Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mappa mundi

One of the things I particularly like about geology is the maps. I like maps in any case, figuring out what the symbols represent, and revelling in the details. There is also something very artistically right with the Ordnance Survey's 1:25,000 scale Explorer maps, even with their limited colour palette (not quite so fond of the 1:50,000 scale Landranger maps, though these have their place). Admiralty Charts are also interesting, but seen from the opposite point of view, in that OS maps are interested in the land, and include all sorts of landmarks, streets and onshore stuff; whereas Admiralty Charts pooh-pooh the land (except where there might be a couple of tall chimneys) as being fit only for land-lubbers, and lovingly detail every change in the sea bed, showing where lights, wrecks and pipelines run.

But geological maps are the best, because they're coloured. They make no concession to land use, or even the actual colour of most rocks (which, although varied, doesn't tend to be as bright as the maps show). For example, igneous rocks such as basalt are usually shown on maps as bright scarlets and fuschia-pinks. Igneous rocks are occasionally pink, but never quite so brightly, luminously, excitingly so. The idea when looking at a geological map is to imagine all the soil, vegetation, tarmac and concrete stripped off the bones of the land, so that you're looking directly at the bedrock from above.

So here's Tamburlaine's guide for interpreting geological maps:

Igneous rocks - usually bright reds, pinks and lime green colours;
Metamorphic rocks - often purple or light pink;
Sedimentary rocks - mudstones tend to be dark colours, browns and greens; sandstones yellow or orange; limestones blue.
This is not always the case, particularly for non-UK maps, but it serves as a reasonable guide.

Thick black lines - faults or thrusts
Thinner black lines - lines of folds, or geological boundaries

Shape of lines:
If fault and boundary lines are wiggly, running parallel to the topographic contours, then the fault or the geology is relatively flat-lying. If the lines are straight, cutting straight across, then the fault or boundary is vertical.

So there you go! Geological maps can show why the landscape is as it is, and why some slopes are steep, and why others aren't, and why rivers drain in the way they do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fie no, no, no!

If you've heard the Divine Comedy's latest single, "To Die A Virgin", it's a splendid song of love and lust, as you would expect from Neil Hannon. Listening to it this morning on 6Music I was inevitably reminded of a madrigal by Michael East, called "Poor is the life", and which contains the refrain, "O, then, if this be so, shall I a virgin die? Fie no, no, no! Fie no, no, no!" I can't help thinking that Hannon has probably heard or seen this madrigal: if not, then it proves that there's nothing new under the sun - at least when it comes to writing songs, anyway.

Poor is the life

Poor is the life that misses
The lover's greatest treasure,
Innumerable kisses,
Which end in endless pleasure.
O, then, if this be so,
Shall I a virgin die?
Fie no, no, no! Fie no, no, no!

Michael East (c. 1580-c. 1648)

Friday, August 18, 2006

The dark is rising

The ubiquity of computers is both a good and bad thing, as I dare say many commentators have already noticed and written about. What's particularly noticeable in my line of work is how their presence and constant use has changed the architecture of the buildings in which we work. All engineering firms have to issue drawings, whether these show details of drainage, steelwork, retaining walls or flood risk areas. In the past, these drawings were made by hand: now, they're (nearly) all prepared using CAD software or some other similar program.

So, in previous years, buildings with large windows and good lighting were important for the draughtsmen. Now, we shield the large windows with blinds so that we don't get glare reflecting from our computer screens. Our new building is being constructed with smaller and fewer windows. Architects may like to design glass-sided, transparent buildings, but the almost habitual use of computers for most office jobs means that these windows nearly always have blinds.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Book review

I found this book in Donners' bookshop in Rotterdam, where they had a very fine selection of books in English. Of course I couldn't resist it. So I used some of my free time on the barge to read it, and very good it was, too.

Tamerlane, or Timur the Lame, was a Tatar from what is now Uzbekistan. He had ambition, drive, ruthlessness and was a brilliant general, a master of outmanoeuvring his opponents. The book tells his story: part history, part biography, part travelogue. Long forgotten or suppressed by the Soviets in his own country, Timur is being reclaimed by modern Uzbeks: newly-married couples pose in front of his statue in Samarkand, and even the president likes to state that his vapid slogans are things that Timur would have said. Calling him Tamerlane is something of an insult there, apparently.

Most people may have heard of the mediaeval "conqueror of the world" through Christopher Marlowe's play, Tamburlaine the Great, which tells a blood-thirstily exaggerated tale of his exploits. Though Marozzi's book seems to indicate that Marlowe probably didn't actually exaggerate that much! It's interesting to think that Timur conquered vast swathes of territory in Central Asia, as far east as Turkey and Egypt, as far south as Delhi, and was planning to invade China before his long life was ended: his interest in Europe was non-existent, for the continent was poor, and wealth and riches seemed to be one of his goals. This seems not to have been necessarily for personal gain, Marozzi explains, merely that he understood very well that the chances of getting good service from his soldiers were much higher if he offered them many opportunities for plunder. City after city was sacked (Georgia was particularly unlucky in this respect, being invaded several times) during his many campaigns and his own city of Samarkand consequently enriched.

Marozzi points out that although Timur styled himself "Sword of Islam", he actually was responsible for the deaths of more Muslims than he was of "infidels". Marozzi paints a portrait of a complete pragmatist, who used Islam when it was convenient, and ignored its tenets when it was not. He lived a long life, seeing his eldest (and favourite) son, and that son's son die before him: his empire fell apart after his death, divided amongst his sons and grandsons.

This is a fascinating book, shedding an illuminating light on a historical figure usually ignored in European histories. It's tempting to wonder what Europe would have been like had he decided it was worth his time and effort to invade.

Another book, but not worth your time, judging by the brief extract I perused in last week's Telegraph, is Marco Pierre White's White Slave. The book's been ghost-written, but not very well, it seems: the extract was full of cliches, and tedious details of his many sexual conquests. White is undoubtedly a very good chef, but his life story - or at least, in the way it's told here - isn't interesting. It certainly won't be on my "to-read" list.

There is a superb parody of this book by Craig Brown in the current issue of Private Eye. I see no reason to change my mind!


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Strange fruit

When at Wells, our choir stayed at Millfield School, which is situated in the fine town of Street, near Glastonbury. Millfield is one of our larger private schools, but not one of its oldest: most of the buildings on the main campus (we actually stayed at a boarding house five miles away, in Baltonsborough) seem to date from the sixties and seventies. It's a huge place, reputedly with 1400 students (which seems huge to me) and a sprawling campus bigger than many universities'. Most of the choir concurred in being glad that none of us had ever been sent there as children. Millfield prides itself on its sporting achievements, and certainly they have the facilities to match - Olympic size swimming pool, golf range, rugby pitches, basketball courts, riding stables... the list is endless.

What struck me in particular is the disturbing nature of the sculpture which was dotted around the place. It was mostly the hare-headed women that I found bizarre, but even some of the other scupture were a little hard to fathom...

This is a bit sexual for a school, surely?

Dogs and weird hare-headed women (I think). Or they could be kangaroos...

This is vaguely normal. I think rusty is popular (think Angel of the North, only not so monumental)...

Any art criticism received with interest!

Censoring the wrong thing

I came across this snippet of "news" on the BBC's website today. So I think the Pussycat Dolls are awful, meretricious examples of the way that sex is supposed to sell anything these days. So I'm even a little pleased that they've been fined for indecency (or, to be fair, their promoter has). However, what they should have been fined for was their crimes against the English language. I know not their songs, so was rather taken aback by the examples quoted in the article, namely: "Don't Cha" and "Stickwitu".

I mean, really. The first sounds as though they are warning against the perils of doing the cha-cha (or, perhaps, brewing one's tea too strong); the second sounds like a brand of glue.

I blame Slade.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sunny days in Wells

This is my first post from home, so let's hope it works! I thought I'd try sticking up some of my photos of my singing week in Wells for your edification, so here goes...

This one is of the ceiling in the pre-choir, with wonderful vaulting.

This is a view of the cathedral taken from the nave, looking east towards the crossing. The strainer arches look modern, but aren't - the main cathedral dates from the 13th century, and the arches were built in the 14th century to prop up the central tower. You can still see the cracks in the masonry from the damage done due to the tower extension.

A view from the top of the tower, looking down onto the Bishop's Palace. That's croquet they're playing down there!

More to come later.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This could be Rotterdam...

I spent quite some time in Rotterdam last month (before my week's holiday and my week offshore), due to various problems which will not be mentioned. I had some problems with my back left wisdom tooth, and was in a panic as to whether it would blow up on me during my incarceration on a barge 12 miles off the Norfolk coast (yes, there were many jokes about there being plenty of pliers on board...). So I ended up going to a dentist there.

I was given a lift into the centre of Rotterdam from the harbour (which is huge, absolutely enormous), and wandered around there in the hot weather until it was time for my appointment. The city centre is very like most other city centres - lots of shops, lots of people - but with not very many old buildings. One thing that struck me about Holland was how much water there is - mostly drainage canals or harbours - and I wondered if they had much of a midge/mosquito problem.

I found an old church open. Fairly modern (at least, early twentieth century) on the outside, with a fabulously baroque interior. The church belonged to the Old Catholics, a church peculiar to Holland, which dates from the days when the Pope refused to ratify the local choice for Bishop, and so they broke away from the main body of the Church. There are also ordinary "Roman" Catholics in Holland, which seems a bit odd. Anyway, the church used to be situated in the centre of the city, and was later moved to a new building in about 1910 with all its fittings and furniture. Luckily, too, for the old church was flattened during WW2.

There were some interesting shops and lots of open-air cafes, squares, and summer entertainment (chiefly drum bands and bongo players). I bought English books in a superb bookshop (reviews may follow - of the books, not the bookshop), and was continuously astonished by the quality of English spoken by most Dutch people.

My dental appointment did not take long. I had my tooth probed and X-rayed, cleaned with peroxide, and told there was nothing much wrong with it. Cue much relief. Must have been some over-vigorous brushing.

Wireless broadband

The broadband thing isn't going quite as well as I'd hoped. When logging on to Blogger using Safari (Apple's own internet browser), I don't get the html editor option; uploading photos takes ages, too. Anyway, I have now received my wireless router, no thanks to Royal Mail, and so tonight will see my desperate efforts to construct a wireless network for me and my housemates to use. I will report back later on my progress.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Singing in the heat

I haven't posted anything during July, as I've been away from the office for most of the month. I've been working offshore, but nowhere exotic (off the coast of Norfolk). The photo to the left is honestly of the North Sea, taken from the drilling barge. That's the Norfolk coastline in the background.

It's nice to be back again, sleeping in one's own bed and drinking one's own tea... Thanks to Dave for the enquiry as to my well-being! I am very well, thanks.

It's not all been 12-hour shifts and getting up at 4:30 am, though: I've spent the past week singing at Wells Cathedral with Lyra Davidica (click on the link to the right for the website, hopefully soon to be updated). We sang eight services: Evensong every evening except Wednesday, and Eucharist and Matins on Sunday. As we only get together once a year, it's a tribute to Christine that she manages to make us sound like a choir so quickly!

The music list (for anyone interested) was as follows:

Monday (Evensong):
Responses: Rose
Canticles: Murrill in E
Anthem: And I Saw A New Heaven - Bainton

Tuesday (Evensong):
Introit: View me, Lord - Moles
Responses: Byrd
Canticles: Purcell in G minor
Anthem: Salvator mundi - Tallis

Thursday (Evensong):
Responses: Rose
Canticles: Howells St Paul's
Anthem: O nata lux - Lauridsen

Friday (Evensong):
Responses: Byrd
Canticles: Gibbons Short service
Anthem: O clap your hands - Gibbons

Saturday (Evensong):
Responses: Rose
Canticles: Stanford in A
Anthem: Let all the world in every corner sing - Leighton

Sunday (Eucharist):
Mass: Missa O quam gloriosum est regnum - Victoria
Motet: Ave verum corpus - Byrd

Sunday (Matins):
Responses: Rose
Canticles: Britten in C
Anthem: Hear my prayer - Purcell

Sunday (Evensong):
Responses: Rose
Canticles: Noble in B minor
Anthem: All wisdom cometh from the Lord - Moore

As I was part of the group which chose the music (and had lobbied hard for the Leighton), it was our fault that perhaps we had too much new music to learn, though it mostly sounded very good, particularly the unaccompanied pieces. We all had a great time - the cathedral is lovely, and the staff, clergy and virgers alike, were very hospitable (which isn't always the case, unfortunately). I'll include some photos in a later post, as I took a lot of pictures with my new camera, most of which I was very pleased with.

Broadband connection soon to be live at home, so I can post there and not at work. Hoorah!