Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Review: Death of a Salesman

One word: awesome.

Okay, it deserves a longer review than that. I will blog on this tomorrow when I have had yet another night to sleep on just how wonderful Friday night was...

Review: The Philadelphia Story

Let's not kid ourselves: Philip Barry's play is a fairly creaky comedy made glorious by its associations with the original film cast. But if you're gonna restage it, getting in the likes of Kevin Spacey as CK Dexter Haven certainly makes it worth doing.

I guess from my perspective seeing this after Death of a Salesman set the bar too high for any light comedy to jump. Funny, given that it was the thought of this great opportunity that had gotten Helen Lisette plotting membership of the Old Vic and access to tickets more than a year ago! Nevertheless, it would be churlish to focus on the negative: delivered at a lickerty-click pace appropriate to the momentum of the piece, The Philly Story draws its audience in beautifully. If this is Spacey on auto-pilot, then he knocks most performers dead at that speed: his arrival sets alight both the cast and audience and he plays to it with the confidence only possible in such an experienced actor.

True, the rhythm is rather damaged by the two intervals necessitated by the set shifts. This also makes the middle section of the play feel rather out-of sorts with the rest of the narrative. But the overall effect is one of warm pleasure, if not the unadulterated joy that was expected or demanded of Spacey's work at the Old Vic.

In terms of cast comments, let me offer these: overall the performances are well done, and (a good sign this) funny. Talulah Riley (what a great name!), in her debut as the younger sister Dinah, is hilarious even if she is given far too little to do after her initial flourish. Some have criticised the chemistry between Jennifer Ehle and Kevin Spacey as rather unconvincing. I think that a little harsh: the problem lies more with the dimensions of the inimitable KH for whom this was really structured and into whose shoes it would be hard to imagine any woman fitting. As such, Ehle works hard (but without it seeming to be an effort) to convey the mix of confident coolness and the coy irrepressible delight/frustration felt at CK Dexter Haven. That she does it as well as she does is a credit to her talents. For his part, Spacey brings a real nuanced sense of fun to his role, but again the difficulties largely lie with a script that relied too heavily on the unspoken and established characterisations drawn by the original actors (or at least that movie incarnation we are so familiar with). Personally, I thought it was a real privilege to see an actor of his calibre having such fun, cabable of conveying ridiculousness and inner thoughts with simple glances and gestures (as well as some comically over-stated ones).

Reviews have generally stood on this as a 2 or 3 star production. That's probably not utterly unfair, though I would lean to the higher end of the spectrum. And since Spacey is so often worth watching, for that alone it takes it to the higher ratings. At least 3 stars; 3.7 for the delight in seeing Spacey on stage.

Movie star quality

As an afterthought to Norm's current poll - nudge Lisa, get on with your own - I chased his recent post to Sheila O'Malley's recent comment on the topic. Doing so I found this little discussion, which I thought would at least echo what I know my good friend Helen Lisette thinks:
For example: I love Russell Crowe, and I think when he's good?? Nobody can touch him. If you disagree, then I have to believe that you haven't seen Romper Stomper. BUT: he doesn't have that thing with the camera that, say, Gary Cooper does. He's always good, he's always committed to his work, and he is quite often very powerful and very moving. The only time I would say he comes close to that kind of movie-star-magic is in LA Confidential. Now THAT is the performance of a "movie star". It sizzles with charisma, with what is NOT said, it smolders with unexpressed feeling ... I think that might be the most vulnerable Crowe has ever been with us - and interestingly enough, he was playing a big tough-guy. That was the thing with those actors in the 30s and 40s ... they played tough-guys, but not HARD guys. They were tough because life threw you for a loop and there were things in life that needed protecting, but they also fell in love with the dame. They weren't HARD, or immune. It's a hugely attractive mix, and we've almost lost that dynamic completely in movies today. That's why Crowe's performance in LA Confidential made an entire nation of movie-going women turn into puddles on the floor. It was a throwback, yes ... but not in a kitschy way, not even in a nostalgic way. He WAS that guy.
Well, can't say as I disagree too much, though I know Rusty isn't everyone's cup of tea. But as Sheila notes, when he's on song, he's breathtaking. Maybe LAC was just such a film - heck, does anyone hit a wrong note there before that dreadfully twee final sequence? - but I also thought his performance in The Insider also deserved some note too.

Anyway, since we have to take Movie Star Quality as our touchstone here are my thoughts. I could easily have substituted many on this list from suggestions elsewhere, but I have to go with first instincts and I'm going on MSQ. So that's not necessarily acting per se, and I have to admit I'm also repressing my personal favourites (the Scottish contingent who I do rate as excellent actors, but who maybe as yet are simply not recognised sufficiently as being stars: an issue I am nigh single-handedly campaigning to rectify!)

Anyway: the list

Ingrid Bergman - makes the screen weep
Julie Christie - being Audrey Hepburn always felt unattainable, but Julie Christie brought an extraordinary ordinariness to her portrayals
Audrey Hepburn - sheer fragile gorgeousness
Katherine Hepburn - presence, grace and fiercesome strength of character

Marlon Brando - powerful and expressive
Humphrey Bogart - rough and emotional
Cary Grant - elegance, charm: and in one of my favourite movies, North by Northwest
Jack Lemmon - more truthfully an everyman than James Stewart
Kevin Spacey - sadly more bad movies in his oeuvre than there should be, but on form he sweeps the screen clean, especially with sly humour and sharp dead-pan wickedness
Denzel Washington - passionate and humane (except when he's being utterly bad)

Too many broken hearts in the world? The heart is a lonely hunter...

Now if those song citations don't get you going, nothing will. *

Sorry for the late post. Half finished last week.

Some time ago Norm directed me to a number of posts on the topic of whether 'tis better to be broken hearted or a lonely heart.

Anne Cunningham was his chief link, with a very wise comment identifying that to have your heart broken you have to love... and although not loving can allow one to avoid a broken heart, it is a pretty souless existence if we avoid love. Lacking as it does the chance to see "the pretty lights" (a passage I love, already cited by Norm), Anne voices what love provides: the opportunity to see the world differently, more beautifully, than otherwise seems possible without love.

How can one argue with that, especially as I was re-reading a letter I had sent to a friend recently on just such matters of love and loss and the wayward behaviour of hearts. In the past I have tried to shut myself off from getting hurt, but it leaves you cold and sad of mind and spirit. Ultimately one has to be in the world to have access to its joys. As such, I say always, go for it.

* Line 1: It's the dreaded Jason Donovan for those (not) interested.
* Line 2: Much more classy - Thievery Corporation feat. David Byrne. Title of course based on Carson McCullers text.

Rufus W on television

Of course, if I had been observant and sensible I would have taped the damn C4 documentary rather than be considering buying the DVD. But I'm not. Additionally, I would try and make sure I am watching the culture show every week rather than finding out about it after the event and missing lots of goodies on it.

Oh well; for once I am ahead of the schedule so here be the announcement: Rufus does opera on The Culture Show this week, and there is a preview on the Frida Kahlo Tate Modern exhibition (one I will certainly be going to see --- and maybe add on a visit to the theatre whilst I am at it...)

Dr Who: dancing into glory

Now come on: just how good was the episode on Saturday? Dr Who just continues to be great.

I remain agog at just how entertaining the series has been thus far. Cloud kindly taped the second half of the recent two-parter (bless you!) so Sunday afternoon I could sit and watch the resolution of the gas-mask nightmare. Smart and touching, scary and well constructed.

A certain comment

My own fault of course. Still, I suspect that whatever I had said, someone out there would have made a similar comment....

(Observant readers may have noted a distinct lack of denial of the suggestion made: I will, of course, proclaim that to do so would merely dignify the remark. Others may interpret the action differently. I leave that to the judgement of others!)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Blog archives and interesting meme/questions of the past

As is my nature, I occasionally like to randomly look in the archives of fellow bloggers. So it was I found this early gem. So I thought I would take the baton up even more belatedly than he did and turn the questions on myself.

1. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, find line 4. Write down what it says.

"A soft-drink brand features a polar bear as its spokes-animal."

Hmm. That'll teach me to answer this in the office where most things to hand are about writing. If that seems confusing in this context, let me explain. This little snippet comes from book called From Idea to Essay: a Rhetoric, Reader and Handbook (no I don't understand the subtitle either). The line comes from Chapter One "The Writing Process", in the section "Responding to an advertisement", under the heading 'Pay attention to exaggeration in the image'. Comprendez?

Me neither: though it makes me agree even more with Darren's remark on his find...
Mental note to self: Don't leave Proust's 'Remembrance of Things Past' in the bog next time - already lost important intellectual kudos points and its only question 1.
2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you touch first?

A pile of empty used plastic beakers from the water cooler. A part of me thinks I'm going to actually recycle them. Another thinks that's unhygienic and instead I use them to water my office plant.

3. What is the last thing you watched on TV?

Highlights of the news following the Champions League Final last night. Don't know what Dudek thought he was doing on the goal line for the penalties, but funnily enough it put off the Milan opposition. And to think at half time we were all for turning over for a repeat of CSI Miami...

4. WITHOUT LOOKING, guess what time it is


5. Now look at the clock, what is the actual time?

2.27pm - not bad.

6. With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?

Wind in the trees outside my window (it's a drafty Victorian house: ruined by the need to place offices inside the building...)

7. When did you last step outside? what were you doing?

Walked a short way across campus to get some sarnies and considered sitting in the walled garden but it was shut (University Gardens brochure see page 6). Came back and had some chocs bought by a student as a thank you for my work with him. BTW sarnies were disgusting.

8. Before you came to this website, what did you look at?

Read an article from Slayage about masculinity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Education-lite one might say. Then I thought back to Darren bemoaning how no-one ever praises Tutti Frutti anymore and I remember a moment when Robbie Coltrane was less of a humungous Hagrid or Bond villian and more of a dramatic dynamo.

9. What are you wearing?

I can't reach the heights of Darren's IWW t-shirt (maybe I should be wearing my Bolshie Woman t-shirt picked up in similar circumstances though?) But to today: purple halter neck dress, knee-ish length, over a red long sleev t-shirt. Black tights (boring day 'cos all my best are in the wash or waiting for my weekend) and a pair of Vans. Denim jacket with a button missing I picked up for £10.

10. Did you dream last night?


Ahem. Sorry. There are good reasons to not answer that question beyond "yes, thanks".

11. When did you last laugh?

Giggles or laughs? A good blog can make me laugh, as this did earlier this week. I laughed a lot watching Peter Kay on election night, but otherwise I'm just an inveterant giggler.

12. What is on the walls of the room you are in?

It might be my office, but I make it mine. The walls:

a printout of the Greek alphabet as used in scientific/maths related studies (name, upper case, lower case, commonly designates);

a telephone list of extention numbers for our section with our out-of-date section name;

a Picasso print from his blue period;

a wall chart calendar on which I always forget to move the Today sticker;

posters for the workshops and drop-in sessions I run (all now passed so those need to come down).

Then there is the noticeboard. From top left to right, down and across the bottom, up and across the middle of the board:

a panoramic photograph of the millenium gardens that my office overlooks, but which I cannot see without sitting by the filing cabinet;

a black and white picture of New York's Brooklyn Bridge cut from a calendar (sort of like this image but older);

a Roasted cartoon from the Observer (a series of thought balloons: "I'm eating chips" "But I've just been to the gym" "So it's all okay" "anything you eat just after the gym has NO CALORIES" "It's MAGIC!!" - note, picture the face with slight concern);

a photograph of me on my graduation day from my PhD, dressed in lilac in Nottingham's Pizza Express;

a 'Clare in the Community' cartoon (11 May);

a photograph of the building where I work taken from the vantage point of the nearby Millennium gardens;

a b&w picture of the stone bridge in Central Park (from the same New York calendar as mentioned - similar to the image on the link);

a b&w picture looking from the Brooklyn Bridge through the wires to the skyline (as previous source - but this image looks the other way onto Manhattan);

a photograph of the fountains in the millennium gardens;

a colour picture of Aberdeen harbour from the Guardian newspaper (no jokes about the granite city along the lines of 'how can you tell?');

a postcard of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (from one of my colleagues);

'The Pitchers' cartoon strip from the Friday Guardian (17 Sept 2004);

another photograph of the building I work in;

another Roasted cartoon from the Observer (Woman comes in to card behind the door: "We tried to deliver an item of mail but you were out. Please collect it from your local Royal Mail Delivery Office: Address - Unit 3, Industrial Estate you've never heard of, further away than Saturn's outermost moon, W39 Q2K. Hours, Mon-Fri: during normal working hours so you, like most other people, can't pick it up at all in the week. Saturday: for about two minutes in the hour before sunrise. Please bring this card and 23 proofs of identity including passports, school reports, DNA profile, retina scan, KGB dossier, thumb and knee prints..." Final frame of cartoon: woman drops card and leans agains the door frame defeated by the difficulty);

20th Century Fox promo photograph of Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris (Buffy character for those not in the know... shame on you);

Blue Notes column by Nick Johnstone from the Guardian 22 February 2005 covering advice on managing anxiety (NOTE: I work with anxious students, but we can all find such advice useful);

20th Century Fox promo photograph of Gillian Anderson (yes, Scully) from "Redux" Season 2 Episode 2;

a photograph of the greenery at the Millenium Gardens;

promotional postcard for Mary Dearborn's book Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim

a large colour picture of a tiger from a big cats calendar I had;

postcard promoting 'positive steps to mental health' ;

large size promotional postcard for the poetry anthology Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times ed. by Neil Astley;

a b&w picture of Grand Central Station, New York - my secular cathedral (source as previous);

a photograph of Cloud wearing his Arty-Farty t-shirt [cartoon cow in a perspex case, with a little bubble out of its bum - very Damien Hirst-esque];

promotional postcard for mental health day "Who is Normal?";

postcard with cartoon kitten headed up "hug me" and kitten saying "yes, hug me now!";

a photograph of Helen, me and Cloud on my PhD graduation day;

a large cartoon picture of cats sleeping in bed headed 'cat nap' (from a calendar I had).

And finally, on the wall, but since this is the key element of the room (like the Dude's carpet, it holds the room together) a season 5 Buffy cast poster. I'd have preferred season 1, but hey, can't have everything.

13. Seen anything weird lately?

Many, many things. I live in a place fondly called "Stabo"; it's hard not to encounter the weirdness there. Otherwise, a pigeon nearly getting run over in its pursuit of some KFC chicken wings in the road.

14. What do you think of this quiz?

A terrible distraction. In other words, fantastic.

15. What is the last film you saw?

At home or in the cinema? Went to see Kingdom of Heaven (blogged here).

16. If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy first?

Man. Utd? Only kidding.

I would echo Darren's plea for world peace but then he spoils it all by wanting a KFC (see above: Darren you need some nutritional advice, and sharpish!) Mind, am always wary of wishing for peace on earth, after watching the X-files episode with the three wishes (I'll get the link later). I'd pay off the debts of all those I know. After that, some wish list books and stuff. Anything left, donate to charity.

17. Tell me something about you that I don't know

Depends on who you are. You could be asking the wrong person here; Cloud is the one with lots of weird bits of knowledge (could I get a quid for everytime someone has said to him 'how do you know that?!') Final answer: that Cloud knows everything. Not entirely true, but I bet you didn't know that.

18. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do?

I like that Darren makes a plea for a good TV show to get repeated. Can I have Psychos? I don't have episode 2 on videotape and my tapes for the rest are sadly wearing VERY thin.

19. Do you like to dance?

Too much, but being naturally shy (yes, TRUE!) I have to have the right company to let my inhibitions go.

20. George Bush: is he a power-crazy nutcase or some one who is finally doing something that has needed to be done for years?

Darren said it all: poster boy for capitalism for the next few years. Just till the next one.

21. Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?


22. Imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him?

I always liked Gervase from my gran's bible, but it now seems awfully camp!

(Can I just make it really clear: Q21 and Q22 - no babies here!!!)

23.Would you ever consider living abroad?

Amsterdam or New York (Brooklyn, with a view to Manhattan).

Took me all week to do this! And still I lack most of the links...

Wish me luck

Friend has eye infection; train strike; hot day... wish me luck as we try to get to London for the plays...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The American Perspective... well, kinda

Just too funny for words... if you are of a nervous Man. Utd disposition, look away now.

From Rufus to Jarvis, and the pleasure of giving

Following AnnaWaits recent and excellent post on the Rufus Wainwright gig at York, and my comment, we've been in correspondence about other (musical) obsessions. Specifically, Pulp.

Now I won't claim I was early to the Pulp party, but once fully on-board I was trawling the back catalogue like a good 'un. Making friends at Record Sales. Being geeky about my gigs. That sort of thing. After the crush at the Heineken festival in Leeds Roundhay park, I trailed across the UK, tracking Pulp gigs wherever I could lay my hands on them within my sadly limited budget: Birmingham, Blackpool, Warrington, Stoke, Finsbury Park... (The last of these as recorded in The Park is Mine... and OOH! due for release on DVD with the other previous video production Feeling called Live... ooh, I sense some goodies!)

Anyway, those who know me will be aware that there is one important gig missed off that list: the ever special "Keep Calm" performance at the Highbury Garage. A fanclub organised gig that luckily I got to know about from people in the know from the fan-club. A venue of less than 500 people. A hot sunny summer's day. Jarvis within handreach for the entire concert. Holy guacomole Bat-Folk. What a gig.

Of course, this was made even more special by being one of the earliest arrivals to the backstage area, along with some other die-hard fans. This meant I met the band, took some rather nifty pics, and got some much treasured autographs! (I had previously, and almost accidentally, stumbled into the band post-gig at Stoke on Trent when myself and my friend I had travelled with spotted a small crowd - about 10 people - at the back of the venue as we went to get our taxi. There was Pulp. Jarvis tall and elegant in the ridiculous OTT black dogstooth coat he wore for the detective sequence in the This is Hardcore video).

Anyway, as I intimated, Highbury was a high point. You can check out a review and pics here and here (I even think some of the images may be mine!) But the gig also resulted in other friends being very envious. So me being the generous soul I try to be, I plotted to reward their friendship.

Thus when Pulp returned to Birmingham for a Radio One gig, with the now late lamented John Peel, I brought my plan into action. I took with me the sleeves from two extra copies I had purchased of the then recent Pulp single (Trees/Sunrise). And I got Jarvis to sign them: one to Chrissie and one to Celeste. He was a bit astonished that I wasn't asking for anything for myself ("nothing for you?") but that almost made it more worthwhile.

I had to wait some time to give Chrissie hers because once she'd twigged I had something for her she wouldn't let me trust Royal mail with it! But Celeste I caught before she went to New York for a research trip (where, co-incidentally I was due to meet her a few days later on my own research trip!). I wandered in and gave her this brown paper bag: "I thought I'd get you a little something" I said. She took out the single and was well chuffed. And then, on my suggestion, she opened up the CD case...

Much glee would be an understatement! Jarvis had written "Celeste, where's Daphne? love Jarvis" - in honour of the then Glastonbury bombed girly duo Daphne and Celeste. The reaction (eyes wide, a little shriek of delight) was a joy to behold. Of course, being amidst a bunch of largely middle-aged academics barely aware of the contemporary pop scene is not the best scenario for wanting to shout from the rooftops in excitement. Nevertheless, I took much pleasure from her inability to contain herself when a student came for an appointment with her: first words heard as I wandered down the corridor? "Jarvis Cocker has signed a single to me!"

Music can be such a joy: and not just the music itself but our encounter with it. The fun of telling others about your musical passions and discovering they share them or find new artistes through the conversation. The thrill of the live performance, the chat in the bar, the band sending you emails, chatting to others at the stage doors (and always finding someone more geeky, more obsessed, more worrying than yourself)... all part of the fun. And all part of why such anedcotes can make us fall in love with the music all over again.

Upcoming gig: Lorna in Nottingham

Many moons ago I saw an excellent band called Lorna. They've been going for a while now, but have only just got a record deal in the UK: they've had a great following in Spain for ages. Finally they are getting some attention at home (even in their home town they've been a bit of an underrated group for some time - coverage back in 2003 and still it's took two years to get that UK record deal).

Anyway, they're playing a gig this Friday in Nottingham at the Malt Cross (on stage at 9.30pm)and they come highly recommended by this blogger. Neil Young influences, great vocals and really nice people: they're cracking live. the album Static patterns and Souvenirs is out 13th June in the UK.

Go on: make the effort - its free and they're deserving your support!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Quote for the Day: Finish the day

Cannot believe I have not used this quote before:
"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
Couldn't help myself. We all need a bit of Emerson in our lives.

Doctor Who's-the-new-assistant?

Have been in communication with Anna about Billie Piper's departure this morning and it made me realise how well the current series has worked: Piper's departure seems as frustrating as Christopher Eccleston's.

Ah well, nae mind. The topic has at least given me a good laugh, thanks chiefly to my good friend Helen Lisette for her quick email query to me:
So, Billie Piper has confirmed that she's leaving the show. How are you fixed? Fancy twirling round space and messing up the Space time continuum with The Doctor?
Bwah ha ha! Oh dear, I've come over all giddy... Casanova on DVD this week and Blackpool forthcoming. What with my weekend away in London, I'm all of a dither!

Books and Brit-Pop

Darren over at the Inveresk Street Ingrate has just posted a neat little blog post on what he is currently reading. Amongst the texts mentioned is The Last Party (the story of Britpop) and he passes on some cracking anecdotal remarks about Brett Anderson, including a diamond from the Moz.

For me, I was never much convinced by the posturings of Suede. Yes, I liked some of their first releases, but like Anderson it all got a bit flabby. Still, Anderson did a very melancholic acoustic version of Trash that I once caught on the radio - one I felt was closer to the spirit of the song.

To my mind, Brit-pop was merely a convenient way to have Pulp come to the public eye.

Anyway, the post is well worth reading and if anyone pays attention to his endnotes, someone out there should get Darren his requested birthday pressie!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Latest Normblog poll: movie stars

Go on. You know you're just dying to debate with yourself how to identify a 'movie star' in this age of celebrity. Now are you voting for acting talent, star quality, presence, celebrity, personality....?

Plagiarism: how not to deal with it

Excellent post by Eve Garrard over at Normblog on matters of plagiarism and one institution's rather - no, make that SPECTACULARLY - inept way of dealing with the issue.

Okay, rubbish ways of dealing with plagiarism are one thing; but to also manage to produce a sexist policy out of the matter? Truly an achievement.

PS and of course a great allegory on the AUT dispute re: Isreali universities.

Arcade Fire and other Sunday mutterings

I know I get quite enthused about music rather easily, but can I make a point of recommending the Arcade Fire album Funeral?

Had heard a couple of tracks on the circulating CDs of music magazines, and also caught a barn-storming performance on Jools Holland the other week. And have to say, we were very impressed but are wracking our brains to identify the "who do they sound like?" influences. Come on - someone out there must be able to give us a good list!

Seriously though, we played the album yesterday and immediately played it again. Always a good sign! I got that glorious twitch inside me that identifies when music is really getting me to throw my arms and legs around. We then went on to play Misty's Big Adventure, Eels Daisies of the Galaxy, Sleater Kinney's first album (just 22 mins for 10 tracks!), The Clash Singles, and much more. All whilst doing Suduko puzzles. Now where is that hilarious article from last week's Guardian...?

Dr. Who creeped me out

"I see your 'Gyughhh!' and raise you a Nyaghhh!"

Well the fear factor certainly got to me. And if Cloud says that parental term in that voice one more time....

Friday, May 20, 2005

Save the London Eye

The desire for money ruins everything.

Michael Crick = Dennis Pennis

Shouldn't Paul Kaye sue?

Heard the exchange between Crick and this possible Man Utd player. Realised Crick doesn't do the schtick solely for politicians.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Nowt wrong with an old joke

From Norm via Adrian C.

As true as it ever was. Now remind me again why such unhelpful folk are 'necessary' to business?

Recommended book review: John at C&S on Maurice Brinton

I know Darren has passed on comments on the collection For Worker's Power. Apologies. No offence or significant preference is intended. In fact, without that piece and its links, I might not have read John's in as much depth.

Whilst John and I have debated elsewhere that reviews can be misleading, in think in this instance the review can act as a good incentive. Or maybe reviews just work better for books? Either way, I heartily agree with John's final comments about ownership of the means of production:
In conclusion, then: There is ONE major change in my thinking that I can attribute unreservedly to Solidarity. The, at heart, very simple observation that ownership of the means of production is meaningless if ownership is just legalese; if, in practice, it does not mean control and management of the means of the production, it means the formation of a new class system. For what does it mean for me to own something if I can’t do with it what I want? If I don’t have control over it, how can I be said to own it? And this is where we came in: They showed all too clearly that the Marxist theory that, because there were no differences in property relations between the Party and the proletariat, there could be no conflict of interest, was disproved by Marxism in practice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Saw KoH last night and I know that Cloud was rather disappointed by it. Most of the reviews too seem very unimpressed.

Maybe I am easily pleased (nothing to do with Orlando Bloom either - I would rather leave than take frankly). I actually thought it was okay, and the last hour or so really kept me going.

Yes, the opening section is rather plodding: too much scene setting for narrative we don't really care about. Liam Neeson's part was too brief to be emotionally meaningful and too dominant to ditch without needing substantial reworking of the whole film. We could have easily lost the utterly pointless love story. A good 45 mins shorter and this would have been a cracking action history flick. So what if the platitudes on religion and politics were heavy-handed?: it was at least a positive to see them. And having grown up on all those films about "white men are good; non-white men are evil murderers", it was rather more inspiring to see one that showed good and bad on all sides, good and bad actions from good and bad people. It may have had a Gladiator: Part Deux feel to it, but that's not entirely a bad thing.

Clare's questions: the "me-me"

The lovely Clare at Boob Pencil recently engaged in a 'me-me': personal questions tailored to the recipients. You should definitely read hers (especially the one about the contents of her 'purse': as the 'bag-lady' of Nottingham I can identify with such 'bursting at the seams'-ness) and to track it on at least read the how .Ophelia has responded.

Clare asked of me...
1. I've not known you long, but you seem a very giving person. Do you find you're able to receive, too?

Well its true that I get a lot of pleasure out of giving stuff to people - to see their reactions mostly, to provide them with pleasure. Do I receive graciously? Depends. Low self-esteem means that I tend to giggle or brush off compliments or become enthused about those complimenting me (And being an only child from a small family unit I relish friendships, shared interests, discussion etc). For a variety of reasons, I don't get many surprises even though I exhort Cloud and my friends to do so - I think it's because they can't keep up with what I'm interested in or are scared that others will predict their 'original' gift. But I do love pressies: my friend Chrissie is amazing at finding stuff for me! And who doesn't like to receive from those they love and care about?

2. You're clearly a bit of a culture junkie. Do you distinguish between "low" and "high"?

Yep, culture junkie, that's me. And no, I don't distinguish. Defining what is 'cultural' in social activities is perhaps one of the most pointless exercises possible. Of course, that isn't to say there ain't stuff I like and dislike, stuff that I have more interest in than other stuff, but like or dislike doesn't make for very good definitions of 'high' or 'low'. 'Fun' and 'worthy' instead?

3. Do you want, or have you ever wanted, to be in the "in crowd"?

I would say never, but that might be untrue insomuch as I have spent several periods in my life ostracised and isolated at the whim of petty bullies. Since these largely occurred due to my inability and unwillingness to be part of an 'in-crowd' I clearly didn't long to be part of them when they shut me out, but that didn't stop me wanting to be less alone. I tend to find that my tastes and interests are fringe rather than mainstream, contradictory rather than coherently consistent with a 'crowds' defined interests, and not obsessive enough to sit comfortably with 'true' fans of even the most fringe topics.

4. You've had a very active comments box lately, with arguments raging on the subject of education. Do you relish the debate, or fear the conflict?

Interesting question this! And perhaps the hardest for me to answer. I don't want to feel there are topics I can't write about. When I started this blog, pretty much everything was culture comments. Gradually, partly due to my inability to keep my opinions to myself and Cloud's encouragement to fly a little wider, I found myself commenting more and more on social and political subjects close to my heart. I am still astonished that people read this blog and can actually get that worked up about what I say; like my opinions amount to a hill of beans about any of this (or their remarks back). I know I am opinionated, but ultimately I hate conflict for the way it reduces all of us: I've been too hurt in the past by other people's lashing out, gossip, and weird sense of what they believe is acceptable. I think debate is good: personal attacks are unhelpful. I often aim for conciliation to my own detriment. I don't want to have such a hard heart that I don't feel pain, but it can be difficult when avoiding pain stops you expressing your ideas.

5. How did you and Cloud meet?

The great romance story! A102 Open University Summer School 1990, Westfield College, Finchley London. By a jukebox. He selected "The Boy with the Thorn in his Side" from the Smiths album Rank. I had selected Squeeze "Labelled with Love", Happy Mondays "Wrote for Luck" and the Smiths (also from Rank) "Ask". Bizarrely, his track from Rank came on before mine, so I challenged how that could have happened. We chatted briefly and I was smitten. Tall dark and handsome. And with OU name badges, no inconvenient need to clumsily ask for a name or make introductions. Barn dance, eye contact over meals and finally frantic dancing at the disco to The Pogues "Sally MacLennane". Discussions about the forthcoming Iraq war and St Etienne's cover of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart". Read me poetry from The New Masses anthology. Haven't stopped loving him since.
The New Masses:
From the ashes of the Masses//Liberator arose The New Masses in 1926. When the Great Depression struck in 1929 and America became more receptive to ideas from the Left, the magazine was poised to become one of the most influential publications of the 1930s.

It continued the original Masses tradition of fusing art, reportage and revolution together into a highly readable package. Most of the important writers of the period - Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, Thomas Wolfe, Dorothy Parker, Erskine Caldwell, Mike Gold, Theodore Dreiser, James Agee, Langston Hughes and Josephine Herbst - appeared on its pages.

Now, here's what happens next - and my apologies to the original me-me creator for any boundary changes.

If you'd like to have a go, and you want to be interviewed by me, follow the instructions below.

1. Leave me a comment on this post saying "Interview me." No, "if you dare" additional remarks are necessary. I think I'm entitled to take a bit of time choosing who I want to interview, though it is likely to be the first five (if there are that many respondents).

2. I'll respond by asking you five questions, by email. I'll spend some time reading your blog first, and then try and make the questions interesting for you and your readers. So the questions are unlikely to be like any of those found on others joining in the me-me.

3. Update your blog with the answers to the questions and leave the answers as comments on this post.

4. Include this explanation, and an offer to interview other people, in the same post as your interview.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you ask them five questions in the same way.

Curtis 25 years on

Much ink spilled in recent weeks over Ian Curtis and the 25th anniversary of his death today. Radio 6 is fair clearing its schedules. Hard to know how to feel about the 'commemorations', but this remains a potent track.

Further reports on DofaS

Sorry - that's the abbreviation me and my friends have been using in text messages of late. I am of course referring to the wonderful Death of a Saleman production at the Lyric Theatre starring Brian Dennehy. Found another 4 star review. I'll even forgive them for noting the "tummy"... the truth is we all get older.

The Tyranny of Indie

Nice discussion over at Counago and Spaves about blogging, indie music and why we need to buy new shoes for Reidski.

Nevertheless, although indie has always struck me as a rather flawed idea, let alone a definable music genre, I still enjoy playing my "Now that's what I call Dead Baggy" tapes lovingly constructed between 1989 and 1992. Chapterhouse, Pale Saints, Lush, My Bloody Valentine...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Death of a Salesman: a week on Friday

Ah... something to sooth me. Now there's a sight for sore eyes and heavy heart. And by all accounts - as if we expected different - it looks to be a great production.

10 things I've never done

Thanks be to Norm - an oasis of calm in the mele of my comments inbox.

So, what can I identify as 10 things I have never done? No special order.

- Never been camping. Nearly did it when I went to see Pulp at the Heineken festival at Leeds Roundhay Park in 1995. Bought all the stuff. Chickened out following crush at the front of the gig and a desire to get to my bed back in Wolves asap.

- Never passed my driving test. Don't panic folks, I'm not driving: in fact, I'm not on the roads in any way...

- Never even learnt to ride a bike properly. No co-ordination.

- Never read Don Quixote.

- Never ridden a horse (would like to)

- Never worked in a bar, restaurant, factory, shop or had a Saturday job. Does that mean I grew up without a sense of money or responsibility? No, it just meant I had less stuff and concentrated more on my studies. I know my limitations.

- Never been to Germany, land of my father. Though I am hoping to go this summer as and when our work contracts ever get sorted out.

- Never been baptised or christened

- Never had to stay in hospital (post-birth: I took a long time to get out then - being as I was born with the cord around my neck, underweight, and the wrong way round. Nearly didn't get to the hospital at all...)

- Never been on a rollercoaster (no desire to either: mum had to drag me off one of those 'go so slow' kiddies roundabouts when I was about three because it scared me so much. I'm thinking that can't be a good indicator for riding upside-down...)

Now who else would like this? Casyn? Cloud? Anna? So many to choose...

Rewatchability: defining a 'great' film

With some qualifications, I have to agree with Duff's comment about the 'sitting through them again' notion being a contributing factor to a great film (I know, I know, good lord, something I agree with Duff on - shurely shome mishtake as Private Eye would have it!).

Nevertheless, I have to admit that I have gradually lost patience with worthy but dull stuff taking up my film-watching time (see here). To take a further example, I have a lot of sympathy with Norm's dismissal of particular works by Peter Greenaway (though not Greenaway's entirel output: I rather liked Drowning by Numbers and the documentary Act of God he directed about lightening strikes - a work that remains with me after all these years. And Cloud still likes Belly of an Architect with the magnificent Brian Dennehy).

Anyway, I digress. To return to the issue of rewatchability. I do think that great films are emininently rewatchable (though you have to take some account of mood). The difficulty is that I don't think the logic can be taken so far as to say that a film that is rewatchable is necessarily great (and I don't think that is what you were saying Duffman, before you get your panties in a twist again). Films can be rewatchable for all sorts of reasons, not all of them connected with such edifying sentiments as defining the film as 'great'. My friend has watched Gladiator more times than she can count, but is under no illusion that the film is 'great'. And though we cheered Rusty's Oscar win - for the circumstance as much as anything - she would have been much happier to see him rewarded for The Insider or LA Confidential.

The point is that some films can be like comfort blankets. Take True Romance. Cloud and I have watched that a ton of times. It makes us laugh, it makes us cry, it has thrills and vibrancy, a great soundtrack, and possibly Brad Pitt's best performance outside of Fight Club (I like Seven, but I don't think the performance was as good). I don't think either of us would place it on a great films list. But for us it is very rewatchable.

I guess what I am trying to articulate - as usual, very badly - is that some stuff is worthy but dull and only makes lists because some folk feel it should do. Some stuff is difficult and doesn't make for 'easy' viewing, but that's not to say I wouldn't acknowledge that it was great; just as I wouldn't claim greatness for a frippery such as If Only, even though I love the film with a passion. greatness can be an awfully subjective thing if we allow such matters as rewatchability to dictate the boundaries. But that isn't to say it should never be taken account of, only that we must beware of making it a dominant criteria.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Follow up on British Films

Norm managed 42 great British Films in his list; the BFI stretched to 100 when it canvased for selection c. 1999.

Can't say that I would find more than about 40 I felt THAT impressed with.

They all forgot to include Orphans anyway, so yah boo sucks for missing that off.

British Movies

In an effort to stem the tidal wave of Duff commentaries against any effort of mine to venture into political or social commentary, musings, ideologies or ramblings, I thought I best return post haste to some cultural thoughts (since that was where the blog started off).

So I was gladdened to read Norm's weekend posting on British Movies. Norm makes a brief remark that he disputed some titles as being described as British Films, and it certainly raises some issues. American money; British sentiment = British film? British cast; non-specific location (i.e. out of space) = non-British film? British writer; mostly American cast = British film? The permutations are endless. And then you have to fight against definitions of the 'style' of British films... what are the expectations? Do we want stuff that is parochial or universal?

Of course, I would say that one of the key difficulties is how much the list and response that inspired Norm's was driven by the great market forces of what is currently available on DVD - for example at HMV, as they produced the original list that so frustrated John Walsh at the Independent. As the regular brochures put out by HMV of "great movies you must own" make clear, every "must own" list is driven by what is currently hot on the market/recently released and only limitedly by what is actually excellent. I fondly recall a small booklet put out by long-since defunct magazine Neon which listed 1000 great movies to own on video (that's how long ago it was). Organised by genre, it smartly listed not only the top 10 for each genre with a must avoid, but also gave a preamble that accounted for the better stuff not available. Thus under Conspiracy Thrillers (American) its first remarks were that the list was deeply flawed: it did not have Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View. Its unimaginable that a shop would ever admit that products it was unable to sell were actually better than what it could sell - so we're already hitting flaws in their list before we get to the detail.

Still, being a list-a-holic, I do appreciate looking over such things. Even if they all miss out one of my favourite British films Defence of the Realm. And that IS available on DVD. At less than £7.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On schools

Hilary Wade added a comment last week to this blog, following up on my previous exchange of views on matters regarding education and ideology. Hilary had previously recounted a tale of a frustrated teacher, desperate to lead his flock to the path of righteous leftism, who found he met criticism and mockery. The point of the anecdote had been to highlight that

"people, even when young, can be self-seeking, ornery and perverse, and when you apply an action to a group of them, while what you get is not necessarily an equal and opposite reaction, exactly, it will almost certainly be an effect different to that which you intended."
To further explore this, Hilary drew on some personal experiences regarding the introduction of the comprehensive school system.

It was a fascinating post, and one that I felt deserved returning to: partly because I was educated by the comprehensive system in a school without a sixth form.

Hilary's tone comments on the flawed notion that there can be a trickle effect: that disaffected and less able pupils can be transformed into studious and able pupils merely by putting each in proximity to the other. I would add: of course proximity isn't enough. My school, in the twenty years before it closed, was radically changed by its intake of pupils expelled from other schools (generally schools with a worse reputation than ours had at the time - if you got thrown out of those schools, things really were looking bleak for you). These pupils were brought into William Crane as if by being with us they would suddenly acquire skills, abilities AND ANY INTEREST IN DOING SO. Well, duh, the result was not positive. But could it have been different? Probably not in and of itself as an action (as integration). It required instead a broader thinking - one that looked at why they were disaffected, their home experiences, their expectations. If pupils were changed, what would this do for them? To return to an acho of Hilary's anecdote, being told something is good for you doesn't make it believable, nor does it mean that you will benefit from it per se. Single actions are never enough.

To take one example, I was at school with a girl who was constantly reminded at home that she wasn't 'academic'. This applied not only to the most traditional school subjects - sciences, arts, languages, in fact anything above basic functional reading, writing and arithmetic - but even to the way in which applied subjects were included in the CSE curriculum. Her parents were constantly at odds with school (especially her mum) as they considered education a waste of time - a block on children being able to get "into the real world" and into work. Effort on school work was not valued or especially encouraged - though interestingly her brother was at least encouraged to "do his best" even though this did not stretch to any promotion of studying after 16. Kids like myself, who constantly asked lots of 'how' and 'why' questions of the world and adults and the workings of the universe, got pretty short shrift in this household not least for offering any encouragement about the possibilities education could offer her. (She wanted to be a nurse: this required O levels).

Eventually, after much dispute, she went to college to do some O levels to try and get into nursing. Because she was good at it and enjoyed the subject, she opted to make her fifth subject, alongside the sociology and biology-type subjects she was required to take, English Literature. [It was ultimately the only course she passed: grade C]. Against various familial disputes - not least of which were the ongoing tensions arising from me pursuing A levels at a college closer to home than hers - the encouragement for her studies slipped further into antagonism. Most of the girls on the course came from similarly tense backgrounds: environments where it was rare to not being 'eterned', married or a mother by 18 years old. My friend found it harder and harder to keep her focus as the pressures mounted to get into work. And if her eventual results meant that she was going to find it difficult to get into nursing, what she found even more problematic was the idea she might have to leave home and move across the country to finish her training at a university. You left home to get married; not to go and study. For her the combined circumstances and expectations and experiences were too much. Changing her possibilities would have meant doing much more than just having a moderately bright girl with people both more and less bright with her at school. It required a major change of attitude, not just within her immediate family but within her entire social structure.

The point being: the comprehensive system didn't go anywhere near far enough in addressing inequalities. And I know too many people who failed the 11-plus who, rightly or wrongly, felt condemned to a second-class education and set of expectations because they didn't get into a hallowed grammar school. So I'm not entirely convinced that retaining the system as it was before comprehensives was distinctly better.

To other matters arising from Hilary's remarks. Hilary recalled the passion felt for public schools but then goes on to say:
"But I like the idea of boarding schools! I like Dimsie and Molesworth and Red Circle School and 'Fifth Form at St Dominics' ... where they still have proper dormitory feasts and the teachers wear mortar boards and the Head is strict but fair and the school captain wins the match in the last over by hitting a six into the pavilion clock, and the school, in short, is just like a proper school ought to be."
Can I say that "boarding schools" are not per se "public schools": I would not argue that children (myself to some extent included) didn't quite like the idea of being in it together in a boarding environment. But I would add that what I liked most about some of these tales was a streak of liberty against authority (matron sucks; teacher is a fool) rather than an inherent delight in the public school mentality and structure. Maybe Hilary's gang were all of the aspiring class that saw something positive in the family-less hierarchical structure of a public boarding school: I was less heartily convinced. For me, Grange Hill was not a horror. And can I say this? Any current love of Hogwarts is more about the battle of the ordinary against the privileged who feel they by rights have sole access to Hogwarts - for who of the readers imagines themselves for the priggish, self-righteous Malfoy's rather than the underdog Harry, the put-upon Weasleys, or the 'half-blood' Hermione?

I feel I have more to say, but as Cloud awaits to whisk me home I will depart forthwith and await the fall-out. More blogging next week folks!

False logic

A cat has four legs - ergo, all four-legged animals are cats

Young thugs wear hooded tops and baseball caps - ergo, all wearers of hooded tops and baseball caps are young thugs.

Er... anyone been taught basic logic and critical thinking recently? This smacks of the notion that if you are not a young thug, you would be proud to not wear the same 'uniform' as a young thug; that you would happily take off your cap or wear your hood down; and that anyone defying such a request to reveal themselves must obviously be thuggish.

This paranoid logic sucks.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


A bon mot from the mail archive:
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO - What a Ride!"

What? Get me a glossary of colloquialisms!

Currently our work email system is experiencing some difficulties. You delete stuff, but it has almost zero effect on your storage used. Or have they just shrunk our storage entitlements?

Who knows?

Anyway, apropos of sifting through and printing hard copies of mails to store in students files rather than on the drive, I have been coming across some quirky little snippets of stuff. Not least of which was this site, useful for all manner of 'glossary' type questions such as those often thrown at me by a bewildered Rita across the Atlantic miles. Rita frequently takes me to task over my use of language - she ain't the only one, I know - and pleads for an explanation. Sometimes the problematic terms are homegrown, but phrases are more likely particular to the UK so sites such as this can be helpful. It includes articles, Q&A sections, as well as brief encyclopedic explanations (a series of alphabetical sections), and a series of links to similar pages. I know it can be easy to find fault with such sites, as you can with various dictionaries: but that's why smart readers like to have a variety of texts on etymology to hand. Nevertheless, an interesting site and worth a gander (other similar recommendations happily accepted!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Blackpool = James Bond

Sorry, either Amazon is having a wibble fit or it's just business as usual there and I hadn't noticed before. Type in "Blackpool" into the search box and specify DVD and it brings up a host of James Bond movies.

Am I missing something?

Star Wars in the cultural imagination

Any regular reader here knows that I share Tim Bisley's opinion on Star Wars.
[to a Star Wars: The Phantom Menace fan]
Tim Bisley: You are so blind! You so do not understand! You weren't there at the beginning. You don't know how good it was! How important! This is it for you! This jumped-up firework display of a toy advert! People like you make me sick! What's wrong with you? Now, I don't care if you've saved up all your fifty 'p's, take your pocket money and get out! [the little boy runs off, crying]
Tim Bisley: What a prick.
But I do still have a residual love for the first three movies - that's the three released in the 1970s and 1980s, before all this nonsense about Episode IV got added into the narrative. The current travesties only demonstrate Lucas can't direct for toffee - and don't try to convince me from the example of American Graffiti. Not-so-great movie made memorable by its soundtrack. Seriously though, I do really like the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back (definitely the best of the three), and even The Return of the Jedi (ewoks aside).

So I was intrigued to read that the young and lovely Casyn on the other side of the globe with her exceptionally well-formed DVD collection hadn't got any Star Wars in her collection (okay, I only have the original three on video, but it was from when they got nicely cleaned up by the LucasCorp (moderate spit). And then I read this:
Perhaps the reason I don't own the original Star Wars isn't because I am resisting letting into the hype of the new films. I think, in some bizarre way, they are cheapening the legacy of the original. And I'm sure I'll be slapped by any serious fan of Star Wars by saying that.
On that basis, I refer my readers here back to my quote and state "Casyn, you get no trouble from me..."

The eBay solution

Of course, if we had half an ounce of ability we'd be off selling on eBay, but I'll be honest in saying that we just find it too confusing. We could really do with someone actually doing it for us, but that's like admitting you can't tie your shoelaces or blow your nose in today's society. Sigh. We couldn't even rustle up the ability to attend a car boot sale. Am sure we could have made lots from all the stuff we have given away over the years, but we're just too idle to make a good job of trying to make it pay. I guess we don't make very good capitalists, eh?!

Hmmm... are we subversive or just incompetent?

Movies and TV on DVD and video

Casyn recently posted on the distinctly modern flavour [mid-1990s onwards] of her DVD collection (amongst other things, some of which I shall return to in another post). It got me pondering. We probably lean as much towards getting older stuff in that we know and love already as we do new releases either seen or unseen - though in truth I think Cloud would quite like to have a moratorium on consumer spending. [He's perhaps a closet fan of Norm's view on owning movies - if so I will remind Cloud of that the next time he gets the urge to watch Leon for the gazianth time: one of our most favourite of films].

Anyway, our non-period dominated collection means that I will quite happily pursue the purchase of X-files seasons that we have watched several times over (just season 4 to get now), alongside recent releases like Casanova and the Rufus Wainwright DVD All I Want (next on the order list, whatever Cloud says). Not being too nostalgic for the TV of the past, most of that is undeniably recent drama and comedy: and if you don't know by now what that includes then check out the header for this blog, as well as here, here and here for some clues. There are a handful of black and white films - such as Casablanca (every home should have one!) and The Third Man - in the Cloud and Rullsenberg collection of official purchases. But post-WWII gets stronger by the decade. The 1950s are a little sparse, as are the 1960s apart from some early James Bond films; but the 1970s, 1980s and onwards certainly have a presence. We have the first two Godfather films; the French Connection films; Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America; works by Terry Gilliam from Brazil onwards; and quirky works like Repo Man.

All this is a by-the-by for working out what Cloud and I do as we try to rationalise our film/TV collection on video and DVD. We have way too much stuff on the awful and constantly, vividly, degrading medium of videotape: and absolutely tons on home tapes (or as Cloud calls them, our amateur dramatics and home-filmed bird and wildlife tapes --- I think he is a little too paranoid about the legal status for materials taped off the television being stored for more than a few days).

But what to do? Do we keep older materials - more obscure, less easy to replace, but equally probably less often watched - or the more recent stuff? Do we replace things on DVD, only to leave them further semi-watched or unwatched but in a more up-to-date and expensive medium? And what to do about treasured items? We have a number of programmes that are not and never have been available on pre-recorded video, let alone anything as technologically advanced as DVD. Okay I admit it, a number of these tapes feature works starring the lovely Douglas Henshall or are of performances by the magnificent Pulp. But we also have a number of cultural documentaries about sci-fiction and art that I love to throw on to accompany a dinner-time slot. And most of all we have movies: weird and wonderful stuff that we probably could track down if we really worked at it, but at ludicrous prices. Should we keep them or take a bold step to launch them into videotape oblivion?

It seems to me that the relative non-modernity of the collection contributes to this problem of selection: what is fit to be kept, what do we keep for appearances sake (worthy, but dull!), and what is in danger of destruction through repeated viewings? Not sure if this is resolvable as soon as we would like, but if anyone is willing to offer their suggestions or experiences I suspect we'd find it helpful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Harry's Place: comments on the election and Respect

For those interested who pass my way, but generally do not pass through some of my fellow bloggers who are more explicitly concerned with political debates, can I recommend checking in at Harry's Place? There are some serious and thought-provoking discussions here that deserve to be read.
The left needs to respond to this poison [BNP etc] with the politics of hope – showing in practice that our old slogans still have some life in them yet. That unity is strength, that a democratic society offers a way of dealing with problems, that a social-democratic economy can provide a decent life for all and the opportunities that offer a way out of poverty and marginalisation.

Belated Birthday wishes: so shoot me now

Please do not take that to be an instruction if any of you out there are gun-toting, trigger-twitchy hunters!

Seriously though, I wish to make a public humbling for my complete inability to recall birthdays. Shamefully, I managed to miss the beloved Chrissie's birthday last week. (Grovel, grovel, scrape, scrape). All I can say is that a further Rullsenberg compilation will be constructed in compensation as soon as I am able. It's no consolation but I will state again that despite knowing the inestimable Helen Lisette since I was seventeen I am still no closer to being able to recall her birthdate with certainty (somewhere between the 24th and the 29th October).

Put simply, I suck.

And whilst I'm at it, we should all hope for better times ahead for John and his better half. Safe recoveries and belated birthday wishes all round.

Monday, May 09, 2005

"That's Entertainment": Socialist analysis of the media

Thanks to InvereskStreetIngrate for alerting me to this forthcoming event of the Socialist Party. Now who could we sign up to attend this....?

The West Wing and other great cultural offerings

Following a little note from a USophile (or is that USophile as a name?) making a public thanks for those works of liberal progressiveness produced by the United States of America, it seemed apt to record here that Cloud and I spent much of the long weekend period (Thursday to Sunday) indulging in The West Wing Season 5 on DVD. Thought-provoking stuff, even without Aaron Sorkin over-seeing the proceedings. Complex characters - not always likeable; flawed opinions; intentions versus political realities versus the effects on individual lives. All tackled deftly. Do we do anything remotely similar over in the UK? We can sometimes get comedic satire right, but this combination of drama, comedy, thriller-narratives AND politics...? I don't think we do. House of Cards? I loved A Very British Coup --- and it was certainly in the same league for quality of writing --- but to have that combination of approaches?

On another note regarding cultural works, I am also living up to my promise to start re-reading Neil Gaiman's Sandman books, which remain as intellectually challenging and visually stimulating as ever. Have just finished re-reading Dream Country, which, as stand-alone stories, probably offers newcomers an easy road in. Then again, it doesn't allow readers to be swept into the Sandman story - Morpheus, Oneiros, Dream - or that of The Endless as a 'family'. And that seems a great shame. Start where you like, but if you have an interest in history, myth, the telling of stories, religion, dreams, or just already like narratives told with images (as well as words), then do get hold of The Sandman. It's worth the investment.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Light relief: the language of Rufus

Sorry, post-election I needed a burst of alternative thinking. Catch these definition discussions over at the Rufus Wainwright message-boards on the Concise Rufus Dictionary (apologies for cutting the specific credited originators on these but some don't make sense outside the discussion on the boards).

Credits to: Noynal (originator of the discussion); zencorrine; Rhapsody; cindyloohoo; arian_mor; Captain; Goody Wainwright; Cosmo; sleeping_pirate; scaredofhershadow; ScissorSister; and kat_in_blue
Rufunoidal - term used todescribe those attempting to sound like Rufus –in car singing-possible rather nasal or having a ‘breathy’ quality
Rufied - not good
Ruphoria - The feelings and emotions during and just after seeing Rufus perform in concert Rufusish - of or pertaining to an article of clothing or piece of jewelry that perfectly accessorizes an outfit
Rufusitis - (1) being unable to listen to any music that is not being sung by Rufus; or (2) hearing Rufus's voice no matter what song is playing
Rufobia - fear of losing a Rufus CD for a short period of time
Rufanus shot? Or maybe even (God forbid) a Rufotomy
Rufable - a person or moment that needs r w music
Rufusology - the study of rufus
Rufusesque - adjective used to describe a man resembling Rufus
Rufusion - what most people's CD collections are in need of: "honey, you've got some awfully boring CD's - you need a Rufusion"
Rufusian - a certain style of mannerism, of dress, of hair, etc, that is decidedly reminiscent of Rufus
Rufism- denying a religion (organized or privatized) and the acceptence of Rufus as your savior
Rufoxicated - an altered state of consciousness as a result of imbibing want one and two in one sitting
Rufhalla - almost like heaven, only better
Rufusonian - The area in your living space that is set aside for posters, articles, autographs...and all Rufus memorabilia
Rufusity (no Rufusitis) - quality of something or someone who looks like Rufus or carries some of his essence
Given the exchanges I have had in recent weeks with my pal Ian - ever grateful for him really getting Cloud and me into RW - I have noticed that unwittingly we too have been using the language of Rufus... Oh What a World...!

Feeling better in the mornings

Smiled when I read Norm's comment on the election and how "from 1979 to 1992 [he] went to bed on election nights (actually mornings) a lot less happy than [he] did at 5.30 today".

Agreed. I did A level politics back in 1983-85 and since the 1979 election of Thatcher and the turning of Nottingham from Labour Red to Tory blue, I had sat up with my mother to watch the election results come in. Despite our longings, the blueness of the area was reinforced in 1983, yet still I sat up, hoping against hope. Finally, Nottingham returned to being a Labour held area in 1992, but I well remember the disappointment and commiserating camaraderie felt when we realised this was not enough to push the Tories out of power. Exhausted and frustrated as I staggered into work, I got into the lift with a guy called John who worked at the banking administrators on the floor below me. Both of us were bleary-eyed and downcast. "If only the local vote had been reflected nationally..." he trailed, wistfully. I often wondered come 1997 what his response was on the bright blue-skied morning of May 2nd when somehow the darkness felt as if it had lifted, despite our deep ideological reservations about the New labour project... fears that in many respects were realised.

Yet, for all my concerns and regrets about how the parties have shifted further and further from the ideals I cherish, the alternatives are SO much more destructive that I still feel a smidgeon of pleasure in election nights... and I hope that I don't have to return to the dark emotions of those nights from 1979 to 1992.

East Midlands: an election PS

The three Tory gains from Labour in the East Midlands --- all in the South of the region, all bordering on the solid southern Tory-leaning Eastern region.

Labour back in power

There has been much talk over the last 12 hours about the anti-Labour vote. There was much anticipation about the Liberal Democrat's hopes to challenge and truly bring about 3-party politics in the UK (something we note they say pretty much at every election).

What actually happened? Many Labour strongholds saw shifts to the LibDems without it necessarily affecting how close the Tories got to the Labour vote. Where Tories did make inroads, it was generally to 'gain' seats that had historically been strong swing seats between the Tories and Labour or seats which had gone Labour (in some instances for the first time ever) back in the election of 1997 when the scale of the anti-Tory vote astonished even the Labour party. The LibDems generally lost out to a strengthened Tory vote in seats where the LibDems proclaimed the possibility of 'decapitating' the Tory front-bench. There were some horrifying numbers voting for far-right parties.

What does this show? In 1983 The Labour party was deemed dead and buried with a similar result to that of the Tories in this new parliament. The Tories not only need to continue to hold onto the seats they won this time around, but substantially need to win over more of those seats which Labour held onto - seats where in several instances the LibDem vote went up. And that LibDem increase can't help but be acknowledged as partly a ill-thought out search for a more radical left-ish political agenda [I could talk at length about how the LibDems have been situated by the media as a more left-wing party than the Labour party. I think there are aspects of that which are true, but many more that illustrate this was specious nonsense --- mostly because, as frustrating as LibDems may find it, under the current electoral system they are still NO WHERE NEAR being an electable government].

And as for George Galloway... I feel sick. I have hugely mixed feelings about the war, and the manner in which the decision was made, justified and squabbled over in the period after ground troops declared their ceasefire on hostilities (pity not everyone else has done the same). I sadly don't believe that the quagmire of Iraq is one that will go away anytime soon. But I DO firmly believe that free elections in Iraq, and the demolition of Saddam's regime (so long after he was let off the hook by the post-1990 Tory and Republican agendas) are absolutely GOOD THINGS. As such, the divisive manner in which Galloway fought his election campaign - which in some ways would not have disgraced the sentiments of the BNP - can in no way be celebrated as a positive thing for politics in this country and I feel heartily sorry for a Jewish-black woman MP like Oona King who had to deal with such attacks upon herself. It does no credit at all the our electoral system and for once I have some empathy with Paxo's attacking style of interview.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A quiet place to work for Clare Sudbery

Come on, there must be someone due to go away who would relish a house-sitter for a week to meet an appeal for help so that Clare can get some quality time with her writing. Or someone with a spare property (well, that's perhaps less likely)... Or just a quiet space to rent for a week, preferably for less than the heart-attack inducing 400 smackers everything quotes at this time of year.

Contact Clare if you have any solutions!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

George Vol 2: the further adventures of non-MP3 selections

I have to say that to my mind the self-made compilation is a gorgeous thing. Put together with care and attentiveness to the recipient (even if it's yourself in terms of an MP3 organised set of tracks), it can offer new insight to rarely heard tracks and fresh pleasures in material you may have thought over-familiar. Sitting side-by-side, tracks take on new shapes and offer us the chance to think about the past - associations, memories - and the present.

I knew I had found a fellow soul of taste when Cloud first played me his beloved Derrida's Deconstruction tape: 45 mins of quality and eclecticism that summed up why he was worth the emotional investment. I should get him to tell you about it - and how, despite the technology - it segues together so well!

Anyway, here is volume two of the George Collection:

David Grubbs: Transom
Bjork mit Funkstroming: All is Full of Love
Eels: Spunky
Magnetic Fields: I Don’t Believe You
Aimee Mann: Save Me
Nanci Griffiths: It's a Hard Life (Wherever You Go)
This Mortal Coil: Your Sister
Magnetic Fields: It’s Only Time
St Etienne: Hobart Paving
Sleater Kinney: Was it a lie?
Pulp: My Legendary Girlfriend
Johnny Cash: Hurt
Magnetic Fields: Is This What They Used to Call Love?
Lampchop: TheOne
The 6ths (Momus): As You Turn to Go
Talvin Singh: Traveller

George Vol 1: equally not an MP3 collection

I'm getting into tracking these lists now. This one comprises a series of items selected in connection with our good friend George.

Einstuerzende Neubauten: Reduckt (live)
Pere Ubu: My Friend is a Stooge for the Media Priests
Jefferson Airplane: Somebody to Love
The Teardrop Explodes: Rachael Built a Steamboat
Half Man Half Biscuit: Trumpton Riots
Ian Dury: Spasticus Autisticus
The Roots: !!!!!!!
CSNY: Almost Cut My Hair
Hazeldine: Tarmac
Goats Don’t Shave: Las Vegas (In the Hills of Donegal)
Sixteen Horsepower: Coal Black Horses
Randy Newman: Political Science
Jonathan Richman: Ice Cream Man
Lampchop: This Corrosion
Pere Ubu: Vacuum in my Head
Mindless Drug Hoover: Fuck Off
REM: Bad Day (N.B. selected especially for the misheard lyric "It's been a bad day in Beeston, take a picture...")

Encouragement to vote

As ever, Cloud gets to all the good political stuff ahead of me.

SIAW propose how to consider voting here. Check it out and then ask yourself what the alternatives could lead to.


A Jacket I nearly purchased

Am just getting over the yearning I felt this weekend when I nearly succumbed to buying a jacket designed by Vivienne Westwood (Red Label). The jacket was red velvet, 3/4 length, lined and fitted me perfectly (thanks for nothing Cloud in getting me to try it on!)

Sadly, being sold as part of a designer's private collection of items, it was a whopping £350 to buy: "I could do it you for £320" the seller gallantly offered.

Yikes. I left the shop - only open for three days in Nottingham - gnashing my teeth and wailing that I was not t0 be allowed within a 100 yard radius of the shop whilst it was open in case I was seduced.

As compensation, Cloud led me to the more affordable delights of H&M - purveyors of affordable fashion - where I picked up a pair of red velvet trousers for £12.50. I let go of the idea of getting the jacket...

I'm claiming this was ultimately a Very Good Thing, as when I got home and got changed I found three bite-marks on my arms. EEK! I think I just had a close shave from little biting things and though I wish to cast no aspersions on the quality of storage the VW jacket had had, telling myself I narrowly avoided spending money I don't have, on something I would scarcely dare wear, that was a little more lively than one would like... well that feels good.

AND I didn't slip into saving the £350 only to spend an equivalent on cheap tat!

It did look nice though: sadly I can't track a web-picture of one. Sniff. And it fitted me so well... (I'm over it... really I am).

Music selections: not quite an MP3 list

Inspired by the excellent choices of that InvereskStreetIngrate, I thought I would start to post up my own compilation lists.

So here is the first, put together a few weeks ago until the title of Gender Split Songsters for the lovely Chrissie.

Boom Bip (featuring Nina Nastasia): The Matter (of our discussion)
Frost: Duo
PJ Harvey: A Perfect Day Elise
Melys: I Can't Stop This Now (even if I wanted to)
Tanya Donnelly: Lantern
Camera Obscura: Phil and Don
Laura Cantrell: Not the Tremblin' Kind
Caroline Martin: The Singer
Holly Go Lightly: Wide Open
PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love
Sleater Kinney: The Swimmer
The Delgados: And So the Talking Stopped

The Rentals: These Days
Terry Hall: Chasing a Rainbow
The Delgados: No Danger
Menswear: Being Brave
Pulp: Razzamatazz (Acoustic version)
Ballboy: You Should Fall in Love With Me
The Proclaimers: Sunshine on Leith
Aztec Camera: Oblivious
The Ramones: I Want You Around
The Pixies: La La Love You
Ben Lee: All in this Together
Lampchop: Theme from 'Dallas'

How to get my vote...

Oh well, that does it...

Utterly unprepared, there in the middle of the Labour Party election broadcast last night, between the not-particularly appealing spectacle of Alan Sugar and a selection of 'ordinary' people, up pops the man of the moment.

Yes, dominating our screens in both narrative and news, here comes David Tennant!

Cloud smirked, I grinned, and if my vote hadn't already been decided....

...oh come on! You don't actually think I am so shallow as to cast a vote according to the encouragement of a Paisley-born actor do you?


it is a vague possibility.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Flipping Ada! David Duff gets his panties in a twist about culture and class debates

I go away for a couple of days (bank hol weekend: a nice bit of gardening since you ask) and I come back to a flurry of comments to-and-fro between Reidski and de Duff. AND I find yet another post all about me (shucks) on Duff's blog (one would almost think he has a real issue with what I write: as if it matters much in the great scheme of things...)

Well, as a riposte to this demolition of me (how I quake to have stirred such antagonism: it's almost as if these debates are important enough for Duff to be frightened by their mighty influence?) can I offer a few remarks?

Presumably it's perfectly fine to accept that systems of power have inequalities and never shall these be thought about, discussed or challenged? On that basis, I suspect most of us would still not have a vote and would be condemned to poverty in numbers even greater than those that currently suffer such an experience in our so-called free world. And don't try any "hard work reaps reward" rubbish: check out my previous remarks more extensively.

Regarding art history (though I think it can apply to many aspects of society and history), if feminism is to mean anything it cannot just add on women to the history of great artists since that leaves fundamentally unchallenged the reasons why women have generally been excluded from lists of great artists. Likewise, as the same post just cited said, from whence the quote about feminist art history was ripped (and can I just state for the record I'm not "some dizzy whore, 1804"), nor is it enough to separate off feminism into a ghetto labelled 'feminism'. I would like to think that we can ask questions about why women are economically so disadvantaged, why the structures of power continue to devalue their work and contributions to society and culture, and why women being more like men ultimately doesn't really change anything. Both ghettoisation and the add-on approach to including women in history fails to explore how certain default positions are set as the norm against which everything else must be marked. It's how many political parties are able to demonise 'the other' - shouldn't we at least be thinking about how this happens and its consequences (one of which is some currently rampantly racist ideologies).

In terms of upsetting applecarts ...Nottingham has built its reputation on trying to be in the same league as Oxbridge, and it attracts a fair number of very nice middle-class boys and gals to its towers. Some of these are beautifully well-mannered, with perfect etiquette, and of reasonably good intelligence. I get a hell of a lot out of teaching students, and always have: these students included. But you can only cope with so many such students with four first-names, RP, and a near-bottomless parental fund prepared to financially support these students. They frequently arrive with a bunch of prejudices and a lot of ignorance about how the other 90% lives. Before long you start feeling that the efforts (both intellectual, social and economic) required to successfully complete a degree are worth something indefinably greater for those without advantages. Mature students, working class students, for whom the decision to go into (further/higher) education is not an automatic process: I admit it, I get a really big buzz about working with these students. And for these students, seeing examples of others like them breaking through the systems can be really empowering. Moreover, explaining just how hard it can be to those who arrive with the full weight of advantage behind them, helps me to keep my head and makes me constantly aware of how they still dominate so many of the most powerful structures in society.

On matters Popish, I would say that thus far we have had a mixed bag of remarks from PapaRazi. On some issues he has proved more conciliatory than expected (eg on dialogue between faiths), but overall his election does not suggest a shift to a more liberal and open theological and social stance (on sexuality, the place of women etc). What a shame that Liberation Theology has been effectively outlawed by the Catholic church...

As for disputing the inherent racism of the Tory party's current elision of immigration and asylum... could anyone tell me how the current Tory party are NOT racist? (On second thoughts, PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT inundate me with discussions about how the Tories are just nice fluffy bunny-lovers who are not at all racist: I am more than capable of searching the web and reading books and articles from the press. I've read their stuff and plenty of the journalism supporting them and frankly it just makes me sick to see how this panders to 'worst-fears' attitudes.... And don't think I haven't noticed how Labour frequently wears similarly shabby politics on its sleeves).

And to conclude: education. the minds of the young deserve to mix fully and freely. Yes I do believe that students should encounter ideas that alert them to the power structures of society. I do think that the constant division of public/private schooling does nothing to help debate or challenge those structures. Since they are largely damaging and restrictive, I do want students to become aware of them, how they operate and the effect they have. To respond to one of Duff's correspondents, anything so crass as playing a pro-peace record with a fulmination for the pupil audience to be something other than are is doomed to failure (and rightly so). The problem is that accepting the status quo, accepting the current structures as normal and rightful dooms too many to failure and subjugation. And I can't really sit comfortable with perpetuating that, no matter how many Duffs take me to task for propounding my views online...

Ah well. I could probably spend all my days replying to the Duff and his criticisms which hardly feels productive. Nevertheless, I hope that he and my other readers (I have some!) have got something out of reading my musings.

Dry Your Eyes by The Streets: Dido for blokes

According to Cloud (probably not the first person to say this but it made me laugh).

Also: middle-aged literature academics wrote endless commentaries on this... because they could actually make out the words.

Bwah, ha ha.

Sorry. We were gardening all weekend. I needed a laugh.