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: [] [] [] [] [] [] []