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Thursday, 29 December 2011

180 years since Charles Dickens sneezed publicly in Cardiff - to great acclaim

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30 December

No, it's the 200th anniversary of birth or death*, as usual, and, since we never know which, we don't know what we are celebrating
(and, to me, it seems inapt to celebrate the years since someone's death).

That said, if claims are to be made for Dickens, let them establish something that he would have thought worthwhile. And yet, on The Verb a few weeks back, Kevin Jackson told us that Dickens had innovated with the names of his characters, and with the supposed advantage over the big Russian novel (where, of course, we are willingly familiar with the tripartite system of naming, and cannot confess not even to trying!) that one could easily keep track of someone in, say, Bleak House because of the choice of name:

Well, as much as a name that I recognize in Dostoyevsky may recur and I recognize it by its shape, so names in that Dickens novel will be more easily identifiable and probably memorable, but it is a far cry from asserting that, on that account, I know what function that person performs in the novel. No, as with the less major characters in any novel, one sometimes has to look back to see who they are, and there the Russian novel anticipates the need with a Dramatis personæ.

Memorable names (and whether they are memorable just because quirky remains a separate, and unexamined issue - who can forget Tom Jones?) in a longer work do not, I believe, necessarily guide me as to who that person is in relation to everyone else, not least when (again in Bleak House) Dickens deliberately rattles on about the presumed oil-wells of the Reverend Chadband's countenance, or the perpetual need for a cushion to be readjusted, in such a way as to sabotage the progress of his own novel and distract our concentration.

Although, in Wemmick, for example, Dickens chose a very fitting name for its bearer, it is because I see him linked to his castle that I remember him for who he is, not because of the name per se.

At any rate, in a fanciful desire to laud Dickens for this above all else, the contributor to the programme dismissed, as their
novels not containing comparably witty or descriptive names, both Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) and Henry Fielding (1707-1754). This, without giving a single example, whereas the eponymous heroes alone of the former's Ferdinand Count Fathom and Roderick Random make demands on our attention. As for Fielding, Mrs Tow-wouse in Joseph Andrews is foremost in my memory, but the novel's pages are peppered with Tom Suckbribe, Jenny Bouncer, Sir Thomas Booby, Mrs Slipslop, Peter Pounce, etc.

If Dickens excels, without the endeavours of other writers at least a century before Dickens even being considered, such as Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), but only Shakespeare (who was only credited with Aguecheek and Belch, because he allegedly took all of his names from his sources), then so be it, but why give Dickens a crown that he doesn't exclusively deserve, and which does not even typify the best things about him?

(In fact, anyone who has heard of William's contemporary Ben Jonson, or who ever took a look at The Alchemist, would find it hard to understand what the fuss about names in Dickens is...)

Since posting the above, and in looking vainly for somewhere on Radio 3's web-site to leave a comment, I've now found the following work, a slim volume published in 1917 by Elizabeth Hope Gordon:

The Naming of Characters in the Works of Charles Dickens

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Food cats

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28 December

Yes, you'll be thinking as I do, all cats are 'food cats':

Food cats would naturally choose - yes, what would food cats choose?

Well, apparently it is revolutionary thinking to 'believe that cats know what they like when it comes to food', so maybe the makers of this food don't have a cat, and someone who does had to tell them.

Then they seem to want to know what I think of their food. OK, we know that some people stocking up with tins of dog-food are buying a cheap meal for themselves, but what is this all about?:

Why not try one of our other W***** varieties?


Have you tried W****** DRY?

The text below seeks to exonerate these questions, by stating that their meals contain 'succulent pieces of meat and fish to vary your cat's diet', but I'm sure that they think that I must have just a little taste before I serve it...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The good man Philip and the railway service Pullman

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Christmas Day

Whatever one thinks of Philip P., if one has read any of his work*, the one whose title I'm parodying was not the snappiest, and more resembled the label of a Ronseal® tin in terms of subtlety.

For those not in the know generally, it appears that Mr Pullman has some issue with religion (maybe even Christianity as a formalized faith), and calling a book The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ is only a little less of a battle-cry than much of what Richard Dawkins naggingly wants to assert every waking minute of his life.

(Culturally or racially intolerant people want to bleat on about mosques, minarets and muezzins, but Dawkins is a foghorn in his own right, together with a blindingly white tower in one's view and a powerful light that he keeps shining in one's eyes.)

I can just imagine Alison Weir subtitling an account of Anne Boleyn's courtship and marriage The chaste, monogamous, home-loving king and his slatternly, unfaithful bitch of a wife - maybe she should try, if in need of boosting her sales: what about writing history for the masses in headlines worthy of defunct News of the World? (A sort of Horrible Histories of popular events, but for a different age-group.)

Anyway, back at PP: he's been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Moon, but the catch is that he has to go to collect it! (Presumably some bright spark's wheeze for keeping him out of the way for a while.)

Though that trick wouldn't work with RD, maybe, since he wrote The God Delusion, someone should write (something like) Dawkins: The Delusion of Anyone Giving a Frig - or God himself could prove that RD doesn't exist by dropping a huge tome on him called The Dawkins Delusion, a self-fulfilling title...

* Someone whom I know was so afraid, when reading the Dark Materials trilogy, that - and I quote - 'I would die before I got to the end' that he bunked off his lecturing job to make sure that the latter was completed before the former happened (although, for why it should have done, you'd have to ask him...).

Has Will Smith been flyposting again?!

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Christmas Day

From a street in Cambridge:


the lamp-post declared.

Never said that you were! I retorted.

The woman who wrote about pandas

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Christmas Eve

Yes, I'm sure that Ms Truss' book did well enough, but, with 'Pandamania' upon us*, what if she'd waited...! (Perhaps those led astray by the cover may still be interested.)

But why would anyone punctuate (think of punctuating?!) a sentence about pandas eating shoots - which we now know are so costly (a bit like buying a chinchilla, and then finding that the only thing that it will eat costs as much as (maybe a cheap) caviar!) - by putting a comma slap bang in the middle of They eat shoots and leaves, or whatever exactly it was**?

Really, one would have to subscribe to the 'theory of punctuation' that says:

(1) Never use the semi-colon - no one else does, and no one understands where it belongs, which may be cause and effect, or vice versa (if not a symbiotic feedback-loop);

(2) The colon is good (as above) once in a while, just to bring you up short, saying 'Something important (probably) follows!';

(3) NB Ignore the semi-colons in this list, but, for advanced students, that's the only way to employ them. If still tempted, stick in a dash instead (much safer!);

(4) Blather on until you've had enough with that sentence. Then, at least, a full-stop, if not, which is worth considering, a new paragraph;

(5) Finally, just to show who's boss, stick a comma in from time to time to impress - if they are in the wrong place (wherever that is), no one will know, and they are as likely to think that you've done something clever that they don't understand as stuck it where it doesn't fit;

(6) If needing to talk about more than one comma, comma's or commas are both fine***.

Not very convincing, but maybe that's Modern English. (About as tenuous as turning, by mistake, the description You wiggle! into the imperative You, wiggle!?)

* Or, if you prefer, Pandamonium...

** Ah, yes! It was some alleged dictionary or encyclopaedia, saying
The panda eats, shoots and leaves.

It could just as easily have said The panda, eats shoots and, leaves, only no 'humorous' story about it dining in a restaurant would ensue, just apoplexy.

*** No one understands the apostrophe (or plurals) any longer, so you can do what you like:

Potato's (meaning 'Potatoes');

Paninis (pluralizing an already plural word);

Premia or stadia (when adding an 's' to 'premium' / 'stadium' is much more natural, as these words are not Latin, but naturalized English) -

Whatever you like, dear student! (Sorry, that should be
Whatever, you like, dear student!, or even Whatever you, like dear student!.)

Friday, 23 December 2011

Mind charity shops and NAMH

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23 December 2011 (updated 2 February 2013, 11 January 2015)

Seeing Paul Farmer's Tweet, I gave him the opportunity to comment. He did not do so (until 11 months later, when asked again...).

You will know the national charity Mind (it sometimes claims to be the leading UK mental-health charity, but Rethink and the Mental Health Foundation may not agree).

Some places where people live have a local Mind charity shop: the common misconception (which, for all that I know, some obscure notice on the premises may allegedly clarify, if you knew that it is there) is that giving items to or otherwise supporting the shop supports people locally who have mental-health issues (rather than Mind itself, the national body).

Some people also assume that 'Mind' means something, and write it 'MIND', as if it were an acronym, but it is actually just a trading-name that stuck to and was kept by what is really the National Association for Mental Health (or NAMH).

So, to summarize, Mind is really NAMH, and Mind charity shops don't support the Mind named after your area, e.g. West Norfolk Mind (if there is one and you lived there).

Now, other charities, say Red Cross, may be set up the same way - I don't know - but, in Mind's case, it's just several assumptions that it would be easy enough to prevent people making, if it mattered enough to stop them.

Now one wild, further, improbable step: imagine East Cambridge Mind (there isn't one, but let's call it ECM) providing services in the voluntary sector, receiving grants and funding, etc. They might offer somewhere where, using Mind's favoured terms, those with a personal experience of 'mental distress' can come for a coffee at certain times of the week.

Or there might be free counselling, or the artificial buddying known as befriending, where a volunteer commits to meet with a member of ECM every so often to allow social things like going for a walk or having a drink (maybe one then the other) that might seem harder to do on one's own. Services, anyway, that need staff and volunteers.

Mind doesn't employ the staff or manage the volunteers, because Mind (as NAMH) is a separate company. ECM is another. Mind lets ECM use the Mind name by agreeing to let it subscribe to be a Local Mind Association (or LMA).

OK, so Mind where you live will be a company (usually limited by guarantee) registered at Companies House. NAMH is another one, so they are separate, except for NAMH letting ECM have Mind in its name.

ECM subscribes (pays a subscription, amongst other things) to do that, but it remains separate. Two companies, never the twain shall meet, although national Mind does require these LMAs (such as ECM) to meet quality standards. The assessment, though, is largely on the basis of self-certification.

So to establish that, say, ECM supervises its staff regularly (maybe monthly) for that quality standard, what Mind actually does is to get ECM to fill in a series of forms that state how, where and when supervision takes place and is recorded. For example, ECM sets out how the manager meets the employee or volunteer every x weeks, spends at least y hours with him or her without interruption, and makes sure that z specified issues are discussed every time.

No other check is made - it may not happen at all, or, at least as often or as well as certified. As far as Mind is concerned, ECM is meeting the quality standard, just because it says that it is meeting the quality standard. That's fine, of course.

Or might you be saying this?:

Isn't ECM employing or having as volunteers people who work with vulnerable people, some of whom may be vulnerable people themselves, seeking 'to give something back'?

That's true.

OK, so aren't there at least three people's interests to protect?

(a) The person receiving a service through ECM;
(b) The person giving a service on behalf of ECM;
(c) The other staff / volunteers of ECM?

Yes, that's right.

And, in fact, isn't there a fourth (maybe a fifth) set of interests?

(d) The carers / relatives / friends of the person receiving a service (or those who otherwise come into contact with the staff and volunteers of ECM)?

You're still right, and some of those are the ones who are not disabused as to what they are supporting with Mind charity shops, too.

So, if something goes wrong, if a volunteer or an employee (or all of them) is not being supervised, and Mind is just being told that they are, it will want to know and will take action?

No, Mind just believes what it's told - it actually has no mechanism for an employee to go to it and complain of not being supervised, because it will just direct him or her back to ECM. ECM is a company, Mind is a company (NAMH), and, despite ECM subscribing to Mind, Mind says that it has no control over ECM.

It remains an internal matter to resolve with ECM, even if the staff member or volunteer is vulnerable because of mental distress, and is less well placed to challenge ECM's company approach or adherence to quality standards or its procedures. Mind will not help or get involved - the aggrieved person, who is not being supervised properly and / or regularly, must raise a grievance.

But that's OK, isn't it? It fits with the slogan (it's for For better mental health, isn't it?), and is just the model of governance you expect from the Mind name.

Good, knew you'd be happy - merry Christmas!

The habit of collecting (3)

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23 December

Well, an evening of interesting prospects:

Gerry Hawkins offers me to Discover the secrets of sex with our pills

However, Gerry's gender is unclear, so it may be germane to find out, if the invitation is to discover the secrets with her / him (rather than just swallow the tablets made of talcum powder and rat poison)...

Also, as such pitches are usually offering penis enlargement, what's secret about that, I have to ask? In fact, the well-endowed males report a problem accommodating their flexible friend neatly when it becomes firmer and thus more noticeable, so no secret there.

But, of course, the secret has to be what one can do, which one couldn't before, with the supposedly available super-member, and then the usual thing is make a more open claim about length or girth. Well, maybe increasing one dimension of the relevant organ might be a better pay-off than the other, as the receiving part is not infinitely deep, and I have been told (although it could, of course, have been reassurance) that it could be quite uncomfortable to have that much penetration...

Back at my e-mail, Molly Justice (my cat is called Molly, so perhaps she's starting Internet protests at my care of her!) wants to promote something more novel: Yelling with toothache, here is the way out!

Sure, one might be being invited to make a one-way trip to a Swiss clinic, but there are worse things than NHS dentists (non-NHS dentists, for one, as the bill can give more pain than any tooth)!

In any case, with the Christmas post, how am I supposed to get any remedy, even if it were genuine and were genuinely to be sent to me? But I suppose there's Special Delivery or some equivalent form of courier, and some might be so avoidant of dentistry and keen for a solution that they would subscribe.

I shall look out for others in the same business, having just read a Woody Allen piece about a bureau that puts prayers on eBay for the highest bidder, and which seems apt (more about that it in the Woody strand of postings about Mere Anarchy)...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tyrannosaur and Another Earth

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23 December

* Contains spoilers *

Both hailed at Sundance, but how Paddy Considine's direction won a best award is beyond me, whereas Brit Marling / Mike Cahill's film did deserve all that it got (and probably more):

Did Tyrannosaur tell a story? Yes.

Was it pretty much a linear narrative? Yes.

Was the story shocking or innovative? Well, a man kicking his canine best friend to death because angry at someone else did jolt, but it just set the tone, only slightly offset as a stereotype by Joseph's (Peter Mullan's) being someone who can give a fuck (sometimes).

What was innovative about the direction? Yes, what was innovative about the direction?

In interview at Cambridge Film Festival, Considine was clear that: his script was the script; he is on the Autistic spectrum; and there was no role play / improvisation in sight.

For my money, he wrote a decent enough script, given what he wanted to tell a story about, but all of these actors* - Peter Mullan, for God's sake! - were quite capable of delivering it with minimal direction.

And the title and the poster image that incorporated and reflected it? Sheer red herring, as far as I can see.

Just part of this comfortable myth that Joseph had enough humanity to go with his brutality and bullying that he would be self-aware when telling Hannah (Olivia Colman) that calling her that name (i.e. 'the Tyrannosaur') was how he mocked his late wife's clomping around because of her obesity or disability (I forget which).

So I know which film praised at Sundance I'll be rewatching - on a screen, if I get the chance!

* Incidentally, a factor links the three main figures:

Peter Mullan

Olivia Colman

Eddie Marsan

Another blog - Writer's Rest (2)

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23 December

Writer's Rest, Lindsay has now made a posting to comment on my posting*:

That is the question and right now it is unanswerable. I want to read this book. I think author is right about the language used to describe this theoretical ascension into consciousness. Personally, I believe that IF it happens (I have no idea whether it will or not), it will fall far short of an apocalyptic event.

* IF technology were what it is cracked up to be, I would not have had to notice in the list of blogs that I am following that there had been a reply, I was supposed to get an e-mail - maybe the e-mail got too interested in watching the trailer for J. Edgar, though I can't fathom why (Hoover as a black woman in the court scene in Bananas, Woody Allen's early collaboration with Marshall Brickman, fires my imagination far more than Leonardo does)...

The habit of collecting (2)

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23 December

Some will know the drummer Jack de Johnette (of, amongst other things, long-standing service in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio).

Well, in three spam messages to delete one surely from a would-be relation, Jacquetta Donnette, telling me how great I'll feel with an 'exact fake watch'.

So it's either the penis or - maybe not unrelatedly... - the wrist that gets targeted: Of Cock or The Clock, maybe one could say.

From the archive: In a Better World reviewed in a poem

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23 December

Christian's Journey

A boy who played with pipe-bombs
Nearly kills his friend -
Christian's the bomber,
Saved by his friend's dad:
Elijah's not in pieces
(Though he thought him dead)
And, on the towering silo,
He need not seek his end.

Returning from his coldness
At his mother's death
(He'd made himself heroic -
His father's sternest judge),
The future is reopened,
The truth can be revealed,
And Christian learns of feelings
That his hate concealed.

21 August 2011

Copyright © Belston Night Works 2011

There is another Earth – and, wow, up there with Solaris! (part posting)

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23 December

Something doesn’t have to be plausible to be genuine, human, warm and engaging, and elements of Another Earth are not plausible*, but that didn’t matter.

If I had earlier followed up, as I intended, the newspaper’s and Sundance’s recommendation to see this film, I could have given it the ‘watch it again and see if it matters / works’ test. However, this was the last screening most locally to me, so no another Another Earth for me just yet…

One thing to have known from a second screening might have been whether there were clues in the first 20 to 30 minutes that I missed that it was going to develop and build so dramatically. That said, there was nothing about it to say ‘Cut your losses, this isn’t going anywhere’, it’s just that it gave the impression of being unexceptional, which, start to finish, it certainly isn’t. (It would have take a cussed ‘This isn’t what it was cracked up to be!’ to walk out.)

Another would have been to know when Brit Marling’s luminous quality as Rhoda Williams first came through, because, again, I had the expectation from the write-up that the actress / co-director / co-producer was striking and her performance revelatory, which she and it are. For what she reveals, she sometimes also conceals, but there was a subtly amused tone to her response to what John Burroughs (played by William Mapother - a curious alternative to cartography!) was saying to her.

... To be continued - in another posting

* They are minor things, but criminal rehabilitation, both in prison and on parole, would have involved seeking to apologize to the victims of the crime or, as the case might be, being directed to stay away, because saying sorry wouldn’t be welcome.

Forty-five years in film (2)

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22 December

I still haven't looked to see whether unnaturally or not, but the version that I thought was going to press turned out to have to be truncated, and that is really all that I know as yet, with one of the three illustrations being out, too.

Still, I shall commend the New Empress Magazine's 2011 Year Book, as there is much else in it - available from NEM web-site's ordering-system or, although the navigation's tricky, via, and possibly via the ISSN (but it's not on this issue)...

In and out of insults

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22 December

Fashion was when an abruptly raised solo middle finger (probably of either hand - forgive me for not being bothered with the etiquette!), together with the curt utterance ‘Swivel!’, was deeply insulting*. Probably, then, it became less insulting, until it became too tame to do at all, because I cannot think when I last saw it done.

(If not on t.v., although it usually lags behind in the provocation stakes, it probably originated on celluloid, that great promoter of catch-phrases such as the dire ‘I’ll be back…!’ – with its sickeningly inappropriate overtones of Captain Oates.)

In their time, insults and insulting gestures have the currency (pun intended!) of being known to be both the latest and also stylish: by saying it and doing the (action and) utterance properly, you are showing that you are an informed person, and so worthwhile. (By mimicking something else, whether it is passé or just not credited as being the thing to do, you are showing the converse, your worthlessness: and we all know how the dictionary almost invairably defines various coarse words as meaning (amongst those referring to the sexual organs in which they have their home) 'a worthless [or offensive] person'.

But we know that all, of course: we're modern, we're in the post-Manwatching period. What we don’t know is that the same gesture, performed more slowly, and with the utterance softer and more questioning would have been a pick-up line in Tokyo’s infamous district of the love-hotels. After all, would the person using the more combative combination either expect or want to be taken up on the offered service?

Fine, the insult depends on proposing a penetration that is assumed to be unwelcome, but it only works if there isn’t a retort that takes it at face value and says ‘Yes, please! – Your place or mine?’, intending to induce the revulsion in the other person that he or she sought to provoke. Other responses, of a more cloacal nature, could equally have been devised, but I doubt that they were.

Which shows? The mere copying of a gesture or insult is just that, whereas it takes genuine wit to parry it, as stand-ups do with put-downs, and make the person who uttered it (feel) defenceless and stupid. Doing it on the hoof takes sharper wits, of course, and most people who expect to be heckled have their armoury of both passive and offensive attack – which can, in turn, be copied…

Homo sapiens? I don’t think so! More like Homo mimicus, and even the primates, mammals and birds do that to pass on tricks that have been discovered even in the domain of accessing, processing or eating food. (Quite apart from bees and the honey-dances, and ants’ - or termites’ - ways of passing on important information about threat or prey.)

But do any of these creatures copy something that, looked at, makes no rational sense? – why would the person raising the finger actually want it where he or she suggests the other person accepting it, and, if he or she actually stopped to consider the indecent proposal, wouldn’t he or she be the loser in the transaction?!

Negative view it may be, but human-beings are not always very selective, and the part of the body that this sort of copying behaviour resembles most is not the brain, but the appendix, for its redundancy (and also the scope for grievously poisoning the body with its hoard of toxins). Not the evolutionary future at all, not even a tributary, but a silted-up backwater, stagnating and no longer flowing!

* And these things can be misheard, of course, to the great delight of those who realize that someone else has got it wrong: imagine someone going through the whole routine perfectly, but under the impression that the word is 'Snivel'...

(Actually, a friend revealed, by writing down the phrase 'can't be asked', that there is evidence of genetic miscopying (sc. transcriptional error) in meanings changing and phrasal words becoming confused - when it is the thing to say 'feisty', no one troubles to think what the word actually means, because, hey, we're talking about The Spice Girls, and we know what they're like, so we know what feisty signifies?

Johnson got it all wrong with his dictionary, then, and Carroll's Humpty-Dumpty was right - should have said that the awesome five were 'very helicopter' and seen if that caught on, if you can excuse me being a bit traffic-cone about it!)

A survey / summary

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22 December

Whether it really means that they were of interest (or someone just told someone else to look), I have no idea, but the list of postings with the most page-views (since the blog's inception) is:

No. Posting

90 Dimensions: Through the looking-glass of time? (2)

75 Unlimited dimensions

57 Nicola Malet at The Tavern Gallery (Meldreth)

41 The man who believed in flicker-drive

9 The Physics of Poetry

6 A tribute to times past

6 An appreciation of L'enfance du Christ

6 New dimensions on Dimensions

5 Blogging at the Tate (from 4 September)

5 Dimensions to-night

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Truth about Russell Hoban (according to Hermann Orff)

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22 December

Those who know Russ Hoban's work well (although he is also author of A Practical Guide to Wood-working, and a number of spin-off titles such as A Practical Guide to Working with Live Maggots on Film-sets) will not be surprised by the revelation, cannily made to-day by one-time shrinkhead and writer for the breakfast-cereal market Hermann Orff, that the person who has died recently was not really Russ at all.

Let me (with the benefit of what, courtesy of Hermes Soundways®, I have understood about the whole Hoban Morphing Project - Humph for short - in the last few crazy days, when sleep seemed a luxury, not a necessity) try to explain:

* Orff first got it from a cabbage that wasn't really a cabbage, but a tip-off that domestic intelligence was getting wise to the whole Hoban vibe, that things were not as they seemed.

* He, being a crazy son of a bitch at the best of times and, like the prophets of old, not one to do what he was damn'd well told, tried to turn the mission down (as if we Agents have any choice, any right of veto, say, about being despatched to Connemara with god-little notice to obtain Yerk's tie-pin (by fair means or foul)!

* So he buggers off to Antibes, and starts hanging out with set there, saying that, despite his thick Rhine accent, he is a Plaid Cymru councillor turned t.v. evangelist who has been working wonders in Mold and even as far as Chester...

* Anyway, the short of it is that he gets zapped in quite the sort of way that he's making out the hand of God is whipping his flock into divine order, because Youdi visits him personally (but in a dream - some of your mystic apparition stuff) and tells him that if he doesn't fry his backside pronto and get back to Blighty, no accrued pension rights (deferred or no) for him.

* Orff falls in line, and goes on the snoop like a good member of the agenthood. Truth is, MI5 has by now got the whole scam, so pretending to date Stella Rimington by overpraising her latest ouevre brings him enough Gewissheit to blow the gaff and, on the pretext that he is a demented collector of plastic figures from the packets of those puffy little boulders of sheer sucrose that Orff himself had been wont to scoff at breakfast as a boy, secures the whole Hoban files.

* On Youdi's orders, this time communicated through that rather bored and, if not world-weary, then rather mundane bearer of tidings Gaber, he legs it with the dossiers, leaving behind a dented metal globe and some electrodes (some trip Kraken had been on made him think that it would be a red herring), and pores over the whole caboodle down at The Cheshire Cheese.

* I see him there, think to myself I wonder what the schlemihl's up to this time with his conspicuous Bogart gear (hat and all), and, sidling up, start plying him with double pink gins, for which he has an insatiable fondness. Well, he's got the fondness, but he hasn't got the stomach to go with it (and is toping on a near-empty stomach), so, on his sixth, he's suddenly belly side up on the floor, and I'm legging it with the Hoban papers.

* I go to a location that Lola told me about, some weird sort of castle place off the south coast that she liked (it was nice, with the ribbons and banners and all that), and master the whole scheme in a matter of hours, plied by a dram or two from the Sound of Islay, before getting the nub over to Youdi on the old handheld (had to stand on one leg, though, facing the wind to get a signal when it came to transmit).

* Message back from Youdi, via a vision of a bus about to plunge off the edge of a nearby cliff and the assorted screams of the no longer would-be passengers, to make a posting here.

* So, the real Huss Hoban (christened Russell Idaho Obama) first saw the light of day the day that Christ died at his parental home in Foxrock nearly 55 years ago. Unaccountably, though the ostensible child of a god-fearing Protestant Irish couple called Becquet, he was black, and it does not require a genius to work out that he was destined for the care of the Sisters of Mercy.

* All in all, he quickly had a new home in Brixton, and grew up, not knowing otherwise, as if South London were his natal home, and the immigrant Borges family, who adopted him to overcome childlessness, were his parents.

* When it came to know better, he didn't care to, being too much engrossed in learning the business of being an illustrator to care much about how he was conceived or who gave him birth. However, he did execute a deed to change his name, because he had resolved to overcome the stigma that it was obvious that would detract from his work, if, as he fancied, he branched out into writing.

* In a place as huge and populous as the States, finding someone with the same name who would settle in the UK and front as him for as long as was convenient was not difficult.

* Both men quite enjoyed their respective roles, one with full licence to embellish any aspect of his life that would enhance the quirky, out-of-the-groove market that his accomplice was seeking to appeal to, who was, in turn, freed from the demands on him to do other than write, without the need to present a front.

* The rest is history. Van Morrison, more obviously, did the same thing when he appointed Brian Kennedy as his public mouthpiece. Those, however, who really believe that Naomi Campbell authored a novel about a swan have wasted precious minutes that could have been spent reading The Daily Mail instead - sorry to have intruded on those endless stories of doom and disaster!

The habit of collecting (1)

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22 December

Other than being a writer by profession (i.e. I profess to be a writer, but who am I to judge!), I am a collector.

Apart from whisky, which makes me laugh in a more earthy way that's in touch with the beat of the universe (or some other such flannel as is to be found on many a whisky tube, e.g. the assertion that the Old Pulteney distillery at Wick was, when it was founded, accessible only by sea (well, why found it there?)), I tend to collect things that make me laugh (or that have some other human worth).

This is one, from the title of an e-mail purporting to come from Georgina Dejesus:

our pills has merci for your penis

It's not really the pidgin English that's funny, although 'merci' is quaint, it's this silly attempt to get me to open it - either because of the lurking virus, or because I might be drawn into ordering something that will never arrive or, if it did, would do me, at best, no good, and, at worst, more harm than good.

I've been collecting such e-mails in a folder called 'Crubb' in the account where they tend to reach me, and have more than five hundred, just saved when they take my fancy over the years, and intended to drip-feed into the lives of characters in a novel that I'll probably never write, so maybe I'll share them here with whomever's looking...

Another blog - Writer's Rest (1)

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21 December

Commenting on the topic 'Apocalyptic AI' on Lindsay's blog (which I follow, and probably make a nuisance of myself on!), I have posted the following:

It is the claim of AI (its ultimate claim) that consciousness can be gained (or created), and that, as Derek Parfitt repeatedly asserted about various things that are not achievable in Reasons and Persons, technology just has not advanced enough to make it happen.

Some might call that a poetic hope or even a belief that is not necessarily any more grounded than some religious beliefs are supposed to be, but never mind – there is simply a divide over whether we incline to the idea that consciousness just is, and can at best be mimicked, and those who believe that building increasingly advanced systems that employ intelligent strategies, then thinking and consciousness, very much part and parcel of the same thing, come as a result.

I may be simplifying, and there may be waverers, but most people either think ‘Great – I can live on in R2D2!’, or that machines will always just be machines, and not cats or humans…

Samuel Johnson: a corrective

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21 December

Beckettt was bothered enough about Johnson early on to attempt a play about him, which I dread admitting not to have read yet, and we all know his assertion that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.

Shame, then, that we believe all the media-hype about him (a certain Mr Boswell, amongst others), and that his own grandiose claims were credited: talk about Baron Munchausen, but, if the chief medical officer saw details of his daily alcoholic consumption, we'd have none of this not exceeding 3 to 4 units per day regularly! (Not to mention Falstaff, and his commending of sack.)

For the truth is that he had quite a small life - leaving apart the life of the mind, with its fictitious Mrs Thrales - and hardly stepped out of the post office that he ran in Leeds (forget all that nonsense about Ludlow and the like, for our Sam - a kinship of Sams (nat Lemuel, I saye!) with Beckettt - was a Yorkshireman born and bred). A true Walter Mitty before we had the name for him, he so believed that he lived in London and was a great man, pronouncing upon all sorts of subjects, that even people who knew that this was counterfactual were swept up by his enthusiasm.

For Johnson, like our own dear Boris, was nothing if not enthusiastic, and even once made the considerable trip to Rochester because he'd heard that there was a model-railway exhibition on: chump that he was, he had somehow caught sight of a flyer from tens of years on and not spotted that the date was way in advance of his allotted life-span! Still, he was a keen philatelist, too, and brought out a private stamp to mark the excursion, using some rather scrappy shots that he'd taken on his mobile and then smartened up in one of these fancy image-processing suites (when, of course, for the cost of the software (bundling wasn't the norm back then, and he'd had to buy it as a separate), he'd have been better off taking a decent image on a film SLR and having it put onto CD-ROM in digitized form when he had the roll developed...

Oh, and that business about the trip to the Hebrides - need I have said that Boswell's sister was one of the founders of Thomas Cook (named after a boy that she'd gone steady with because he was in the Globetrotters, and who tragically choked on a piece of basketball when some klutz mistook it for a pumpkin and made it a Thanksgiving not to be forgotten), and needed a bit of pull for the Scottish market that she thought crazy stories like Johnson dancing a jig on Rathesay might generate?

Most can probably guess the rest, but it's a bit like a meeting of the directors of a company - if they all say that it took place by approving minutes of it, who's to say otherwise (certainly not the bemused articled clerk who's had to concoct this spurious verbiage, against his better judgement)?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Pierrot longs for the moon

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21 December

Pierrot longs for the moon

(For Harry - who also likes moons)

So clearly

A man

I saw to-night

In the moon:

A man's face


Never seen before

In semi-relief

So real

And huge

No space for dog

Or bush,

Just he

© Copyright Belston Night Works 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me

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20 December

I have bought the volume that contains this set of 'Diaries' with the later 'My Week With Marilyn', and now got to starting to read the text.

Simply put, after sampling the first few entries, anyone who gives credence that what is presented was a contemporaneous record of what happened, rather than a chronological telling of the story after the event, does well not to be parted from large amounts of his or her money on a regular basis, probably by believing the stories of some African prince who is locked out from his fortune, if only...

I still hope that it will still be good reading, but so far the film has stuck so close to the text as to be a conjoined twin!

Early Woody and Mere Anarchy (1)

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20 December

Maybe I'm just a Gil Pinder (from Allen's latest release, Midnight in Paris), but I have now read half-a-dozen from this new collection (well, fairly new - compared, certainly, with the book-of-books, The Complete Prose of Woody Allen, whose title it falsifies), and I simply don't think that many of them match up to those in books such as Side Effects.

I grew up with Allen as much as an author as a film-maker (Annie Hall was the first thing that I saw, in tow with my parents even), but I caught up with other films, such as Sleeper, on t.v., so the roles are for me inseparable. However, I have a memory of the pieces from those three books (the others being, without checking, Without Feathers and Getting Even) working better and more consistently than these. But that was a while ago, and maybe, as Paul conceitedy tells Gil in the film, that is just what he thinks himself clever enough to call 'Golden Age thinking'.

Be that as it may. The pieces in Mere Anarchy have, I think (but maybe not in all cases), been collected after appearing in such places as The New Yorker (not taking it, I cannot guess how often Allen contributes, how the choice of pieces that were first published there was made, and whether better ones were overlooked in the process). He may also have continued to write plays and for t.v., but that sort of writing is clearly closer to scripting film dialogue than short humorous pieces.

With the one that I have last read, curiously titled (I see) 'Calisthenics, Poison Ivy, Final Cut', the humour arises from the cut and thrust of imagined speech, since it is a vituperative exchange by letter between the owner of 'a film camp' (called Camp Melanoma) and the father of the boy who, attending there, wrote and filmed a nameless blockbuster - the subject being who is entitled to claim the credit and a share in the multi-million-dollar distribution rights. Compared to this, the earlier pieces seem flat, thin on laughs, and almost one dimensional, so not, for me, the sort of things to bring out proudly in a book. But I haven't read the whole book, and more than half is left, so the balance of pieces that succeed with me may change...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Back to The Hunter

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19 December

* Contains a goodly number of spoilers *

As planned, I watched The Hunter last night, but this time on DVD - how some of those scenes cried out for a cinema screen! That apart, however well people receive it (the trailer is intriguing, but I assume that it was made for cinema release, but I never saw the film announced after last year's festival, or I would have watched it again), they cannot escape the fact that it is well lit and photographed.

How they receive it depends, I think, on how much they are content with the film's pace (I think that it needs to unfold as it does, but I have read that others differ and are quite irritated with what they get for the time spent), and with being left with an abiding enigma, rather an unwinding and, maybe, some sort of resolution.

What partly goes with this, I think, is that there is very little heard dialogue, and its absence is apparent: we are the other side of the glass, for example, witnessing the transaction, when Ali Alavi (Rafi Pitts), takes a hotel room, and only come inside when he is going to the room, with what turns out to be a spectacular view. (Not to divert too much, we are only too aware, in the same way, of the limitations of what we are being shown, because we could not have known, from the scene at the hotel, what it gives onto, just as, when Ali first goes to his flat, we could not have known in front of what he was parking, or what its living area gives onto at the front.)

All in all, this means that we have to make inferences (because we will never know what Ali hunts in the woods, or whether it is just the difficulty of the shot that makes him stand down from it, before we see him, at a later point entirely, going for a kill and shooting), and that there are very few facts. These are those facts:

* Ali has been in prison, but we will never know why (some sort of crime, or for political reasons - he is always listening to the political debate going on, but never appears to react to it), where, or for how long

* The term of his sentence is only consistent with having believed (as he may still believe) that Saba is his daughter, and thus with Sara's having being impregnated by him before his imprisonment and found to be with child during it - but that may not be a fact, as he somehow sees her as she pleads with an unseen official (or officials), presumably if not for AI, then for adoption, because of what she says that she said to Ali to give him hope

* The police contact him to report Sara's death

* He learns that there was a conflict between protesters and police (and later goes to the scene, where we see the positions of fallen bodies drawn on the ground), and that fire from one side or the other seems to have hit her accidentally

* Ali seems to have no notion of what the protest was or why (as he is told, alone, without Saba) Sara would have been there

* He finds the officer's questioning about his working nights and when he sees Sara and Saba intrusive - they appear to be interested in the strength of the relationship, as if he might have had a motive himself, perhaps because, as we know, they have not yet identified the gun that fired the shot

* He appears to identify the body - it is a long shot, from another room (maybe even the doorway of that far room), and he says nothing in words, but the police take Sara to have been identified from how he reacts (when he is asked to identify a body that may be Saba, it is the same scene and camera angle, but his reaction is even more ambiguous) - the police, of course, would know what he was later signing about identifying the bodies, but we do not, and that is part of the fog in which Rafi Pitts deliberately leaves us

* He visits and lies to Sara's mother (who is unaware of her own daughter's death) about why his daughter is not with him to see her on her (Saba's) birthday, leaves the family cat with her (supposedly at Saba's request), and takes off - he has made preparations to leave, by taking care of the remainng thing in the flat, the cat

* Having driven around and chosen a vantage-point (after a helicopter has been flying over), and taken out his hunting-rifle, he takes a bead on a car through his telescopic-sights until it passes

* When a police-car shortly after comes along the same stretch of road, he does the same, and he shoots - it seems as though it may have been a mistake, but he shoots again in what we realize is confirmation of his intent, and then kills the passenger, when he gets out (on the side facing us)

* After staying the night in the hotel, a helicopter is again in evidence, and, seemingly acting on its presence, Ali goes to a scrap dealer and changes his car

* The only other fact, important or not, is that when the two officers chase and catch him, the one who does not want to shoot him as a cop-killer (and who claims to be a fellow human being) says that the other officer has killed other prisoners whom he didn't like, and is going to try to frame him, if he kills Ali, too

Time, now, to see the interview from the DVD with director / Ali, Rafi Pitts...

Arabian Nights at Mumford Theatre

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18 December

By way of thanks to, and to publicize,, here is my e-mail about their latest show:

Dear Proteus

I just wanted to drop you a quick line to say how much I enjoyed the 5.30 show earlier, for which I just happened to see the poster when I was in Cambridge yesterday (although I am also on the Mumford Theatre mailing-list, but I have long since misplaced their latest booklet in the mayhem of my life...) - probably some of the characters in the production would say that I need to get out more, but I haven't laughed out loud so much in a long time!

I also hesitated to see the production, because I had seen a version at The Stables at Milton Keynes a few years back, where they had focused more on the actors also being musicians and performing songs, and was fearful that I might not enjoy it as much - but yours was so different, and, as well as being funny (in script and delivery), brought the delight of an extra framing device, with the characters stepping outside their roles.

I would recommend anyone to see this production, and see that the programme (which for the same reason as above, I didn't buy at the beginning - I had hoped to get the cast to sign afterwards, but there seemed to be no sign of them, and the build was being stripped down in the auditorium) gives me the means to think of friends who may be near where the show is playing. I especially liked the practical way that the hangings were hammocks, trapeze ropes and tarzan swings, but there is really so much that I liked, and I do not have time to write more: what I can say is that adults sitting near me were laughing just as much enjoying, I think, the mix of linguistic, cultural and social references, and the whole versatility of what was being presented.

Thank you so much - not least since, as I see, this venue was added in later!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Judy Garland and The World's Fair

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18 December

In some ways, Meet Me in St. Louis is a curious film, which projects from 1944 (when it was released) back to 1903 (and just into 1904) a vision of a family in Missouri, with its imminent World’s Fair (a thing that would have sent a bold message in wartime).

First things first: I have no idea if Gomez in The Addams Family was modelled on the character played by Leon Ames as Alonzo Smith (more often Lon or Lonnie), head of our family. Sometimes things that appear linked are just coincidental and one wrongly reads in joins that are not there, but I wouldn’t be surprised. (There are other connections that may spring to mind as I continue.)

I have no idea how accurate to the times the portrayal is, but, at hallowe’en, I was surprised by the wanton destructiveness of burning in the street anything, however useful, that could be dragged to it – throwing flour in the face of one’s adult neighbours and telling them one hated them then seemed relatively tame, although, with the right choice of victim, performing the deed carried a particular accolade.

This sinister tinge to things was pre-empted by the youngest of the four Smith daughters, nicknamed Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), rejoicing in the thought of burying one of her dolls in a place already prepared for her – she has four diseases, but, as the driver of the ice-cart on which she is riding observes, one is enough. (We are left to imagine why this girl keeps this company and occupation.)

On the night in question, she accuses a male neighbour of killing cats with poisoned meat and then burning them on the fire, but this seems a crime ranking no higher (or no lower) than keeping empty whiskey bottles in the cellar. Truly, a neighbour deserved to be well pasted with flour.

Later, her sister Agnes and she put a dressed dummy on the track of the streetcar in the hope of derailing it when the driver applies the brakes, but the incident is dealt with in a manner that only passingly suggests reproof for such actions, as well as that of blaming John Truitt (Tom Drake), their neighbour and beau of her sister Esther (the starring 22-year-old Judy Garland), who discovers their activities.

In the meantime, he has been given a good pasting by Esther (or ‘Es’, as her sister Rose calls her). When, learning the truth, she comes back to apologize, he jokingly asks if she is free to beat him up the following night, too!

A friend of mine has posted recently on her blog how certain things may be more likely to be done now by telephone, rather than face to face, but this film opens by envisaging a proposal of marriage being forthcoming by long-distance call from a beau of Esther’s elder sister, Rose – the maid sagely remarks that she would not accept such a proposition being made using an invention. In all these things, a strangely modern film for all its carefree appearance.

But I shouldn’t finish without some comments about the stars: young O’Brien won a special Oscar for her performance, and Garland made hits of ‘The Trolley Song’ and (having, in context, much more significance than the words usually convey) ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, both of which she delivered with her distinctive voice. The purity of her singing voice, almost without vibrato, and with the same tones and qualities that make her so distinctive when she speaks, was a delight.

For this reason, I have no doubt that Judy Garland is a great performer, because she also dances splendidly, but, whether it was always part of her film-acting, she brings, even when she is not meant to be nervous, an uneasy and even lost character to it, which does not make me feel that it or film go well together. This means that the relatively few opportunities, despite its being an MGM musical, that she had to show what I see in her then as her real talents are valued, and so this does not see the ideal vehicle for them.

It is an enjoyable film, but I have one final reservation. Family resemblance and casting cannot achieve a counsel of perfection, but, without her being an example of classical beauty, I found myself spending rather too much time thinking of the striking nature of her looks (which, of course, is there in her daughter): at that age, there was still time for her facial features to develop and mature, and I really should reacquaint myself with some later performances when the chance presents itself.

The man who believed in flicker-drive

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The man who believed in flicker-drive

Picture an engineer, fath’ring his time,

Who wrought, with honest goods and fear, a span

To show the possible, to make sublime

Endeavours that might bring the world to man:

Imagine them not heeding what he taught,

Preferring still a heavier bridge and short.

Would he give up? Would he renounce his call,

Not carry on those lessons meant for all?

I think not, but quietly pursue a plan,

To give the future prominence in rhyme:

To offer them in verse what seldom can

Be accepted when jarring voices chime.

And so he made them flicker-drive that year

To look upon quite silent, without fear.

© Copyright Belston Night Works 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Hunter re-emerges

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17 December

I cannot say when this happened, because I'm not always looking out for the latest releases (and prefer to wait a little longer, when, at Fopp, at least, one can rely on the price dropping), but Artificial Eye have brought out the DVD of The Hunter.

So I will have the chance to go back and see whether my understanding of the film works with a second viewing - I hope so, but also not, because it will be, then, like a piece that I once wrote in which the narrator of the history of The Spoonbill Press was supposed to be revealing, unbeknownst to himself sometimes, so many little secrets, infamies even, but the writing was so damn'd subtle that no one knew what it was really about and, thus, why it might be amusing.

If it does, and at the risk of spoiling things after all this time (since I posted my review publicly, one person has valued it), I might just go public with my account of why what happens does happen, because I do not not believe that everyshting (?) is as it may seem...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

An appreciation of L'enfance du Christ

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11 December

I don’t think that Schubert would have had his ‘year of song’ if he’d set himself the task of writing the rhyming lyrics as well, rather than setting the poetry of such as Heine and Goethe. Sir Michael Tippett was thought not to have done himself any favours with writing the libretto to The Midsummer Marriage

But Hector Berlioz, having written L’adieu des bergers under an assumed name and so proved that hostility from critics attached to knowing whose music it was (rather than to the music itself), continued to write a rhyming text for what became L’enfance du Christ, which I heard played from end to end two nights ago. What attracts me, though, is not reviewing the performance, but thinking about the work, to which I have been brought much closer.

Sir Mark Elder, to-night’s conductor, is reported as liking the fact that the first part of this three-part work was written last. What it does have, although largely in the vivid brutality of its words, is more feeling of action than in the second part’s parting from the shepherds and finding a God-given oasis. The third part has the serious crisis of the bloody footed and weary travellers on the road and then being rejected when they reach their destination, before being hospitably received, but it is still a relatively static situation in dramatic terms.

What aptly characterizes the work as a whole is quoted in the programme, David Cairns’ description cinematic tableaux, because, especially with the second half of the third part, they are objects for contemplation.

My contemplation, in broad terms, of the trajectory of the whole work is this. Musically, and in words, we hear about Herod and his regime before we meet him:

Il rêve, il tremble,
Il voit partout des traîtres, il assemble
Son conseil chaque jour

Next, we hear what is on his mind, because in his dreams, which is the fear of being dethroned, and also the fear in operation, the fear of someone who is actually his own guard. The guard brings in the soothsayers, who not only confirm the basis of what his dreams tell him, but say what the solution is: satisfying Les noirs Esprits, and ordering the massacre of the innocents. Herod has no doubt about following their advice, because his only want is not to lose his power and his throne, and he chillingly merges with them in repeating his ruthlessness:

Malgré les cris, malgré les pleurs
De tant de mères éperdues,
Des rivières de sang vont être répandues.
Je serai sourd à ces douleurs.

The choice to take it is Herod’s, but the specification of the course of action is clearly that of the soothsayers. Does it give the suggestion that wickedness and dark forces underpinned the Jewish regime that the occupying Roman powers permitted to continue? (Is it, thus, part of the anti-Semitic stance with which we are familiar, which wants to characterize the Jews as killers of Christ? Meanwhile, the ancient philosophers who prefigured the Christian faith, and the holy family, are good, God-fearing French…)

Whatever it does, the pitiless refusal to be other than deaf to the suffering of others, and to inflict that suffering in the first place out of sheer self-interest, is a stark contrast with the idyll of the holy family, Mary encouraging Jesus to feed the lambs (one of the Christ’s own symbols), and to look to their needs. She says to him:

Ils sont si doux! laisse, laisse-les prendre!

Just as Herod has counsel from the soothsayers, angels appear and quietly, but with suitable urging, tell Mary and Joseph the danger that Jesus and they are in. (I am familiar from the gospels with this warning coming in a dream, but Berlioz very much made his own thing of this text, and angels appearing is not only more dramatic and also consistent with their presence at the nativity, but also like a dream in how the voices of the unseen choir come to them and us.) There is thus a balance between the unholy advice from the Jewish religious community and the angelic direction to flee to Egypt (with all its connotations for the history of the people of Israel).

Part 2, as we have heard, has the well-known music and chorus with which the genesis of the whole work began, a spirit of leave-taking and of blessing, including the rather hopeful wish (if taken in literal terms):

Et qu’il soit bon père à son tour!

Some of the words of blessing that Berlioz has written are very apt to what will happen when they do get to Saïs, and are turned away in harsh rejection:

Dieu vous bénisse, heureux époux!
Que jamais de l’injustice
Vous ne puissiez sentir les coups!

The part closes quite soon after, with a score of lines for the narrator, describing, in well-chosen language, the pilgrims (as Berlioz calls them) arriving at a heavenly paradise. The choice to stop there and enjoy it, ascribed to Joseph, turns out later to have been wise, and Mary sees the work of God in it for her son:

Voyez ce beau tapis d’herbe
Douce et fleurie, le Seigneur
Pour mon fils au désert l’étendit.

The scene thus has a theology of showing God’s provision, and of Mary’s grateful recognition of it, as someone who has come, at least from the annunciation, to see God’s hand in all things. But there is a time of testing still to come.

Part 3 opens with all the imagined hardships of a long journey against a powerful wind, which appears to have taken its toll on the donkey (another symbol associated with the Christ) already. For now, though, Mary is secure and is an example of fortitude:

Seule Sainte Marie
Marchait calme et sereine, et de son doux enfant
La blonde chevelure et la tête bénie
Semblaient la ranimer, sur son coeur reposant.

For the moment, the infant Jesus seems to be the wellspring of her hope and strength, a symbiosis that, in encouraging her, helps her protect him. But she comes to falter, and both Joseph and she keep stopping, and, when they arrive at Saïs, there is very little life in them, and the city frightens Mary.

They face repeated insult and rejection, but we, of course, know what blessing there would be in receiving this couple and their child. They must, as we are, be reminded of the difficulty of finding shelter in Bethlehem, but the situation seems even worse, as two short and highly poignant utterances of Mary’s make clear. First:

Mes pieds de sang teignent la terre.


Jésus va mourir ... c'en est fait:
Mon sein tari n’a plus de lait.

When Joseph rebukes those who reject them for the second time, he asks Mary to join him in calling out for shelter. She does so, but she first reminds us of the words that the shepherds said to them:

Hélas! nous aurons à souffrir
Partout l’insulte et l’avanie.

When, however, she feels that she will collapse, their voices are received by welcome, their needs are met by the head of the Ishmaelite household, and he and Joseph even turn to talking business plans to work together in the carpentry business before a trio played on a harp and two flutes soothes them. They have found blessing and a home with people who recognize a kinship.

And so the trio leads into a blessing for them for the night, to which Mary and Joseph are able to respond with grateful thanks and an expression of feeling more calm and less tortured:

Déjà ma peine amère
Semble s’enfuir, s’évanouir.
Plus d’alarmes.

And so the piece is nearly over, except that there is another period of angelic singing, which ends in asking for our response, after the narrator has told how they stay ten years, during which Jesus flourishes and becomes strong in the qualities with which we associate him, wisdom, tenderness and a sweet nature.

The narrator very briefly talks of Jesus then returning to his place of birth, and to the work of mission and sacrifice that he begins there, and then, with the chorus (in this performance, with the voices ending with a most affecting pianissimo), puts this quiet challenge, through himself, to us:

Ô mon âme, pour toi que reste-t-il à faire,
Qu’à briser ton orgueil devant un tel mystère!
Ô mon coeur, emplis-toi du grave et pur amour
Qu'il seul peut nous ouvrir le céleste séjour.

All in all, a piece that, as I have hope that I have shown, balances the elements of the flight into Egypt and provides a perfect piece for Christmas.

Thought for the day (no. 207)

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

10 November

If e-mail didn't exist, it wouldn't be necessary to invent it

Oh, I'm sure that there are people who say that e-mail is great, but what is so great about:

* Getting into misunderstandings with the capacity - at one's cost - to reply almost instantaneously?;

* All that spam (or, if one tries to filter it out, not getting the messages that one would have wanted)?;

* A message (which, of course, is just as true of text-messages) that, if it arrives at all, arrives after the event to which one was invited, and which has the double curse of one's not only having missed what might have been beneficial (maybe even fun), but looking rude for not responding (or just feeble, if one tries to explain)?

* Not to mention the outgoing message, written at length and with great care, that should have won the match, but, unknown, never went (non-delivery reports come at other times, when one is short of time, the message has to go, and, for some unaccountable reason, it won't)?;

* At least one message per week that has to be answered some time, will not go away, but needs a immense deal of tact and thought as to how to employ it - if one has learnt the lesson of the first point above - to reply to?: oh, for being able to break away from this medium altogether, and just clear the air face to face!

And whilst we're doing that with that weekly or more tricky message, why not just quietly ditch e-mail as a whole...?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Stardust Memories

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 Movember [a new month, brought on - or made real by - tiredness?]

In 1980, when this film was released, nobody would have thought of copying Woody Allen and talking about 'the train station' - we would have understood, and obviously without difficulty, what he meant, but have been talking about going to 'the railway station', if not just 'the station' (as, after all, what other sort of station could one possibly mean)?

Do times seem less certain now, that we might mean something else by 'the station', such as the bus station? Maybe, but to me the implied distinction seems pointless, as that place is always qualified by bus, and is never just 'the station', which only means where one catches a train.

And, no, we're not talking about military stations, or weather stations!

All of which should not detract from commending this great film - this must be the fifth or sixth viewing since it first came out, and it stands not only the test of time, but also of the viewer who knows where it is going and for whom that reveals no flaws!