Wednesday, 29 September 2010

An: A-Z of my CDs: C

In my comments thread for my entry for "B" last week, there was a teaser that I'd be playing to type for "C"... so what did you guess?

The following were suggested amongst the comments: The Carpenters, Chicago and Chas 'n' Dave to start with... The only one of those I may have had would have been Chicago but that would, if I had it, be filed separately with Soundtracks and Original Cast Recordings.

The next suggestions were Cher and a certain Ms Madonna Ciccone. I own nothing by either of these artists (Oh, OK, I did have Madonna's American Pie but it is now in a pile for the charity shop - and I do quite like "I Got You, Babe").

So, what have I gone for... well, I've gone for the Scottish Band, Capercaillie.That was what I meant by playing to type and you will find, dear reader, that Scottish bands will feature quite heavily in the weeks to come.

I've actually chosen two tracks which are featured on their 1992 album of live and remixed tracks, "Get Out" (a later, 1999, edition of the album is now available with additional tracks).

First is "Coisich a' Ruin" which is a traditional "Waulking" song. Waulking is the process of softening woven cloth or tweed by beating it against a table. These songs are rhythmic and repetitive as befits such use. Coisich a Ruin paints a lyrical picture of the object of a woman's affections and the sternness and fortitude of local boatmen. Lyrics and translation can be found here.

The next song also deals with Boatmen or, more specifically, a boatman. It's a beautiful and haunting love song, sung by a woman missing her beloved while he is at sea. Lyrics are here.

I hope you enjoyed this entry, what are you expecting for "D"?


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Storm is finally over...

As I've mentioned before, my reading patterns of late have been severely disrupted. Last night, however, I finally managed to finish Vince Cable's The Storm.

Unfortunately, given the length of time and sporadic nature of my approach to the book, I severely doubt that I have gained as much out of it as I should have. I also think that to attempt a full review would do an injustice to the book itself.

I will, therefore, restrict myself to a few comments and urge you to read it for yourself.

Published in early 2009, this is an immediate history of and response to the credit crunch. Surprisingly readable (with, perhaps, the exception of the prologue, it focuses initially on the UK and Northern Rock before looking at the international aspects of the financial crisis, including the impact and importance of the developing economies of, principally, China and India. Further chapters develop arguments for potential solutions, with reference to historical events and economic theories on both the Monetarist and Keynesian sides of the debate.

Cable has written numerous economic texts and had firmly established himself as a politician with a rare insight into such matters. As Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesman he had the mastery of his brief - and his political opponents. Now as Business Secretary, he has the task of putting into practice some of the theory he has espoused over the years, albeit in unenviable conditions.

Although the world has moved on in the 18 months or so since The Storm was published, it is still a worthwhile read which I thoroughly recommend. All the more so as it's going to be a while before Cable is in a position to write another one!

Next up is a much lighter affair - Ben Elton's Past Mortem. Following Blast from the Past, however, I do not hold out much hope for this but I shall give it a fair chance.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Blogs I Like (Part 2) - A Lib Dem Special

It's been a while since I shared some blog links with you, so here are some more. As mentioned here, my interest in politics has been reawakened in recent months and one of the results of this has been that I have been reading widely in the LibDem Blogosphere. This entry is dedicated to some of my favourites:

Stephen's Liberal Journal is the blog of Stephen Glenn - a former Lib Dem activist and candidate in West Lothian who has recently returned to Northern Ireland. His posts cover a range of topics from policy matters to personal news, LGBT issues and the challenges of being a Liberal Democrat in Northern Ireland (party form filling being the main one, it seems!) 

Liberal England is a mix of serious political comment, witty one liners and the ramblings of "Lord Bonkers". Also in the mix is a healthy dose of architectural appreciation. Recent postings have been from New York where Jonathan Calder, the author, has been for the UN review of Millennium Development Goals.
My final main selection of this post is A Lanson Boy written by Launceston councillor Alex Folkes. It's a mixture of local issues, reports on council activities and meetings and incisive national political comment on issues across the political spectrum.

Of course there are plenty others, including honourable mentions for Liberal Bureaucracy and Jennie Rigg, whose blogs I also enjoy. 

Whatever your political persuasion, have a browse of the various links - they're definitely worth a look!


Sunday, 26 September 2010

This is An Apology...

...for a couple of barely composed, let alone completed posts in the past couple of days.

I shall complete these and re-post in due course.


Friday, 24 September 2010

Beavis and Mili-Butthead

Have just come across this, courtesy of BBC Comedy:

Hope you enjoyed!


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: B

B is not, I'm afraid, for Blondie, as Made in Scotland suggested it should be on my entry for "A". Instead, I have chosen The Beautiful South, who I used to be a big fan of.

I have all their studio albums from "Welcome to..." through to 2000's Painting It Red (with the sole exception of Choke which I used to have on cassette), although since then my interest in them has diminished and, recently, they announced they had split. 

While their music may not have set pulses racing, I think they were under-rated as a band. Lyrically, their songs are beautifully crafted and well suited to Paul Heaton's singing voice. The early stuff is quite stark and made great use of Briana Corrigan's vocals. Subsequently she left and Jacqueline Abbot provided vocals on some of their biggest hits (Rotterdam, Don't Marry Her and Perfect 10). Interestingly, Quench - the album from which Perfect 10 is taken - featured a credit for Norman Cook as "Rhythm Consultant".

I've chosen to feature "I'll Sail This Ship Alone" from the first album. It only reached 31 in the charts and was the least successful of the three singles (the other two were Top 10, prior to the release of the album). Even at the time, however, it was my favourite.

Who would you have chosen from your collection? And who would you choose for "C"? Let me know below!


Monday, 20 September 2010

Great Buildings 3 - Skara Brae

The subject of this entry in my "Great Buildings" blogstrand is actually a series of buildings and is, arguably, of more interest from an Archaeological point of view than as Architecture: Skara Brae, the neolithic village in Orkney.

Skara Brae dates to c. 3,000BC but was buried under sand dunes until a storm uncovered it in 1850. Since then, work has been done to preserve it and it has become one of Orkney's many tourist attractions along with many others such as the nearby Ring of Brodgar and Maes Howe.

The individual houses are formed from low stones walls and the roofs would have been made from turf (the final picture below is of a modern reconstruction of a typical dwelling). The interiors of the dwellings are centred round a hearth with stone beds and shelving units for storage of (presumably) equipment and provisions against the walls. Outside the walls, the houses were surrounded by a midden (or rubbish tip) which would have provided defence and insulation. They are linked with stone passageways and there is a communal building which may have been a workshop of some kind.

Much of architecture is about how people use buildings and how those buildings interact, particularly in the development of communities. The inhabitants of Skara Brae did not have had Architects and Town Planners, their building design was driven by practicalities and limited by the materials available and technical abilities, but altogether it is fantastically preserved evidence of how our predecessors lived and formed their own community.

While I wouldn't advocate that buildings in the 21st century should be purely utilitarian, at times one feels that there are lessons to be re-learned about making buildings fit for purpose as well as atheistically pleasing or architecturally adventurous!   

Of course, pictures and descriptions can only portray a fraction of how fascinating Skara Brae is but unless you have or until you do see it in real life, here are some pictures:

Skara Brae from above - Note the level of the modern walkways compared with the dwellings

Map of the site


Detail of the walls and walkways

Reconstructed Hut

Much more can be found here. For previous posts in this blogstrand, see here.


Friday, 17 September 2010

Tim Minchin: Comedy Genius

I've been aware of Tim Minchin for a few years now, although have never heard him perform much more than a handful of songs on Radio 4's Loose Ends. A couple of weeks ago, I recorded a broadcast of one of his shows and I watched most of this last night.

He looks a bit like a ginger, Australian Russell Brand although a closer comparison might be Bill Bailey. His set is combination of stand up and comedy songs with subject matter ranging from being a father and failed rock star to religion and Middle Eastern politics.

There were a number of songs I could have chosen to share . Some are a bit too ribald /controversial for this particular blog, though, so I've gone for a love song. Of sorts.

While I was looking for that, I found this:

You can visit his website here and find his YouTube channel here.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Finest Parish Church in England...

... was how Queen Elizabeth described St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. Here are some photos I took of it during Bristol's Doors Open day last weekend. Although the church itself is normally open, the public doesn't often get into the bell tower or on the roof!

N.B. Unfortunately I hadn't charged up my new phone and so the photos are not as good as I'd have hoped... Maybe next year I'll get some better ones!
P.S. For an external shot of the church, see here.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: A

I recently rearranged my bedroom in order to make my CDs more prominent and encourage me to listen to them more. Although I don't have a huge number of albums, it is a collection I'm reasonably happy with. Of course, it would be much larger if money were no object but other priorities have led to  infrequent, (mostly) considered purposes. Don't expect anything too outrageous - my tastes are decidedly middle of the road.

For the first in this new strand, I'm starting at the beginning and featuring a track from an artist beginning with, unsurprisingly, A: ABBA. 

In common with over 4 million other people in the UK, I own a copy of ABBA gold. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, and they may go in and out of fashion, but they are a huge part of music history and their songs are quintessential pop. Take a Chance on Me is one of my favourites in that regard:

Who would you suggest for "A"? Who else should I seek out? Next time, it's B - who would you choose from your CD collection?


Monday, 13 September 2010

Marxist Hero or Capitalist Marketing tool?

A while back I posted a picture of Che Guevara in my "Iconic Images" strand. Today, Stephen has posted a link to a picture of "Cher Guevara" on his blog today.

Cher is not alone in being portrayed in this way - many others have, as you can see from the selection below:

Kylie Guevara
Che Madonna

Gervais Guevara

It's not just Musicians and Comedians at it either:

Christ Guevara
Cherry Guevara
And one to make you chuckle:

Che Gue-Thatcher

For more on the iconic image of Che Guevara, see this micro-site for the V&A's 2006 exhibition all about it.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

Bristol International Kite Festival

Last Sunday I posted some pictures from the Bristol International Kite Festival. They proved so popular, here are some more from the day:
Spinning Bowl
Synchronised Kites
Power Kiting
Spirit(s) in the Sky
I'm not sure what these are called... but I liked them!


P.S. this is my 200th post but I decided against my usual 50-post analysis this time...

Friday, 10 September 2010

Big Brother 2000 - 2010 R.I.P

So this is it, the end of Big Brother in the UK. Or, more likely, the end of Big Brother on Channel 4.

I've watched most of the series over the years and I even applied once (in 2002) and now my summers are to be bereft of the show which went from gameshow in the guise of social experiment to an out and out spectacle.

By turns funny, outrageous and controversial, Big Brother changed the face of UK television reality shows, a subject I've blogged on previously.

This year the producers pulled out all the stops to make Big Brother 11 a suiting finale to the show. They upped the production values, made subtle and not-so-subtle references to previous years and tasks and still managed to introduce new features. In some ways they rejuvenated the show and, ironically, saw audiences rise from last year's lows.

But Big Brother 11 was merely a warm up to the show's final final hurrah - Ultimate Big Brother. Unashamedly self-indulgent, Ultimate Big Brother has crammed in old tasks, brought back as many old housemates as were available (and that's a lot!) and even re-instated the infamous Bedsit from Big Brother 5. Davina has gone in, Marcus Bentley (the show's narrator) has gone in) and a mock funeral has been held, complete with wake.

Of course, Big Brother may live on. Channel 5 look set to buy the rights. But one has to think that any resurrected show will be different in look and feel to the existing format. One of the biggest lessons that Channel 4 learnt is that the show needed regular twists - not least as contestants became increasingly able to second guess the intentions of the producers. A new channel will provide an opportunity to bring something fresh to the viewer and surprise the contestants.

But that's all potentially in the future. For Channel 4, and for now, tonight is the end. It'll be a sad occasion, not least for Davina who has fronted all 11 series and for which the show has been her life. There'll not be a dry eye in the house by the time the final curtain comes down. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, charge your glasses and join with me in a toast: To Big Brother.


To read my post from the start of this series, click here.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Guest Blogger No.2 - Lois Brown: The Moaning Moaners who Moan

Some time ago (OK, it was almost a year ago, for those of you who have been counting), I published this piece as the first an occasional series of guest posts. Today, I'm publishing the next guest post by History graduate, IT master and Internationalist, Lois Brown:

The Moaning Moaners who Moan

One of the fascinating things about British people is how much we moan. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have free healthcare, free education and free speech (which we predictably use to moan about the government), and all we can see is what is wrong with our lives, the country, the whole planet. I thought about this a few weeks ago when at the height of the Edinburgh International Festival, the month long extravaganza that hosts thousands of shows across hundreds of venues and packs out every hotel room, restaurant and pub in the city (and probably every tent too), I overheard this conversation:

American Gentleman: What do you make of the Edinburgh Festival?

Typical Scottish Moaner: Oh, I hate it. Every idiot who thinks he’s a comedian or actor descends on this city. You can’t go anywhere for all the crowds. (He went on for a fair bit longer than this. I am summarising.)

American Gentleman: And what do you make of the tourists?

Typical Scottish Moaner (showing a modicum of tact): Oh they’re OK, I don’t mind them.
I don’t understand this mentality. What’s to hate? How else would a cold, grey city of 300,000 on the northern edge of the inhabited world attract the cream of the world’s talent performs on their doorstep? Imagine Edinburgh without the festival –with no culture, no entertainment and no money.

At the moment, with the banking crisis having decimated the city’s main industry, where else is the money coming from? The Edinburgh Festival brings tourists flooding into the city leaving millions of pounds in their wake. Half the businesses in Edinburgh are kept afloat by that one month of the year allowing us to enjoy them the other 11 months. And then there’s the small matter of pride that such a teeny tiny country can successfully run the biggest arts festival in the world.

But these are all minor considerations when Mr Moaner has to share his streets with performers and visitors.

I’d bet he’d really moan if there was no festival, though.

I think Lois has a point - we do tend to see the problems not the opportunities in all walks of life in Britain. Rather than celebrating what we've got and how fortunate we are in comparison with the vast majority of the world's population, our default position is often to complain about everything from the weather to the price of cheddar. A little more positivity and, if something is broken, positive action is required!


Monday, 6 September 2010

Mystery Blogs (1)

I've now been blogging since July last year and tracking my blogs (using Google Analytics) since mid-August. This means I can see what subjects are popular and which aren't, whcih generate hits from Google searches (for example, mention Jennifer Ennis and you find that people have searched for "Jennifer Ennis' Bottom").

So, in the first of an irregular feature, I'm going to pick some blogs from the past and link to them... but with the twist that I'm not going to tell you what they are! Some will be my favourites, some will be yours... These posts are from August 2009.

Enjoy (again!):

Sunday, 5 September 2010

5 on the 5th - September 2010

Today was the Bristol International Kite Festival and despite some overcast and showery weather, there was still a full programme of displays, choreographed "ballets" and mass ascensions. 

By happy coincidence, today is also the 5th and therefore time for my monthly contribution to Stephen's 5 on the 5th. So no prizes for guessing that I've not gone with the nominated theme ("The Blues") but have instead chosen some of my pictures from today.

Delta Serpent with Box Kite
"Spinning Bowls"
"Spirit in the Sky"
Garfield, some cows and a dog


I've finally seen Avatar

At the time of writing, I've just arrived home from seeing Avatar... at last. Although I've previously seen Toy Story re-rendered into 3D, and also Shrek Forever After, this is the first live action film I've seen in the format. Not only that, it was, of course, filmed in 3D and not merely "upscaled" in post-production as, say, Alice and Wonderland was.

The film had been a labour of love for James Cameron for years and that can be seen in the fantastic world he has created. Pandora is beautiful planet with its own unique flora and fauna much of which is either fluorescent or luminescent. The ecosystem is finally balanced and there is an interdependence between the Na'vi (the humanoid inhabitants) and the other creatures and plant-life. Indeed, the Na'vi can "plug in" to horse and dragon-like creatures to ride them using the power of thought, and also to the "Tree of Souls" to connect with their ancestors.

Unfortunately, the planet also houses huge reserves of "Unobtainium" which has led to the establishment of an human mining operation which threatens the existence of the Na'vi. To make communication easier, Avatars have been made using Human and Na'vi DNA. These allow the humans to take the form of the Na'vi and get close to them.

With it's heavy focus on the unique environment of Pandora, as well as references to an earth which has been sucked dry of its own resources, this is a none-too-subtle lesson about the dangers of  messing with nature. It is also a film about identity and, to some extent, about race relations.

The story itself is relatively flimsy and predictable and the film is too long but these are forgivable sins in this instance. Cameron's achievement with this film is to show what is possible with 3D. In doing so, however, he has been careful not to create some form of demonstration or exhibition piece. He doesn't, for example, use the 3D to bring the action into the auditorium on too many occasions, rather he uses it to provide depth to the picture and to support and enhance the landscape and special effects (expertly provided by WETA, Peter Jackson's studio which created the effects in Lord of the Rings).

Of course, most film reviews would feature comment on the story, the script, the acting and in these regards Avatar is not without its limitations. On its own terms, however, Avatar is a success, leading the way into the brave new world of live action 3D cinema.


Friday, 3 September 2010

Vote Match, Ed Milliband and I

Those clever people at Vote Match have developed a questionnaire which will match your views on a range of subjects against those of the Labour leadership contenders. Having completed it, I'm apparently closest in views to Ed Milliband, followed by Diane Abbot, David Milliband and Ed Balls, in that order. (Andy Burnham is not included).

I'm not quite sure what to make of that. While Milliband Junior was my favourite of the serious candidates to start with, in the course of the campaign he's blotted his copybook. In particular he and his team crassly encouraged the rumours that Charles Kennedy was about to defect. He also wrote an open letter to Lib Dem supporters seeking to encourage them to move to Labour. (Bizarrely, this encourages them to move on the promise that, if he were leader, they'd feel more at home there. At this stage, that's a big "if" and "if" David Milliband were leader they would probably not feel at home!)

He is widely seen as the most serious contender from the left, and has greater support from the unions than anyone else. He's more of a Brownite than a Blairite although he is, as is his brother, now downplaying former associations.

But why, if I most identify with the Labour left, am I still supporting the coalition? While haven't I been tempted over Milliband's overtures?

Well, although I've always considered myself left of centre - I've never been a Socialist. Although I believe in the importance of Society, I don't believe that this equates to a Big State. Most importantly in the context of the current economic circumstances, I am not only socially liberal but increasingly economical liberal too. I don't believe the current cuts and tax measures are "reactionary" in the pejorative sense but rather a necessary reaction to the current fiscal situation.

Labour has lost its way. From the euphoria of 1997 and the early promise of partial Lords reform, devolution, freedom of information, the Human Rights Act and a raft of positive social measures (equalisation of age of consent, repeal of section 28, minimum wage amongst others) through the Iraq war and ID cards to the massive deficit, it has been a long descent.  

The next leader needs, for their sake and the sake of democracy, to carve out a new identity and purpose for the party. To create an effective but constructive opposition. Whoever that person is, though, even of it is Mr E. Milliband, I'll - to quote a certain Charles Kennedy - "I will go out of this world feet first with my Lib Dem membership card in my pocket."

To take the test yourself, just click on the start button below:


Thursday, 2 September 2010

Picasso's got the blues...

It's been a while since I posted any art to my blog. I do have plans in that department, with various artists lined up for my Virtual Gallery. In the meantime, though, here's a Picasso from his "Blue Period":

Woman with Crossed Arms (1901)
This is from the start of his Blue Period and was sold in November 2000 for $55. Having done a bit of an internet search, opinion seems to be divided as to whether this represented a demand for quality in a slow market or was hopelessly overvalued. Interestingly, the author of this latter piece suggests that Picasso is due for a revalutation of his importance in 20th Centuary art!

By coincidence, the theme for Stephen's 5 on the 5th this month is "The Blues". Grab your camera on the 5th, take 5 photos, post them to your blog and pop a comment on Stephen's blog so that he can link back to it! Like the Meercat said, Simples!