Monday, 30 March 2009

Preheat oven

I read this instruction on the back of a 'slut's supper' which, for reasons too shameful to go into, I am obliged to eat this evening, and remembered a comment in the cookery section of a newspaper a few weeks ago, which I pass on in paraphrase:
'Preheat oven. How do you do this? I've tried, but only ever manage to heat it.'

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Strange vehicles

1. A bicycle is tied to a lamppost across the road. It was there for most of January, and the whole of February. It got knocked over several times, but then got picked up. Then it disappeared for three days. Then it reappeared, on the same lamppost.

2. A white van is parked in the Close beside my house. It's been there for at least three years, but isn't abandoned - the tax disc is renewed on time every November. It belongs to a woman who lives across the road. Every three months or so, at a weekend, she drives it away on Saturday and brings it back on Sunday.

I was going to take photos to illustrate this post, but of course, today they've both gone off on their mysterious random excursions. I find myself trying to think my way into these people's lives, the logic of this strange behaviour. I can't. I'm not a novelist.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

20th century classical music

I know - are you asleep yet?

That's what I thought. But, three chapters into 'The Rest Is Noise - Listening to the Twentieth Century', by Alex Ross, I've suddenly started to crave this stuff. (The title alone gets you going, doesn't it?) As a musician, I can just about get some of the musicology - play a chord consisting of two fourths separated by a tritone (F# B C E, big stretch on a guitar, in fact there should be an A at the top) and you're Schoenberg; play a octatonic scale (semitone, tone, semitone, tone etc.) and you sound like Stravinsky; a whole-tone scale, Debussy ... Are you awake yet?

OK, here's Ross on Stravinsky's use of accents, after a considered analysis of their use in The Rite of Spring:
'... Virgil Thompson once explained, the body wants to emphasise the main beat that the stray accents threaten to wipe out. "A silent accent is the strongest of accents ... it forces the body to replace it with a motion." (Think of Bo Diddley's "bomp ba-bomp bomp [oomph!] bomp bomp.") '
Are you getting the picture?

Of course, I thought when I bought the book, that's all very well but I've never really been into this music, he can musicologise all he wants but I haven't got the CDs, so I can't hear what he's on about, so I'm going to glaze over and skip those bits ... But guess what, he's thought of that. So - and this is, I think, revolutionary - there's an accompanying website, here where you can listen to streamed samples of each musical snippet under discussion, and believe me, musician or not you will get the point! Read, listen, read again. I'm only up to Stravinsky, gonna take months to get through the remaining 500 pages ...

But it's not all, or even mostly, like the above. It's a history of the century - its politics, wars, social shifts, economics, fashions - all filtered through its classical music and the biographies of its creators ... I meant the creators of the music, but maybe of the century as well?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

History of the Future: Cars (BBC4)

A wonderful little programme tonight, presented by Phill Jupitus, about the 1950s visions of what back then they thought cars would be like today. Some of those machines made me nearly weep with nostalgia (I really liked the safety concept car which had handlebars instead of a steering wheel, driver sat in the middle, loads of rocket and nuclear (I kid you not!) powered prototypes, and a monstrous Ford with at least three penises at each end). How can the BBC hide a gem like this away on BBC4, and restrict it to a half-hour one-off? It should have been a full hour, if not a series. Still available on iPlayer for a few more days (I may watch it again tomorrow - the TV Thursday good programme scheduling crunch is over for another week, so nothing else to view for the next 130 hours or so...)
A particularly brilliant soundtrack, ranging from John Martyn to Dean Martin via the Clash, Jonathan Richman and many others I've now forgotten.
The reason this post is so late is that I've spent an hour or more trying to hack my way into the Beeb's Points of View website, as I wanted to congratulate and encourage them. I'm a registered member, but hardly ever use it, so had forgotten key information like the name of my parents' first pet or something (must be more than six characters: what?) For a media tart, Auntie sure does build big high thick walls around herself. It's like nailing jelly to custard with a twig for a nail and a meerkat for a hammer.

Monday, 9 March 2009

and another book ...

'Innocent when you Dream' - Tom Waits, The Collected Interviews.

I'm only halfway through, but it might be another late night ...
He talks like he sings, in fact half the verbal flights in here could be songs (and for all I know are).
Just as a taster, here he is on Keith Richards:

"He's the best. He's like a tree frog, an orang-utan. When he plays he looks like he's been dangled from a wire that comes up through the back of his neck, and he can lean at a forty-five-degree angle and not fall over. You think he has special shoes. But maybe it's the music that's keeping him up."

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Told You So

I wrote the following letter to the Guardian in August 2007, and they published a bowdlerised version which attracted no attention whatsoever:

"Let’s get this quite straight.

This crisis in the world’s financial markets is being caused by the behaviour of a very small number (a few hundred thousand?) of highly paid, hyped up, often drug-driven individuals, acting upon unreliable information and psychopathic reaction, in the rarefied atmosphere of a global electronic virtual gambling den, their motivation almost entirely misguided bonus-driven self-interest.

If you dispute that, just ask yourself, well, is it me?

The bad news is, they’re really bad at it! According to the media, panic is the largest determinant of the behaviour of the players in these so-called markets. In their obsessive pursuit of obscene financial gain, via electronics they don’t understand at all, driven only by fear and panic and incomprehension, these few arseholes are accidentally contriving to tear our vulnerable playhouse down – as if we needed their help – because they’re a bit nervous.
The rest of us don’t need this stuff. Panic isn’t a good mechanism to run and save a planet. I say enough. That system has had enough chances. Close down all these so-called markets. Confiscate the financial trading barrow-boys’ bonuses. A few gentle Stalinist measures, Gordon?"


Book reviews

In this funny sub-season - no longer winter, not quite yet spring - I always go into a kind of sub-hibernation, a sort of restless lethargy. This year, to deal with this, between bursts of activity like pruning roses and clearing out the studio, I've been reading books by the cubic yard. So here are some one-liners about a few recent ones:

The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak: well written if slightly contrived tale of survival in Nazi Germany, with lots of sardonic humour from the narrator, Death.
The Polish Officer, Alan Furst: I discovered Furst via an earlier novel, The Foreign Correspondent. He does tense WW2 thrillers, with strong characters and devious plotlines, sort of Le Carre territory. Must read more.
Friday Nights, Joanna Trollope: not her best. I'm usually a fan, she can do good characters and sparkly dialogue, but in this case too many people (I kept having to look back - who are you again?) and none of them very interesting.
Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, Philip K Dick: he always challenges you at the borders between hallucination and reality; in this case, a proper plot would have helped.
When Will There Be Good News, Kate Atkinson: several convoluted parallel mysteries, a burnt-out ex-cop with emotional baggage, three or four very different highly charged female characters, some outrageous plot coincidences - what's not to love?
The Road Home, Rose Tremain: nothing to say except READ IT!
His Illegal Self, Peter Carey: well, this is a weird one. From page one, I had no clear idea what was going on; and devoured it at a single sitting. Somewhere between Cormac McCarthy and Steinbeck, with flashes of Russell Hoban?
Q & A, Vikas Swarup: to be quite honest and with the best will in the world - just see the film.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Fred Goodwin's pension

(I've stripped him of his knighthood.) It's obvious that he's going to keep it, he's going to fight tooth, nail and lawyer for it. First up, I'll be relieved - if his is safe, mine must surely be? (For those who don't know, I too am an RBS pensioner!)

So once he gets it, what's he going to do with it? It's more money than it is physically possible to spend on yourself. I've been trying to think of ways of doing that. £14,000 a week, for ever: even if I dined solely on Petrus, Beluga, Tuscan truffles every single day 24/365, a new vintage Bugatti every six months, houses on every planet, more art than you could ever have time to look at, the money will still keep piling up - and actually, it'd get pretty boring after a month or two. The kind of reaction that drifts across my mind is 'oh good, now I've got all this money, so I don't need to do anything any more...' Poor man.

Perhaps, like Bill and Warren, he'll set up the Fred Goodwin Foundation. Now wouldn't that be fun?