Friday, September 29, 2006

My horoscope

Jupiter’s passed through Orion and coming to conjunction with Mars;
Saturn is wheeling through infinite space to its pre-ordained place in the stars;
And I gaze at the planets in wonder, at the trouble and time they expend
All to warn me to be careful in dealings involving a friend.

Donald Swann

Yet another song from At the drop of another hat, but it points my general disdain for astrology. I removed my date of birth from my Blogger profile because it used this information to display my “star sign”, which is all complete rubbish. How anyone can take horoscopes seriously is beyond me, almost on a par with those adherents to the Flat Earth theory I posted about last week.

Private Eye, in an issue a couple of weeks ago. mocked Jonathan Cainer’s “predictions” regarding the re-classification of Pluto, but the fact that he was so spectacularly wrong misses the point, really. As Swann points out, it is inconceivable that the apparent motions of the Sun, Moon and planets of the Solar System through purely nominal constellations, thousands and millions of parsecs away, can affect our life on Earth to such a degree as astrologers claim. Astrology is a pseudo-science, with nothing at all scientific about it. You only have to listen to astrologers speaking, or read their columns (and most newspapers* have their “Stars” columns) to realise how much of what they write is generalities that could be broadly applicable to almost anyone.

It always amazes me that otherwise normal people read horoscopes and believe them: though why those who claim not to believe still read such columns “just for fun” is also beyond me. You might as well read predictions based on the pattern your tea-leaves make in your cup (though this can be avoided by using a good tea-strainer and high quality tea), or by interpreting the entrails of a sacrificed chicken (and you could eat the chicken afterwards). All these so-called astrologers, or anybody who claims to be able to predict future events from anything, are like stage magicians, fooling the public by sleight of hand and misdirection.

* The Sunday Telegraph used to have (and hopefully still does have) a weekly spoof astrology column written by “Psychic Psmith”. It was very funny, and poked fun at the stupid things that generally get written by “serious” astrologers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Flanders and bird flu

Recently I’ve been listening a lot to Flanders and Swann’s songs from their records, At the drop of a hat, and At the drop of another hat. I thought I’d post this, A song for the weather, and leave the comparisons with the current climatic conditions to you...

January brings the snow:
Makes your feet and fingers glow.

February’s ice and sleet:
Freeze the toes right off your feet.

Welcome March with wintry wind:
Would thou wert not so unkind.

April brings the sweet spring showers:
On and on for hours and hours.

Farmers fear unkindly May:
Frost by night and hail by day.

June just rains and never stops:
Thirty days and spoils the crops.

In July the sun is hot.
Is it shining? No it’s not!

August cold and dank and wet:
Brings more rain than any yet.

Bleak September’s mist and mud:
Is enough to chill the blood.

Then October adds a gale:
Wind and slush and rain and hail.

Dark November brings the fog:
Should not do it to a dog.

Freezing wet December then:
Bloody January again!

words: Michael Flanders
music: Donald Swann

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Concert review - Anton Bruckner Choir - Saturday 23rd September

Clutching my bags of shopping, I made my way to St Luke's church on Sydney Street (not far off the King's Road) for Anton Bruckner Choir's autumn concert, conducted by Christopher Dawe. The almost last-minute change of venue was caused by the Temple church having not yet completed its planned building work. The programme consisted largely of French unaccompanied music, though there were a few things with organ accompaniment and one organ piece to give the singers a brief break:

Ubi caritas - Durufle
Salve regina - Poulenc
Exsultate Deo - Poulenc
Quatre petits prieres de St Francois d'Assise - Poulenc
Litanies a la Vierge Noire - Poulenc
Chorale in A minor (organ) - Franck
Mass in G - Poulenc
The Beatitudes - Part

Requiem - Faure

In discussion afterwards, it was generally agreed that the first half could have been shorter, though no-one could decide which piece should have been discarded! The choir struggled with tuning from time to time in the Poulenc pieces, which are very tricksy. However, the Gloria and Agnus Dei (with Ruth Beckmann as soloist), in the Mass, and the lovely Litanies a la Vierge Noire for women's voices and organ, were particularly well sung. The one break in the otherwise entirely French programme came with Arvo Part's setting of the Beatitudes. This piece starts off simply and even boringly, before slowly building to an astonishing and moving climax. The choir sang this superbly*, and I don't mind admitting that I had tears in my eyes at the end.

The first half was, as singers had warned me, the more interesting of the two parts of the concert: the Faure Requiem is a bit familiar and even hackneyed by now, though the choir sang it sensitively. The soprano soloist, Helen Cocks, was very good, but the bass could have done with more gravitas in the Libera me movement. The organ tended to overpower the choir at certain points, though otherwise Nicholas O'Neill played well.

The next concert is Monteverdi's Vespers, that monument of Renaissance music: I'm looking forward to it.

* I should say here that most of the singers I spoke to found the Part immensely boring to sing. W. suggested that he should write a spoof piece called The Platitudes by "Avro Prat". I wonder what that would sound like...


Monday, September 25, 2006

Unobtainable books

I did a bit of shopping on the King's Road at the weekend. More about that at some other time, perhaps, since this post is to be about The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson, a copy of which I bought from Waterstone's on Saturday.

I haven't even finished it yet, but feel compelled to write about it. The book's set in a future, never precisely stated when, where enclaves have been set up all over the Earth by various religious, ethnic or commercial "phyles", and nano-technology can be used to create all manner of items, machines, computers inside paper, and diamond sheets cheaper than glass. One of the phyles are the Atlantans, or New Victorians, who have reverted to the solid values and morals of the 19th century Victorians as a model to live by. One of the more prominent of these, Lord Finkle-McGraw, disturbed by the very bland and conventional upbringing and views of his own children, has determined that his young grand-daughter will be educated somewhat less conventionally. For this purpose, he has hired an Engineer, John Hackworth, to create The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, an interactive book which Elizabeth can use and which will help her become more creative, eccentric and less staid.

In the process of creating the Primer, Hackworth decides to create an illegal copy to give to his own daughter, Fiona. However, he's mugged on his way home from having generated to illicit copy, and the Primer falls into the wrong hands. Or, let's say, the hands of a girl for whom it was not intended, an orphan, Nell, whose home life is far from the privileged one that Elizabeth (or even Fiona) will live. She bonds to the Primer, which teaches her how to read, how to stand up to bullies, and tells her stories - and otherwise acts almost as a surrogate parent (though not necessarily by showing her only the good things in life).

Various other persons and interests want to get hold of the Primer, or to make copies of it: this involves Hackworth in bribery and spying for both sides as atonement for his crime.

It's wonderfully imaginative stuff as usual from Stephenson, but it leaves me lamenting that the Young Ladies' Illustrated Primer is just a figment of his imagination. I so wish I had had a copy, growing up. Even now.

Friday, September 22, 2006

But no, it really is flat, I tell you!

Yesterday I was sent a link to the Flat Earth Society. They have a discussion site with various forums populated by Flat Earthers and sceptics. Having read a couple of the threads, all I can say is Oh my god! (Okay so I don't believe in God, but that particular exclamation seems to fit)

There were just so many things wrong with the ideas proposed on the site and the spurious "science" cited to shore up the theory, that I kept wanting to sign in and write a reply refuting all their ideas! One doesn't know whether they're posting ironically, or to provoke a reaction (which they certainly get!) or whether they do actually believe. There are a few sane, rational people (who tend to have the better grammatical standards) who post replies exhorting the Flat-Earthers to actually look at all the evidence for a spherical (if not perfectly spherical) Earth.

While Terry Pratchett never really explains in his Discworld books how a flat disc supported on the backs of four great elephants standing on the shell of the great turtle A'Tuin can support life, it doesn't matter, because that's only fiction. No-one in this world should ever believe anything of the sort.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We wants... a training day!

What with it being International Talk Like A Pirate Day on Tuesday (I know, some people have far too much time on their hands), I wanted to post up the original Pirate Sketch from the excellent Million Pound Radio Show. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be living anywhere in the internet, though mentioned in several places, and the BBC, in their infinite wisdom, issued a cassette containg four episodes from the series, but have not re-issued it on CD. Nor does it appear to be available in its cassette format any more.

Might have to try converting it to an mp3 file using my iMic...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lysistrata in modern dress

Lysistrata is a comedy by Aristophanes, which details the Greek women's dedication to stopping a senseless war by going on a sex strike.

Colombian gangsters' wives and girlfriends are going to do the same. Except they have a rap, not Greek verse.

Life imitating art?

Not so much of a shopping trip, more a quest

Women are all sorts of sizes and shapes. And most clothes shops are parts of national or international chains, and shapes and sizes vary even more from country to country. So I shouldn't be annoyed to find that one has to shop for clothes quite carefully. However, it would be so much more helpful if all the clothes manufacturers did actually use the same sizing system. I'm not particularly fat (nor at all skinny, either), and of average height (about 5 foot 6 in old money), yet can I find trousers to fit me? Can I heck. One problem, I suppose, is that I rarely wear high heels, so I tend to find all trousers rather long in the leg. The solution to this, taking the hems up, I would do for expensive clothes, because at least the effort involved in the sewing is balanced by the cost of the clothes - but I don't feel inclined to do this for cheaper trousers. This means that my favoured high street shops (H&M, Zara) have been dropped from my list of trouser emporia, and I'm reduced to going to Next. Next at least seem to make clothes for real women, as opposed to skinny 15-year-old girls or stick-thin celebrity-wannabes. A new shop has opened close to my office, so I went in last week to have a look at the selection on offer. I should add that I was looking for work clothes - so, smart casual black, brown or blue trousers.

The selection was actually quite wide, so when I'd discarded those that looked wrong, those that were made out of vile artificial fabric, and those that weren't my size (14 regular), I had seven pairs to try on. Taking my pile of trousers into the changing room wasn't a great feat, as there were hardly any staff around, and no-one on duty at the entrance to the cubicles. Of the seven pairs I tried on, two fit me, being not too snug on hips and thighs, and not too baggy on the waist. And even then I have to wear heels with them (luckily my 2-inch block heeled Joan Halpern boots are high enough).

I feel really sorry for the short women around: how do they manage?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Dearth of posts

I haven't posted much lately because there's been stuff going on in my personal life (good stuff, actually) which I don't want to blog about, because that's private.

Anyway, as a result of the aforementioned good things, I shall be moving down to London in a couple of months, to join the crowded metropolis. I'm looking forward to the move: Peterborough's fine as a place to live, but I'm very conscious that it doesn't have much cultural activity. In London I shall be able to sing regularly, and go to concerts, and see plays that aren't pantomimes (if I want: I'm not really a big fan of theatre), and films at cinemas to which I don't have to get in my car and drive for fifteen minutes to patronise. Hurrah!

Welcome back

Hurrah! The News Quiz returns to Radio 4 tonight (guess what I'll be listening to on the way down to London). I'm not sure why Simon Hoggart isn't in the chair, so we have Sandi Toksvig, a formerly regular panellist, instead. I'm not sure how I feel about that, though I think she's quite a funny woman.

I've enjoyed listening to the show ever since the days of the Private Eye versus Punch rivalry which led to the superb teaming of Richard Ingrams and Ian Hislop (and Alan Coren with anly old guest panellist). Ingrams was notorious for not ever having appeared to have read or listened to the news each week, and sometimes Hislop (despite his reputation on Have I Got News For You) was not much better. Alan Coren I could do without: never as funny as he thinks he is.

Much of the fun in the show comes from the interaction of the panellists with each other. It seems to work well when they just riff off each other's comments. Francis Wheen is usually witty, making comments about his odd resemblance to Ian Duncan Smith (now almost forgotten former Conservative Party leader); Armando Ianucci (however I spell that it looks wrong) takes absurdity to a new level. I liked Linda Smith's comparison of world-shattering events to mild domestic tragedies, like losing scissors.

There's just one problem - it's not available as a "futuristic" podcast (as The Now Show would have it). Is this the BBC just guaranteeing sales of News Quiz CDs before Christmas?

Sandi Toksvig did a fine job of being chairman - although her reading of the script was a little stilted, probably due to lack of practice, her off-the-cuff remarks were very funny. I'm looking forward to the next edition.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Meanwhile, in another part of London...

How fantastic is this! Dangermouse is back.

Ah, who says the BBC isn't worth the licence fee?