Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Random song of the day

Rather randomly I found myself humming Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm by The Crash Test Dummies yesterday. Here it is in its full glory:


Wha's Like Us? Damn Few - and They're A' Deid!

As a Scot living in England I normally avoid parochialism but as today is St. Andrew's Day I'm going to make an exception. Today's blog entry is from a postcard written and published by T. Anderson Cairns in 1979.

Wha's Like Us? by T. Anderson Cairns

The average Englishman in the home he call his castle slips into his national costume, a shabby raincoat, patented by Chemist Charles Macintosh from Glasgow, Scotland.

En-route to his office he strides along the English lane, surfaced by John Macadam of Ayr, Scotland.

He drives an English car fitted with tyres invented by John Boyd Dunlop, Veterinary Surgeon of Dreghorn, Scotland.

At the office he receives the mail bearing adhesive stamps invented by John Chalmers, Bookseller and Printer of Dundee, Scotland.

During the day he uses the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. At home in the evening his daughter pedals her bicycle invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, Blacksmith of Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

He watches the news on television, an invention of John Logie Baird of Helensburgh, Scotland, and hears an item about the U.S. Navy founded by John Paul Jones of Kirkbean, Scotland.

Nowhere can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots.

He has by now been reminded too much of Scotland and in desperation he picks up the Bible, only to find that the first man mentioned in the good book is a Scot, King James VI, who authorized its translation.

He could take to drink but the Scots make the best in the world.

He could take a rifle and end it all, but the breech-loading rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson of Pitfours, Scotland.

If he escaped death, he could find himself on an operating table injected with penicillin, discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming of Darvel, Scotland, and given chloroform, an anesthetic discovered by Sir James Young Simpson, Obstetrician and Gynecologist of Bathgate, Scotland.

Out of the anesthetic he would find no comfort in learning that he was as safe as the Bank of England founded by William Paterson of Dumfries, Scotland.

Perhaps his only remaining hope would be to get a transfusion of guid Scottish blood which would entitle him to ask:

"Wha's Like Us?"

Have a great St. Andrew's Day!


Monday, 29 November 2010

In which the widow rediscovers Supergirly

After posting about Frisky and Mannish yesterday, I was put in mind of Supergirly whom I saw a couple of times in Edinburgh in the early 2000's. At the time they were a duo and for a while they achieved a degree of fame when they became a fixture on Live and Kicking.

They used to perform great parodies of (then) current pop songs and extracted a great deal of fun from the banality of the lyrics as well as the acts themselves.

Supergirly were Louise McClatchy and Jai Simone. A short trawl of the interweb/You Tube establishes that Louise has gone solo but is still performing as Supergirly, while Jai seems to have been airbrushed out of history. Even the Wikipedia entry redirects you to Louise's details - there is surely a story to be told there.

There is more of the above performance (but in poorer quality) here - including "When's he going to come out", a Ricky Martin parody.

As ever, enjoy! 


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Dead Until Dark

As I've previously mentioned on these pages, I am a fan of True Blood. I may not have thought to read the books, however, if it were not for the recommendation of a friend.

Dead Until Dark is the first of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and forms the basis for the first series. It introduces Sookie, a waitress in Bon Temps in Northern Louisiana with the power to hear other people's thoughts.  She lives a simple life although thanks to her disability/skill/gift it's not as quiet as she would like. And then Bill Compton walks into the bar.

Bill is a Vampire who is attempting to mainstream, following the outlawing of discrimination against them and the availability of synthetic blood.  Sookie's life is never going to be the same again...

The TV series can be seen as an analogy for black (or homosexual) rights but this subtext is less obvious in the novel. The issue of race does get a couple of mentions but the characters of Tara and her mother who are central to the one of the main sub-plots of True Blood series 1 are entirely absent. The absence of this plot - which would have left a whole in the programme - did not diminish the enjoyment of the book.

Dead Until Dallas is an easy and enjoyable read which is at least as good as the TV series. My initial reticence about what to expect in terms of the quality of writing proved  pretty unfounded. Sure, it wouldn't make the Booker Prize shortlist but it's better than, say, Dan Brown's prose. Having just finished watching the second series, I'm looking forward to reading Living Dead in Dallas and the rest of the series...


In which the widow discovers Frisky and Mannish

At my friend's house yesterday I was flicking through a copy of Venue (Bristol and Bath's events guide) and I found a feature on a double act called Frisky and Mannish. Intrigued, I took note and, thanks to You Tube, I would like to share them with you too.

Firstly, here's a 5 minute showcase from the launch of their show at last years' Edinburgh Fringe Festival:

and here's a cover of Destiny Child's Independent Women:

You can find plenty more here and here! Enjoy!


Friday, 26 November 2010

The Hound of the Baskervilles

I'm getting back into reading regularly and, aided by my recent holiday, have recently finished 2 books.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably one of Conan Doyle's best know Sherlock Holmes stories. Due to a lack of telly as I was growing up, it has passed me by. Indeed, the only Holmes I had previously seen was the recent BBC adaptation, Sherlock.

Holmes and Watson receive a visit from a country doctor with a disturbing report of the death of the local aristocrat, Sir Charles Baskerville. Next to his body is the footprint of the legendary hound, the curse of his forebears.

It sounds like superstitious nonsense, but Holmes is intrigued. Unfortunately, he can't spare the time to travel to Dartmoor, so sends Dr Watson to accompany Dr Mortimer and Sir Henry Baskerville to the latter's ancestral home.

The book then consists of Dr Watson's missives and diaries until Holmes joins him in time to uncover the truth behind the ghastly hound and unmask the villain of the peace.

Conan Doyle tells a ripping yarn and as you'd expect the devil is in the detail. Holmes has meticulous powers of deduction, Watson is keen to please but lacks the intellectual rigour and in the end there's a perfect, if rather contrived, explanation.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Must be Emma's Imagination

Earlier this year I blogged about the fantastic Must be the Music. While 12 million people (of which I am one) regularly tune into The X Factor for it's light entertainment and manufactured drama with a bit of singing thrown in, Sky's talent show focused on talent. All genres of music were represented from classical to electronic dance, pop to rock. Almost all the artist performed original material and the panel (Dizzee Rascal, Jamie Cullum and Sharleen Spiteri) were all multi-million selling singer-songwriters.

Semi-finalists received the net profits of the iTunes releases of their performances - a number of which charted. The winner received £100,000 to further their career and that is what Emma Gillespie is doing. Her first full single is released on January 2nd with her album out later that month. Here's the brand spanking new video for "This Day":


Great Buildings 5 - The Italian Chapel

For this entry in my Great Buildings series, I stay with religious buildings and return to Orkney in order to feature the Italian Chapel at Lambholm:

The church was actually built for and by Italian prisoners of war who had been transported to Orkney from North Africa during World War II. While there, they constructed the Churchill Barrier - a series of causeways linking the Orkney mainland to South Ronaldsay. As well as proving to be a long lasting infrastructure link, these causeways closed potential routes for German U-boats seeking to enter Scapa Flow from the East.

Lambholm is indicated by the arrow and Scapa Flow is the expanse of water in the centre of the map:

The church was built from the materials available, with the facade made of concrete but decorated to make it look tradition... the rest of the building, however, is constructed from 2 Nissen huts:

Internally, the building is decorated with plasterboard painted with beautiful frescoes. The alter area is separated from the rest of the church by beautiful wrought ironwork.

If you've never been to Orkney, you should go... and if you have been, you should go back!


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: K

Following on from my entry last week featuring Billy Joel, there were various suggestions made for "K". these included The Kaiser Chiefs - whom I like and have - and The Kings of Leon, whom I do not yet have anything by. Yes, yes, I know, my bad.

I have gone for a current band but neither of the ones above; instead, I have chosen The Killers. First, here's "Mr Brightside":

and here is "Bones":

Next week, L. I may be completely predictable or I may go for something you might not expect. As ever, guesses welcomed below!


Monday, 22 November 2010

A Scottish Odyssey

As followers of my twitter feed will know, last week I was on holiday at home in Scotland. While I was there I took some photos to share here, and here are a selection:

Edinburgh Castle
An Edinburgh Skyline
Salisbury Crags and Dynamic Earth
The Scottish Parliament Building
British. Scottish. European.
Benarty Hill, seen from across Loch Leven, Fife
Lloyds TSB Scotland, Lothian Road, Edinburgh

Hope you liked!!


Thursday, 18 November 2010

I have finally succumbed...

..to the hype and decided to post on the Royal Wedding... kind of:


Virtual Gallery - Room 5

It's been a while since I posted an entry in my virtual gallery. Today I've elected to feature a series of works painted from 1644 to 1648 by the French artist, Nicolas Poussin. It is a cycle of paintings based on the "Seven Sacraments" of Catholic Theology.

Although I'm not a religious person, some pieces of religious art can still resonate with me. In this case, though, it is not just the art which I really like but also the setting. The paintings are part of the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland and are displayed in an octagonal room which has the entrance in one wall and each of the seven paintings on the the others. The rich purple of the walls combine with the low light levels to give the paintings a somewhat serene setting. In some ways it's a bit like being in a dimly lit church.

I have decided to acquire these paintings for my virtual gallery but only if I can have the room they currently hang in as well!

The Sacrament of Baptism

The Sacrament of Confirmation
The Sacrament of Marriage

The Sacrament of Penance
The Sacrament of Ordination
The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction

You can find out more about these pictures, and Poussin, here.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: J

After last week's (non-)entry for "I", Raybeard suggested my entry for "J" could be either Elton John or Billy Joel. He was right - it could have been either. In the end, though, I plumped for Billy Joel. Here's An Innocent Man:

Here's a fan-video for "We Didn't Start the Fire". I don't possess a copy of this any more, but I used ot have it as a single, back in the day!

Enjoy. As ever comments and suggestions welcome! Next week it's "K"... Who will I choose?


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Ultimate Housemate

Regular readers will know that I do not tend to discuss my personal life and doings in this blog... Today's post is an exception.

One of the highlights of my annual social calender is my housemate's Birthday Party. This is a huge production into which he puts a huge amount of effort each year. The concept of the party is based on Big Brother - each housemate contributes towards a prize fund, the winner of which is the last person standing. 

The venue, our house, is transformed with the installation of a diary room and a task room, and no expense is spared. Tasks, games and secret missions are then punctuated with regular nominations and evictions from the pool of potential winners. Evictees are then involved, in various ways, in subsequent tasks and determining the winner.

This year our friend Frank was unable to attend the party himself but he was still very much there in spirit. A special series of videos were shot based on the premise that he was being kept in a secret house where he was watching events and able to control events at the party. Episodes were played throughout the evening while the Secret, indeed Ultimate, Housemate got progressively more intent on entering the house itself... little did anyone know quite how things would turn out...

You can find out what happens next here in part two... and follow the links in the description for parts 3 to 6.


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Poems for Remembrance Sunday

Last year, as part of a series of posts on the topic of Remembrance, I posted the famous war poem "Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen. One of the comments I made on it was that it benefited from repeated reading.

Having revisited that post, I still believe it to be true, so I have decided to re-post it:

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clunky helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of spin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Also last year, I posted links to Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem "Last Post" which was commissioned by the Today programme.

Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home-
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce- No- Decorum- No- Pro patria mori.
You walk away. 

You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too-
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert-
and light a cigarette.
There's coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would. 


Saturday, 13 November 2010

Great Buildings 4 - Coventry Cathedral

For this entry in my Great Buildings series, and with a link to the recent themes of war, peace and remembrance, I've chosen Coventry Cathedral. Designed by Basil Spence following the destruction of the previous cathedral during World War, I had never actually been that impressed by pictures of it until I visited an exhibition which had a scale model of the old and new buildings and it suddenly made sense.

Unfortunately, I can only furnish you with pictures, but hope that you get a better impression than I did.

First the most common picture (or certainly the one that used to leave me unconvinced):

Part of Spence's genius was in not replacing the ruins, leaving a lasting a memorial to the events of the war:

...while managing to integrate the new building, for all it's modernist style, with the old:

The building seeks to retain classical Cathedral volumes but not to reproduce or be a pastiche of the old:

This map shows the relation of the ruins to the new Cathedral:

You can see more of the Cathedral on their website here and this Wikipedia entry. There are more of my architecture related posts here.


Friday, 12 November 2010

Turning Swords into Ploughshares...

...or guns into art.

The following work of art recently featured in BBC Radio 4's A History of the World in 100 objects:

The project involves the surrender of weapons in exchange for tools, following the end of Mozambique's Civil War. The weapons are decommissioned and then used in pieces of art. Like this tree sculpture:

Similar schemes have been set up elsewhere. This Elephant is from Cambodia:


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Silence really is Golden

This year the Royal British Legion has released what is going to be the first ever silent single to enter the UK charts. It's currently at 19 in the midweek charts and all sale proceeds go to the Royal British Legion and their work in support of both serving and ex-service armed forces personnel and their families.

You can buy your copy here or at the i-tunes store.


Remembrance Day

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: I

Today there should be a big hole where my blog should be. I have no "I's" in my collection. And no-one suggested any either!

I did look in Fopp to see if there were any CDs which would suit the bill, but I didn't find any. The most obvious candidate was Idlewild but they are a band who have, somehow, passed me by. I moved on from the Enrique Iglesias CD - and I wouldn't have been tempted by his father's offerings either!

One band in their racks did jump out at me... for their name alone - Ice, Sea, Dead People. Genius. I'm not sure their music is my cup of tea but judge for yourself. This track is called Green Tee:

What would you have chosen? And what are your comments and suggestions for J?


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Search Me

The list below is taken from my Google Analytics report on the top search terms used to reach my blog, since records began in August last year:

As you can see, the most common search was for Gareth Thomas the former Rugby Union player (and Welsh captain) who now plays Rugby League for the Celtic Crusaders. I'd like to think that visits are generated by the quality of my post about the Rugby Football League fining Castleford Tigers for homophobic abuse leveled at Thomas... but I think it has more to do with this picture:

The next search term is the one I'm most pleased with. Other than those who regularly leave comments, or whom you know personally, it can be difficult, even with the aid of various statistics, to know if anyone is that bothered with what you write. Having people search specifically for "oneexwidow blog" is very satisfying!

I used to feature a lot of poetry here, although this has fallen by the wayside a bit recently. Carol Ann Duffy's piece "Warming Her Pearls" seems to be popular - perhaps it is a set poem for pupils studying English...

Must be the Music was Sky's answer to The X-Factor but with less karaoke and preening by the judges and more genuine songwriting and musical talent. I'm looking forward to hearing more of the winner, Emma's Imagination.

The fifth most common search term finds my review of Christopher Nolan's film, Inception. I loved this intelligent take on the Sci-Fi genre.

So that's the top 5 for now... What will it be like in another 15 months time?


Monday, 8 November 2010

Past Mortem

Yesterday I finished Ben Elton's Past Mortem.

This followed two previous Ben Elton books - Blind Faith and Blast from the Past. I ended my review of the latter with the following sentences:
"Having now read two Elton books, I still find myself searching for one which is ultimately satisfying. As well as this one, I've also been lent Past Mortem - perhaps that will end my search."
So has it? Ed Newson is a Detective Inspector who is investigating a series of bizarre murders. Each is unique and the links between them are minimal but Newson quickly becomes certain he is dealing with a serial killer. 

Outside of work, Newson seeks to take his mind of his obsession with his colleague by logging onto Friends Reunited (the book is 6 years old, after all!) and re-establishing contact with his old classmates. 

In some ways this book covers similar ground to Blast from the Past with its focus on the how events in our formative years can have an impact on the present. It also touches on issues of gender politics although not to the extent of the former book.

Ben Elton can (and has) been called many things. Subtle is not one of them. Whatever is taking place, whether it be a gruesome murder or adventurous sex, you are left with no room for imagination. Recurring refrains are signposted with all the subtlety of the "Welcome to Vegas" sign. Characters lack "light and shade" and some lack a third dimension.

But perhaps the most disappointing thing for me was, in amongst the false trails and plot twists, I managed to identify whodunit from relatively early one. This is not one of my usual skills and rather than feel pleased at my cleverness, I merely felt I had spotted the bleeding obvious.

These drawbacks left me disinclined to read. Only adherence to my policy of always reading a book to the end forced me not to abandon it altogether. That said, momentum did build towards the end but maybe that was merely because the end was finally in sight! 

At 460 pages, this is too long. for what it is.. perhaps other readers may be advised to read the first and last 100 pages: that should provide you with enough of the story with less of the tedium!

In summary, my search goes on. Although it wouldn't if trusted friends didn't keep recommending The First Casualty. Next for me, though, is The Hound of the Baskervilles.


Friday, 5 November 2010

5 on the 5th - November

This month's suggested theme for 5 on the 5th was "Recycled". Unfortunately I couldn't think of a take on it - or at least not sufficient for 5 pictures  - and thought "recycling" old pics would be cheating. Here, instead, are 5 random pictures taken yesterday.

A drink for the fashion conscious

Queens Square, Bristol

Queens Square, Bristol

Apply within for mercy and chocolate

The only way is up...
Be sure to follow the link above to see the other entrants!


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: H

This week it's H and the turn of... (drum roll, please) ...Lauryn Hill. One third of The 'Fugees, her solo album "This Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" brought both critical acclaim and commercial success.

I've chosen what is, for me, the stand out track of the album - although I could easily have selected a number of others - "Ex-Factor".

Unfortunately the official video is not available for embedding and I can't find a good quality recording of a live performance, so here's the audio track with pictures!

You can see the official video here - and leave your comment below with an artist beginning "I" to add to my collection so I can make an appropriate entry next week!


Monday, 1 November 2010

Cue Barwick Green

A while ago, I promised you a post about my love of The Archers. So, here it is! 

Thanks to the wonder of podcasts, I am now able to follow it regularly in a way that I've never been fully able to in the past. It makes my walk to work in the morning even more of a joy.

So, why do I like it so much? Well, here are a few of the reasons:

Real time events: Unlike TV soap operas, each episode of The Archers records events of that day... This means that future events can be trailed in advance, within the show. Rather than not knowing whether there has been seconds, hours or days between episodes, you know exactly when the action is taking place!

Handling of Death: Characters live long in The Archers and it's not unusual for the actors to die while still contracted to the show. This creates obvious problems which are handled with a great deal of sensitivity. Somehow the writers, cast and production staff always seem to hit the right note.

Long lasting stories: The lack of the ratings pressure which TV soaps are subjected to mean that there isn't the constant pressure for high profile storylines. This means that some stories can be developed over a long period of months or years. The best example in recent years was the development of Jack Wooley's Alzeimhers which won awards from mental health charities.

Regular events: Birthdays and wedding anniversaries are referenced as a natural part of the ebb and flow of the drama - not only when it suits the storyline! This adds to the feeling that your eavesdropping on real people, not artificial constructs.

The short lead-in times that radio can offer - and lack of visual  continuity issues - allow for topical references to be inserted at short notice. Examples include English World Cup scores or the death of the Queen Mother... One year they even recorded John Peel on location at Glastonbury!

Celebrity appearances - from Stephen Fry to Ewan McGregor, Alan Titchmarsh to Terry Wogan and Dame Judy Dench to Princess Margaret, The Archers has always drawn the great and good!

Of course, all these things are in addition to fantastic storylines, great characters and superior acting. Well, mostly superior acting - that of the children and sheep can leave a lot to be desired!