, who I bumped into on a previous occasion when I had a meander around London and ended up in the pub named after him.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Five Hundred

Hmm. I've just read Five Hundred pages of Neal Stephenson's new novel REAMDE.  It is entertaining, for a techno-encryption-MMORG-thriller-thing..

The problem is that I'm not even half way through it yet.  There is an awful lot more to come...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Poem of the Week

The Big Bang Theory Theme Song
Bare Naked Ladies

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait...
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

"Since the dawn of man" is really not that long,
As every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song.
A fraction of a second and the elements were made.
The bipeds stood up straight,
The dinosaurs all met their fate,
They tried to leap but they were late
And they all died (they froze their asses off)
The oceans and pangea
See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya
Set in motion by the same big bang!

It all started with the big BANG!

It's expanding ever outward but one day
It will cause the stars to go the other way,
Collapsing ever inward, we won't be here, it wont be hurt
Our best and brightest figure that it'll make an even bigger bang!

Australopithecus would really have been sick of us
Debating out while here they're catching deer (we're catching viruses)
Religion or astronomy, Encarta, Deuteronomy
It all started with the big bang!

Music and mythology, Einstein and astrology
It all started with the big bang!
It all started with the big BANG!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Rough Cut

Hamlet said "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will"

And Sir Peter Hall once, famously met a couple of labourers hedging (cutting heges) in the countryside.  Upon enquiring how they worked he was told "I rough hew them and he shapes the ends".

It appears that Ken's barbers in the East Dulwich Rd now works the same Shakesperian way. 

A couple now work in the shop; she first conducts a slash and burn attack on your unruly mop

Then she hands over to the chap, who tides it up and makes it neat and sharp.  Shaping the ends.  He also does eyebrows.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Viral Corbett

I never imagined I'd write this sentence. 

It appears Ronnie Corbett has gone viral.

On the back of the  recent RIM problems: the  BBC You Tube snippet I posted a short while ago has now been sent to me multiple times, and work colleagues report innundation. 


Goodby Mr Fox

So Fox has gone.
Good riddance.
My worry is that this means the investigation will never report.

We still need, as citizens, to know what was going on and what damage was done.

Blackberry Problems

RIM have been having problems with their data centres in Slough, causing lots of customers to be upset.  Martin has reminded me of this sketch:

Written in the idiom of the much-missed Ronnie Barker, with Harry Enfield doing a great job as the Barkerish shopkeeper.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Linking two strands here at The Trees, today's Guardian Cryptic had Ealing Comedies as its theme, including Kind Hearts...

A nice puzzle - some tricky clues, took about the 90 mins...

Foxy Friends

So. Dr Fox tells us that he had a friend staying when his flat was broken into last year, who wasn't the Dickensian Adam Werrity.

That can't be right surely? A member of this Government with two friends?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Johnny Reborn

There have been a lot of rather snippy reviews about Johnny English: Reborn in the press and other media - the Guardian, some free press  and the BBC come to mind - suggesting it was second-rate, packaged Rowan Atkinson, marketed at the French. 

Nevertheless we went along to watch it in the Peckham Multiplex. 

... And found ourselves in a room full of very happy English people (in all senses), laughing out loud.  Not just for kids, theere was a huge amount of genuine, cheerful, adult laughter. 

In fact I'd be tempted to say there was more relaxed, happy, out-loud laughter for a new film than I've heard in the last 10 years or so.

The structure and tone moves on from the first film, and there is less pure slapstick and pathos; it's more subtle and complex, while keeping lots of jokes in.  And they are very funny.

These critics really need to sort themselves out. 

Are we yet again seeing the endemic English habit of critically undervaluing the comic?

A New Office

On the Today programme this morning I'm sure I heard them call it the Office of Bodge-It Responsibility.

A Freudian Slip....??

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Poem of the Week

After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics
W. H. Auden

If all a top physicist knows
About the Truth be true,
Then, for all the so-and-so's,
Futility and grime,
Our common world contains,
We have a better time
Than the Greater Nebulae do,
Or the atoms in our brains.

Marriage is rarely bliss
But, surely it would be worse
As particles to pelt
At thousands of miles per sec
About a universe
Wherein a lover's kiss
Would either not be felt
Or break the loved one's neck.

Though the face at which I stare
While shaving it be cruel
For, year after year, it repels
An ageing suitor, it has,
Thank God, sufficient mass
To be altogether there,
Not an indeterminate gruel
Which is partly somewhere else.

Our eyes prefer to suppose
That a habitable place
Has a geocentric view,
That architects enclose
A quiet Euclidian space:
Exploded myths - but who
Could feel at home astraddle
An ever expanding saddle?

This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.

It has chosen once, it seems,
And whether our concern
For magnitude's extremes
Really become a creature
Who comes in a median size,
Or politicizing Nature
Be altogether wise,
Is something we shall learn.

Berlin 4: Zoo

Berlin Zoo is wonderful, and huge.  We spent the whole day there. 

When the second World War ended, there were only around 90 animals left in the Zoo, but today there are thousands - all-in-all I took 188 pictures (or thereabouts), so these are just a smattering.
For me the obvious stars were the hippos, not least because you could see them swimming close by through the murky, green glass side of their pool, and the the floppy-eared aardvark that lived in the twilight, nocturnal animal area (hence no photo).  Just like Cerebus, only not so niggled.

Fewer Shiny Things

It is very sad that Steve Jobs has died so young - just as it would be for anyone to die at the age of 56 while still very much engaged with life and creativity. 

But the outpourings of various commentators on this 'Creative Genius' seem to me just so much guff.  For example I read somewhere that "It’s not overstating the case to say that Jobs was one of a handful of people who created the world we know today" - Um, well, yes it is overstating the case, and massively so.  I would suggest that the list of mind-boggling, major things created in the last, say, 50 years that changed the World, and with which Mr Jobs had no involvement, is vast indeed.

The Guardian columnists and commentators were particularly prone to this kind of praise during the week - although I was pleased to see a strong reader reaction against all of the eulogies in the letters page.

I should be clear.  I've never owned an i-Mac, i-Pod, i-Phone nor i-Pad.  Nor, come to that, a Sony Walkman.  I once got given an MP3 player but never used it and I don't have (nor want) a Kindle.  My mobile phone is basic and I've had it for five years, refusing 'free' handset upgrades because of the impact on landfill.

Jobs and his company produced computers and gadgets - often underpowered, and frequently (not always) less function-rich than their predecessors.  Just like Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita much earlier, he and his team did sometimes create - or more precisely grow - markets which hadn't really existed in the sme way before.  And unlike them he locked people into proprietary models and technologies (i-Tunes, AppStore, all the upgrades) to add to company revenues.  He did use good designers (often British), and got developers focussed on useability - but that all came at a price.  He made shiny things.

Yet somehow that isn't enough, and to my mind it actually isn't very much at all.  Not enough to justify all the tributes from the MacHeads and i-Heads.  It has been said that because these are the only computers that arts graduates can understand, these are the only ones they will praise - but I don't think that is quite the case.  What does seem true is that they get hooked evangelically into a pro-Apple mindset and can't see the downsides.  Systems that limit developers and make innovation harder if it isn't generating Apple revenues.  A company that is far from green and sustainable.  A nasty, capitalist sales and marketing drive that makes lots of people want to buy stuff they really, really don't need (although to be fair that was hardly Steve Jobs or Apple's invention...)

I would argue that, however good he was at his job, he still didn't touch most people the way that a great musician or writer can.  Or even a raucous belly-laugh at a Saturday night comedy show on the telly.  But then I never really used his gadgets, so maybe I don't know.

He made shiny things I didn't want.

A Poorly-Made Case

So.  I've just been reading The Case for Working With Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad For Us and Fixing Things Feels Good by Matthew Crawford.  

He argues in favour of craft activities, of building and repairing material items, and compares this favourably with mind-numbing office work.  He mourns the diappearance of US 'shop' classes (where light engineering and automotive mechanics were taught, as far as I can work out - the classes that the Fonz and Danny Zucko took). 

Part of his argument is that, far from being a dumb, repetitive, uncreative activity. much of such work is highly intellectual and requires imaginative engagement with the immediate problem.  He argues for the promulgation of tacit knowledge - handed down and shared by experts - rather than book-learned understanding.

Most of his examples come from his own experiences of repairing specialist, classic and high-performance motorbikes.  Previously, he was a philosophy PhD, and he has the theoretical underpinnings to support his arguments.   

Now, I expected to like this book when I bought it - it contains a strong criticism of the office world, and of large corporates (and help desks, of vanilla standard solutions to standard problems which result in no capacity to deal with the unusual or the difficult, and so on and so forth).  He speaks eloquently of the challenges inherent in repairing old machines - recycling, if you will.

And yet, ironically, his argument is broken in a many places, and needs substantial repair itself. 

He argues from far, far too small a set of examples - all related to the highly-specialist repair jobs he is involved with - but which aren't necessarily typical of how much of engineering works.  And he links this work to the thrills of those who ride the machines 'at their limits',  in a petrolhead frenzy of speed and risk.  These challenges seem at one point to be just as necessary to his argument as the pleasues of the repair work itself - because only the high-performance riders can understand what he does and how knowledgeable he is at it.  

While mounting a fairly standard attack on Taylorism, he misunderstands much about the world of office work - eg in consigning all of IT to the rubbish pile as mind-numbing slavery, he misunderstands the pleasures of coding, software fixing (repairing again), information analysis (for some) and so forth.  He's never done it himself, hasn't checked it with others, and gets it horribly wrong.  Not all of IT is wordprocessing or email.  Basically, he confuses consumers and creators of digital technology - and it harms his argument greatly.   

If his overall arguments are weakened like this, he is also limited in the details of his piece.  He misunderstand's Godel's Incompleteness Theorem - in a manner typical of a philosopher or cultural studies specialist, who argues from analogy but fails to even attempt to grasp the nuts-and-bolts of the maths.  He seems to want the language of the machine shop to filter into his narrative, luching into unnecessary crude sexism on occassions.

These are just a few examples.  Overall, his argument starts, but doesn't really get going and is severely underpowered.  It needs to be stripped down and rebuilt from the beginning - with some of the older, shoddier lazy parts replaced altogether.  Which is a great pity - I believe there is a really good to be written on this subject, which makes a case somewhat like Matthew Crawford's.

But this isn't it.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A Nice Flann

Just to note what I found to be an entertaining crossword, with a full Flann O'brien theme, from Puck on Wednesday.  Even if it did cause a little mild controversy among those nice people at Fifteensquared.

Berlin 3: Out and About

Having finally got ourselves to Berlin and - on my part - survived the vertigo, we found our hotel (a hostel just north of Alexanderplatz, vaguely bohemian, near fun restaurants & cafes).Next day we went out and about...
This is a slightly unusual shot of Freidrichstrasse station, which acted as a border between East and West Berlin during the cold war.   I was amazed to discover (at the DDR museum) how the Berlin Wall affected  the undergound lines (S-Bahn etc).  Of course, the wall wasn't a straight line division of the city, and the trains crossed the broders and travelled under both parts of Berlin.  In the East, those stations on lines which lead to or from the West (or both) were closed.  Under Friedrichstrasse, two lines from the West met, I gather and it could be used as an interchange by West Berliners while remaining wholly under the East.  The DDR authorities set up a border control in the station and it became one of the few places where people could travel between the regimes.  

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Poem of the Week

Madness (Michael Barson, Lee Jay Thompson)

Received a letter just the other day
Don't seem they wanna know you no more
They've laid it down given you their score
Within the first two lines it bluntly read

You're not to come and see us no more
Keep away from our door
Don't come 'round here no more
What on earth did you do that for?

Our aunt, she don't wanna know she says
"What will the neighbors think, they'll think
We don't, that's what they'll think, we don't"
But I will, 'cause I know they think I don't

Our uncle he don't wanna know he says
"We are a disgrace to the human race", he says
"How can you show your face
When you're a disgrace to the human race?"

No commitment, you're an embarrassment
Yes, an embarrassment, a living endorsement
The intention that you have booked
Was an intention that was overlooked

They say, "Stay away
Don't want you home today
Keep away from our door
Don't come 'round here no more"

Our dad, don't wanna know he says
"This is a serious matter
Too late to reconsider
No one's gonna wanna know ya"

Our mum, she don't wanna know, she says
"I'm feelin' twice as old", she says
"Thought she had a head on her shoulder
'Cause I'm feelin' twice as older
I'm feelin' twice as older"

You're an embarrassment

Monday, 3 October 2011

High Anxiety

But on the subject of vertigo, I have to admit that I last felt pit-of-the stomach, height-induced fear and awfulness while sitting on the grass in Peckham Rye near the cafe. 

This was in early August, and we were sprawled out late one evening watching the pop-up cinema, which was showing Safety Last!   It's the one they always cite when discussing Harold Lloyd - the one with the clock and the high building.

I had been told that many of the stunts were done for real - but even if I had thought at the time that they were faked, I think it would still have left me wrung out.  Funny yes, but rather nerve jangling (can I say that?) also.

On why Dr Who can do Hauptbahnhof better than Berlin...

And yet, and yet, despite my last post, one of the joys of the last Dr Who was the steampunky beginning, which included an anachronistic London with the Flying Scotsman, on elevated railway, entering the side of the Gherkin.  It reminded me enormously of Berlin Hauptbahnhof, but it was jazzy and fun instead of overwhelming.  (Of course I would have hated it if I actually had to go on that railway).  Churchill as Caesar  living in Buckingham Palace, and that was just the first five minutes.

And the tying-up of the complexities and loose ends of the last series was both sufficiently straightforward and yet still quite subtle.  A spottable solution, but still nice and quirky.  And a little less frenetic in feel than some of the other highly-plotted episodes have felt. 

And included amongst all of the running around was a gentle eulogy for Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and who sadly died recently.  

Well done.  A good effort all around.

Berlin 2: Hauptbahnhof

If I enjoyed the swish DB railways, I really disliked the vertiginous feelings around Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the big new city station:
A massive, modernist glass and steel building, it does, I know, look fantastic.  But I am not a heights person, and it has just too many levels for all the trains that come and go.  It just left me feeling a bit wobbly...

Shed near Derby

Anyway, as we drove down the M1 from the far North, just by Derby, up front we could see the bright sunny blue skies of the South.  And behind?  A gray wall of dark heavy cloud.  Sad.

Who's that?

Finally got to watch the last Dr Who of the series (the Wedding of River Song) - we had to i-Play it because we were away at the weekend.  Up North in the rain, away from the sunny South.

It was great!  If you haven't seen it watch it now before it fades away from the BBC Web site into the Silence....