Posts tagged "culture"

Young Men by Balletboyz

culture review

I’m not really a ballet fan. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t go out of my way to watch it, either. I certainly appreciate the skill, athleticism and artistry of dancers, but somehow it doesn’t grab me the way that live music or theatre does. Maybe I’m just resentful that I wasn’t the kind of twiggy, graceful little girl who would have felt comfortable in a ballet class, who knows. Given this — shall we call it indifference? — to ballet, I was surprised to find myself watching Balletboyz ‘Young Men’, a ballet about First World War soldiers screened recently on BBC Two. I was even more surprised when I couldn’t stop watching it.

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Listening to the landscape

culture life

At the weekend, we got back from a week away in our favourite holiday spot: North Norfolk. As ever, it was wonderfully peaceful and laid-back, but we also got nearly a full week of bright sunshine with almost no rain (which was unexpected). I had a lot of fun with my Fujifilm X100T, particularly as the weather was so co-operative. I’m starting to settle in with the focal length, and I’m finding that the creative constraint of having a fixed lens is making me see some interesting compositions, often before I’ve brought the viewfinder to my eyes. I certainly took a lot more photos than I have on recent visits, and you can see some of the best shots on Flickr here (the first 10 or so are from the same location this April and are with my Sony, but the rest are taken with the Fujifilm).

We managed a nice mixture of doing things and doing nothing1. On one of the doing things days, we re-visited a National Trust property called Felbrigg Hall. We’ve been there a few times now, and have enjoyed wandering around the extensive gardens and parklands, as well as seeing inside the house. This time, we noted that an event (the artists, Strijbos & Van Rijswijk, call it ‘physical cinema’) was happening at Felbrigg called Walk With Me. The idea is that you walk around the parklands and gardens wearing headphones connected to an iPad. The artists have planted geotagged sound beacons around the area, so that as you walk, you hear sound effects, music and dialogue, triggered when you enter the radius of one or more of the beacons. These overlap in quite an artful way, so the effect is usually natural and seamless.

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Like minds

music culture
Mr. Bsag and I were lucky enough to see Chris Wood again at the Red Lion Folk Club last week. We’ve seen him live a couple of times, and once before at the Red Lion. It’s different each time, but always an amazing experience. There are few musicians whose music I love as much as Chris Wood’s, so I will always jump at the chance to see him live. However, you get much more than music with Chris Wood. Continue reading →

Christmas reading: Magic and parallel worlds

culture books
One of the pleasures of having a bit of spare time over Christmas is that I have the opportunity to get my teeth into some good fiction. This Christmas I had borrowed a couple of books from the library: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I really loved both books, though it took me a bit longer than the Christmas period to finish both. Continue reading →

Watching The Hobbit

films culture
Last night, we watched the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I had heard so many negative reviews of the film, that I was fully prepared for disappointment. As a result, I wasn’t exactly disappointed (because my expectations were so low), but nor was I delighted by it. I think it was a decently entertaining (though overblown) film, and despite the epic running time, I didn’t find myself looking at the clock every 5 minutes. Continue reading →

Vivian Maier

culture
I watched a fascinating documentary some weeks ago about the photographer Vivian Maier. It seems (if you are in the UK), that you’ve got 10 days left to watch the documentary, and I highly recommend it. Vivian was an American woman (with French and Austrian roots) who worked for most of her life as a nanny in Chicago. She was by all accounts a very private person. When asked about her life, she was apt to tell rather tall tales to deflect attention from herself, and while she was an outspoken feminist and socialist, it seems as if no-one really got to know her very well. Continue reading →

The workhouse

life culture
At the weekend, I caught up with the first part of a documentary about the workhouse: Secrets from the Workhouse. It was made by the same production company as ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, and the element of finding out about the ancestors of celebrities was the same. However, in this programme, they focused on one aspect: people who ended up in the workhouse. It consequently featured a number of different celebrities, each of whose ancestors reflected a different experience of the workhouse. Continue reading →

Singing The Messiah

music culture
Good old George Frideric Handel! He really knew how to write for choirs. Last weekend, my Mum and I took part in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) ‘Singalong’ of Handel’s Messiah. We’ve done a couple of other Singalongs together, and have really enjoyed the experience. Mum is a particular fan of the Messiah, and I sang it in the choir at school, so we both jumped at the chance of joining in with this one. Continue reading →

Alfred G Buckham

culture
A few weeks ago, we went to an excellent exhibition at Compton Verney called ‘Flight and the Artistic Imagination’. It featured various works in all kinds of media from paintings and photographs to sculpture, video installations and even images from the Hubble telescope, all inspired by flight. It was a big exhibition and I loved a lot of the pieces, particularly ‘Battle of Britain’ by Paul Nash, some large format images of nebulae from Hubble, and a stitched-together panorama from the moon landings. Continue reading →

Chris Wood at Red Lion Folk Club

music review culture
Last week we went to see Chris Wood perform at the Red Lion Folk Club. We last saw him perform in Moseley more than two years ago at a fantastic gig, so I was really excited to be getting to see him perform again. Chris Wood is an amazing performer when you hear him recorded, but he’s even better (if that’s possible) live, because of the incredible warmth and presence of his voice, and because his banter with the audience is lovely. Continue reading →

Flying deckchairs

culture films
On Monday, I watched a really wonderful documentary: The Real Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. There’s still time to watch it on iPlayer, and I heartily recommend doing so, even if you have no interest in microlights. It was the kind of documentary I love, in which you let people with a passion for something tell their own story. In this case, the cameras followed several participants in the ‘Round Britain Rally’, a gloriously Wacky Races event, in which the aim is to rack up the most points over three days by flying over designated waypoints dotted around the UK in a microlight aircraft. Continue reading →

Rex Whistler Mural

culture
On our way back from Anglesey, we stopped off at a National Trust Property called Plas Newydd. A very beloved Godmother of mine gave Mr. Bsag and I a Lifetime Membership to the National Trust as a wedding present, which was a generous and wonderful gift that we make use of frequently. National Trust properties are often fascinating, but the entrance fees can also be expensive, so you sometimes wonder if the trip will be worth the money or you end up staying longer than you really wanted to, just to get your money’s worth. Continue reading →

Of Gods And Men

culture films
On Saturday, we watched the film Of Gods And Men, or ‘Des hommes et des dieux’ to give it its original title. There are times when I’m in the mood for a serious film, and times when I would rather watch something light and fluffy. I wasn’t sure that I was in the right frame of mind on Saturday for a serious film about a group of Cistercian monks in Algeria, who were kidnapped by fundamentalist terrorists during the Algerian Civil War in 1996 and disappeared. Continue reading →

Fags, Mags And Bags

culture comedy
I’ve been meaning for ages to write about the BBC Radio 4 comedy series Fags, Mags and Bags, but was reminded about it by the fact that I have managed — much to my annoyance — to miss the first two episodes of the new series. Fags, Mags and Bags (FMB) is one of my all-time favourite radio comedies. I’m not quite sure why I love it so much, but it’s a quirky and essentially very gentle show, with great characters. Continue reading →

Megson

culture music
We went to see Megson at the Red Lion Folk club in Kings Heath this week, and it was a great experience. I don’t know why I’ve never been to one of the Red Lion gigs before, given that I love folk music and the venue is quite close to my home, but somehow I had never got around to it. I’ll definitely try to go along more often, because it is a wonderful, intimate venue, with a very friendly crowd. Continue reading →

Christmas Albums

music culture
I was lucky to get a couple of great albums for Christmas this year, which I’ve really been enjoying listening to. Bahamut by Hazmat Modine The first was Bahamut by Hazmat Modine. I had never heard of Hazmat Modine before, which is a shame, because their style is right up my rather eclectic street, and they have a fantastic name to boot. I like a lot of different styles of music, and I love it when these are combined. Continue reading →

Remaking A Classic

culture films
We didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the Christmas break, but we did really enjoy a few programmes, including one that we were nearly put off watching by the poor reviews. It was a remake of one of the classic M. R. James ghost stories, “Whistle And I’ll Come To You”. I’m a massive fan of the stories, and the TV adaptations which were made in the 1960s and 70s, particularly the one they made of “Whistle And I’ll Come To You” (with Michael Hordern) and “A Warning To The Curious” (with Peter Vaughan). Continue reading →

War Horse

culture
I watched a fascinating documentary on Channel 4 about the making of War Horse a theatre production of the book written by Michael Morpurgo about the bond between a boy and his horse, intertwined with the First World War. The amazing thing about the production (I should say the most amazing thing, because every aspect looked brilliant) is the puppet horses. They are huge, skeletal beasts made of a wooden framework covered with gauze, and operated by three people. Continue reading →

Folk Dancing

culture
I’m not much of a dancer, but I enjoy a good ceilidh and I appreciate folk dances… now. When I was at primary school, we had to do ‘Country Dancing’ which was excruciatingly embarrassing as we had to dance with boys. I’m not sure that the boys were that keen on the whole endeavour either, which resulted in a lot of small children shuffling reluctantly around the gymnasium to an old and scratchy folk record, desperately trying not to make actual physical contact with their partner. Continue reading →

A classic ‘but she’s a girl’ moment from World War II

culture
If you have read my about page, you'll know that this blog is named after the bafflement that meeting a geeky, technically-minded female engenders in some people. I am far from unique in this experience, of course, and for older women with non-typically female interests, it was probably a weary, daily experience. I was watching a fascinating documentary earlier this week called Spitfire Women, about the women who served in the Air Transport Auxillary (ATA), and came across a perfect example of a 'but she's a girl' moment. Continue reading →

Sherlock

culture
I really didn't think I was going to enjoy the new series of Sherlock, which is set in present-day London. Although it stars great actors (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman), and has both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss producing, I thought it would be pointless update. I'm glad to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. It has a few rather preposterous plot points, but then Conan Doyle's original stories also occasionally stretched credibility. Continue reading →

Benjamin Zephaniah

culture
A couple of weeks ago, we attended this year's Baggs Memorial Lecture on the theme of Happiness, delivered by Benjamin Zephaniah. I'm fond of the series (I think leaving a bequest for an annual lecture on Happiness is a brilliant idea), and I really enjoyed the lecture in 2008 given by Andrew Motion. Despite both being poets, Motion and Zephaniah couldn't be more different. While Andrew is quiet, cerebral and extensively educated, Benjamin is exuberant, political and self-taught, having left school at the age of 13. Continue reading →

LibraryThing

culture
I've been using blippr for a while to record what films I watch, what music I listen to and what books I read, displaying the most recent in the sidebar here. However, I've found that it simply doesn't list a lot of the books I've read (films seem to fare better), and while you can add new items, it's a bit of a chore, and I've had one or two books that I just could not seem to add to the system. Continue reading →

Grave of the Fireflies

culture
There are some films you watch and think that they are very good indeed, but you then more or less forget about them a few days later. Others stay with you forever, etched on your memory. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the latter kind for me. I had heard that it was a very depressing film, but actually, I think it's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Continue reading →

Hadestown - Anaïs Mitchell

culture
Just over a week ago, Steve Hodgson (@BestofTimes on Twitter) recommended Hadestown to me. I'd seen a good review of it in The Guardian and been intrigued, but a personal recommendation from someone that you know has overlapping musical tastes is worth ten good reviews, so I eventually took the plunge. I was gripped from the first time I heard it, but I've enjoyed it even more with repeated listenings. It manages to pack in many different kinds of things that I love: roots/folk music, New Orleans jazz, a 1930s theme, great lyrics, Greek mythology, and a guy with the deepest voice I've ever heard — what more could I ask? Continue reading →

Welcome to Lagos

culture
I nearly didn't watch the first episode of the BBC Two documentary, Welcome to Lagos. I saw a bit of the trailer and thought it might be a bit depressing, and while I often watch depressing things if I think I might learn something, I have to be in the right kind of mood to deal with it. But I did watch it and I am incredibly glad about that: Welcome to Lagos was fascinating, intimate, sobering in places, certainly, but uplifting and life-affirming in others. Continue reading →

A new Doctor

culture
I watched the first episode of Doctor Who with Matt Smith as the Doctor with a pretty open mind. I loved Christopher Eccleston so much in the role that I was dreading the transition to David Tennant. Tennant very gradually grew on me, but it took a long time, and there were still moments when his over-the-topness got on my nerves a bit. In many ways, I think that having a Doctor (and for that matter, a companion) who is relatively unknown is a good thing, because they bring less baggage from previous roles. Continue reading →

Pop-up shops

culture
If there's a possible bright side to the recession, it's the phenomenon of the pop-up shop: local people take over a vacant shop in an otherwise bland and homogenous shopping centre, and suddenly there's a place where you can buy lovely, quirky, one-off, hand-crafted things made by local people. If you're in Birmingham over the next few weeks, there are two pop-up shops to visit. First there's the Pavilions Pop-up Arts Shop in the Pavilions Shopping Centre, which will only be open 5 days from 2nd-7th April, and features Mr. Continue reading →

Listen yourself warm

culture
I've had a request from James. He enjoyed my snowy photo from a couple of weeks ago, but it's making him feel cold. He's had enough of the winter and wondered if I could post some 'summery music' to warm things up a bit. Well James, your wish is my command. It's a great idea, and I've had a blast putting together a summery/warm playlist this morning. Rather than risk the authorities taking me away for posting tracks without permission, I thought a Spotify playlist might be the safest bet, so I hope that the majority of you have access to Spotify. Continue reading →

The Imagined Village - Empire and Love

culture
Mr. Bsag recently saw The Imagined Village play in Birmingham. I was intensely jealous, because I couldn't join him due to a work commitment. However, he brought me back their latest album — Empire and Love — which I'm really enjoying. The Imagined Village are a kind of folk/world music collective, involving several talented musicians including Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy and Martin Carthy, along with parts of Chris Wood's 'Best Band in the World' (Barney Morse-Brown and Andy Gangadeen). Continue reading →

Give me heart and soul and error

culture
I was watching an excellent Arena documentary the other day about Brian Eno. Eno is a fascinating person, and would most likely be at the top of the list if I ever got asked who I would invite to a dream dinner party. He is one of those rare and precious people who think quite deeply about both art and science, and manage to combine elements of both in new and interesting ways in their work. Continue reading →

Walking songs

culture
The recent snow has made cycling to work impossible. Some brave (or foolish) souls have been cycling along the main roads, but my route goes through parks and other open spaces where it's certain that very little gritting will have been done. I'm also a total coward when it comes to riding in icy conditions. I have a Weeble^1^ like ability to stay upright — despite slipping — when on foot, but I crash to the ground on a bike at the first wobble on ice. Continue reading →

The campaign against pink

culture
I was reading The Guardian a while before Christmas, and came across an interesting article about a campaign called Pink Stinks, started by two sisters (Emma and Abi Moore). They were sick of the lack of choice of clothes (everything pink and sparkly) and toys for girls, and the fact that toys which should be gender neutral (like globes) were being marketed towards girls by being manufactured in pink. The kinds of toys and activities marketed towards girls also seemed designed to restrict them to 'feminine' roles. Continue reading →

Post-Christmas pre-New Year round up

culture
I meant to post just before Christmas to wish everyone a good holiday, I really did. It's just that I was so exhausted from a very busy period at work that I just flopped as soon as my holiday started, and did practically nothing. Doing nothing has done me the world of good though, and I feel much revived. So much so, that I took the big step of upgrading ExpressionEngine (which runs my blog) to the beta version of 2. Continue reading →

Chris Wood gig

culture
Last night, Mr. Bsag and I went to see Chris Wood play the All Services Club in Moseley. We had been looking forward to the gig for ages, as we are both big fans, but because of various other circumstances, we were exhausted after a very hard and busy week, and wondered if we were going to be in the right mood to appreciate it. We needn't have worried: it was fantastic, and the warmest, most intimate and spellbinding gig I've ever been to. Continue reading →

Men of the City

culture
A busy month has meant that we've built up a backlog of recorded TV, so we've only just watched a Storyville documentary by Marc Isaacs, called Men of the City. I've always really enjoyed documentaries which sit back, observe and mostly let people speak for themselves, rather than asking questions, and Men of the City did just that. It's a real gem of a film. Very simply, the film follows the lives of four men who work in the City of London: a hedge fund manager; a street sweeper; a man who holds a sign pointing to the nearest Subway sandwich shop; and a man who collects money on behalf of City clients. Continue reading →

A review of three things sharing a theme

culture
I'm lagging behind a bit on reviewing some stuff I've come across recently, so I thought I might save a bit of time by doing a three part mini-review. When I was thinking about it, I realised that the film, book and album I'm about to review share a theme: death. I expect I've lost all three of my readers now. But in these difficult times, a bit of morbid fascination cheers everyone up, right? Continue reading →

Ukulele Prom

culture
Those of you who follow me on Twitter, or occasionally look at the tweets in the sidebar of this site will have noticed me going on about the Prom featuring the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB). The prom actually happened on Tuesday night, but we recorded it and listened to it last night. I've made no secret of my love for UOGB, and their performance at the Prom didn't disappoint. Continue reading →

When governments go wrong

culture
In the space of a couple of weeks I found myself watching three dramas (one a drama-documentary) which had striking parallels I hadn't anticipated. It was pure chance that I saw all three so close together in time, but the effect was a bit creepy. The first was the Torchwood mini-series, Children of Earth. An excellent series (though full of over-the-top sci-fi stuff, as you might expect), Children of Earth explored some quite serious themes concerning ethics and morality. Continue reading →

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

culture
Last weekend, we made a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park — a wonderful, enormous, outdoor art gallery near Wakefield. I'd never been before, but it won't be the last time I visit, because there was so much to see. Even if you're not into art and sculpture, there are some lovely walks through the parkland and woodlands, and it would be worth visiting just for that. It's worth mentioning that entry is free, and you only need to pay for parking (currently £4 per car), or arrive by bus. Continue reading →

Fanny

culture
A few weeks ago, I caught the very end of a re-run of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and a brilliant band from the 1970s. They were an all-female band and had a terrific style, with vocals slightly reminiscent of Janis Joplin. I couldn't believe that I'd never heard of them before because they were so good. I waited for the credits at the end of the programme and found out that the band was called Fanny. Continue reading →

1066

culture
We finally got around to watching the Channel 4 historical drama 1066 a few days ago. I was never very keen on History in school and these historical dramas can be truly dreadful, but we really enjoyed it. They made the sensible decision to tell the story of the Battle of Hastings (and the lead up to it) from the perspective of the ordinary people of the village of Crowhurst. So we followed the 'weaponmen' as they were effectively conscripted to go and support King Harold, and protect the coast against the expected Norman attack. Continue reading →

Mike Leigh

culture
We watched the film director Mike Leigh get interviewed by Mark Lawson a few weeks ago, and it was a fascinating insight into his working methods. I've seen quite a few Mike Leigh films, the most recent of which was Happy-Go-Lucky, and I always admire the way he gets such great performances from actors. His modus operandi is famously quirky and intensive. He starts off with a rough idea of the plot and then gathers together the cast. Continue reading →

Kristin Scott Thomas

culture
It so happens that we seem to have watched an awful lot of films featuring Kristin Scott Thomas recently. First, there was the brilliant, funny Easy Virtue, in which she played a cold, arrogant English aristocrat who was the Mother-in-Law from Hell for the heroine. Then we saw a couple of French films, in which Kristin Scott Thomas played French or bilingual English-French characters: I've Loved You So Long and Tell No One. Continue reading →

Compton Verney

culture
We decided to have a day out at Compton Verney today: a very nice art gallery housed in a stately home in Warwickshire. The gallery part has is in a newly-built extension to the house, and is a lovely building in itself, but there's also a huge Capability Brown-designed parkland surrounding the house and gallery. They have an exhibition on at the moment entitled, "Fatal Attraction: Diana and Actaeon - The Forbidden Gaze. Continue reading →

His Dark Materials at the Birmingham Rep

culture
After a long and very excited wait, we went to see the theatrical production of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials at the Birmingham Rep. There are two parts (each about 3 hours long), but we chose to book both parts on the same day for maximum intensity. In short, the production was superb. While the film 'The Golden Compass' had just the plot (and messed about with that) and none of the emotion, the play had all the emotion and most of the plot. Continue reading →

Leaving the Victorian Farm

culture
I've finally caught up with the last episodes of Victorian Farm, and it remains one of my favourite documentaries of recent times. It ended up being quite wistful at the end: you could tell that all three participants felt genuinely sad to be leaving, and while I'm sure that they were looking forward to modern luxuries like hot showers, they would miss the Victorian life. I think one of the best parts of the series was seeing people who still practice traditional crafts. Continue reading →

Perfect pub

culture
There are few things Mr. Bsag and I enjoy more than a visit to a nice real ale pub, but we live in a bit of a wasteland in that respect. There are some great places in the city (The Wellington and The Anchor, for example) and some lovely pubs out in the countryside, but the area in between is a virtual desert. Granted, if you like mass-produced lager and big screen football, you are well catered for, but real ale lovers are stuck. Continue reading →

Red hair

culture
Last week in the Guardian Weekend magazine, there was a wonderful series of photographs by Jennie Wicks, from an exhibition called "Root Ginger: A Study of Red Hair". In the text accompanying the article, some of the redheads featured in the photographs talked about the variety of taunts and insults they have endured because of the colour of their hair. Any negative discrimination on the basis of appearance is absolutely wrong, of course, but are people mad? Continue reading →

Victorian Farm

culture
Given my interest in the Victorian period, you can imagine that I'm really enjoying The Victorian Farm documentary on BBC 2. The series follows three historians/archeologists who are living in a Victorian farmhouse for a year, dressing, eating, working and living as Victorian farmers would have done. According to some interviews I read before the series started, they don't actually live there continuously for the year, but they are there for prolonged periods of time. Continue reading →

Susanna - Flower of Evil

culture
One of the many things which I love and admire about Mr. Bsag is his almost magical ability to pick great books and music for me. The extraordinary thing is that I have often never heard of the item in question, and if I had, would never have thought of choosing it. But when I listen to the music or read the book, I think it is wonderful and love it to bits. Continue reading →

The Crooked House

culture
There's nothing I like quite so much as a ghost story at Christmas. I hate horror films, but when the nights are dark and cosy I love settling down with the fairy lights and candles on, a glass of malt whisky in my hand, to watch a classic ghost story. M. R. James was the master of the genre, and I love his chilling tales (filmed for the BBC over many years), which let your imagination (rather than special effects) do all the work. Continue reading →

Proper Men

culture
When the first series of The IT Crowd was shown, I thought it was funny, but bemoaned the way it stereotyped women as knowing nothing about computers and loving shoes. I still have a bit of a problem with that, but the second and now third series have got progressively better as the characters have settled in. A couple of weeks ago, the episode 'Are We Not Men?' really made me laugh, and also struck a whopping great big chord with me about the difficulty of fitting in when your interests are not gender-typical. Continue reading →

Wall-E

culture
Ever since I saw a trailer for Wall-E early on, and the little robot reminded me of the strange parking meter/litter collecting machine on Wallace and Gromit's Grand Day Out, I've been looking forward to seeing the film. It took a while to come around on our LOVEFiLM queue, but it was really worth the wait. I don't think I've seen such a perfect animated film in a long time (with the possible exception of Curse of the Were-Rabbit). Continue reading →

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

culture
I've been meaning to write a full review of this book for ages, after posting a brief review on blippr. I read it while I was in Brazil, and was completely gripped. It's one of those books which you don't want to finish because you're enjoying it so much. You're also desperate to discuss it obsessively with everyone you meet, but at the same time, you don't want to spoil it for them. Continue reading →

FAB Art Exhibition

culture
{width="240” height="180”} Mr. Bsag managed to get one of his prints into a one-day art exhibition, sponsored by the Yorkshire Bank: FAB, or Future Art Birmingham. I went along with him for the evening, which was held on the 12th floor of the bank, with fabulous views over central Birmingham, as you can see in the photo. There was some really good art on display, and an auction was held for a couple of pieces, with some of the proceeds going to help fund the new Children's Hospital. Continue reading →

Moseley Folk Festival 2008

culture
We went to the Moseley Folk Festival yesterday, and it was really fantastic. I don't know why I haven't been before. I love folk music, and Moseley is only a short bus ride and a walk away from me. Anyway, I'll certainly be going again next year. The festival is held in Moseley Park, which is a fabulous, fairy grotto of a park, hidden in a valley between rows of Victorian houses. Continue reading →

Exceptions to the rule

culture
While listening to a Radio 4 documentary about The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (TUOoGB), I remembered an article I wrote -- wow -- nearly four years ago about how cover versions of songs and remakes of films are very rarely as good as the original, and are frequently worse. It struck me that TUOoGB are pretty much a universal exception to that rule. They play a lot of cover versions, and by some kind of weird voodoo which breaks all known laws, they manage to make the songs you dislike great and the songs you like brilliant, but brilliant in a different way to the original. Continue reading →

Iron Age

culture
I watched an interesting programme last night which found out what happened to people who had participated in some documentaries in the 1970s: "What Happened Next?" This episode caught up with a group of people who lived like Iron Age people for a whole year. They built their own roundhouse out of timber, thatch and wattle and daub, milked their own goats and ate gritty soaked wheat for breakfast. In contrast to modern reality shows, the focus of the original documentary seemed to be on exploring the processes involved rather than the personalities. Continue reading →

Accents

culture
While watching House the other day, I was thinking again about the different accents in English-speaking countries. There seems to be a weird non-symmetrical effect in how easy people in one English-speaking country seem to find it to recognise the native accent of another English-speaking country. For example, Hugh Laurie seems to me to be able to produce quite a convincing American accent (note that my point here is about how easy it is to recognise an accent, not reproduce it, which is much harder). Continue reading →

Wired for sound (again)

culture
I finally managed to get a new amplifier an Audiolab 8000a from ebay. I wired it up last night with my new speaker cables (The Chord Company Carnival Silver Screen) and I've been enjoying discovering our music collection again. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I'm pretty familiar with this Audiolab model, because my Dad had one for years. In fact, I'd even heard it with my current speakers, because they also used to belong to my Dad. Continue reading →

Balti bliss

culture
I had a wonderful balti with some friends from work yesterday evening, but I'm still recovering from the enormous quantities of naan we collectively consumed. The balti house we go to in Selly Oak is a brilliant, friendly, low-key place, and does gigantic 'table' naans with which to scoop up your balti. Before I'd seen one, I assumed that the name came from the fact that you could share it with your table, but I quickly realised that it is because it is the size of a table. Continue reading →

Pan's Labyrinth and Tideland

culture
Several months ago I watched both Pan's Labyrinth and Tideland within a few weeks of each other. They have some notable parallels, and are both quite disturbing explorations of the imaginative worlds of children. I meant to write a piece about this, but for various reasons it ended up on the back burner for a long time until I saw an interview with Guillermo del Toro (the director of Pan's Labyrinth) in a documentary about fantasy writing and films, and it reminded me that I'd never got around to it. Continue reading →

Last.fm

culture
I've finally signed up at last.fm. I don't know why I resisted for so long, but the increase in the numbers of full tracks that they feature was certainly an encouragement :-D. I do sometimes listen to the radio stations at work when I'm away from my main iTunes library, but I'm mainly interested in it as a way of discovering new artists. A 'similar artists' station turned up 'Iron & Wine', who I had never heard of before. Continue reading →

Symbolic

culture
I'd been meaning to write about a Channel 4 series (now finished) called City of Vice. As usual, I'm too late in writing about it to allow you to watch it, but there was one particular puzzle in the film that I haven't quite solved, so I decided to ask the Lazy Web if anyone knows the answer. City of Vice tells the story of the establishment of the Bow Street Runners in the 18th Century (the forerunners -- no pun intended -- of the modern Metropolitan Police) by novelist and playwright Henry Fielding, and his half-brother John. Continue reading →

Riding the choral wave

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This Sunday, my Mum and I took part in the 'Singalong with the CBSO' event. I took part in 2005 and thoroughly enjoyed it, and Mum and I both went along in 2006, because she enjoys singing too. This year's piece was Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. If you're not a fan of Classical music, you probably know at least once movement from either the Old Spice advert or The Omen, depending on your age and cultural tastes. Continue reading →

Lakota Nation

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I meant to blog about this long before Christmas, but didn't get around to it: a group of Lakota declared that they were unilaterally withdrawing from all treaties with the US, so that they are no longer citizens of the United States. The group explain their reasons for doing so on their site, and certainly it seems that they have every justification for doing so. The Federal government never properly honoured the the treaties, and for the past 150 years or so, the Lakota people (and other First Nation people) have been gradually impoverished, marginalised and denied access to parts of their land. Continue reading →

Playtime

culture
I love Jacques Tati. Almost nothing cheers me up as quickly as watching one of his films, which is odd really, given that Tati was a very visual, physical comedian, and that isn't normally the kind of thing I enjoy. But I just have to watch a few minutes of Monsieur Hulot walking -- leaning forward, as if into a stiff headwind -- and I'm in fits of laughter. Continue reading →

Ikon

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On Saturday, we visited an exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham of Japanese woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige. Being a printmaker himself, Mr. Bsag is very interested in any kind of prints, and I love Japanese art of all kinds. It was a great exhibition, with some really stunning pieces of work in it. Most of the prints were the kinds of compositions that you tend to associate with Japanese art: the paper is usually oriented in 'portrait' format, and often very tall and thin, with a view from above of a distant landscape. Continue reading →

A New Year potter

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Happy New Year, everyone! I know I'm a day late, but what's a day between friends? I've taken a couple of extra leave days, so I'm not back at work until next Monday, and I'm enjoying just pottering around, and trying to shake off a weird bug I seem to have picked up. I had one of those days today where you start off with the intention of fixing one small thing, and end up putting a whole host of things right by accident. Continue reading →

Christmas roundup

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We were on our own for Christmas and Boxing Day this year, so we had a couple of quiet days. After a hectic time at the tail end of this year, it was great to just stop and do very little. On Christmas Day itself, we cooked a crackingly good dinner (salmon en croute, in case you were wondering, with stir-fried carrots and sprouts and roast potatoes and parsnips), opened some presents and watched Doctor Who. Continue reading →

Making geese nervous

culture
I've got a secret liking for Heston Blumenthal's 'In Search of Perfection' cookery show on TV. On the one hand, I'm somewhat appalled by his sheer profligacy with energy and ingredients in order to produce a very small quantity of fancy food. On the other hand, it's hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm, and by his scientific approach to creating what he regards as the perfect dish. Continue reading →

The Golden Compass

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Reading a review in the Guardian of The Golden Compass -- the film adaptation of the first part of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (HDM) trilogy -- I was not sure whether to be excited or appalled. I'm a massive fan of Pullman's work, and HDM is one of my favourite books of all time. Despite ostensibly being books for children, they are as rich, subtle, disturbing, intriguing, exciting, and many-layered as any adult book you are likely to find. Continue reading →

Genius of Photography

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There's a really cracking documentary about photography on BBC Four at the moment, called Genius of Photography. The first programme looked at the historical origins of different photographic methods, and the social and artistic changes that it brought about. Like all good documentaries, it told me some things I didn't know before, and made me think about photography in a slightly different way. For example, they explained the process of making daguerreotypes, and showed some examples, both from the 19th Century and contemporary images. Continue reading →

A tale of two films

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Nearly a year ago, we watched a film called Capote (IMDB page), which we both enjoyed a lot. Last week, we watched another very similar film about Truman Capote, called Infamous. It made for an interesting comparison. While both films are based on different books ('Capote' is based on a book by Gerald Clarke, and 'Infamous' on one by George Plimpton), they both document the same event: the research that Capote did for his book 'In Cold Blood' about the murder of a family in Kansas. Continue reading →

Windscale

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It's the 50 year anniversary of the disastrous fire at the Windscale nuclear reactor, and there was an excellent documentary on BBC Two on Monday. I knew the basic story of the fire, but not the details, which -- it has to be said -- were fairly terrifying. It could easily have turned into a far more serious situation, but for the actions of staff at the site. As they said in the documentary, because it was Britain's first nuclear reactor, they had no idea what to do when the fire broke out. Continue reading →

Material goods

culture
I read an excellent article by Paul Graham a while ago about the perils of accumulating possessions, and the way that they can weigh you down as you subconsciously worry about them. It's not a novel observation, of course, but he sets out the problem very clearly. I also worry about how much 'stuff' I have, even though I'm not (by current standards) a particularly materialistic or acquisitive person. Even so, it's horribly easy to acquire a mountain of possessions, which becomes startlingly (and expensively) apparent when you move house. Continue reading →

Silence

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I watched a couple of things yesterday (one a TV documentary and the other a film) which were both -- in their different ways -- about silence, isolation, and internal mental strength. The coincidence of watching them both in the same night wasn't planned, but they made a very interesting pair of companion pieces. The first was a documentary called "Real Men Under Pressure" about saturation divers working on North Sea oil installations on the sea bed. Continue reading →

Walsall

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Mr. Bsag and I went to Walsall yesterday -- my first visit to the town. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting (it's very easy to have negative pre-conceptions about a lot of Midlands towns because they have been the butt of jokes for years), but I was pleasantly surprised. It is never going to be a tourist destination, but it has a very nice feel about it. For a start, it seems to have managed to hold on to one or two independent shops alongside the usual high street suspects that spread like fungus over most British towns. Continue reading →

St Paul's Gallery

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Birmingham can be a constantly surprising place. Just when you think you've explored all that it has to offer, you find something that's new to you, tucked away somewhere. My brother came to visit this weekend, and Mr. Bsag suggested that we go to St. Paul's Gallery, tucked away in the Jewellery Quarter. Despite the fact that I've visited the RBSA gallery many times, which is just around the corner, I'd never been to St. Continue reading →

Tour de Farce

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In the past, I've been an avid follower of the Tour de France. I got slightly bored with the predictability of the eventual outcome when Lance Armstrong was winning every year, but there were still some epic battles on individual stages, particularly those in the mountains. In 2006, I was looking forward to a more open race, and enjoyed the Tour, only to face a massive disappointment when the winner -- Floyd Landis -- failed a doping test. Continue reading →

Doctor Who improving

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After really not enjoying the first series of Doctor Who with David Tennant, I've liked this series a lot more. I thought that Freema Agyeman was pretty terrific as Martha Jones, and somehow the change of companion meant that I was making fewer unfavourable comparisons with the Eccleston/Piper pairing. Some of the episodes have been a little lame, but there have also been some cracking ones. I thought that Blink in particular was really good -- almost M. Continue reading →

Cider

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Friday night, chez bsag, is Cider Night. I've enjoyed cider since I was at University, but only Real Cider: Blackthorn, Woodpecker, and to some extent the trendy arriviste Magners are just fizzy, sweet, alcoholic drinks with no subtlety or depth of flavour. If you didn't know, you wouldn't guess that they were made out of apples. According to a lot of recent articles, cider is enjoying something of a revival, with sales increasing, mostly -- it seems -- driven by former alcopops drinkers who have grown up a bit. Continue reading →

End of the world books

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I've ended up reading two 'end of the world' science fiction books back-to-back recently, for reasons of quirky library reservations. The first is Death of Grass by John Christopher, and the other is The Children of Men by P. D. James. I read Death of Grass first, after it was mentioned in a documentary as one of John Wyndham's inspirations. I have to say that it scared the willies out of me. Continue reading →

Improbable Situations Discs

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Encouraged by the new DRM-free iTunes Plus tracks, and in a fit of mild nostalgia, I bought a few tracks off albums that I only have on vinyl or (long defunct) cassette tapes. Among them were a selection of my favourite tracks from three of Kate Bush's early albums: 'Lionheart', 'Never For Ever' and 'The Kick Inside'. Listening to 'Oh England My Lionheart' for the first time in ages reminded me that it is one of my Improbable Situations Discs. Continue reading →

Talented Brummies

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Exciting news, everyone! Mr. Bsag's Artfall has been submitted (not by me, amazingly) to a new digg.com-like site for promoting Birmingham and its many talented people: upyerBrum.com (great domain name). Birmingham can be a tough place for artists (and those involved with the Arts in general). It's chock full of very talented artists, but it can be incredibly hard to get your work in front of interested people, or even find a space where you can work. Continue reading →

The cobbler's family goes unshod

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I'm really ashamed that it has taken me so long -- particularly since I do so much stuff on teh intarwebs -- but I've finally got around to re-building Mr. Bsag's art site, Artfall. Part of the reason it took so long (apart from being incredibly busy) was that about 18 months ago, he started making prints (woodcuts, linocuts, aquatint, intaglio and so on) rather than paintings, so he needed to build up a portfolio of the new work to show. Continue reading →

Jonathan Meades Abroad Again

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I've been getting increasingly irritated by TV documentaries. Even if they are factually sound and reasonably balanced (unlike this week's Panorama programme), they frequently repeat things pointlessly, particularly on commercial channels where adverts break the programme up. For some reason, the documentary makers seem to assume that my working memory decays irretrievably after about two minutes, so they are constantly reminding me what they've just said. After a while this drives me crazy, and I end up yelling at the presenter that I am capable of retaining simple information for more than a few minutes, thank you very much. Continue reading →

Early morning call

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It is evening. I'm listening to Aerial by Kate Bush while finishing reading Northern Lights by Philip Pullman -- not for the first time. My mind un-focuses, as it sometimes does, and themes start to twine together. Dust. Blackbirds. Daemons. Invisibility. Light. Blackbirds. I think back to the morning, when I was trying to explain to Mr. Bsag how to let blackbird song lull you back to sleep rather than keep you awake. Continue reading →

New review of Children of Men

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I know that people sometimes don't notice my reviews over in the sidebar on the right, so I'll point out that I'm currently raving about Children of Men which we saw last night. It's definitely one of the best films I've seen in a while. Update 2007-04-23: For those of you who commented here and found that your comments disappeared, do not fear! It seems that having the same url title for this posting and the actual review, I had inadvertantly created some kind of comment worm hole, such that comments posted here ended up attached to the actual review. Continue reading →

Diary 1935

culture
I finally cleared the final boxes left by my parents yesterday, and came across a tiny leather-bound diary from 1935, probably owned by my grandmother. It's a mine of interesting information. For example, in 1935 a dog licence (anyone remember those?) would have cost you 7s. 6d. (dogs under 6 months of age exempt). In case you're ever in need of Apothecaries Measures converted to metric, 1 Fluid Scruple is 1,184 ml, and 1 Fluid Drachm is 3,552 ml. Continue reading →

Roots music

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I was writing a review on Shtetl Superstars, when I realised that I really don't like the term 'World Music'. Surely, all music should be world music, since we're all part of the same world? The unspoken implication of 'World Music' is often Music from somewhere that isn't the U.S. or the better known parts of Europe. 'Roots Music' is a little better, but it's still not right. It implies a a kind of museum music, something stuck in the past, reproducing and preserving what's gone. Continue reading →

Weighty literature

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Picture the scene: Mr. Bsag and I are both reading in bed. He is reading 'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy, and I am reading the lighter (in all senses) 'Hogfather' by Terry Pratchett. I'm feeling a little out-gunned in the worthy reading department, but enjoying 'Hogfather' for the nth time, nonetheless. As Mr. Bsag starts to get sleepy, he begins to lose his purchase on the book. Suddenly, it slips out of his grasp and all 1,392 pages hit him smack in the face. Continue reading →

London and Hogarth

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Last Saturday, we went to London to catch a couple of exhibitions: Hogarth at Tate Britain, and Originals 07: The Contemporary Printmaking Show at the Mall Galleries. Both were really excellent, but the Hogarth prints and paintings had a particular impact on me. We watched a drama last year about Hogarth and his creation of 'The Harlot's Progress' series of prints, and it was fascinating to see the works themselves. He captures people's characters beautifully, and tells very complex and subtle stories in a compact space. Continue reading →

Snowed out

culture
Yesterday was supposed to be the opening night for the Birmingham Open art show, at which Mr. Bsag was exhibiting. With the snow falling heavily and Birmingham City Council closing things left, right and centre, he called them to ask if the opening night was still going ahead, to which they said yes. I was supposed to be joining him, but as the weather deteriorated and our prospects of an unhindered journey back on the train afterwards decreased accordingly, I wasn't feeling too keen. Continue reading →

Making an exhibition of himself

culture
Mr. Bsag has been producing some cracking etchings^1^ and prints recently. I think they're wonderful, and -- at long last -- other people are starting to think so too. This week, he's had two prints accepted for two different exhibitions. The first is the [Friends of the RBSA](http://www.rbsa.org.uk/exhibitions/index.htm) exhibition at the RBSA, and the second is the [Birmingham Open](http://www.bmag.org.uk/index.php?type=event&maincat=3&subcat=0&subelement=0&eventid=202) at the Gas Hall, Birmingham. The RBSA exhibition runs until the 17th February, and the Birmingham Open runs from this Saturday until 29th April. Continue reading →

Animated

culture
I've been meaning to write about a couple of excellent and unusual animated films I've seen recently. The first was shown over Christmas, and was a BAFTA-nominated retelling of the story of Peter and the Wolf by a joint UK/Polish team. There's no dialogue, but it uses Prokofiev's score for the story, fitting the action in the visuals to the musical themes. It's hard to say what is so enchanting about it, but the characters are so engaging (Peter in particular) that you're genuinely upset when the duck gets eaten by the wolf (I know -- a spoiler -- but I'm assuming that most people already know the story). Continue reading →

Cycle commuting

culture
Part of my plan for this year is to get rid of the car, and spend more time outdoors. Something that helps both aims (as well as saving us money and saving fossil fuels) is for me to commute to work by bike. I actually planned to start commuting in by bike last year, but my hospitalisation set that plan back a bit. Last week, I cycled in a couple of times, and I'm really enjoying it. Continue reading →

Twelfth Night

culture
I think it should be obvious from the picture that our Christmas tree this year was not of the greatest quality. I'm surprised it made it to Twelfth Night. Despite supplying it with copious amounts of water, it dropped piles of needles at the slightest provocation. By the time we'd finished removing the decorations on Friday, it was more or less just bare branches. It was also the most deformed looking tree I've ever seen, like a larger and only slightly less sad-looking version of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Continue reading →

The National Theatre of Brent

culture
Contrary to my usual practice of watching or listening to something on TV or radio and then blogging about how brilliant it was when it was all over, I'm actually going to talk about something fantastic in advance, so that you have a sporting chance to see what all the fuss is about. The National Theatre of Brent are doing one of their unique theatrical productions on BBC Radio 4 at 9pm this Friday: The Messiah. Continue reading →

Name My Playlist

culture
I don't very often make playlists in iTunes, because I primarily use it to feed my iPod and I don't mind just listening randomly to everything on that. But I've started to listening to iTunes more when I'm working in the office at home, and I fancied something a bit more... tailored. I started out with a particular feel of song in mind, and manually constructed a playlist around that feeling. Continue reading →

Food on Swords

culture
One of the things you soon discover about Brazilians (especially if you are a non-meat eater^1^) is that they love their meat. Nowhere is this love better expressed than at the churrascaria, where meat from an enormous variety of animals (including caiman and capybara) is grilled over a charcoal or wood fire on skewers. However, because they love meat so much, I'm fairly sure that Brazilians would regard the small wooden or steel skewers we're familiar with as suitable only for children. Continue reading →

Torchwood

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Bendin’ in the Wind

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If you don't like football (and I really don't), there's a bit of a scarcity of decent stuff on the box at the moment. I've been doing more reading, pottering around in the garden and making a first pass at trimming down the pile of junk we seem to have accumulated in two years in our current house, so that we don't export the junk to our new place. This is all good, constructive stuff, but there are times when you just want to plonk yourself down in front of the TV and watch something funny. Continue reading →

Spiral

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We've been really enjoying a French cop show/thriller currently being shown on BBC Four. Spiral (Engrenages) is a dark political thriller, with none of the flashiness and special effects of CSI:[Insert name of US city here]. It does, however, have a particularly French flavour, which in the context of a cop show feels quite different for some reason. At one point, the prosecutor greets his (male) friend by kissing him on both cheeks. Continue reading →

A Very Long Engagement

culture
If you've seen Amelie and were put off by Audrey Tautou's slightly saccharine portrayal of a wide-eyed innocent, then you might also be put off watching this film. That would be a great shame, because it's a very fine one. For a start, it's really not a sentimental film, despite the title. It opens with a horrific scene of the trenches in World War One, and half a torso hanging off a blasted skeleton of a tree like a rag. Continue reading →

House

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I'm keen on ER, but often there's frustratingly little of the exciting diagnosis of mysterious diseases part, and a lot of dull 'relationship' stuff. However, in ER I can (at least some of the time) correctly diagnose the patient's problem before the doctors do, which is something I can never do with House. I've tried guessing Lupus erythematosus a few times, purely on the basis that it's obscure, has lots of interesting symptoms and cool name, but with no success so far. Continue reading →

Pitt Rivers museum: so many drawers, so little time

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{width="240” height="180”} {width="180” height="240”} The Pitt Rivers is an anthropological and ethnographical collection of artefacts, many of which were collected by the founder, General Pitt Rivers. The museum is kept deliberately dim^1^ to protect the delicate artefacts, but that just serves to make it more mysterious and exciting. Instead of grouping objects by geographical region, collections of similar objects from around the world are kept together. Pitt Rivers had a surprisingly modern outlook on culture, and was interested was in the way that similar ideas tend crop up in different places around the world. Continue reading →

Doctor Who Two

culture
I've tried, I really have. I've given him a good chance to prove himself, but I just can't warm to David Tennant as Doctor Who. For me, he just doesn't have the charisma of Eccleston. He either seems to be wildly mugging or staring googly-eyed. There's none of the suppressed sadness or danger of Eccleston's Doctor, and despite the gratuitous snogging, I also don't see the chemistry between Rose and the Doctor that was so striking in the previous series. Continue reading →

26a by Diana Evans

culture
This was one of those spur-of-the-moment purchases, made while I was waiting for a train to go to Bristol, but I'm very glad I picked it up. I'd never heard of the book (despite it being an Orange Prize winner), nor the author, but it's a wonderfully rewarding read. The story centres around identical twin girls, Georgia and Bessi, who live in Neasden with their Yorkshire father, Nigerian mother and two other sisters. Continue reading →

Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories by Annie Proulx

culture
I'm always faintly ashamed of reading books which have been recently filmed, and which have stills from the film on the cover. I'm not sure why, but I always think that I'm radiating a kind of 'she's so lacking in an appreciation of literature that she'll only read books based on films' vibe. In fact, I haven't seen the film of Brokeback Mountain yet, but I'm very keen to do so now. Continue reading →

Chris Wood - The Lark Descending

culture
'Albion', with its string backing sounding like a heartbeat or the swing of a pendulum, is a quietly searing indictment of Thatcher's Britain, though I'm afraid that it's just as applicable today. It's the true story of Chris walking in the park with his son one day and finding a young lad who had hanged himself: Sunday morning Me and my son Walk in the park Found a young man hanging from a tree His hands by his sides morning sun in his eyes Continue reading →

Nebulous

culture
I've been meaning to mention a great comedy Sci-Fi series that's running at the moment on Radio 4. Nebulous concerns the doings of Professor Nebulous and K. E. N. T. (the Key Environmental Non-judgmental Taskforce) in the year 2099. 'The Withering' has wiped out Birmingham (boo!), Nebulous has accidentally destroyed the Isle of Wight, and K. E. N. T. is so strapped for cash that they have to take in laundry to make ends meet. Continue reading →

Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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I've had Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (H2G2) on my list at Lovefilm for quite a while, and have been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading its arrival. I've heard some people rave (in a good way) about it, and others hate it, so I wasn't quite sure what I was going to make of it. I watched it this weekend^1^ and you'll know which camp I fall into when I say that I'm still thinking to myself, ". Continue reading →

The Station Agent

culture
This has to be one of the best character-driven films I've seen recently, due in large part to the intelligent but minimal script and the excellent performances from Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. It's quirky without being irritating and touching without being sentimental or mawkish. Peter Dinklage plays a dwarf called Fin who inherits a disused train depot in New Jersey from fellow train enthusiast and business partner, Henry. Continue reading →

Firefly - Part Two

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In Part One, I talked about the characters of Mal, Zoe and Wash. Here, I'll discuss the remaining main characters. Kaylee Kaylee is almost preternaturally cheerful, and thinks the best of people. All the time. MAL: I don't believe there is a power in the 'verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful. [beat] Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month. Continue reading →

Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe

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I've always enjoyed Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn columns in the Guardian, so I was interested to see that he'd got a TV show on BBC Four called 'Screen Wipe'. It's broadcast well past my bedtime, so we've been recording it and watching it at some later date while eating dinner. His Screen Burn column often made me spray coffee all over the table when a funny phrase caught me unawares, but now Screen Wipe results in the considerably more painful (and messy) snorting of pasta out through the nose. Continue reading →

Firefly - Part One

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I mentioned that I got the Firefly DVD set for Christmas, and promised to talk more about it. I think it's going to be fairly long, so this here's the first part. While I haven't quite finished all of the episodes yet (I'm loving them so much that I'm trying to make them last as long as possible), I can safely say that I Firefly has equalled Farscape in my affections. Continue reading →

Cape Farewell

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I watched a great documentary last week called 'Art from the Arctic' on BBC FOUR a week ago or so, which was about the Cape Farewell expeditions to the Arctic. This is a very laudable effort to bring together artists, scientists and educators to create work that will inform the public about the dangers of global warming. In the programme, they followed the latest voyage of the lovely Dutch schooner 'The Noorderlicht' to Svalbard. Continue reading →

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - The Secret of Life

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It's almost impossible to describe what The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain do without making it seem weird and eccentric. This is very convenient, because what they do is weird and eccentric, but also a stroke of genius. They are (obviously, given their name) an orchestra of ukuleles who cover an amazing variety of songs in their own inimitable style. If you think of the songs you could least imagine being played on a ukulele, those are the ones they tackle. Continue reading →

2046

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I've been looking forward to seeing this film by Wong Kar Wai for ages, ever since I heard that he'd directed a kind of sequel to In the Mood for Love. Like its prequel, 2046 is a languid, sensual film that takes its time to unfold, and very little actually happens. If you like action films that are packed with explosions and plot twists, this probably isn't for you. The film plays with time in many ways. Continue reading →

How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher - Simon Barnes

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In many ways, he was preaching to the converted as far as I was concerned. Despite birds being part of my job, I'm pretty hopeless at identifying them, but I could watch any bird for ages. I'm the kind of person who walks into lamp posts because my attention is suddenly caught by a bird in a tree. In fact, this passage from the book sounded terribly familiar to me: Continue reading →

The IT Crowd

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It's written by Graham Linehan and has many of the wacky and surreal hallmarks of Father Ted, laugh-out-loud moments (Moss emailing the fire brigade when his soldering iron starts a fire in the office), and some great physical comedy. However, it has one aspect that puts me into 'Points of View' mode^1^: why did they have to make the new manager who knows absolutely nothing about computers female? And why does she have to be obsessed with shoes? Continue reading →

Family tree

culture
I'm generally rabidly averse to any TV programme with a significant 'celebrity' element (Celebrity Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing, or whatever it is), but I've been really enjoying Who Do You Think You Are?. I suspect that's because it's not really about celebrities at all, but rather about the fascinating lives of the extraordinary, ordinary people who happen to be our ancestors. Continue reading →

Hyperdrive

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The premise (which, to me, is just funny on its own) is that the space ship 'HMS Camden Lock' is on a mission to promote Peterborough as an enterprise zone throughout the galaxy ("It's got a Farmer's Market!"). A somewhat thankless and futile task one might think, and one that really peeves the psychopathic and trigger-happy First Officer, York. However, the Commander Michael (Nick Frost) insists that it's a "sideways move" within Space Force. Continue reading →

Doctor Tennant

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There were also the requisite child-terrifying moments, and full marks to the writers for planting the seeds of potential Christmas phobias in the kiddies with the flame-throwing Santa band and the buzz-saw Christmas tree. I also felt that this particular episode was rather a good political satire. Harriet Jones's robust response to the un-named US President had us punching the air, yelling "YES!", and wishing that she was our real Prime Minister. Continue reading →

Wood engraving

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I find it difficult to explain what I like so much about wood engravings. Usually, I'm a sucker for colour, and most engravings are just printed in black (though some may be hand tinted). It must be something about the magic of creating such a detailed, textured image out of a block of smooth wood that I find interesting. Wood engraving was a bit of a dying art, but it seems to have had a bit of a resurgence recently, which I think is great news. Continue reading →

Sufi Soul

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Which brings me back to Sufism. Sufism is a sect of Islam, but they sit uneasily on opposite sides of the divide I've just described. Sufism is a pluralistic, transcendental, and tolerant religion, stressing love as the path to the divine, not fear. They use beautiful and trance-inducing music as an important part of their worship, to help followers reach an ecstatic and transcendental unity with god. Sufis welcome everyone, regardless of their faith or past history. Continue reading →

Space Race

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I missed most of the series while I was in Brazil, but I've been really enjoying the end of BBC TWO's Space Race. They seem to have done a fantastic job digging up the real story of the race between the USA and the USSR to get a man on the moon, and some of the reconstructions and archive footage of the Russian part of the story have been remarkable. Continue reading →

BSAG revisited: The gruesome spires

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[First published 21/03/2004] Yesterday's Meet the Ancestors programme was an interesting exploration of some recent gruesome discoveries just outside the old Oxford Gaol. The old prison (next to the old castle mound) is being redeveloped (surprise, surprise) into a luxury hotel and apartments. Three of the old cells will form each of the fancy new en-suite hotel rooms. However, after watching the programme, I don't think that I would want to stay there, even if I had the money. Continue reading →

BSAG revisited: Touching the Void

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[First published: 05/02/2004] Last night, we saw Touching the Void — Joe Simpson and Simon Yates' attempt on the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. I'm sitting now, with my hands on the keyboard, wondering if it's possible to compress down and reduce the story and the impression it had on me into words. I don't think it is, but I'll do my best. When most of us make decisions, then tend — in the main — to be of the 'orange juice with bits or without' or 'Indian food or Chinese' type. Continue reading →

Sufjan Stevens - Come On Feel the Illinoise!

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I'm a recent but devoted convert to Sufjan Stevens, so I was really looking forward to listening to this album. It's the second album counting towards Sufjan's quirky and ambitious aim of recording an album in each State of the US. One of the things that I love about him is his blatant disregard for short and snappy song titles. Track 2 is a perfect example: 'THE BLACK HAWK WAR, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologise for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, "I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands! Continue reading →

Smallfilms

culture
BBC4 has been running an animation season recently, showing old and new animations and running documentaries about them. I caught one about Smallfilms — a tiny animation studio run by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin which produced classic animations like The Clangers, Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine. For any Brit of my generation, these programmes were an integral part of our childhood. They were simple, beautifully drawn and with whimsical, delightful stories. Continue reading →

Soul Symphony

culture
"Baroque calypso!" That was what I had written in the programme next to the last piece in the 'Soul Symphony' concert at Symphony Hall, conducted by Ken Burton. I couldn't quite believe what I had written — or, for that matter, what I had heard — but there it was. The concert was a celebration of the hymn in all forms, with particular reference to the influences and intertwining of various forms of earlier and later music on gospel and spirituals. Continue reading →

Japanese Story

culture
::: {.img-shadow} {.Amazonimage} ::: Watching this film really had nothing to do with my recent visit to Japan, despite appearances. I put it on my Lovefilm queue long before I even knew that I was going, but it floated to the top of the list after I'd got back. As it turned out, the film is only tangentially about Japan. The story follows the relationship between Sandy (an Australian geologist) and Tachibana (the son of an important potential client of Sandy's company). Continue reading →

Vintage Sci-Fi

culture
I haven't had so much fun watching a Sci-Fi series since the days of Farscape. And I don't remember the last time when there was actually anything worth watching on the TV on a Saturday night. But Saturday night has become Doctor Who Night chez bsag. In fact, we even try to watch it live if at all possible. That would explain why — when dashing from a hasty shower and hurtling down the stairs on hearing the 'diddle-dee-dee' theme music^1^ — I managed to pull a muscle. Continue reading →

Dr. Who

culture
I watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who last night with some degree of trepidation. I loved the series as a kid (despite the fact that it scared me silly and resulted in lasting phobias), so I worried that they would wreck it by making it too serious and slick. I needn't have worried. There may be spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it yet, don't read on. Continue reading →

In Search of Myths and Heroes

culture
I always seem to do this, but I'm going to rave about a TV series that's about to finish. I've been really enjoying In Search of Myths and Heroes with Michael Wood, but somehow I kept forgetting to write about it. As the title suggests, Michael Wood undertakes various journeys to try to trace the truth behind some of the famous myths and stories from the ancient world. He's uncovered the story of the Queen of Sheba, and the historical links between Africa and the Middle East, he's tramped over treacherous mountain passes drinking yak butter tea in search of Shangi-La, and in the latest programme, he followed the route of the Argo to tell the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Continue reading →

Victoria Wood

culture
Watching a recording of the BAFTA tribute to Victoria Wood last night, I suddenly realised that I have never written about her here, despite the fact that she is one of my favourite comedians/comedy writers. People often compare her material to that of Alan Bennett, which seems apt to me. They both have an acute ear for the subtleties of everyday conversation, an affectionate warmth for their subjects (while still being biting at times), and genuine pathos and sadness in with the laughs. Continue reading →

Bill Bailey

culture
I've decided; Bill Bailey is officially my joint favourite living British comedian (with Eddie Izzard). I've enjoyed him a lot as an actor in 'Spaced' (as Bilbo, the comic book shop owner), and of course as the cheerfully opressed Manny in 'Black Books', but I've just seen some of his 'Part Troll' tour on TV, and I'm still giggling. Trying to explain what makes someone funny is a sure way to kill any humour, but I must just give a few examples of some of the many things that cracked me up in the show^1^. Continue reading →

Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars

culture
Thanks to a kind 'heads up' by Saltation, I managed to catch Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars on Sky One. We both got all excited when it was announced that the mini-series would be shown on the Sci-Fi channel, only to find that it wasn't shown on the Sci-Fi channel in the UK. Thanks to a VCR-Telewest related bodge up, I didn't catch the first airing on Sky One, but managed to watch (and tape it) on Tuesday. Continue reading →

Thinking Earth

culture
I've been meaning to post about a great programme that was on Radio 4 on New Year's Day: Thinking Earth - an ABC of the Night. It was a collage of people's stories and sounds of the night, from all around the world. They went through the alphabet, with one little segment representing each letter. It was the kind of thing that radio does superbly. Listening — at night — with the lights dimmed, it was wonderful to immerse yourself in this lush soundscape, and to enjoy people talking about their experiences. Continue reading →

Old films

culture
We found very little worth watching over Christmas. This didn't bother us much, as we were happy to chat or listen to music or read. However, we did watch two particularly good films, and both were fairly old. I don't know quite how this has happened, but I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life (and I call myself a film buff — it's shocking). I've seen enough parodies, clips and homages to the film that I feel as if I've watched it, but I thought it was time to see to real thing. Continue reading →

Gods and Monsters

culture
I'm not a fan of horror films (even old classics like Frankenstein), so I watched this film for the human interest angle, and because it features Ian McKellen. He brings subtlety and depth to any role he plays, and this is no exception. The story is a fictionalised account of the last few days of the life of James Whale — the director of some classic horror films, as well as Showboat. Continue reading →

Or so I heard

culture
When I read the Slashdot article, Things To Do Before You Die, one particular bit of information jumped out at me: Lu Xun writes "A group of British scientists has brought some meaning to our lives by providing a list of 100 scientifically-oriented things to do before you die. The suggestions include 'joining the 300 Club at the South Pole (they take a sauna to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, then run naked to the pole in minus 100 F) or learning Choctaw, a language with two past tenses - one for giving information which is definitely true, the other for passing on material taken without checking from someone else. Continue reading →

Filling the room

culture
We went to Symphony Hall last night to see a performance of Handel's La Resurrezione. We took a bit of a chance as neither of us had heard it before, but we really enjoyed the performance. They used an authentic Baroque orchestra with wonderful instruments like a Viola da Gamba, a couple of lutes and a pair of recorders. If you've only ever heard the dreadful honking, squeaking sound that happens when you mix small children and recorders, then it's a bit of a revelation when you hear them played properly. Continue reading →

Balti

culture
I went out with a group of people from work to a balti restaurant yesterday, and I realised with a shock that it's the first time I've been to a real balti since I've been living here. Of course, I've had many Indian meals at restaurants which have a few balti dishes on the menu, but I haven't been to the real thing. For those of you who aren't from the UK (or who don't know much about Indian food), the balti is an interesting phenomenon. Continue reading →

Libraries

culture
I'm rediscovering the joy of visiting the library. I'm not talking about academic libraries (I visit them a lot) but public libraries, and borrowing fiction books. I used to be a frequent visitor when I first moved to Oxford, but at some point I lost my library card, and couldn't be bothered to get a new one. Mr. Bsag had one, and he used to sometimes get me books, but somehow that wasn't quite the same. Continue reading →

John Peel and Home Truths

culture
Like many other avid radio listeners, I was really sad to hear that John Peel had died. Many people have — rightly — focused on the loss to the music world because he was such an eclectic and enthusiastic champion of new music. However, I'll also really miss his Radio 4 programme, Home Truths. Home Truths tends to divide opinion; you either love it passionately or hate it. It's certainly hard to describe to someone who hasn't heard it. Continue reading →

City of God

culture
I hate violence and I hate watching violent films. But for every rule there's an exception, and if the violence is an accurate portrayal of a real situation, and the film tells an important and hidden story, then — for me — it's justified. City of God (Cidade de Deus) is a violent film, but an important, beautiful and heartbreaking one. The film is based on the true story of a group of kids growing up in a Rio favela, from the perspective of Rocket — the only one to break out of the cycle of poverty and violence and get out of the favela. Continue reading →

Midsomer Murders

culture
There must be something about Sunday nights that switches off my critical faculties and turns my brain to mush. I can find no other rational explanation for the fact that on Sunday I enjoy watching Midsomer Murders. For those unfamiliar with the British TV landscape, this show is classic Sunday night fare, featuring; lovely rural thatched cottage locations, mild tongue-in-cheekiness, great British Institutions (WI, bell ringers, Regattas etc.), and — of course — gruesome murder. Continue reading →

Shaun of the Dead

culture
I was a little bit apprehensive about watching Shaun of the Dead. I'm a huge fan of Spaced, and think that Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson and Nick Frost are the funniest thing since... funny sliced bread, so that wasn't the problem. No, I was a bit concerned that the 'zom' aspect of the 'romzomcom' might be a little too scary for me. Pathetic, isn't it? What can I say — I'm a total wuss when it comes to horror. Continue reading →

The Blues

culture
We saw a gig advertised in the local paper that was to be held at one of our local pubs: an American acoustic Blues guitarist called Ben Andrews. He got a rave review, and as we both love Blues music, we decided it was too good an opportunity to let pass. Sometimes fate doesn't treat our attempts to see live music kindly. On this occasion, we got to the venue a little early to pick up our tickets, only to be greeted with, "Oh, you haven't heard? Continue reading →

Customer service

culture
My parents came to stay this weekend, so I gave them the grand tour around Birmingham. We went from the very new and shiny — but slightly soulless — Bullring, to the chaotic, noisy, vibrant indoor markets. I needed to buy some salmon fillets, so I asked at one of the many fishmongers' stalls in the market for "just over a kilo" of salmon. He duly weighed out the fish, then said, "Now, I'll tell you what I'll do. Continue reading →

Cover versions

culture
It occurred to me yesterday (while watching the original 1997 version of Insomnia) that there are very few cover versions of songs or remakes of films that are worth spending your precious time on. I can only think of a handful of songs (and no films) for which a subsequent cover or remake actually improved on the original. On the other hand, it's very easy to think of covers and remakes which should never have been made. Continue reading →

New Farscape mini-series

culture
I have no idea when (or if) it will be shown in my backward bit of the galaxy, but there's a new four-hour Farscape mini-series being shown on the Sci Fi Channel on 17th October. You can see the excellent trailer on Apple's trailer page. The Save Farscape community should get huge kudos for their persistence in trying to persuade Sci Fi that there would be a big audience for more Farscape shows — it has finally paid off. Continue reading →

Oatcakes

culture
Alongside regional accents, derelict railway stations, and genuine Green Men, one of the other unique things Brum has to offer is a regional delicacy: the oatcake. Strictly speaking, the oatcake is a Staffordshire speciality, but they are also widely available and enthusiastically consumed in Birmingham too. These oatcakes are nothing like the Scottish variety. I've always found those dry biscuits to have all the flavour and texture of shredded cardboard. Staffordshire oatcakes are more like a pancake or crèpe, — made with oatmeal rather than wheat flour — and are totally delicious. Continue reading →

DVDs by post

culture
One of the few things I really miss from Oxford (apart from my friends and the lovely buildings) is the availability of great independent cinemas. The Phoenix and the UPP screened a wonderful range of independent and foreign films; around here there only seems to be the usual glut of Odeons and UCIs showing the standard releases. So Mr. Bsag and I are thinking about subscribing to one of the DVD-rental-by-post services. Continue reading →

Stanley Spencer

culture
As I mentioned here, we went to the Stanley Spencer Gallery the day before we moved house. We both love his paintings, with their curious mix of the utterly commonplace and the spiritual. He had a number of quite distinctly different styles, from highly detailed sharp landscapes, through the scenes of groups of people with rounded bodies and huge, curving limbs, to his ultra-realistic intimate portraits which remind me a bit of Lucien Freud's work. Continue reading →

Brummie accents

culture
I was on the point of writing a post about how odd I'm finding it to be surrounded by people with regional accents (I should say, people with the same regional accent^1^), when I spotted a post on Birmingham accents by David, which in turn was commenting on a post at Language Log. There is a native Oxford accent (which most people would be able to identify as broadly 'rural'), but it is increasingly rare with so much of the population of Oxford composed of students or academics from across the world, tourists and London commuters. Continue reading →

Cycling hero

culture
Thomas Voeckler is my new cycling hero. He looks about 16 years old, has a funny honking^1^ style, and manages to get dropped on just about every climb of the mountain stages. But he still — somehow — manages to drag himself back through the peleton with very little support from his team, and is still just hanging on to the yellow jersey after 9 days. Every kilometre looks like torture for him, but when he gets on the podium he has such a sweet smile. Continue reading →

A very inviting pub

culture
There's a feature in the latest issue of the CAMRA newsletter about a pub called the Square and Compass in Dorset. It's that rare breed — a real cider pub. Apparently they have up to 10 real ciders at a time. Ten! In most pubs (even ones which have real ale), you're lucky to get one proper cider — note that I don't consider bland abominations like Woodpecker or Dry Blackthorn as proper cider. Continue reading →

Documentary styles

culture
I've been watching quite a few documentaries recently, and it has made me think a bit about what makes them effective. In the style of the old 'compare and contrast' essays we all had to write at school, I was thinking about the differences between two programmes I've seen in the past few days: Time Machine and Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Time Machine featured computer reconstructions of physical processes which happen over a very long time scale, like glaciation, plate tectonics and the formation of the Grand Canyon. Continue reading →

21 Dog Years

culture
The comedy and drama available on Radio 4 is often much better than the offerings on TV. A few weeks ago, they had a dramatisation of Mike Daisey's 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com, read by the author himself. I've just got around to listening to the recording we made of it, and I haven't laughed so much in ages. Daisey is a fantastic story-teller, and reminded me a little of Laurie Anderson in the way that he used a kind of sing-song voice and dramatic pauses and elongations of words. Continue reading →

Propaganda

culture
I watched a fascinating documentary a couple of days ago about the so called 'black propaganda' units operating in the Second World War. These used dirty tactics to try to demoralise the German troops, including dropping pornographic leaflets and spreading rumours about soap being rendered from all the amputated limbs in Austrian hospitals. Some of the stories were very funny, while others were rather horrifying. One of the funniest moments was an interview with a woman (now in her late 60s) who — as an innocent young girl of 22 — was asked to doctor a photograph of Hitler to show him holding his penis, underneath which would be the legend 'What we have we hold' in German. Continue reading →

Mort

culture
Fans of Terry Pratchett, pay attention — Radio 4 is serialising his novel, Mort. The first episode was on last week, but if you're quick you can still catch it on listen again. If you're not a fan of Terry Pratchett, consider what a fantastic character his Death is. In Mort, Death goes to a hiring fair to find an apprentice. In the stillness of the midnight streets, we hear his majestic horse galloping along, and as Death dismounts, we hear a skidding sound. Continue reading →

D-Day

culture
Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and the BBC had a fair bit of coverage of the ceremonies in Normandy, documentaries and so on. I'm no fan of war of any kind (past, present or future), but I have a great deal of respect for the people involved in the Second World War. The veterans are — as a general rule — extremely modest and self-effacing people, and yet they did an unbelievably difficult job, for which we owe a debt of gratitude. Continue reading →

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring

culture
I bunked off work early on Friday to watch a film. It's the first time I've done that for ages, and it was a delightful treat. I saw Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring — a beautiful film about a young Buddhist monk, growing up in the care of an old Master. The two live in a tiny monastery floating in the middle of a lake in a deep valley. The cinematography is stunning, and while very few dramatic events happen in the film, the details and the gentle pace really kept me enthralled in a way that few action movies do. Continue reading →

London

culture
There's a good series on BBC 2 at the moment about London, presented by Peter Ackroyd. In the first part, he looked at the effect of fire on London over the centuries. It's surprising — given how often London has been totally devastated by fire — that the lines of the old, winding streets seem to manage to re-assert themselves, as if the city is a living thing, and re-grows its old form to heal the wounds. Continue reading →

Mythology

culture
Via del.icio.us, I found a wonderful site documenting myths and folklore: Encyclopedia Mythica. You can search by geographical area, or by myths or folklore (which seem to be somewhat grey categories to me. I could spend hours looking around this site, but it's fascinating what some of the stories reveal about human nature. For example, the tale of the selkie — always one of my favourite bits of folklore when I was a child — can be read as a feminist tract: Continue reading →

Cycle statistics

culture
There's an intriguing graph in the latest issue of A to B, in which the number of fatalities per billion cycle/kilometers (effectively, the individual risk of death per cyclist, corrected for distance) is plotted against the average cycle distance per person per day. Fatalities increase very rapidly with decreasing cycle distance, with the UK falling somewhere near the bottom of the curve, with an average cycle distance per person of about 0. Continue reading →

Children of Abraham

culture
There was a good documentary on the other night (part two of a three-part series), called 'Children of Abraham'. In the series, Mark Dowd tries to unravel the complex inter-relationships between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, and in this programme he was visiting Jerusalem. As regular readers will know I'm agnostic/atheistic, but I'm interested in religion. Like a dog watching TV, I don't really understand it, but I'm fascinated anyway. Continue reading →

Retail insanity

culture
There's a great article in Thursday's Guardian G2 by Clare Pollard, launching a scathing attack on the idea that 'retail therapy' is the answer to every woman's problems. She reserves particular scorn for shopping for clothes or shoes. Never mind that most of the world lives in poverty, and probably really "deserves" a bowl of grain, this month's Cosmopolitan gives a 10-step happiness plan that includes such "happy steps" as "Buy those shoes" and "Give yourself treats. Continue reading →

40 years of BBC2

culture
I watched a bit of the BBC 2 40th birthday celebrations last night, which reminded me what a lot of excellent and innovative programmes they've produced over the years. The snippets they showed were tantalizingly short, but some made me wish I'd been old enough at the time to watch the documentaries they made in the 60s and 70s, like the Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. The clip showed Bronowski standing in a pond made of human ashes from the gas ovens at Auschwitz and talking about how we have to "cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power", and to touch real people. Continue reading →

Queueing, the Curse of the British

culture
One thing^1^ that visitors to this country probably find odd is the British obsession with queueing (or standing in line for any North American readers). Of course, people in other countries form queues or lines for things, but I don't think I've ever visited anywhere else where it has become such a pervasive part of social behaviour. I was thinking about this this morning, while waiting for the bus. The obvious, orderly queues are fairly easy to get to grips with: join the end, and don't under any circumstances attempt to push in ahead of anyone else — doing so will only result in holes being burned in the back of your skull by the people behind you, and a chorus of 'tutting' and sub-vocal muttering about your lack of manners. Continue reading →

Black Books

culture
The probably-final-ever series of Black Books has just ended, and I am in mourning. Along with Spaced, it's one of the best and most imaginative UK sitcoms in many long, dreary and ‘Keeping up Appearances'-filled years. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Bernard Black owns a bookshop, but barely tolerates the customers. He's more of a misomni-ist than a misanthropist; apart from red wine and cigarettes, he loathes and detests everyone and everything. Continue reading →

Addison's Walk

culture
Living in a city that is popular with tourists can be an odd experience. It often doesn't really occur to you to visit some of the more popular ‘attractions' if you live there all the time, but as a result you can miss out on some great experiences. My mum visited today, and insisted that we should look around Magdalen College. I'm very glad that she did, because it was really beautiful. Continue reading →

War photography

culture
I've just watched a wonderful short documentary about the photographer Simon Norfolk. He's a war photographer now, but not in the usual photojournalist sense. He goes into war zones after the battle is over and takes stunningly beautifulâ€"but also very humaneâ€"photographs of the effect of war on the landscape with a large format landscape camera. He consciously uses the language of Classical landscape painting: a beautiful landscape in the background, glowing light on the horizon, a ruined building, and an innocent shepherd boy in the foreground. Continue reading →

The Genius of PG Wodehouse

culture
Nobody writes like PG Wodehouse. I'm reading Piccadilly Jim at the moment (on my Treo — very convenient for those moments when you find yourself without a book), and this absolute gem made me laugh out loud. The eponymous man-about-town is recovering on the sofa after a night of rather ill-advised high jinks, and talking to his butler, Bayliss: "You know, Bayliss," said Jimmy thoughtfully, rolling over on the couch, "life is peculiar, not to say odd. Continue reading →

Spring forward...

culture
...or in my case, shuffle forward. I hate the day that the clocks go forwards — I feel cheated out of an hour of sleep, even if I go to bed an hour early the night before, and I feel out of sorts all day. It didn't help that I had a project to finish (for some value of 'finish') and consequently had a lot to get done today. I much prefer Autumn, with the clocks going backwards. Continue reading →

Cycling Dons

culture
There was a ridiculous piece on the Today Programme this morning about the University of Oxford offering cycle training to its staff (which they have been doing for a while, actually). The spin was that Dons on bicycles were terrorizing pedestrians and riding dangerously. Edward Stourton asked in a rather jovial way if Oxford academics weren't clever enough to work out how to ride a bike on their own. Sometimes the quality of journalism really gets me down. Continue reading →

The Bards of Bromley

culture
I heard a fantastic Afternoon Play on Radio 4 this afternoon—'The Bards of Bromley', by Perry Pontac. The conceit was that a number of famous writers have turned up for a writer's workshop in Bromley, to discuss their most popular literary works: George Eliot ("Middlemarch"), William Wordsworth ("Daffodils"), August Strindberg (Dance of Death), Goethe (Faust) and AA Milne (Piglet Meets a Heffalump). That's a pretty good start for a comic drama right there. Continue reading →

The gruesome spires

culture
Yesterday's Meet the Ancestors programme was an interesting exploration of some recent gruesome discoveries just outside the old Oxford Gaol. The old prison (next to the old castle mound) is being redeveloped (surprise, surprise) into a luxury hotel and apartments. Three of the old cells will form each of the fancy new en-suite hotel rooms. However, after watching the programme, I don't think that I would want to stay there, even if I had the money. Continue reading →

Cult of celebrity

culture
I was in Borders bookshop today, and spotted a couple of Japanese women raptly reading a huge pile of those celebrity gossip magazines: Heat, Now, Closer^1^ and their ilk. Every few minutes, they would point out some article or picture to one another and discuss it. They spoke in Japanese, but every now and again an English word like 'Spice Girl' or 'Oscars' would pop out at me. They gave every appearance of finding it the most fascinating thing in the world. Continue reading →

The fabulous fish guy

culture
When I saw Finding Nemo at the end of last year, I wrote about how impressed I was by its educational qualities. As it turned out, there was accurate biological detail that even I missed. In an article in Nature, they reveal that Pixar employed a fish biomechanicist called Adam Summers to give them lectures on fish locomotion, biology and marine ecology. The Pixar people were entranced by his description of the reproductive biology of the anglerfish. Continue reading →

Watch those trousers — they can kill!

culture
I found this very funny but also a little troubling; if about 0.008%^1^ of Britons can't cope with even a simple and common article of clothing without doing themselves an injury, then the country is in desperate trouble. This quote really made me laugh: According to Rospa, trousers are responsible for more accidents than any other garment: "In the UK around 3,695 people attend hospital every year as a result of an accident with trousers," says spokeswoman Karen Blanchette. Continue reading →

National Gallery

culture
In a bid to get out of Oxford for the day, and to get a bit of culture, we went to the National Gallery yesterday. There were a couple of good exhibitions: Thomas Jones and Bosch and Bruegel. Jones was a Welsh artist of the late 18th century, who travelled all over Italy painting landscapes. He started off with a typical (and to me rather uninteresting) 18th century ‘Roman ruins adorned by decorative goats and and milk maids' style of painting, but gradually moved to a strikingly-modern architectural style. Continue reading →

Touching the Void

culture
Last night, we saw Touching the Void — Joe Simpson and Simon Yates' attempt on the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. I'm sitting now, with my hands on the keyboard, wondering if it's possible to compress down and reduce the story and the impression it had on me into words. I don't think it is, but I'll do my best. When most of us make decisions, then tend — in the main — to be of the 'orange juice with bits or without' or 'Indian food or Chinese' type. Continue reading →

Stories

culture
I've been thinking a lot about stories recently. I've just finished Lyra's Oxford, which — despite the fact that it's very short — is an archetypal story. I mentally differentiate between a story and other kinds of fiction which also have a plot and characters, but I can't precisely put my finger on what defines a story. A story doesn't have to be written, of course; some of the best stories I have heard have been spoken or sung — in the best tradition of the story-tellers who would travel from village to village, entertaining people around their fires at night. Continue reading →

Huf Haus

culture
I'm reluctant to perpetuate National stereotypes, but sometimes the empirical data goes works against me. I was watching Grand Designs the other day, and became fascinated by an older couple who were replacing their old self-built house (which was on the verge of falling down) with a Huf Haus. The Huf Haus is an innovative design produced by architect Peter Huf in Germany. The post-and-beam house is completely pre-fabricated in an immense warehouse in Germany, then shipped and assembled on site like some vast Ikea cupboard from hell. Continue reading →

Forks, branches and the last Plantagenet King

culture
I suppose that many of us have wondered at one time or another what our lives would have been like if we had made a different decision at some crucial point; where would that fork in the road have taken us? This tangle of alternative paths and branches amounts to a set of parallel histories in which our life — and perhaps the whole world — would have been different. This idea has been a very fruitful one for literature and films (Fatherland by Robert Harris and One by Richard Bach immediately spring to mind), but in reality, it is almost impossible to predict what would have happened if an alternative path had been taken. Continue reading →

Plane fanatical

culture
I am something of a black sheep in my family in one respect; I am mostly bored by aeroplanes. If I'm not in one being taken somewhere nice, I don't really want to know, but I come from a family of plane enthusiasts. My Dad is an aeronautical engineer, who has spent his working life around planes and was a plane nut even before he started work^1^. My Mum loves planes too, and used to cry when she saw Concorde flying — not because she wished she was on it going somewhere exotic while sipping champagne, but because she thought it was so graceful. Continue reading →

Lost in Translation

culture
We went to see Lost in Translation a couple of days ago. I really like Bill Murray (I can't recall having seen him give a bad performance, even in a bad film), and Scarlett Johansson is also a fantastic, low key actress (she was superb in Ghost World--one of my favourite films of the past few years). Sofia Coppola did a great job with this film; it's very funny, tender, beautifully shot and rather moving in places. Continue reading →

Sticking-out pictures

culture
On our visit to Birmingham this weekend, we popped into the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the Turner exhibition. This was excellent, and all the better for the fact that we got in free as it was only 40 minutes from closing time. Mmm — free art... The Turner paintings were wonderful, but what really caught my attention on the way in was what is rather charmingly called a 'sticking-out' picture by Patrick Hughes. Continue reading →

Return of the King

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It's Christmas, so it must be time for another Lord of the Rings film! We've just got back from seeing Return of the King, and we are still stretching out our cramped legs. Overall, I think it was a fantastic filmâ€"indeed, the whole trilogy has been superb. Naturally, some bits have been left out, other bits aren't as you imagined from the books (can anyone take Elrond seriously?), but it would have been impossible to make the films into everyone's vision of the book. Continue reading →

UPP

culture
I wanted to mention the cinema where we saw 'ètre et Avoir' yesterday — the Ulitmate Picture Palace. This cinema (know locally as the 'UPP') has had a number of previous incarnations, the most recent of which was the 'Penultimate Picture Palace', or PPP. I don't know what they will name it if the current owners sell up — they haven't really left a great deal of wiggle room with the 'Ultimate' tag. Continue reading →

My ideal home

culture
This house--it would suit me perfectly. Ever since I was little, I've wanted to live in a tree. This house isn't a tree, exactly, but it looks like one in all the important ways. And I love the fact that there isn't a straight line in the place. The bendy balustrades and curvy mosaics reminded me a bit of the work of Gaudi. I look a bit like a hobbit, so why not live in a hobbit house? Continue reading →

In praise of duct tape

culture
I've got a filthy cold at the moment, and I feel as if my swollen sinuses are pressing on my brain. Sinus-induced temporary brain damage can be the only possible excuse for the unreasonable amount of amusement that I've derived from this simple song in praise of very sticky, very strong household tape. [via BoingBoing]

Finding Nemo

culture
I finally got around to seeing Finding Nemo today, and was really stunned by it. The quality of the animation--as always with Pixar films--was breathtaking. Every second, you could see weeks of painstaking animation work and rendering just flashing by in the background. I got the feeling that--as with the rotating cube effect for fast user switching--they just did it because they could. It was very funny (with plenty of jokes for both adults and children), and the plot raced along at a tremendous pace. Continue reading →

Sad news

culture
My brother told me some sad news today; it seems that neither of us had heard that Elliott Smith had died of an apparent suicide in late October of this year. He was 34--one year older than me. We are both big fans, so this was quite a shock. His music sometimes reminded me a bit of Nick Drake, which--given that they both met a similarly sad end--seems somehow appropriate. Goodbye, Elliott--I'll miss your music. Continue reading →

Government Health Warning

culture
Forget about banning drivers from using mobile phones without a hands-free set while driving--listening to I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue while driving ought to be illegal. I'm not sure if there was more water on the windscreen or in my eyes while Barry Cryer gave an unbelievable rendition of the Beach Boy's 'Barbara Anne' to the tune of a Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. A close second was Graeme Garden's rendering of the lyrics of 'A Windmill in Old Amsterdam' to the tune of 'Mr. Continue reading →

Pollen - Jeff Noon

culture
{.pixframesmall width="81” height="140”}This is my second or third reading of this book, and I still feel drawn to it, which should tell you something about how extraordinary it is. 'Pollen' is a kind of sequel to 'Vurt' (his first novel), and it expands on some of the odd things mentioned only briefly in that book. But even if you haven't read 'Vurt' the story stands on its own very well, has an exciting, twisted plot, as well as one of my favourite fictional heroines of all time. Continue reading →

Armistice Day

culture
On Remembrance Sunday, I managed to phone Mr. Bsag during the 2 minute silence--my watch was fast, and I had no other time-keeping reference. I felt terrible about that. Two minutes of standing still and thinking about the horror of war and the quiet courage of those who find themselves caught up in it--soldiers and civilians--isn't much to ask. To make up for my inadvertent thoughtlessness, I was doubly careful to observe the two minute silence today. Continue reading →

After-work jazz

culture
Modern Art Oxford (née Museum of Modern Art) has been running regular contemporary music gigs in its basement café in the early evening. We've come to it rather late, as next week is the last gig, but we made it to see the jazz trio Stekpanna yesterday. I was running late at work, so I arrived to meet Mr. Bsag all a-fluster, but once I had settled down the gig was a perfect anti-stress tonic. Continue reading →

An audience with Philip Pullman

culture
{.pixframesmall width="58” height="90”}We spent yesterday evening at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford--the venue with The World's Most Uncomfortable Seating--to listen to Philip Pullman talking to James Naughtie. I'm a big fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy, so I was interested in hearing what he had to say. It was a great evening. Pullman is a very humane, honest and intelligent author, and it was fascinating to hear how he came by the characters. Continue reading →

A gift of poetry

culture
Like many women, I have occasional bouts of gloomy dissatisfaction with the shape of my body. Some of this is due to a slight insecurity, and some to utter frustration with the manufacturers of women's clothing, who seem to think that women are basically cylindrical like men. Mr. Bsag--who is always telling me that proper women are supposed to be my shape--found the perfect poem for me; it's called A Homage to My Hips, and is by Lucille Clifton. Continue reading →

The Money Programme

culture
I don't--as a general rule--watch or listen to programmes about money or personal finance. I just find it too depressing, and if I'm brutally honest, rather dull. But last night I watched a Money Programme investigation called "Mortgage Madness", and ended up totally fuming by the end. I haven't yet descended to the middle class depths of boring the pants off people with in-depth discussion of interest rates and house prices, but it is one of the subjects most likely to send me off on a long rant. Continue reading →

Dogma

culture
{width="63” height="90”}It's certainly not the first time I've seen it, but I watched Dogma again recently, and was reminded all over again what a great film it is. As you might imagine, a film by Kevin Smith (with all the attendant swearing and knob jokes involved)--about two outcast angels trying to get back into Heaven via a loop-hole in Catholic dogma--was hugely controversial. Given that it also featured a black 13th apostle (best friend of a black Jesus), a Muse now working in a lapdancing joint, and the great, great (etc. Continue reading →

Spirited Away

culture
{width="96” height="140”}I've been meaning to write about the animated film Spirited Away--a Disney produced Anime style film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The week before, we had seen Belleville Rendez-Vous so we were looking forward to another animated feature. When we saw the trailer at the cinema, the film was dubbed with American voices, but we were relieved that the version actually shown was in Japanese, with subtitles[1]. The animation style was stunning, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of the plot. Continue reading →

In Babylon by Marcel Moring

culture
{width="91” height="140”}I've just finished reading a really gripping book. 'In Babylon' tells the story of many generations of the Jewish Hollander family. They flee the Polish-Lithuanian border because of attacks by the Cossacks in the 17th Century, and gradually make their way gradually westwards until they finally reach America in the '40s. For several generations, they were clockmakers, and literally carried time and--it is implied--their history on their backs as they went. Continue reading →

Dr. Who is coming back

culture
To herald this momentous news on the Today programme, they played a previous clip of John Humphrys interviewing a dalek. It's really a classic. Part of the exchange went like this (you can hear the full version here: *Humphrys*: Good morning. *Dalek*: GOOD MORNING. I WAS PROMISED SUE MCGREGOR! [becoming more shrill and insistent] WHO ARE YOU? *Humphrys*: I'm John Humphrys. *Dalek*: NOT FOR LONG. EXTERMINATE!! *Humphrys*: I think many people think that. Continue reading →

Passport to the Pub

culture
Every now and again, you stumble upon a genuine gem on the web. Sometimes you find that the gem has been sitting under your nose for some time. Yesterday, I came across a particularly good one, courtesy of dvd's temporary page while his hosting move goes ahead. The page is an online guide to pub etiquette produced by the Social Issues Research Centre, and is primarily an informative research document aimed at tourists to Britain. Continue reading →

Meditation and noise

culture
The place where I go to yoga class is usually fairly quiet and peaceful, but for some reason all kinds of auditory havoc was breaking out yesterday. First, someone's mobile went off--it was on vibrate, but when the phone is lying on something that resonates, it might just as well be blasting out an irritating tune. Of course no one claimed responsibility, and because the friend of whoever owned the phone really wanted to get hold of them, it kept going off every five minutes or so. Continue reading →

Dogtown and Z-Boys

culture
{.pixframesmall width="96” height="140”} I seem to have developed an interest in urban sports recently (as a spectator only, I hasten to add), so I naturally gravitated towards this DVD in Blockbuster. In fact, you don't really need to be interested in skateboarding to enjoy this documentary. It's a fascinating story--how did a bunch of poor, tough kids from a rough area of LA (Dogtown) come to develop a whole new style of skateboarding? Continue reading →

Belleville Rendez-Vous

culture
I've always loved animated films, and I'm a huge Jacques Tati fan, so I couldn't resist a film which was advertised as being heavily influenced by Tati. Belleville Rendez-Vous is a superb and original piece of work. Unlike many modern animations, it is hand drawn, and has a luminous, elongated style. The skyscrapers in Belleville (a not very heavily disguised New York) seem to go on forever, and the ships docking in the harbour appear to be all keel. Continue reading →

Free running

culture
I watched a fascinating programme a couple of days ago about the sport^1^ of free running. Like many people, I only became aware of free running when the BBC and Nike produced adverts featuring the sport. Free running (or le parkour) originated in a quiet suburb in France, when some bored kids developed a game they played to a very advanced level. There are few rules; participants must always go forwards, never backwards, but their path can zig-zag around to take in interesting problems. Continue reading →

Goodbye Lenin!

culture
We've been meaning to go and see the film Goodbye Lenin! for weeks, but we only got around to actually going yesterday evening. We both love watching films, but the cinema is a slightly inconvenient distance away so apathy often overwhelms any film-watching urges. Certain films really make hauling your body out of the door worth it though, and 'Goodbye Lenin!' is certainly in that category. The film, directed by Wolfgang Becker, tells the story of a family living in the Communist GDR, from the point of view of the son--Alexander. Continue reading →

Beauty in decay

culture
For one reason or another, I haven't been taking many photos of my own recently, but I have been gathering a lot of inspiration from others for my next bout of photographic frenzy. The consistently great 28MM has some really fantastic images this month, but my favourite by far is Beauty in Decay by Richard Earney. Not only are they technically and aesthetically interesting, but I really like the whole concept of seeking out flowers which are dying or dead, and of finding beauty in everything — no matter how unlikely the subject matter may seem. Continue reading →

Raising Arizona

culture
I'm a big fan of the Coen brothers' films, but for some obscure reason, I'd never watched Raising Arizona — one of their earliest films. We watched it at the weekend, having taped it earlier in the week, and I don't think that I've laughed so much in ages. It's certainly not as sophisticated as some of their later comedies, but for sheer knock-about humour, it really works. The sequence where H. Continue reading →

Number 57

culture
When I first saw the programme 'Number 57: The History of a House', my first thought was, "Oh no — not another interior design programme!". However, it's turned out to be a very interesting series, covering not just the history of interior design, but also social history, technology, and the rise of mass production and marketing. The premise of the series is that it takes a Georgian middle-class house in Bristol (57 Kingsdown Parade), strips back the decoration carefully to reveal each era of design, and then renovates it again in each successive style. Continue reading →

Art in Action

culture
Mmmm. Day off. Mr. Bsag and I went to visit Art in Action at Waterperry — a visual arts event and show which has been running for 26 years. In a total contrast to the Summer Exhibition last weekend, Art in Action is a vibrant, exciting event. All kinds of artists and craftspeople attend, many of them demonstrating their art (hence the title), and there are workshops where you can have a go at something yourself. Continue reading →

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

culture
I promised yesterday to write about my trip with Mr. Bsag to the Royal Academy of Arts in London. We've been to the Summer Exhibition together most years since we met, so it has become a bit of a ritual. However, I think that this will be the last year we go. The Summer Exhibition has been running since 1796, and is unusual because absolutely anyone is allowed to submit works for consideration. Continue reading →

That charming man

culture
I saw a documentary we had recorded about Morrissey yesterday. Oh what nostalgia! I used to love The Smiths when I was a teenager, and have vivid memories of the carnage caused by my first boyfriend dancing Morissey-style at discos — all whirling-arms, spinning body and baggy trousers. As far as I recall, he never went as far as having a bunch of daffodils in the back pocket of his jeans. Continue reading →

In praise of Radio 4

culture
You are all probably thoroughly fed-up with me wittering on about Radio 4, but I had to note the special feature about the station in the Radio Times. There's a picture of Stephen Fry on the front — looking blissful — with the quote, "It turns me on". Indeed. It's certainly a national treasure. There are a few duffers of course, but the overall quality of the output is astounding. Recently, Radio 4 has also commissioned a great deal of new writing, which is very encouraging. Continue reading →

The Matrix Reloaded

culture
We caved in to curiosity and went to see 'The Matrix Reloaded' a couple of days ago. I've waited to post about it because I wasn't really sure what I made of it. My overall feeling was that I quite enjoyed it, but I was slightly disappointed — something I certainly didn't feel after watching the first film. It seemed to me that they Wachowski brothers couldn't quite make up their minds whether they were making an action film or a philosophical one, and so ended up not quite doing either. Continue reading →

The Death of Klinghoffer

culture
I normally manage to rave about good things on TV or radio after they've happened, which is — as my mum would say — a fat lot of good. So for once, I'm sending out a 'heads-up' before the event. Channel 4 is televising 'The Death of Klinghoffer'; John Adams' opera about the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists in 1985. Even if you think that you aren't a fan of opera, give it a go. Continue reading →

Hordes of The Things

culture
I really enjoyed a recording on BBC7 at the weekend of 'Hordes of The Things': a superb Tolkien parody, co-written by John Lloyd, who also co-wrote 'The Meaning of Liff' with Douglas Adams, and produced by Geoffrey Perkins (of 'The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy' fame). With that kind of pedigree you'd expect great writing — and you wouldn't be disappointed. The fruitily-voiced narration is a very affectionate rip-off of the Lord of the Rings, with most of the familiar devices of the 'wizards and elves' genre being subverted. Continue reading →

Re/Degeneration

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{width="200” height="150”}We went to Birmingham this weekend (Mr. Bsag's home city) to visit family and friends. On Saturday, we went into the city to see what new changes the continuing regeneration of the city had brought. Everything seemed to be in flux. Mr. Bsag had visited quite recently, but felt disorientated by all the changes that had happened — even since his last visit. It isn't just a case of a few new buildings going up: whole areas are being radically restructured. Continue reading →

May Day, May Day…

culture
As Caitlin mentioned, tonight/tomorrow morning is Beltane. Beltane or May Morning has its roots in a pagan celebration of the coming of spring and fertility, and involved a certain amount of what can only be called 'roistering'. May Day is celebrated rather raucously in Oxford. The festivities start around dawn, with the Magdalen College Choir singing from the top of Madgalen Tower to slap a bit of Christian gloss over the pagan woodwork. Continue reading →

Elling

culture
The brother was up for the weekend, so we toddled off to The Phoenix to see Elling: a wonderful, funny, touching and humane Norwegian film. We nearly didn't get to hear the film as an annoying hum seemed to have replaced the soundtrack. This was one of those things that happens occasionally at The Phoenix. One of the staff came out and apologised, then they started the film again. Again with the humming, followed by more apologies. Continue reading →

Sunday audio

culture
One of the hidden gems of Radio 4 is a World in Your. The series brings together the cream of English language radio from around the world. Each programme has a theme, and this week's was jobs. You get such a varied an interesting view of the world: one fascinating piece from a radio station in the States (I missed the station name) involved a presenter asking various people what they would rather do as a job. Continue reading →

AI

culture
I watched AI (Artificial Intelligence - The Movie) on DVD yesterday. I missed it at the time for one reason or another. Mr. Bsag wasn't keen on seeing it, but as he's away this weekend, I thought I might as well indulge myself (by watching the film -- behave yourself!). I was pretty disappointed. I read Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss years ago, and was entranced (and chilled) by the questions it raised. Continue reading →

Culture tremors

culture
Since I've been back, I've been musing about culture shock. I'm not the world's best travelled person, but I've visited a fair smattering of countries, and even worked in a few for a fairly extended period of time: Italy, Austria, France, India, New Caledonia, and of course, USA. When I visited the first five places on the list, I did of course experience a degree of culture shock. The landscape, the climate, the food, and -- most significantly -- the language were all very different to what I was used to. Continue reading →

Farewell Farscape

culture
Regular readers may remember my addiction to the excellent Farscape — well now it's all over. I watched my recording of the last (probably last ever) episode earlier in the week, but I was so overcome by gloom at never seeing another new episode that it's only now that I feel ready to write about it. The last one was a total and utter classic in the Farscape mould. I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't watched it yet, but regular viewers will know that if it looks as if there'll be a happy ending, it's a sure sign that something really dreadful is about to happen. Continue reading →

My first attempts at Lomography

culture
I've got back my first pictures taken with the Lomo. I'm really pleased with the way some of them came out -- particularly the ones taken at night. It really excels at rich, neon-like colours. I've got a much better idea now of what kinds of image work well and which don't. Anyway, I've put the results up on wings open wide so take a look and see what you think. Continue reading →

Lomography

culture
In one of those serendipitous finds that happen when you're surfing, I found this photolog a couple of days ago, which mentioned a Photoshop technique to make your digital photos look like they were taken with a Lomo. My first thought was, "That's a nice effect", closely followed by "What's a Lomo?". So I hit Google for answers. What I found has started me on a mini obsession. The art of Lomography is apparently something of a cult. Continue reading →

An arty afternoon

culture
We had a cultured Sunday, browsing a very varied selection of art exhibitions in Oxford. Our first visit was to an exhibition of David Goldblatt's photographs of 51 years of South African life at Modern Art Oxford (at the Museum of Modern Art). I've seen one or two of his photographs before, but this is a huge exhibition and really shows the range of his art. Although he has clearly always been against apartheid, and angered by injustice, these are subtle photographs. Continue reading →

Inspirational photography

culture
I came across this (28 mm) wonderful photography magazine the other day. The images are pretty varied, but really stunning. I love the Paper Birch images for delicate beauty, and the Mall-aise pictures for gritty, funny, sad commentary on modern life and materialism.

Kate Bush article in Mojo

culture
Coinciding nicely with my blethering on about the joys of Kate Bush last week, there's an article in this month's Mojo about her. It's a very interesting analysis of Kate's talent and appeal, but unusually for a profile like this, there is practically no input from the artist herself. This is because Kate Bush shuns publicity. Not in the usual ‘I don't want to be interviewed. Hey! Why don't you want to interview me? Continue reading →

Give us a push

culture
The documentary was excellent. Richard Thompson is a fantastic song-writer, and an all-round nice, modest bloke. There was some classic footage of him in his Fairport Convention days, playing up a storm on the guitar, but with with the sort of blank expression one might wear when peeling potatoes. While he treats the music business as just another job, and yet his songs are dark, bitter little things that make you look into the abyss. Continue reading →

The Last of Mammals

culture
I watched the last in the series of the Life of Mammals yesterday. Regular readers will know that I've watched this series avidly. Despite the impression given by the utter tat that makes up the majority of the output on BBC1, they can still make a mean wildlife program. The quality of the photography has been superb, and they managed to capture some genuinely astounding behaviour (I speak as a biologist who has seen her fair share of Amazing Things). Continue reading →

Monkey magic

culture
Born from an egg on a mountain top, Funkiest Monkey that ever popped, He knew every magic trick under the sun, Tease the Gods and everyone can have some fun. Monkey magic, Monkey magic, Monkey magic, Monkey magic, Monkey magic, Monkey magic ooh! [From Monkey (Magic)] Sorry about that — I feel better now. Ah, life is good with Monkey back on the telly. I remember watching it as a kid and understanding very little of what went on, but finding the bad dubbing and hopeless special effects highly amusing. Continue reading →

Monday Morning (two kinds)

culture
On Saturday, we took advantage of one of our complimentary Phoenix tickets (we took the grand step of becoming "Friends" of the Phoenix), and went to see Monday Morning (Lundi Matin). There is very little dialogue, few closeups of the main charactors, and almost no explanation for the, often bizarre, things that happen. That makes it almost like sitting on a bench in the village and watching the world go by. Continue reading →

Some superb drama

culture
I spent two and a half hours yesterday glued to the radio listening to the first part of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, being serialised on Radio 4. By coincidence, I had just finished reading the last part of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. I had really enjoyed it, and as usual, worried a little about how well it would be adapted. The fact that I was glued for two and a half hours speaks volumes for the quality of the dramatisation. Continue reading →

Victoriana

culture
Mr. Butshesagirl and I watched an excellent program yesterday about Tyntesfield, the Victorian house near Bristol. As those of you who read this weblog regularly will know, I'm not one for adulating the past. I'm a big fan of technology, and get separation anxiety if I'm away from my computer for too long. But I do admire craftsmanship, and find the Victorian period interesting for all sorts of reasons. The house is a fantastic gothic confection (the architects seemed to have been guided by the principle, 'If in doubt, add more turrets and gargoyles'), and still contains much of the detritus of family life. Continue reading →

One Ring to Rule Them All

culture
We've just got back from seeing The Two Towers. One word - fantastic! It really lived up to all our expectations. The acting was superb (Gollum was particularly good - voice and CGI came together a treat), and the scenes were absolutely stunning. The battle scenes were the only part of the book that I found a bit tedious, but they were totally awe-inspiring in the film. I suppose it's because I know (and presumably Peter Jackson does too) that JRR Tolkien was influenced by the events of the First World War, but the depiction of Isingard reminded me hauntingly of the mud of the Somme, the arming of the boys in Helm's Deep had echoes of all the young men who went "over the top" to their deaths, and the gathering of Saruman's forces looked chillingly like a Nazi rally. Continue reading →

Dying languages

culture
This is heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time: Ethnologue, Languages of the World [via BoingBoing] lists thousands of languages, where they are spoken, and how many people still speak it. The diversity is staggering, as are some of the names: anyone here from Mali who speaks Xaasongaxango? But a depressing number of the entries are labelled "extinct" or "nearly extinct". It's really sad that all these local languages are being lost. Continue reading →

Harry Potter

culture
We threw all self-respect in the bin today and went to see the new Harry Potter film. Actually, it wasn't half bad. The effects were pretty good, and the plot cracked along at a reasonable pace. It was quite a lot darker than the first film, and I thought it was probably a little scary for little kids (and adult arachnophobes). There were some great cameos, notably by Kenneth Branagh as Professor Lockhart - a charming, celebrity obsessed dandy - the Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen of magic. Continue reading →

The name’s Partridge, Alan Partridge

culture
I didn't get a chance to post about this earlier, but Monday's "I'm Alan Partridge" was sheer genius. His blow-by-blow re-enactment (literally!) of "The Spy Who Loved Me", when Tex taped over it with "America's Strongest Man", had me gasping for air. I thought he did the title sequence with the naked women writhing around on a big gun particularly well. It gets better and better.

Sorley MacLean

culture
There was a profile in Saturday's Guardian about the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean (or Somhairle MacGill-Eain, to give him his proper Gaelic name) by Seamus Heaney. Somhairle is one of my favourite poets, though as I only know a few words of Gaelic, I have to read his translations into English. Seamus Heaney has just produced a new translation of his poem, "Hallaig", which you can read here. Though the profile is very interesting, and I like Heaney's own poetry a lot, I must say that I am rather disappointed by his translation. Continue reading →

Thank goodness it ends today

culture
Not a moment too soon, Celebrity Big Brother ends today. My views on the current obsession with celebrity will be well known to those of you who have visited my "About" page. All I can say is that I have accidentally alighted on CBB once or twice this week while channel hopping, and my brain has nearly imploded with the sheer vacuousness of it. I know some people say that putting down shows like Big Brother is in some way snobbish and elitist. Continue reading →

John Adams

culture
I had a great treat yesterday: I went to a performance of three of John Adams' pieces, conducted by the composer with the LSO and featuring Joanna MacGregor. The pieces were Lollapalooza, Century Rolls and Harmonielehre - all wonderful uplifting, joyful bits of music. Lollapalooza is a very jolly, rambunctious, almost jazz-like piece, with an incredibly complex rhythm. It's quite short, but a lot of fun. Century Rolls features a solo piano, and was inspired by piano roll recordings of famous performers and composers from the last century. Continue reading →

The Polyphonic Spree

culture
I caught The Polyphonic Spree on "Later with Jools Holland" yesterday. If you're based in the UK, you'll probably be thinking, "What weird kind of time-warp is she in? Isn't Later on Friday night?". Well, I'm such a sad old git that it's after my bedtime, even on a Friday, so I tape it and watch it at a more civilized hour (when I can enjoy it in my slippers with a Horlicks. Continue reading →

Pass the tissues

culture
I've just got back from watching "Rabbit Proof Fence". I'm notoriously lachrymose in films (Mr. Butshesagirl thought I was having some kind of nervous breakdown in "Billy Elliot"), but it isn't often that I'm in tears within the first ten minutes. Rabbit Proof Fence is the utterly harrowing true story of three aboriginal girls who were taken from their family and forced to stay in a camp, miles from their home. Continue reading →

What were they thinking?

culture
Anne Robinson. Have I Got News for You. No, I'm sorry, that just doesn't work. Perhaps they were hoping for some lively back and forth, but Paul Merton and Ian Hislop just looked bewildered and embarrassed. Anne has absolutely no sense of comic timing. She just looked like she was reading off the autocue the whole time, without any understanding of what she was saying, so that all the jokes fell flatter than a very flat thing indeed. Continue reading →

And another great thing about Farscape...

culture
...is that there are a lot of excellent invented swearwords. So if some frelling tralk has you by the mivonks, you can eloquently express your displeasure at all the dren that's going on. OK, I promise to shut up about Farscape for a while.

Farscape

culture
I'm hopelessly addicted to Farscape (or "FireEscape" as I sometimes dyslexically refer to it). I've watched it since the first season, and my addiction gets deeper with each new one. I challenge anyone to show me a more innovative, gripping, dark, kinky, funny and well written TV show. For those of you unfortunate enough not to have seen it, the basic premise is this: our hero, John Crichton, gets accidentally dragged through a wormhole while test-flying a NASA space module, and ends up in another part of the universe. Continue reading →

Gales

culture
Lordy, it was windy today. All the remaining leaves have been shaken from the trees in one go, and odd eddies have swept them into strange, regular piles. Our fence, weakened by the local kids' obsession with clambering over it, was creaking back and forth alarmingly. The weird weather put us in the mood for unsettling cinema, we went to see the film "Donnie Darko" at our local independent cinema, The Phoenix. Continue reading →