Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Haul, 2006

It’s that time of year again. The turkey carcass has been bashed with a cleaver on an old wooden chopping-board, and reduced to stock in a large pan which has bubbled mysteriously on the stove for hours, releasing wonderful smells. Those smells have mingled with the smell of hot mince pies and the sweet, sharp rum butter which melts over them. You have sat down in your favourite chair by the Christmas tree, and in the warm glow of its twinkly lights you see a scrap of wrapping-paper, perhaps some gold ribbon, on the floor. The presents are all opened and you’ve been relaxing for — hopefully — days.

Now that I have, I feel able to open my eyes a little more, and think about what I’ve got rather than curl up with it and feel pure delight. In no particular order, there is a card from Jonathan, with a large snowball and two almost criminally cute kittens inside. There are a selection of books — from the world of the duel in Scotland to strange and wonderful things in the English countryside; from Joyce’s Dubliners to Donn’s poems, both editions in Folio. There are DVDs of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie doing their thing, and profoundly amazing footage of animals and plants doing theirs. There is a bottle of whisky — and another, and another, although I have claimed the last two as Christmas presents when they actually aren’t. They simply fit the mood and the season.

All these would mean very little without the tapestry of magic and homeliness around them. I walked today in cold air beneath a crisp sky, and caught a whiff of someone’s chimney on the way back. And to be able to take delight in these things, weaving them into the magic and the magic into them, and feel very good about the world, is what I’m celebrating here.

tags: [] [] []

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I hear sleighbells...

I was down in the kitchen asking dad why he wasn’t listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and had some other radio station on instead. He said “Well, they keep preaching at me” to which I said “But It’s all Christmassy and festive! Get it on!”.

All these things are part of the tapestry of atmospheric richness which is so vital and beloved a part of the season, whether you’re religious or not. We damn well can delight in them, whatever our persuasions, and I certainly plan to. I hope the coming days are magical for every single one of you. Happy Christmas. :o)

tags: [] []

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Londonish things

Because I’m feeling rather Londonish, after spending a wonderful, peaceful, enlightened few days there over Thanksgiving at Jonathan’s place.

I’m not going to write about it now, though. The above picture will be enough to impart the magic. So, to business: Google maps and the British Library team together to create a London where the deep wells of history are placed over the streets. You must sink them yourself.

The St. Pancras hotel development seems... thankfully redbrick, but a large block in the sketches looks ominous. Old bricks used in new buildings do not matchmake naturally.

Travelling on the Docklands Light Railway is excellent when the weather is clear and the mornings crisp, and since London’s docks have always been its lifeblood, reading about them is an excellent way to jumpstart new adventures. As is dropping into an old London church or two.

tags: [] [] [] []

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shostakovich, and other things which matter

Sorry about the lack of recent posting. I’ve been rather wrapped up with work, not to mention the fact that a very good friend of mine visited last weekend and we talked about varied things instead of blogging about them. But while we’re on the subject, he's featured in a book which was published recently, so go buy.

The featured buy in this post, however, is here because I’m aware that it’s nearly Christmas (all too aware — the local shopping centre has had its trees and decorations up for a week!) and you'’ll obviously be looking for meaty yet excellent value classical purchases for your friends.

This set of Shostakovich’s symphonies is just that. Conducted by Mariss Jansons, who grew up while Shostakovich was still alive and composing, the works sweep and leap and jerk from the speakers in all their schizophrenic splendour, and there are only a few stretches where he doesn’t quite hit the mark, and where the performances could be described as ‘tasteful’. It must be very easy to perform the symphonies badly, but there’s never any of that here. I picked up all 10 CDs for £35; when you consider that there are 12 hours of first-time discovery here, and many more for the repeated listening this set effortlessly merits, it’s damn good value.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Someone just said...

“I feel so naughty when I get some, like it’s the 50s and I’m buying rubbers.” Maybe this is a Northern Ireland thing, but I always feel naughty when I buy them.

“I’ll take any extra time, any way at all.” I was about to say that I have just sat through a profoundly settling experience, but that doesn’t exactly fit. I have sat here, certainly, sipping my coffee and finding my eyes well suddenly with tears time and again as Keith Jarrett’s tendons exert the labyrinthine variances of attack which break upon your head as wonderful, wonderful music.

I will say, as an almost insultingly formulaic aside, that whereas Radiance is pottery still excitingly on the wheel, the Carnegie Hall Concert is a line of solid and varied bowls, glazed, tempered, jagged, which you will eat from with relish for years. It is to this time in his music as the Köln Concert was to... that time. And taking time, and playing with it in the most inventive sense, is his trademark, and the recent pastime of another:

“Getting there became happiness. And happiness became creativity. Ideas fluttered around me like butterflies. Oh, actually, those were butterflies. Happy, real butterflies...” I had heard Jonathan say this in my mind as if he were there in front of me. Actually, I had been reading the words, and before listening to the Jarrett, so that all those blushing chords were like smiles in a Greenwich kitchen.

I had been tipped off about the recording by him, after all, and one of the encores, entitled The Good America after the fact by Jarrett, simply put the full stop gently at the end of that particular certainty. You can live happily at home, oh yes you can, watering old roots and enjoying the spring of the earth. But there is a reason why, on going home after a long time away, you smile... while pausing and looking at the front door.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Coming home from London, where I went for a long weekend last Saturday, always leaves me uprooted for a few days, as if Belfast isn’t quite the right place and London a bizarre halfway-house somewhere between an absolute home and a seething excitement.

So, a lot more than a week on from the start of Autumn, I’m not going to try to offer a post on anything but how it felt to be walking around Tate Modern and suddenly see that these paintings, which I’ve featured on the blog here for 3 seasons, were suddenly there, in front of me, hanging on the walls.

Much larger than I imagined them, also, much more imposing and concrete — and very fitting that I should have been attracted to the online images by accident and then found them inside my favourite art gallery.

tags: [] [] [] [] [] []

Monday, September 04, 2006


Now, before you think “Oh god, another Fallingwater post”: I know this building has been featured here and in many other blogs before. And I know that the particular way it’s featured here might not be entirely accessible to all readers, but then the real house isn’t either!

So I present to you: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater — rendered in careful, detailed 3D and available for you to snoop around inside! In Half-Life 2, though. If you don’t have that game, watch the video instead.

tags: [] [] [] [] [] []

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rip their little hearts out

I can’t quite believe that even Tony Blair is saying this: it’s possible to spot families who will have problem children, and if such families don’t accept help they’ll be sanctioned.

Mr Blair told BBC News his government had made “massive progress” in tackling social exclusion but there was a group of people with multiple problems.

There had to be intervention “pre-birth even”, he said.

What a profoundly invasive, not to mention insulting, mistake. For a start, there are plenty of lionized artists and musicians and painters who actually enriched the world and, not to mention because, they came from what Tony would call menacing backgrounds.

Further, what kind of information would the Government need to compile lists of such families if we had such madness on the statute book? Hmm? Any thoughts? Maybe ID cards? Maybe a lot more information about every individual than many people would be comfortable with.

Because consider this: Tony Blair isn’t saying that the sanctions would be applied in situations where a parent applies to claim a state benefit. Hew’s saying, so far at least, that these sanctions would apply across the board — which they’d have to, if he’s serious about the menace of embryo hoodlums.

In other words: we’ll sanction families even when they haven’t asked us for anything if they don’t accept our ‘help’.

For that, you’d need information on whether or not they were having a relationship, not to mention their sexuality.

Just saying.

tags: [] [] []

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More stealing

Clock watching in Prague. I’ve tried to find something about the astrological clock there, and exactly what it's meant to signify. From this, I can deduce that the clock in Prague was showing just after 3pm when the photo was taken, and the sun is in Leo. Other stuff I don’t understand.

The saga of the maddeningly difficult Great Eastern, a cable steamer in the old days when you needed telegraph cables on the seabed to communicate long-distance.

Un rendezvous...

A photo site of the Lake District fells.

tgs: [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Via the superb and thankfully ongoing Incoming Signals.

tags: [] [] []

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I can't bloody believe it

Not the fact that there’s a terror alert right now, though. Of course I can believe that. Of course I can see the insanity that is enveloping mass travel as a result of the overnight arrests is actually taking place. But what I can’t believe is that we’re letting it happen so... blithely.

Here we have, on the BBC website, people saying: “Well, I think the police did a marvellous job last night so of course they can reach into my life and screw around with it as much as they like. I’m completely happy to have my shoes x-rayed, and really rather comfortable with having to buy a book and throw it away before the flight if I wish to read in the airport bar. A complete absence of writing materials and music of my own to listen to is fine, and I have a laid-back attitude to having an additional 4 hours added on to the normal time it takes me to fly within my own country. In fact I am content to be treated as a potential terrorist along with everyone else, regardless of the certain and needless sense of threat this may cause among the wider population. The thought of sitting on a long-haul flight with toyless, blanketless babies delights me. None of this will really change my holiday and therefore my ability to enjoy myself, which of course is the point. We shouldn’t let the terrorists upset us. More tea?”

Well, I don’t agree with any of it. There. I said it. What we know about these supposedly well-planned attacks isn’t even extensive enough to give us knowledge that they were well-planned. What we know is sketchy at best, and at worst illusory. Of course what the police know is more detailed, but I wouldn’t mind betting there are massive gaps in their knowledge, and inside those gaps could lurk... possibly nothing massively terrifying at all.

I’m not for a second saying that this chaos is worse than 10 aircraft exploding over the Atlantic and thousands of body parts being fished out of the sea. However, it’s a significant, invasive, and self-catalysing over-reaction.

As plenty of people are saying in this Metafilter thread, there are real reasons behind why there are so few planned attacks that actually work. Very few people are actually plotting them. Fewer are planning to execute them. Fewer have enough money / organisation / resources to do so. Fewer are expert enough to slip below police radar for very long. And so on.

We’ve managed to stop... possibly something, possibly a white elephant, possibly something which would work and be nasty. And if all the people arrested turn out to be lurking denizens of snarling terror, we have also caused the other members of their cells to fragment and hide for another year or so. I really would not mind betting this month’s salary that if everyone could fly as normal today, no harm would be done. Statistically each of us is immune to actually being involved in a terror attack. So why the overreaction? Why do our governments encourage us to think that we really can live in a perfectly safe, cocooned world as long as we’re as careful as they say we have to be? Read this, and think.

Happier notes, which you really should read more of than my rant above: The time travel tube map — Herzog and de Meuron’s propsed extension to Tate Modern (I’m really not sure whether it’ll stand the test of time) — proposed islands in the Thames estuary, out in the water East of London, one ofr an airport (maybe they can build a prison there too, for all the travellers) — Seattle’s underground city: houses left behind as the city’s pavements rose above them.

tags: [terror] [london] [] [] [] [] [] []

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Mr Mayner writes

A few years ago, I walked up to floor 5 of a big bookshop in central London, hankering after a job, and who should be standing behind the desk but a certain Mr Mayner, who had been at Aberdeen at the same time as I had. And who I didn’t really know while there, but we said hello anyway. And then suddenly he vanished from the store.

We cut to about 5 months later. I moved back to Belfast, and walked into a big bookshop in the centre of Belfast, hankering after a book and a job, and who should be standing behind the desk but... yes, correct.

He’d moved back there too, and we got to know each other over plenty of coffee, conversation, 24, sage discussions about What Was Best (for us, for the world, for America, for bookshops, etc.), more coffee, apple pie, and an arguably, but pleasurably, obscene amount of cigarettes.

Then, pulled by the twin lures of freshness and romance, he went to Edinburgh, and then vanished again. Recently he turned up below Waterloo Bridge in London, thankfully sans cardboard box and with a commendably, though crashingly, dull job to boot. Something to do with numbers.

Thankfully, his new blog’s not at all about numbers. And it has a good author. Go read.

tags: [] [] [] []

Friday, July 28, 2006

A few quick things

And all stolen too, I’m afraid. First: the excellent set of photos of a former Russian nuclear sub base at Balaklava. Second: a very fun and challenging movie quiz. Third: Metafilter documents other movie quizzes. Guaranteed entertaining frustration.

Fourth: there’s really nothing like having the freedom to call your neighbour’s daughter a retard. Specially when you make a huge warning sign to that effect, and stick it up in your front garden. How do people’s minds become so hermetically sealed to the world outside thier tiny lives? Lack of travel, lack of conversation, lack of vision. Sigh.

Finally, a nasty but essential recording and video from a person trapped in the World Trade Center as it collapses. Ugh.

tags: [] [] [] [] [] [] []

Saturday, July 22, 2006

French grapes will grow...

... in the UK by 2090, according to this very interesting and vaguely scary report in the Guardian. These prjections for how life will change in the UK are obviously only projections but they are conservative and reasonably certain.

In other words, as I was remarking to a few friends last night, I’ll not see a lot of snow again in my lifetime unless I emigrate. Snow in winter means a lot to me, so I may consider it! Taking info from the report, though, here’s how things will pan out:

When I’m in my early forties, winters will consist of heavy downpours of rain rather than continuous stretches of it; summers will consist of more heatstroke and food poisoning; some crops will die out because it won’t be moist enough for them; we’ll be planting beech trees in the North of England as their range moves up there; some tropical fish will be found in the Channel; the Lake District will be plagued by a huge increase in visitor numbers in summer, eroding its paths and causing more accidents for the Mountain Rescue Team to deal with.

When I’m in my early seventies, I’ll probably be getting ready to drop off the twig anyway but summers will *all* be hotter than the 2003 heatwave, increasing my risk of heat-related death; sea levels will be 30cm higher around English coasts, specially in the south; mosquitoes will be a standard and potentially malarial irritant in summer; climate refugees from much hotter European countries could choose to settle here, meaning we’ll all have more foreign friends, which will be a Good Thing.

And if I make it to being just over 100, I forecast plenty of alcohol, drugs, and young male prostitutes if I’m rich enough. Heh. But seriously: winter gales will increase and snow will be almost unknown; those French grape varieties could be growing on the slopes of the Lake District; lowland pine forests will start to disappear; capercaillie could be gone for good from this planet as even North Scotland becomes to warm for them to live; July and August will be truly scorching and far too hot for holidays; skiing will be for super-rich people again because current resorts will be well below the new snow line; and finally, we could become an outdoor culture.

Hmmm. I’m feeling rather hot this morning. But the warmth isn’t going to stop me having my freshly-made coffee. Oh no.

tags: [] [] [] []

Friday, July 21, 2006

SS Nomadic returned

The SS Nomadic has finally made it home to Belfast, after a very long time in service and a long rest in the River Seine in Paris. The tender to Olympic and Titanic has been a restaurant since 1974 and will, provided around £7m can be found, become a museum permanently morred in Belfast’s historic dockyard.

My father and I were arguing, rather heatedly, the other night about whether the seven million will actually be found to restore her. I reckon it will. Belfast currently has grand plans to build a museum about our notoriously ill-fated export, as well as full restoration and sensitive tourist development of the dry dock and harbour areas where she was built, launched and fitted.

Those plans can’t all happen, and won’t, given the parlous state of support for the arts and culture here. But Belfast, and those abroad who are fascinated by the White Star Line and what it produced, should find the time, money, creativity and commitment to ensure that the money and knowledgeable manpower is found for this one cause.

So if you’re interested in donating to the charitable trust which is raising the money, go here, read about the people on the team, and give some money.

tags: [] [] [] [] [] [] []

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

21st-Century Bach

Yesterday evening was luminously blue outside. There had been artichoke hearts, olives, feta cheese, sardines, roast woodsmoked salmon, and pork pie to pick at for dinner, over which was passed a bottle of rather juicy wine.

My dad, and our mutual friend Thea, aren’t as enthusiastic about organ music as I am. I doubt they’d buy an organ CD between them. But when coffee was poured and dessert picked from between the teeth, they sat down willingly enough to 10 minutes of a DVD I’d bought earlier in the day — and came away wanting another 10.

I bought it on a whim. A year ago or more, I’d seen a 10-minute programme on BBC2, late at night. An organist was playing a couple of short pieces by Bach on a superbly-decorated instrument a few hundred years old.

The camerawork was dazzling. Views inside the instrument, from locations only a pencil could fit into. Hand-carved stopknobs, seen in closeup, with their names on parchment above them — written, again by hand, in 17th-century script. Views from inside the building, the camera so high and moving so freely and unobstructed that it must have been floating.

No, I told myself. They don’t have floating cameras. But they did. Attached to helium balloons and allowed to float where they would.

Four DVDs of these programmes, in 2 sets, have just been released. The sound is rich and clear Dolby 5.1. The playing is friendly and talkative, and the instruments are superb. So far, only a small amount of Bach’s total output for organ has been broadcast, but there will be another series this year, and yet more DVDs to enjoy the following year. And so on, and so on, until it’s done.

The series is called 21st-Century Bach, and no individual programme is longer than about 10 minutes. Each is, as I’ve noted, refreshing and interesting to anyone who can even hum along, a rich morsel of utter inventiveness from beginning to end. I was a pig, and watched them all. Time to do so again. Please buy this.

tags: [] [] [] [] [] [] []

Friday, June 30, 2006


Well, last night I ate strawberries. And this photo, linked to a larger version, was taken on my new digicam. I’m really pleased with its ability to get massive sharp images even though it's dinky, and while in a month’s time I could probably take this photo again with very much better results, I’m still learning.

Updates: online UK passport applications aren’t recommended. Why? Because after around 3 weeks’ wait, I got a letter from them saying “Erm, we basically can’t process your online application because of technology, so please fill in the enclosed form by hand and send it back to us. Pretty pwwwease.”


I have yet to corner someone who knows what they’re talking about over the phone, but at least when I finally arrive in London I’ll be able to take plenty of pretty pictures! :o)

tags: [] [] []

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The wonders of MS Paint

I’m not going to show you the actual image itself, but someone used MS Paint and a mouse to draw it. Mindboggling.

More posts when me-time becomes less precious. *cough* *blush* Bloody work.

tags: [] [] [] []

Sunday, June 18, 2006


This time, the silence has been caused by working longer hours / being far more tired than I usually am in the week. This results in a weekend mood whihc can only be described as ‘Oh sod it, I just want to take it easy’ and has meant, tragically, that I haven’t been posting here for a while - sincere apologies to all who care.

However, my mind hasn’t been a total blank. For a start, yours truly is getting his passport (hopefully reasonably promptly) and will then be zooming over to London. Hopefully in time to see Jonathan before he leaves for North Carolina. It’s also then my intention to go again before summer is over, but as with most travel it’ll come down to holiday time and money, so watch this space.

My surfing habits have been kept partially up to date, and for those who remember the long series of Hurricane Katrina-related posts I made in the autumn of last year, you might be interested to know that the US Army Corps of Engineers have released a voluminous report on what caused the damage in New Orleans — their own shoddy workmanship in building the original levees and floodwalls.

The site has a security certificate you must accept, but it won’t eat away at your private data or give it to George W, so don’t worry.

Flickr’s pool of photos of modernist houses reminds me of a house which very much fits that description here in Northern Ireland. And in Toronto, you can see houses that aren’t houses at all.

Now to the meaning of the photo above: United 93, the movie that by now everyone must know about. It’s a cold, sober examination of events on the ground and in the aircraft on the morning of 9/11, and the handling is masterful. There is no trace of grandiosity, histrionics or pomposity in presenting the material. Although audiences don’t watch films like this one in order to appreciate excellent artistic decisions and directorial mastery, such films would lose much if those advantages were absent and in this film they are not. Go to see it, and prepare for a very intense experience. That’s the sum total of my review.

tags: [] [] [] [] [] [] []

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Perfect for the iPod generation?

Well, it’s done. Not just the period of silence on the blog, which was due to the death of a router, but Tate Modern’s rehang. Instead of doing everything pretty much as they had done it the first time round, Tate Modern has changed everything around. Gone are the expansive white walls I knew so well; gone, by the look of it, is the sense of space.

This is one of the most anticipated rehangs of any art gallery in the last 10 or 20 years that I’ve heard of, and the crowds bear witness to that. Indeed, I have heard somewhere that a custodian in the excellent Museum of Modern Art in New York City told a visitor to go to Tate Modern if s/he wanted to see great art.

Lynn Barber has said of the rehang: “There is so much going on, luring you round every corner, that it is difficult to stand still and study a single work of art for any length of time. You feel a self-conscious prat if you do. This is a museum for channel-surfers, for iPod shufflers, for kids with attention deficit disorders — the temptation always is to run around shouting ‘Wow!’”

Why is this? For a start, the juxtapositions of the works are even more jarring and creative than before. Farting sounds from what seems to be a movie about farting apparently intrude into the Rothko room And that is unfortunate. But I didn't think that Monet’s waterlilies suffered the last time from being hung opposite this: in fact the effect was to make the former more alive and settling, the latter deeper, and both more real and strange. This time he’s opposite Jackson Pollock’s Summertime, and I can appreciate why.

The list of themes should serve to satisfy those who don’t want the mental clang of having to wander around and think on their feet. The increased use of the walls to hang paintings in clusters and place one or two above or below each other should please those looking for spectacle. And infuriate those looking for their spectacles. I’m very glad that Joseph Beuys and Cy Twombly are still there, and indeed in a room together (you wonder whether they’d have been happy to be so), but I’m less glad to hear that the Rothko Room is playing host also to flatulence off.

It’s good that photography is hosted here too, particularly this in the Left Gallery on level 3. The presence of photography allied with the gallery’s trademark name will draw a larger crowd, but will it attract the iPod generation? What is the iPod generation anyway?

Young, insecure, and with iPods, according to Wikipedia. Hmm. An acquaintance of mine says he was wondering alone around the rehang the other day with his Ipod on (not full-blast, I hope) and, besides the fact that that would distract me no end, he said he quite enjoyed it. But does that mean those who really care about standing in front of a work for a long time to get the full, er, picture will appreciate it, what with all the crowds? First, it’s worth remembering that the first hang was never crowd-free. Second, most critics seem to like it a lot. I guess it’s too soon yet to lust after the opening of the three massive circular oil tanks underground near the gallery (they are meant to be gallery space sometime).

Last but not least, I haven’t visited it yet. Aside from the obvious pleasurable catching-up with London and its people that I have to do, visiting this rehang will be an essential activity when I’m next there. Because Tate Modern is mine. Very much mine. Dammit.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Classical 'CD' published online

It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last: a group of classical musicians have released an opera by Handel exclusively online.

The website on which it is released licenses its music to the public under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike stipulation which is the same as that of the blog you’re reading right now.

In other words, you can listen to a lo-fi version of the music for free through internet streaming, or pay to download a high-quality copy. You can buy a CD which will be made on demand when you order.

However, as liberating as this is for the music, I do have reservations about the quality of the product. It’s all very well to evangelise increased coverage for classical music, but its audience will still be very much the same: classical music lovers.

Given this, a couple of things need to be thought about. First: very few classical lovers currently have the ability to pipe a digital music file to their audiophile hifi equipment (or even their stereo). There are external ways to do it, but until they become standardised in computers and audiophile amps, this platform won’t flourish as much as it could.

Second: CD booklets matter to classical lovers. They want to know about the historical, societal and musical contexts of what they are listening to. They want information on the works, composers, performers and conductors. They want, in some cases, information about the instruments used and the recording venues and dates. And it has to be detailed. In the case of an opera, context alone won’t do; neither will just a libretto.

So far, what I’m seeing is that the digital equivalent of a good classical CD booklet is nowhere to be seen. Hyperion Records has its sleevenotes online, and it has a listening room where I can preview new releases before buying a CD to be played in my hifi. Until the improvements I’ve discussed above appear, this is what I’ll remain happiest with.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Streets of coffee

We’re entering those wonderful mid-spring evenings which are cool and lush, and get pleasantly chilly a little later with the fading of the sun. That is the time to find the coffeepot, and enjoy little sips of a very hot beverage along with the breeze from a cool window.

And in the fading light, New Yorkers can now be forgiven for thinking that that thing... really is... a cup of coffee in the road...?!

tags: [] []

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Writer

From the suuuuperb blog nyclondon comes this set of photos of Neri’s table and chair on Hampstead Heath. I would post one of the nyclondon photos you’ll see there, but I haven’t the heart.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Thursday, April 06, 2006

They're doing it

...already in my garden. Or rather, over the fence. Standing outside a few minutes ago, I heard a loud leathery flapping sound from a tree and at first thought 2 birds were fighting. But no.

I was a shameless voyeur as two pigeons, perching on branches close to each other, flew off and towards each other, beating against each other (heh, pardon the pun) and perching again. This went on for a couple of minutes until the female — shameless hussy that she was — took up a position on a branch in full view of every house in the neighbourhood. I’d like to be able to say that she tried to defend her virginity. But this is the start of the breeding season, so...

Birds must have really shit sex-lives, however, as it was all over in 15 seconds. The female flew onto the school roof, and the male stayed in the tree and went “coo-COOO-coo, coo coo” over and over. Clearly pleased.

Nicked from things magazine, a true site for Londoners: Pick a tube station and go forth into the surrounding streets, taking photos. Jonathan, Scott and Owen in particular, this is your chance. And Jay, if you get enough time away from the cookies.

This month is also US National Poetry Month, and so as well as reading some great new work (please do check out the title-poem of Seamus Heaney’s new collection, and no he isn’t American but he’s good!) glory with Gothamist over Whitman. And listen to Garrison Keillor. Daily.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Monday, April 03, 2006


spring (n.)
7. A source, origin, or beginning.
8. b. A time of growth and renewal.
— Dictionary

A day of bright sun and gentle melancholy today as I slowly close a long weekend in which Jonathan has been visiting. As usual, a mix of homeliness and activity, happiness created and shared, enduring bonds. And at his departure, the knowledge that more friends need to be caught up with, more distances need to be travelled, and reached across with the heart... so it feels like a true new year. A feeling, not yet familiarly comfortable, of newness all around. Truly spring.

tags: []

Monday, March 20, 2006


It was the talk of New York. The elevator operators, the cab drivers, the doormen, as soon as they saw you with a mask or headdress, they said, “Going to Truman’s ball, huh?” New York had that funny small-town feel to it; they were all excited that you were going to the ball. That part was fun. It was like the Super Bowl.
Herb Caen, on Truman Capote’s black-and-white ball, New York, 1966

A page of reminiscences about Caopte’s black-and-white ball. There were 540 guests accommodated in the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. $13,000 was paid by Capote, who at the time could probably easily absorb the cost of 400 bottles of vintage Taittinger. Celebrities and lesser-known writers moved through the grand rooms; later the usual arguments rose and fell in ragged waves, with Caopte, by all accounts, bobbing delightedly in the centre of it all.

tags: [] [] [] []

Sunday, March 12, 2006


A novelist’s life can be lonely: consumed by the responsibility to fix plot, character and atmosphere on the page and make them real, the writer must work long hours and socialise rarely. As such, writers often make uncharismatic impressions, and their works are remembered more than their personalities.

CAPOTE the film invites you to imagine a time when writers achieved the kind of fame and notoriety that is today associated with pop culture personalities. Americans read more in those days than they do now, and books mattered. More importantly, Truman was a natural born self-promoter who paved the way for the cult of celebrity that is omnipresent today. His fame cut across all categories, from high to low culture, from literary seriousness to high society frivolity.
promotional materials, Capote

Not so for Truman Capote. This film, directed by Bennett Miller, focuses not on his pen or his paper — although they are included — but on his face, his manner, the tilt of his head. The actor who plays him, Philip Seymour Hoffman, allows the audience to focus deeper. His portrayal bores into Capote’s insecurity and coldness as he takes two murderers as the subject of a non-fiction novel which — he assumes — will end in their deaths.

Truman Capote: I couldn’t have done anything to save them.
Nelle Harper Lee: Maybe not, Truman. But the truth is, you didn’t want to.
Capote, 2005

His predation of the two murderers behind the Clutter murders of 1959 is masterfully dissected here, teased out into strands of determination, offhandedness, obsession, and the sardonic grotesqueries which result after a reading (which he gave while his befriended murderers were still alive and oblivious to the book’s title).

But Hoffman is skillful enough never to let his character slide into purely shallow opportunism. The film’s focus and characterisation are sparse enough to push Capote’s intentions into view for close examination, and what emerges is a very personal obsession with the killers. The writer who at first assumed — and then hoped — that they would die finds himself torn between his cold desire to master the non-fiction novel, and his hope that they might live.

I found myself grimacing with distaste and staring with arrested disbelief at Hoffman’s superb realisation of Capote, but a freakshow or a one-actor show this film is not. As Jonathan said to me by text the other week: “Capote. Go see it. And that’s an order.”

tags: [] [] []

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The little bastards!

Not the lovely clams sitting like divine little marine dumplings on top of the chowder above, of course. Oh no. They look lovely, as Gothamist points out, and aren’t in the least illegitimate.

However, over the past few weeks, peripathetic’s blogger has had at first a set of bites, next an unsightly and infuriating rash, which he suspects were caused by a few biting insects. Which somehow found their way to his skin and proceeded to raise their predatory (and illegitimate) spawn therein.

Of course, it could all have been caused by stress, or at least inflamed by it. But another post on Gothamist has caught your writer’s eye because of this: bedbugs. It turns out that students at Columbia University are being bitten by blister-inducing bloody little bed-infesting bastards, AKA Cimex lectularius, which feed on the blood and can grow to half a centimetre in length.

Of course, an animal that size doesn’t just “feed”. It has to punch its disgusting head violently through several layers of skin and surface tissue, bathe its vile face in blood — your blood — and then suck. A lot.

Oh, and they shit on your sheets afterwards. All over your sheets.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Golden Gate Suicides — misrepresentation?

During 2004, a guy asked for, and got, permission from the Golden Gate Bridge authorities in San Franscisco to set up cameras which would film the bridge for the whole year.

During daylight hours, that’s whaty happened. Every single movement of the sun along the brick-red girders was recorded; every gradation of shadow and cloud stored away, the shades of the sky over the structure preserved for posterity.

As well as the people jumping off the bridge to their deaths.

Steel says his goal is to “allow us to see into the most impenetrable corners of the human mind and challenge us to think and talk about suicide in profoundly different ways.”

“Are we angry? Absolutely,” said bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie.

“A guy this duplicitous — there must be a way to yank that stuff away from him,” said Marin County Supervisor Hal Brown, a member of the bridge district’s board. “It’s just a horrible thing to be taking pictures of.”

Interviewed for the linked article, the guy who set up the cameras has now revealed that that is really why he was filming — not to make a snuff movie but to raise troubling and very real questions about the human spirit that are framed by the bridge itself.

After all, give a city’s population something big and universally accessible to jump off, and those who want to kill themselves will use it, breaking their bones and liquefying their internal organs when they hit the water. In 2004 alone, 19 people actually jumped, and more carried out ‘cries for help’.

So how is this project of his unrepresentative of the reality of that bridge? Sure, when dealing with human death by suicide all the precautions necessary when interviewing people and editing a film should be followed. But aside from its history and appearance, the bridge is well–known for suicide. Let the guy make the film. And let him do it well.

tags: [] [] []

Monday, February 13, 2006

West 16th Street

w16 street
Originally uploaded by mmonk.
Wow. A snowstorm in the NE USA, and this is New York City. Gorgeous.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

3d optical illusions

And now for the reality...

More like this amazing installation / headfuck / here. Via the excellent things magazine.

tags: [] [] []

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Prophet of Doom

There aren’t quite any fatwas yet, but if there were, the above image could get the cartoonist killed. As it is, the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten has got its home country into trouble with muslim countries because it printed cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. He isn’t ever meant to be depicted visually because apparently, to do so would distract from the greatness of Allah.

It started when the paper printed the offending cartoons, and a cacophony of protest washed northwards from muslim countries and crackled over the country lanes of Jutland. The paper has had its second bomb threat in as many days.

Ambassadors from offended countries issued statements of reproach through diplomatic channels, as other European papers showed their solidarity on freedom of expression issues — by reprinting the cartoons themselves.

And then, with a sick sense of inevitability, the first diplomatic rebuke arrived from none other than Norway! Apparently Norway “understands the anger and dismay” (my italics) felt by the aggrieved states, and feels that for a Norwegian paper to reprint the cartoons is “not positive for the dialogue between different cultures and people of different religions”.

Germany’s Der Spiegel said:

But what should one call such a statement? Preventative capitulation? Suicide out of fear of death? A contribution to a multicultural life in which one side acts insulted and the other side promptly takes distance from itself? Or perhaps simply: The interplay of extortion and opportunism.

Today, at least outside of Norway, there is precious little solidarity with Jyllands Posten. The conservative daily Die Welt was the only German paper to show enough courage to reprint the caricatures. In Paris, France Soir stepped up to the occasion.
And what happened then at France Soir? Hmm. Let’s see:

Under the headline “Yes, we have the right to caricature God”, France Soir covered its front with Buddha, the Christian and Jewish deities and the Prophet all sitting on a cloud. The Christian God says: “Don’t complain Muhammad, all of us have been caricatured.”

Shortly after the paper appeared, however, its managing editor, Jacques Lefranc, was sacked. Raymond Lakah, the paper’s owner, issued a public apology: “We express our regrets to the Muslim community and all people who were shocked by the publication” of the cartoons, he said.

The Danish paper has now also been forced to apologise. Its editor has done so reluctantly, conceding that the forces of self-righteous indignation have won again, and predicting that nobody in Denmark will draw a cartoon of Mohammed for the next 10 years or more.

Whatever the truth of that augury, here is a page which has an article on the scandal and full-size reproductions of the cartoons. There’s a blog, called ‘Draw Mohammed Week’. MetaFilter discussion. Latest updates on this Wikipedia timeline. And finally, I’ll also support France Soir as it was before its editor was sacked, for writing this:

It is necessary to crush once again the infamous thing, as Voltaire liked to say. This religious intolerance that accepts no mockery, no satire, no ridicule. We citizens of secular and democratic societies are summoned to condemn a dozen caricatures judged offensive to Islam. Summoned by who? By the Muslim Brotherhood, by Syria, the Islamic Jihad, the interior ministers of Arab countries, the Islamic Conferences — all paragons of tolerance, humanism and democracy.

So, we must apologise to them because the freedom of expression they refuse, day after day, to each of their citizens, faithful or militant, is exercised in a society that is not subject to their iron rule. It’s the world upside down. No, we will never apologise for being free to speak, to think and to believe.

Because these self-proclaimed doctors of law have made this a point of principle, we have to be firm. They can claim whatever they like but we have the right to caricature Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Yahve and all forms of theism. It’s called freedom of expression in a secular country ...

For centuries the Catholic church was little better than this fanaticism. But the French Revolution solved that, rendering to God that which came from him and to Caesar what was due to him.

Moving on, lest I explode: lovely panoramas of New York, via Gothamist. If you live in the UK and are interested in the historical mapping of your surname, make with the clicking. The perils and pleasures of literary translation. (I once had some experience of this, and my god, it was fun. And infuriating.)

tags: [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []

Friday, January 27, 2006

Pipe organ building...?!

Here’s a very strange photo. Sorry I can’t provide a larger shot, but my photo links to the photo page, which in turn links to a very large full-size original — of a building, somewhere in Japan, whose façade seems to have been designed to mimic an organ!

A bit of googling gets you nowhere, because if you search for “pipe organ building” you’ll get pages about the building and construction of the musical instruments themselves. If anyone happens upon this post and has any knowledge, please let me know via comments, or my username at gmail dot com. Thanks...

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Historical miscellany

Dropping by the excellent Things Magazine tonight, I’ve found one of the best repositories of historical maps of cities there could possibly be online. And of course, when I visited the London page, and another site linked from it, I started to think yet again about London. — Although not before I’d also looked at another recommendation which seems to be mostly maps of Swiss towns and cities.

Handy, then, that I clicked into Wikipedia’s page about London’s streams and rivers (now all fascinatingly hidden underground) — this is the real value of a site like Wikipedia. Many people call for its destruction but I can’t think of another way to get a comprehensive list and helpful links about such a subject on a single page. Can you?

To further business. We don’t often think too much about the now fragmentary and evanescent ‘street history’ of London. Mostly we think of the great fire or the menace of the Spanish Armada, but not how Moorgate got its name, or whether the new, shining walls of the corporations can measure up to those of the Romans. Nor do they think of the hidden delights like Bunhill cemetery, which I encountered before a job interview near Old Street, and in which William Blake is buried.

Which is all very strange, because in London, the modern world and the open wells of living history coexist on the streets. So next time you wander your city, do it with your eyes open.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cold... and snow on the wind...?

It’s a cold night, and I have been dreaming of London, and walks along Bankside past the New Globe, to get to Tate Modern. Where they will have a new gallery space this December, called Poetry and Dream. It sounds enchanting. And the above painting will be shown there.

Tate Modern in winter was dark and spacious — in winter it seemed even more spacious than it did in summer. Perhaps it was the neutral light and commanding works inside standing monolithic against the ever-changing city outside. Anyway, I only really posted this because I love this painting and it suits the night.

tags: [] [] [] [] []

Thursday, January 12, 2006


I just called a friend of mine and the first thing I heard when he answered was not his voice, but the half-babyish, half-boyish attempts at speaking of his nephew.

Of course, we can never remember that far back in our lives, but how wonderful it must have been to realise, in glimpses, that our parents’ noises meant something. That we could make those noises. And how adventurous and exciting to start to make them ourselves.

My niece’s first properish word (or that I heard, at least) apart from ‘mamamamamamam’ was ‘shit’. But sort of like ɕɪʔ rather than ʃɪt. The wonders of a characterful mother! ;o)

tags: [] [] [] []

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year musings

Well, another year... we’re in the strange and wonderful interregnum between the start of 2006 and the end of Christmas. I know that when the new year glow dies down for many, they assume that’s it — the end of the holidays; time to stow presents and cards away into the usual places of everyday life; the candles don’t get lit again; perhaps the tree even gets put away early.

All of which is anathema to me. Although religion has nothing to do with it as far as I’m concerned, I still like to think I keep Christmas in the way it should be kept: a reservation of time shared with family and friends, an appreciation of the childlike magic inherent in the season as winter really starts in earnest and all the contrasts between humanity and shivering nature are on display.

I love the decorations — around this house are sprigs of holly, some gathered from our tree in the garden, some from elsewhere, and to me it brings an exciting, sharp reminder of coldness and pagan ceremonies into a warm, cosy house. The tree contains some sparkling glass decorations and painted eggshells which I remember marvelling at when I was 5 or so.

For at least a few minutes each Christmas — possibly more — I go back to being 5. This is not about holding back the return of the everyday for a little while longer; every Christmas, I simply don’t feel the return of the everyday until sometime mid-January, even when I’m back at work.

For now, this house is warm, a cold sun shines on the ice-filmed twigs in the garden, and pies and cakes bulge with dark, spicy fruits laden with fiery alcohol. Millions of children still look at their empty stocking in wonder because Santa actually touched it... why waste that? Happy New Year, everybody. :o)

tags: [] [] []