Saturday, March 19, 2011

Three Wise Men (and Norbert)

We have a knitted Nativity set in our window at Christmas (doesn't everyone?).

This gets packed away in a big crate with the rest of the decorations in January and stowed on a high shelf in the garage. Except this year, one of our wise men fell down behind the sofa and missed out on being packed.

He's still around. This is partly because I can't be pestered to get the crate down, but mostly it's because it amuses us to have him around and we imagine he is Norbert, the not-so-wise man, who set off from the East with the Magi, but made an absolute hash of following the star (how hard is that ?) and ended up really quite a long way from Bethlehem still carrying his present for the baby Jesus.

Socks, I imagine - I don't believe Norbert's taste in presents is any better than his navigation skills.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stand-up, Stand-up for Jesus

I couldn't quite believe "Thought for the Day" this morning. Some total whack-job (Rhidian Brook) evaded security and managed to deliver a surreal dead-pan treatise on why the gospels are more comic than tragic, before he could be dragged away from the mic, medicated and sent back to the Home for the Bewildered.

I'm no bible scholar, but isn't the story of Jesus highly tragic, with a twist of hope? Not comic, not by any stretch. Jesus by all accounts was a serious man with a serious purpose who was messily killed by other serious men. Yes, it is eminently possible for a sermon about some of the issues in the gospels to be comic and for a talented preacher to make a congregation roar while still making a serious point. But that doesn't make the source text in any way comic.

He was also seems under the impression that Jesus was born in a pig sty. Hello ?!

I'm looking forward to Rhidian's sequel, in which he explains to Muslims that the Koran is more comic than tragic. He should definitely avoid using cartoons to illustrate his points though.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Change in the Weather

Can't actually remember the last time I read a novel from end to end - it has been several years anyway.

I did finally get the chance since I've been on the train to London and not the car - the police get all agitated when you try reading a good book while you're driving on the M6.

I'll probably not wait a couple of years now that I've read "Solar" by Ian McEwan. His protogonist is a physicist with a planet-sized ego and a planet-sized appetite (and not a small planet either). A fairly blatant metaphor for the human race in other words. If you want the plot spoiled, read this bunch of spoilers masquerading as a review in The Guardian, otherwise just trust that the prose is excellent and well-worth the effort. All but one of the characters are one-dimensional but this is absolutely justified since the book is written from the point of view of the Prof and this is exactly the way he sees the world.

Funny how climate science seems to be chasing me around whenever I get cultural - I enjoyed the imperfect but rather brilliant play "Greenland" at the National Theatre recently. Written by four separate playwrights it gives you four different human insights into our present muddle about climate change.

* A teenager who wants to do something and can't understand why everyone else (especially her parents) don't.
* A troubled mother and daughter in family therapy - the fact that the neighbour leaves a light on all night for his dog is a crime against the planet in the daughter's eyes. To the mother though, this fretting over nothing is  a sign of mental illness.
* A geography student on a field trip to the warming Arctic
* A climate modeller's affair with one of Ed Milliband's advisers in the run-up to the Copenhagen talks

The play was treated by the critics and bloggers like a polar bear treats a guillemot chick, but I rather liked its complexity and craziness. Climate change is a complicated subject best left to atmospheric physicists, but our personal and political response to it is even more complex and this is where Ian McEwan and the four "Greenland" playwrights can make an important contribution to the debate.

The polar bear in "Greenland" was excellent too - worth the price of a ticket alone.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stan The Album

I've compiled a Spotify playlist containing all the music I've mentioned even tangentially during the last two years of the blog.

Click here.

It's quite a mixture of songs I love, songs I hate and songs I love to hate. Watch this space for a Dub Step remix sometime soon.

If you love music, have a broadband connection and haven't yet got Spotify, I really don't understand how your brain works.

Update : Playlist now contains everything I could find covering the whole five year life of the blog.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bungee Judge

A number of the inhabitants of my little bit of England get a fair bit of coverage on the front and back pages of the tabloids, so when their business makes it into court there tends to be quite a buzz about the trial.

I've not sat on any of the newsworthy cases before and frankly I was looking forward to reporting here how it feels to be involved in one.

So when I heard that a particular lady was due in court on one of my days, I thought that my chance had come.

I arrived early, around 09:00, went to the retiring room and read the order of business - no mention of the lady in question. One of my colleagues turned up and asked if I wanted to see the cells under the court - she knew one of the security guys well and he wouldn't mind giving us a tour. Excellent idea.

The cells are ancient - very minimal - the main feature being that the heating comes up through the bottom of a long metal bench. The facilities for the prisoners were much better than those provided for the guards I couldn't help noticing, but even so, not even up to Travelodge standards.

The guard's walkie-talkie squawked and we were told we had to leave because prisoners were arriving. We stepped out into the compound in time to see a WPC handcuffed to a very tall black woman in a very short red dress. You can tell I have reached a certain age because my mental reaction wasn't "Phwoarr!" - instead it was "By 'eck, she's not really dressed for this".

We went back to the retiring room to find a District Judge fresh off the train from London. Nobody knew he was coming but apparently we needed to move to a neighbouring court room for a Domestic Violence trial and he was to take care of the rest of the day's business, including the Lady in Red.

Now, I'm not usually a conspiracy theorist, but ... Is it possible that The Powers That Be don't trust Lay Magistrates with newsworthy trials ?

The most damning piece of evidence I can find is that the biscuits in his retiring room were just the normal Magistrate selection - the admin staff hadn't had enough notice to nip out and get the special Judge-quality biscuits made from caviar, saffron and gold-dust before the DJ parachuted in.

As it was, our trial ended up lasting all day and it was challenging and fascinating and really quite rewarding. Hizzonnah next door dealt with the lady in a few minutes and then presumably got the next train back to London. I can report that a racket was briefly made by the members of the press and other interested bystanders, but unfortunately I still can't tell you how it feels to be in the glare of media attention. Sorry.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Weasel Words

I'd like to nominate British Foreign Secretary (for now) William Hague for an award for services to avoiding the damn question.

When asked to respond to a comment from an exasperated colleague that he lacked enthusiasm for the role, he created the following smoke soup :-

“These are historic times and momentous events are taking place and I say to you very seriously that all of us who have taken on the job of shouldering responsibilities at this time must see those responsibilities through for an extended period of time in the face of any criticism of setbacks.”

Now, English is my first language and I can't pick the bones out of that lot - maybe it lost something in the translation from whatever language William Hague's brain speaks. Didn't he used to be a Yorkshireman ?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

What's the deal with Radiohead, Stan ?

... surely they're just another group, right ? Why can't you just listen to the new "King of Limbs" album a couple of times and just darn well decide whether you like it or not ?

The long and short of it is that I'm not nearly musician enough to judge. It's like the first time I tried to read "Ulysees" I thought it was incoherent piffle. This was because I was a simpleton. When I was slightly wiser I re-read it and realised that it was actually the best novel of all time. I wasn't the only one - look at the reviews for "Ulysees" when it came out - George Bernard Shaw (who should have known better) said "In Ireland they try to make a cat clean by rubbing its nose in its own filth. Mr. Joyce has tried the same treatment on the human subject"


It really hasn't grabbed me and shaken me like their previous albums - sorry guys, it sounds to this fan very much like a whole album of B-sides. Very listenable with some nice ideas but nothing that lands the killer blow like on every single previous album :-

Pablo Honey (1993) - "Creep"

The Bends (1995) - "Just"

OK Computer (1997) - every single second of every single perfectly formed track

Kid A (2000) - "Everything In Its Right Place"

Amnesiac (2001) - "Pyramid Song"

Hail to the Thief (2003) - "There There"

In Rainbows (2007) - "Reckoner"

The King of Limbs (2011) - ???

Any Radiohead Head wanting to contradict me need to tell me which album King of Limbs replaced in their Top 3 Radiohead albums and which track from it now features in their Top 10 Radiohead tracks.