Sunday, 25 May 2014

Things I Liked This Week

I am stupidly busy and probably will be until November and so my post on Percy Grainger - sorry, Mahlerman - remains confined to the muddle of my computer in which, somewhere, there are some photographs of the museum in his - Percy Grainger's, that is, not Mahlerman's - honour.

In the meantime, I would like to note the things that I've enjoyed as I've hurried through this last week:

1. A telly series set on Shetland called, what a surprise, Shetland. In one episode, a female police officer, commenting, in a charming Scottish accent, on the very austere living arrangements of a suspect or murder victim - (can't remember which, or wasn't paying enough attention - these sorts of programmes are only really background noise as I pound away on a stationary bicycle doing something horrible but supposedly very good for one's health called Lifesprints, [known more informally in my mind as 'torture']) - amused me by saying:

"Even the Spartans liked to have a few wee doilies around the place."

2. A telly series called Vera, set in England somewhere north of London and featuring a stout, (obviously doesn't do Lifesprints), female detective who calls almost everyone pet. In the one I saw a murder victim's last meal was revealed to have been "chips with curry sauce washed down with a bottle of red wine". This led to a brief but horrifying glimpse of my own total lack of sophistication as my mind, before I could stop it, allowed itself to think that the meal sounded like a very a tempting combination, possibly even a candidate for that night's evening meal.

3. A radio programme in which the British Labour politician Alan Johnson talked about the book that changed his life.

4. A review in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik of two books, one that seeks to argue that some words are utterly untranslatable - looking mainly at French, German and Italian, I think, but also glancing at Romanian - and one that seeks to debunk the idea that the structure of the language in which you are operating has an influence on how you think and what you think. Gopnik says an example given for the argument that language does influence what is thought is the title of EP Thompson's book, "The Making of the English Working Class", which becomes in French "The Formation of the English Working Class". Gopnik sees no difference between these, although I would argue that the emphasis in the French title falls more on the finished condition than on the process.

Anyway, Gopnik goes on to talk about Orwell and his views on lucidity and morality in this context and comes up with a paragraph that somehow made me laugh - and, finding little enough to laugh at in the world, I do like to share that which I find:

If lucid writing is the sign of a moral state, it's the moral state of hard work, keener effort, acquired craft - a desire to communicate rather than intimidate, to have fun with a fellow-mind rather than bully a disciple. Sane and shapely sentences are good because they're sane and shapely.There's no guarantee that they'll contain the truth: lots of sane and shapely sentence makers have had silly ideas. But, like sane and shapely people and homes, they are nice to have around to look at.

5. Finally, having discovered that I will be leaving Canberra soon, (hence, in part, the stupid busyness), I was told of perhaps the most brilliant comment ever made about the place. Supposedly, this remark about Australia's capital was made in a speech by a departing ambassador from Romania:

"Canberra - you cry when you arrive; you cry when you leave."

Luckily for me, I will only be going for a few years. It's an awfully nice place to come home to and, despite all my gripes and moans and the idiocy of its actually having its own government, forsooth, (what is the population - certainly not more than 300,000 people), it's actually one of the nicest places I've ever lived. On the other hand, I could be suffering from a geographical form of Stockholm syndrome.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

On a Tangent

Following my recent diversion into the world of towelling, my memory was jogged about a trip I made to the Percy Grainger museum in Melbourne - all will eventually become clear on that connection, for those who don't immediately see the link. Anyway, I was going to do a post about that weird and wonderful place - indeed, I think I might start a whole series of posts on mad museums.

In the interim though, the Australian federal government brought down its budget and a lot of people have been complaining about various measures that are contained within it.

One measure that was canvassed on last night's television current affairs programme was the intention to restrict unemployment payments to those under thirty years of age, increasing the requirement for that sector of the population to either accept work or enrol in education. In the interests of greater understanding of the issues involved, I thought others might like to hear the views of this representative of the demographic:

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Getting Better All the Time

Living in a society beset by a cult of youth, I take comfort in towels. By which I do not mean that I wrap myself in them or cry into them - I merely note them and feel happy.

For who can deny that towels are pretty awful when young? Certainly at our house no-one wants to go near brand-new towels. We all run screaming from them when they first appear in the bathroom. Even later we hardly tolerate them - they're too coarse, too dry, too unabsorbent. Sometimes, to start with, they actually possess a texture that borders almost on repellent, while even the best of them are pretty unloveable until they've been washed at least a hundred times.

But all of them - even the borderline repellent - improve as time passes. After a few years knocking about the place they begin, gradually, to acquire attractive qualities. And it is age that is the vital factor, the thing that endows them with value. Indeed, the one we all fight over, the one that is the most alluring of all the towels in our household, is the one that still bears my nametape, together with the name of the house I was put in at boarding school, which means it must be no less than thirty to forty years old.

Just reaching its prime, in fact - and towel years need to be double and a halfed, or possibly even tripled, to find the equivalent age for humans. That  means I'm really still a baby, barely starting to reveal my true qualities.

As I say, I take comfort in towels.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Going Straight

Yesterday I tried to describe the ploughing record attempt I went to. Last night on the local television news the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Canberra's Anna Morissseau, (Morisot?) did a much better job than me. Her report is a beautifully edited piece, with lovely interviews and wonderful panoramic shots (her team did have the advantage of a crane from which to film, I must point out). Morisot should go far:

Sunday, 4 May 2014

We Plough the Fields

Today I went to see an attempt to break the world record for the greatest number of heavy horses ploughing in one field. I'm not sure if the world record was broken, but I was certainly impressed.

 Impressed is actually the wrong word - for some reason I can't explain, I found myself strangely moved. There was something beautiful about the sight of these huge gentle horses moving across the landscape with heavily wrapped up - the event was held on the coldest day in ages, on top of a windswept hill near Yass - people in tow. I think it was partly the element of time travel, the sense that one was looking back into a quieter past, where man and beast worked together, rather than man and truck or man and motorbike.
The other thing that made the whole thing so touching was the size of the crowd. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there, mostly country people, that tribe that is part of the legend we tell ourselves about being Australian but which few of us actually belong to. I don't think many of them would ever utter the word 'pamper' or give a great deal of thought to their appearance -  maybe they see the pointlessness of competing with the beauty of the natural world around them or, more likely, they don't have the time or the money.

The uniform of choice seemed to be a drizabone in this weather, but it had to be a thoroughly battered and muddied model. The faces were weatherbeaten, the conversation ran to sheep prices, rainfall and upcoming cattle sales.

This evening some amongst this morning's ploughing enthusiasts may be settling down to entertainment from an intriguing sub-section of the moving picture industry, a genre unknown to me until today:

Stall selling "Farming DVDs"

Friday, 2 May 2014

Like Ian Messiter

At the end of each episode of Just a Minute Nicholas Parsons expresses his gratitude to the person who thought up the idea of the game which makes the show. Such a display of good manners is fairly remarkable nowadays, which is probably why I notice whenever I hear him doing it.

Anyway, I've had a couple of ideas for television programmes and I will tell you about them in a minute. If someone manages to use them, all I ask in exchange for the kernel of the dea is a similar kind of tribute to the one Parsons gives Messiter so regularly.

My first idea might be called Riveting Unreadables. It would be a programme in which people who have come to fame as writers but are actually interesting talkers rather than writers are given a show to chat amongst themselves. The kinds of people I'm thinking about are Will Self, whose books are impenetrable to me but who usually provides entertainment when someone asks him a question and Lionel Shriver who seems to delight in choosing subjects of such unbearable despair and misery that one would only choose to read one of her fictions as a form of penance. Despite this, I could listen to her talk about almost anything - the quality of her voice appeals to me and her intellect has a nice mocking quality, plus she somehow manages to be witty and intelligent without ever seeming to need to whine about being a woman or  aboutbeing ignored because she's a woman or any of that.

 I'm sure there are dozens more writers who could fall into this category - riveting to listen to, rather dull to read. Whatever credibility I might once have had would be destroyed if I were to suggest that James Joyce might fit well in the format, if it weren't for the fact that he is dead. Which is why I won't  suggest it, (because of the credibility issue, not the dead question).

My second idea comes from an experience I had some years ago when one relative was graduating from Cambridge and another rather arty, vague relative turned up in jeans and sneakers and a hooded rain jacket. I had the faint sense that possibly a Cambridge graduation might be one of middle England's big occasions, but thought possibly casual clothes would be okay, given that it was a university after all and the thing was about learning, not fashion. However, when we arrived at the Senate House to queue to go into the hall where the ceremony was to take place, even the slightly dreamy relative noticed that possibly her outfit wasn't quite what it should be. With fifteen minutes in hand, we exited the queue and dashed from stall to stall of the market in the central square by the Senate House. Back with time to spare, just under fifty quid shelled out, we'd managed to assemble a set of clothes (plus "accessories") that suited the occasion and its wearer.

My idea, arising from this incident, is of course to send out people to different market towns and give them fifty pounds and fifteen minutes and get them to try to equip themselves for a wedding or a funeral, a job interview or a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It's Ready Steady Cook but with clothing. The important thing I forgot to mention is that these forays should be filmed. It wouldn't be much of a television show otherwise.

Let me know if any of this is useful. If a programme is made from either of these ideas of mine, I probably won't watch it as I don't care for reality television much - but I'd still like to know.