Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rock solid political commitment

Something slight for the weekend...

In an interesting article on some Tories' concerns about David Cameron's plans to withdraw his party from the main centre-right political grouping in the European Parliament (in order to align it with the far more 'Euroskeptic' alliance with right-wing Czechs and Poles), we encounter the following delightful turn of phrase from Lord Kerr of Kinlochard:

"I do not understand a rigid commitment to impotence," he said.

Neither do I, Lord Kerr, neither do I....

So much for wets and dries then: the modern Tory party will be divided into hards and softs.

Or maybe we could go on just calling them pricks.

Elsewhere in the Guardian: best CiF title this year.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Moon Inside (Gets Round and Round)

To pick up briefly on The Wife's 'shipwrecked and comatose' theme of a few days ago, I ran across this trailer for Duncan Jones's Moon.

It looks...quite good.

The references to classics like 2001, Solaris or Silent Running are obvious, but I don't mind an homage if it's done well.

Coincidentally, I also -- while looking for something else -- happened across this interview with Jones in Popular Mechanics (via) which not only explains how to make lunar concrete but also references Daniel Dennett. It concludes intriguingly:

What's up next for you?
It looks like I'm going to be doing another science-fiction film next. I love Blade Runner, it's one of my favorite films, and I've always been really… depressed that there was never—not a sequel, because I don't think it's right to make a sequel about Blade Runner, but no one's really tried to make a film which was set in the same kind of world or had that same kind of field. So that's what I'm doing, a big-city mystery story that takes place in a future Berlin.

Since being in Berlin already, I find somehow, makes one feel as if one is living slightly in the future, I'm curious about what Mr. Jones comes up with.

(Post title reference)

Put off by Padel's poetry

I initially thought that the title of Ruth Padel's (aka The poet formerly known as Oxford Professor of Poetry) poem "Survival of the Fittest", from her collection Darwin: A Life in Poems, was somewhat ... suboptimal. After all, the phrase (coined by Herbert Spencer, not Darwin, even though the latter adopted it in later versions of On the Origin of Species) is not exactly the most appropriate metaphor to describe the principle of natural selection.

But now that I've watched a video of Padel reading from her work (and in a yurt, too) at the Hay festival I'm no longer so certain that this was merely a minor slip of the pen by a slightly ditsy lady sporting the medusaesque hair and dramatic eye make-up of expressionist movie stars. Sounds more like Padel, who is Darwin's great-great-granddaughter, has used her poetry for a wee spot of kin bitching. I don't know whether the other poems in the collection are in any way more ... astute than "Survival ..." (in one of them, apparently, she imagines Darwin's horny revery over a smutty painting), but somehow I can't be arsed asked to read them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tired of mad people

And to think that I spent so much of my precious life reading the incomprehensible ejaculations of this hysterical little man ....

Costly (musical) signalling

As I was driving home form work tonight, I caught the beginning of a live recording of a Brian Auger concert (oh, the wonders of Deutschlandradio Kultur!).

Which got me thinking: should playing the Hammond B3 organ be finally studied in light of the handicap principle?

And here's a snippet for a friend who absolutely needs to watch Absolutely Fabulous to chill out:

Shipwrecked and comatose

Life is exhaustingly busy and mildly frustrating at the moment. This explains not only our recent GVBS (Great Void of Blog Silence), but also the manifold RLIJN (Recurring Lapses Into Juvenile Nostalgia) from which the inhabitants of this household tend to suffer when stressed out.

Hence this here association, which has been haunting me for the last few days, is rather symptomatic:

Once life is back to some kind of normal I might have something to say about Kazuo Ishiguro's new book, Nocturnes. Right now, there is little space for anything focused and semi-intelligent.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A kiss is just a kiss

A missive from the past, with some personal relevance this weekend:


Chief of Paris Police On Public Embraces


Paris breathes freely again, the Prefect of Police, M. Chiappe, having declared officially that 'kissing in public is not an immoral proceeding.'

Some time ago (says the B.U.P. [i.e., British United Press]) a Paris municipal councillor, M. Leon Riotor, called the attention of the Prefect to the amount of promiscuous public osculation occurring in cafés, railway stations, and other public places 'and asked that he police should suppress it on the ground that it was immoral, or likely to lead to immorality'.

M. Chiappe's reply, publicised in full in the official gazette, is a severe rebuff.

'It is quite true that people kiss each other at railway stations when saying good-bye or when greeting each other on arrival, but I see nothing immoral in that, and the police will not take any action to stop the practice.

'There is no evidence that such a custom leads to immorality'.

The Daily Herald, 18 June 1928, p. 5.

I am relieved.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's hard to find good help these days...

As part of my occasional series: a few thoughts from 1927 on a problem you may not ever have had to consider: the 'servant famine'.


Continental Girls Anxious to Come to Britain

Ministry’s Bar

Mistresses Whose Needs Should Be Considered

One means of solving the domestic servant famine is the employment of foreign domestics. Many girls from the Continent are anxious to enter British homes, but are debarred by the Labour Ministry.

This is because of the fear that the current British rates of pay would be undercut. In view of the refusal of British girls to enter domestic service the harassed housewife would appear to be entitled to greater consideration.


Many Instances of Satisfied Mistresses
and Foreign Servants

While British housewives find it difficult to obtain efficient domestic servants, they have no opportunity of securing good and cheaper services from Continental countries. Unfortunately, that opportunity is obstructed by the Ministry of Labour, which insists that no foreign domestic servant shall be employed unless she receives the normal rate of pay of a British servant. Many Continental women are happy to accept considerably less.

There are obvious disadvantages in the employment of a Continental servant, who, at least at the outset, will have no knowledge of the English language. It seems hard, therefore, on the harassed manager of a home that she cannot avail herself of this service at a cheap rate which will compensate her for the comparative inconvenience she will suffer.


But the Ministry of Labour adopts the view, so it informs The Daily Mirror, that any extensive importation of foreign domestic labour will seriously undercut the current British rates of pay.

It is easy to combat this attitude. Because such a large number of British girls refuse to undertake domestic service, it is possible for an efficient British worker to obtain any wage she desires within reason, or even a little beyond. On account of this refusal to work in a particular capacity, domestic service has become an occupation which exceptional in this country.

The housewife has interests which are as worth as those of the housemaid. Many Continental servants have been introduced into England. They come from all the Western and Central European countries, and those from Denmark have seemed particularly acceptable. One Danish girl, who in her own country had been a teacher, recently offered to take a post as mother’s help at £24 a year. The Ministry of Labour refused to grant the necessary permit on the ground that this wage was lower than the English rate.


In order to obtain a permit for the engagement of foreign servants the prospective employer must satisfy the Ministry that every possible effort has been made to find suitable labour in this country. In the special case of domestic service this proviso may seem unnecessary. During 1926 permits were granted for 1,917 domestic servants, and there were 478 refusals mainly on the grounds given above.

It is, of course, true that many foreign domestic servants wish to come to this country principally to learn the language and may leave for employment of a higher status in their own countries when the language has been learned. On the other hand many find Britain a pleasant land, and many housewives are glad to be able to retain such women in their service.

The Daily Mirror, 17 October 1927, p. 2.

I note only that saying 'many Continental servants have been introduced into England' sounds rather like it's referring to some exotic species of mammal being released into the English countryside....

Remember: British jobs for British workers! (Though it's half as catchy as 'Danish servants for British housewives!', I would think...)

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Maisie doesn't know

Hah - didn't I say so!

The lamentable dismal tragedy story of Juliet Chantelle, Romeo Alfie and their little Baby Maisie brings to mind the comic routine of the fictional pre-WWII comedian Gorgeous George, retold in Angela Carter's last novel Wise Children (1991) by her narrator-protagonist Nora Chance:
" ... and this boy's thoughts turned lightly to" - big poke in the air with the gold club - "so he says to his dad, 'I want to get married to the girl next door, Dad.'

" ' Ho, hum,' says his dad. "I've got news for you, son. When I was your age, I used to get me leg over - ' "

Roars, shrieks, hoots; but all so much titillation without any substance, I tell you, because he gave them a shocked look, pursed his lips together, shook his golf club in reproof.

"Filthy minds, some of you have," he grieved in parenthesis. Renewed hoots and shrieks.

"What I was about to say before I was so rudely interrupted ..."

That was his other catch phrase.
... was, I used to get me leg over the garden wall -'

He made a fierce lunge in the air with his golf club and looked around, working his eyebrows as if to defy misinterpretation.

'... and, cut a long story short, you can't marry the girl next door, son, on account of she's your sister.'

The air turned blue. Mothers forced reluctant children outside, bribing with ice-cream.

"So this boy buys a bike" - he straddled his golf club, mimicked pedalling, renewed roaring - "and pedals off. Pedals, I said, Missus; what d'you think I said? He pedals off to Hove."

Wonderful diction. Grandma herself couldn't have done more with that long 'O'.

"He comes back, he says to his father: 'I've met this nayce girl from Hove, Dad.' 'Hove?' says Dad. 'Sorry to say, son, I frequently hove to in Hove when I was your age and - '"

He halted, working his eyebrows, manipulating his golf club. Say no more. They laughed until they cried.

"This poor boy, he buys himself a day return, he goes up to Victoria, he meets a girl under the clock. Clock, I said, Missus. But his father says: 'We had trains in my young day, son ...'

Appreciative gurgles.

"The boy goes into the kitchen for a cup of tea. Big sigh. His mum says: 'You've got a face as long as a - '"

Eyebrows. Golf club. Roars.

"What I was going to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, was ... as long as a fiddle!"

They pounded the floorboards with their feet.

" 'Looks like I'll never get married, Mum.' 'Why's that, son?' He told her all about it, she says: 'You just go ahead and marry who you like, son -' "

Split-second timing. That pause. Perfect.

' 'E's not your father!' "

All them DNA-tests paid by Max Clifford and co. really spoil the fun.

"Always looking for opportunities to spread my religious opinions about the kingdom of God and the imminent second coming ..."

Like, for instance, on that popular forum for spiritual uplift and contemplation, Britain's Got Talent. Astute and differentiated commentary on the case of mad Neil Horan (and his bodhran), spreading The Word in a ridiculously short skirt, from my favourite British daily here.

Next stop Oprah.

Eurovision debriefing (or: screw authenticity)

So, they're saying Alexander Rybak's Eurovision landslide is all due to a general craving for authenticity. People are tired, they say, with all that nude writhing and thrusting and playing around with hot pokers. This is what a world trembling in the grip of a global crisis needs:


Well, he sure looks authentically emaciated and manic.

But on closer inspection his winning ticket "Fairytale" is just a little bit of this:

a little bit of that:

and a little bit of the other:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drive-by Eurovision update

Sorry about the light posting from my side of things recently, but there have been unpleasant kinds of workplace-related stress that have been keeping me out of the blogging mood recently.

But, as a brief missive from my world....

While revising an essay on the late (and much mourned) J. G. Ballard, I've kept a little window open in the corner of my screen with a live broadcast from the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, which has become one of those odd-but-wonderful discoveries since moving here eight years ago. I think I've seen most of them live since then, and I've actually had strong opinions about some of the acts in a few of them, which puts me light-years ahead (or behind, depending on how you see these things) of about 99% of people born in the USA. It also signals my, one might argue, as the Germans would say, Integrationsbereitschaft.

Anyway, as usual, most of the music is garbage, but that's sort of beside the point. The show, (even on a tiny Windows Media window) is the thing.

And this year is about as satisfying as ever. Which means: mostly junk, but a few bright spots.

The best things I've seen so far have been Estonia, Germany and Turkey.

Estonia's entry was kind of a standard Enya-with-a-beat number, but, compared to the rest, it came across with an appealing musical flexibilty: you could have added a bridge consisting of anything from ancient Celtic to modern death-metal and it would have worked. A bit standard, but not offensive and rather tuneful.

Opinions are divided in this household about 'Miss Kiss Kiss Bang', the German entry. The Wife is dead-set against. Me, I'm in a more patriotic frame of mind. As usual. I mean...I'm far from a fan of that kind of music, but still: it stands out from the crowd and The Germans have been trying the genre trick recently (swing in 2009, country in 2006), which hasn't worked very well in terms of results, but, still, I'm glad to see them experimenting with something interesting and international. Our Dita was hardly as spectacular as the hype would lead you to believe, but I think this had a certain quality. And, you know, the Finns managed the genre thing a few years ago. Different genre, but still....

Turkey presented, as usual, the kind of Islamic image that comes across well: the sexy version, which so rarely gets a look in. A solid song, nice presentation. I was all for their win a few years ago. But I think they're beginning to get a bit repetitive.

France: nice, classy, melancholy bit dull. Hardly the kind of thing to keep pace with madly hopping Moldovans.

Norway...WTF?! Finnland...WTF? Sweden...WTF? Sorry, the Scandinavians are disappointing this year.

As for the British entry...well, the singer's story--as offered by German TV as a rags-to-riches classic--was far more interesting than the song itself. Andrew Lloyd Webber? Sorry... Nice voice, Jade, but find a better songwriter. The key change at about 2:15 is especially predictable.

This was all written before the results were revealed. I would like to think that Germany had a chance.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Not sure if I'll stay up for the results. I need my rest.

I have a shooting competition tomorrow morning.

[UPDATE] After 5 countries' votes. Norway. Norway? That was shit.

[UPDATE] I'm in the midst of gaining European citizenship. I'm...reconsidering.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Potty, or what?

You know that you're getting old, when icons of Punk wax lyrical about their mogs' potty training in coy interviews with The Times.

For the disgusting, but somehow fascinating ocular proof that cats can poop like humans, klick here. Here's wishing you and your cats all the best in your experiment in cat hygiene, Siouxsie!

I had hoped to be able to post "Lunar Camel" to accompany this vital piece of information, but there was no decent video to be found. So you will have to content yourselves with this:

Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Passenger" (1987)

Monday, May 04, 2009


Like The Wife, I also was pleased to note the pleasant synchronicity of our friends' bicycling tours. My first association, though, was with Jerome K. Jerome's wonderful book Three Men on the Bummel, from 1900, about three British friends who go on a cycling tour through Germany.

(This association is not due to any particular literariness on my part: I just happen to be reading it.)

Some selected excerpts from the Project Gutenberg edition:

I once asked an intelligent foreigner what he thought of London.

He said: “It is a very big town.”

I said: “What struck you most about it?”

He replied: “The people.”

I said: “Compared with other towns—Paris, Rome, Berlin,—what did you think of it?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It is bigger,” he said; “what more can one say?”

One anthill is very much like another. So many avenues, wide or narrow, where the little creatures swarm in strange confusion; these bustling by, important; these halting to pow-wow with one another. These struggling with big burdens; those but basking in the sun. So many granaries stored with food; so many cells where the little things sleep, and eat, and love; the corner where lie their little white bones. This hive is larger, the next smaller. This nest lies on the sand, and another under the stones. This was built but yesterday, while that was fashioned ages ago, some say even before the swallows came; who knows?


To Hanover one should go, they say, to learn the best German. The disadvantage is that outside Hanover, which is only a small province, nobody understands this best German. Thus you have to decide whether to speak good German and remain in Hanover, or bad German and travel about. Germany being separated so many centuries into a dozen principalities, is unfortunate in possessing a variety of dialects.


In the course of the century, I am inclined to think that Germany will solve her difficulty in this respect by speaking English. Every boy and girl in Germany, above the peasant class, speaks English. Were English pronunciation less arbitrary, there is not the slightest doubt but that in the course of a very few years, comparatively speaking, it would become the language of the world. All foreigners agree that, grammatically, it is the easiest language of any to learn. A German, comparing it with his own language, where every word in every sentence is governed by at least four distinct and separate rules, tells you that English has no grammar. A good many English people would seem to have come to the same conclusion; but they are wrong. As a matter of fact, there is an English grammar, and one of these days our schools will recognise the fact, and it will be taught to our children, penetrating maybe even into literary and journalistic circles. But at present we appear to agree with the foreigner that it is a quantity neglectable. English pronunciation is the stumbling-block to our progress. English spelling would seem to have been designed chiefly as a disguise to pronunciation. It is a clever idea, calculated to check presumption on the part of the foreigner; but for that he would learn it in a year.


George, the opposite to Harris, is British to the core. I remember George quite patriotically indignant with Harris once for suggesting the introduction of the guillotine into England.

“It is so much neater,” said Harris.

“I don’t care if it is,” said George; “I’m an Englishman; hanging is good enough for me.”


In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box, and to regard with contempt the few uncivilised outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges. In course of time every German bird, one is confident, will have his proper place in a full chorus. This promiscuous and desultory warbling of his must, one feels, be irritating to the precise German mind; there is no method in it. The music-loving German will organise him. Some stout bird with a specially well-developed crop will be trained to conduct him, and, instead of wasting himself in a wood at four o’clock in the morning, he will, at the advertised time, sing in a beer garden, accompanied by a piano. Things are drifting that way.


This is the charm of German law: misdemeanour in Germany has its fixed price. You are not kept awake all night, as in England, wondering whether you will get off with a caution, be fined forty shillings, or, catching the magistrate in an unhappy moment for yourself, get seven days. You know exactly what your fun is going to cost you. You can spread out your money on the table, open your Police Guide, and plan out your holiday to a fifty pfennig piece. For a really cheap evening, I would recommend walking on the wrong side of the pavement after being cautioned not to do so. I calculate that by choosing your district and keeping to the quiet side streets you could walk for a whole evening on the wrong side of the pavement at a cost of little over three marks.
Rarely have national stereotypes been so enjoyably (and somehow gently and graciously) indulged in.

To be totally honest, I suppose my first bicycling association was actually with the song 'My White Bicycle'. Originally by Tomorrow, the first time I heard it was via The Young Ones and the song from Neil's Heavy Concept Album. (A friend of mine had purchased the latter when it was released and I used to own a much-prized tape of it until it went the way of most of my tapes...)

I can't find that version via YouTube. But the original is plenty good:

I want to ride my bicycle

It's spring, the sun's out and bicycling is once again on the mind of many a blogger - witness the recent posts by Andrew and Francis.

For lack of time, energy and inspiration I hand over to Queen for a musical celebration of the two-wheeled endeavours of our dear friends and their recent heroic exploits in the rolling hills of Southern England and the industrial wastelands of Germany:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

We're up to our necks in love

Status check:

Robyn Hitchcock, 'Up To Our Necks'

Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are

I was in London again last week for a research trip (five days of intensive microfilm viewing at Colindale...both a pleasure and a torture, somehow).

I found the city to be -- as ever -- both quite enjoyable and rather frustrating.

It's that kind of place.

And I'm always grateful for the long train ride along the Rhine that brings me home to my small town.

Anyway, I had the pleasure of making a new acquaintance, for which I am grateful to Chris W (as for so many other things).

Some divine serendipitous gleanings from this research will be appearing here soon (as part of the 'historical bycatch' series), probably after we return from this week's travel to Montreal, where I'm giving a paper at a conference on justice and public opinion.

For the moment, though, as is my wont, I'd just like to register my disgust with something.

There I was, returning to my hotel from a hard day's slog in the archives. Having crossed the Worst Road in the World (i.e., Euston Road), as usual, I rounded the corner onto Upper Woburn Place where, as usual, I was assaulted by a paper-wielding thug handed a copy of one of London's various free papers, London Lite (Friday, 1 May 2009).

Given that we are in the middle of a panic (justified or not, who knows) about swine influenza -- otherwise known in the British press by the more catchy and economical 'pig flu' -- I was interested in reading the cover story, with the subtle title of 'Pig flu hell of London student, 22'.

I got as far as paragraph five when I ran across the following:

Max Clifford, who is representing the family, said: 'He's in a bad way and is suffering from awful sickness and vomiting.'

OK, not for a moment do I wish to condemn someone suffering from a potentially fatal illness.

But still, I had to think: Max Clifford. Max Clifford. A PR agent.

What: given 'awful sickness and vomiting' the first call is to the NHS, the second to a publicist?

Am I missing out on something? I mean, am I insufficiently prepared for the current Zeitgeist when I don't imagine that coming down with a bad case of the flu is the kind of thing that agent?

And this is not just envy speaking.

No, I've had several conversations with myself over the last three hours, and this this has nothing to do with the fact that I've spent the better part of a year and a half fruitlessly trying to interest publishing agents in a fascinating book I've written about a half-forgotten murder case from the past whilst receiving all kinds of lame excuses (when I receive any feedback at all) .

No. I am not bitter.


Except for when I think that instead of slaving away for two years on a sophisticated-yet-entertaining manuscript, I should have just hung around in places likely to generate the pandémie de l'année and sold my story when the projectile vomiting really got going.

Why do I keep missing out on these great opportunities?

(Title reference)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Wordless Weekend Trio

This is a new feature for your general delectation! No comment.

Mother's Finest, "Baby Love" (197?)

Sniff'n The Tears, "Driver's Seat" (1979)

Iggy Pop, "The Passenger" (1977)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Wessen Welt ist die Welt?

It being the first of May and all (which doesn't mean much in the UK, where Labour Day was turned into a pragmatic May bank holiday in, I believe, 1871, let alone in the USA, where all public holidays are corrupted into bloody sales days anyway), I thought I'd post something appropriate.

Here is Hans Eisler's "Lied von der Solidarität" in a scene from the 1932 film - scripted by Bertolt Brecht - Kuhle Wampe:

It is a very wonderful tune, that - and a great frame. It reminds me of a passage in Walter Greenwood's Love on the Dole (1933), in which one of the characters, the (as yet) naive Harry Hardcastle, contemplates the workers at Marlowe's, the local factory, whom he yearns to join. There's a similar sense of distance, of a world removed from the eyes of the beholder:
In a moment this silence would be shattered. Shattered by the influx of the vast concourse of men congregated outside the walls. Before six o'clock the twelve thousand of them would pass through the gates. They crammed the wide thoroughfare, a black mass of restlessness; crammed, saving a strip of roadway kept clear for the frequently arriving, bell-clanging tramcars full of more overalled men. The air stank of oily clothes, reeked with it and tobacco smoke, and buzzed with conversation, with week-end support.

How easily, negligently, these men wore their supreme importance; how infinitely, ineffably superior these gods of the machine and forge were to mere pushers of pens!
Spoiler warning: Harry will, in the course of the novel, be disabused of his idealisation of factory work. Of course.

This version of the song, sung by Ernst Busch, is even better than the one above: