29 November 2006

Dysons at the Dump

Dysons at the Dump, originally uploaded by botogol.

I couldn't resist this - a colourful flock of new-looking discarded Dysons at the local tip.
Not a great shot, alas, but it was using my phone and I only got one go at it: oddly, the sight of me taking a picture triggered a furious response from the staff.

27 November 2006

Boo Hewerdine

An enthusiastic band of the faithful squashed into the noisy back room of the Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham on 26th November, for a lively gig from a witty and on-form Boo Hewerdine.

Belying the slightly uncomfortable performance on his 'Live One' album, and his sometimes brooding on-stage presence behind Eddi Reader, Boo smiled and joked his way through a baker’s dozen of songs accompanied by the winsome, if breathless, Rosalie Deighton on vocals, and the talented fast-learner Dave Marks on bass.

Boo Hewerdine

The small back-room at the Patch, which doubles as the home of Twickenham Folk Club each Sunday night is intimate in the way a top oven is intimate, and it's hardly an ideal venue for a softly-spoken singer. Indeed, from time to time in the gig Boo, like Rosalie before him was accompanied by the not-so-faint sound of bar chatter the other side of the door, and occasional crashing of saucepans from the nearby kitchen. The lack of space was such that come the interval, the trio were forced to hide, hilariously, behind a velvet curtain - hapless Manie Krugers: ‘off-stage’ but with feet and elbows clearly visible.

Nevertheless the homely surroundings seemed to suit Boo, perhaps in some part accounting for the stronger, meatier delivery than typically heard on his records – and beneath the plaintiveness and sadness easily associated with Boo’s music, on this hearing I detected a thread of anger running through the gig, beginning in a powerful Bell, Book and Candle (complete with introductory Emmerdale synopsis), and continuing through to Slow Learner, normally dismissed as slightly too self-pitying, which came alive with the added bite. (Has Eddi recorded this song? I think it would suit her).

That’s not too say our heartstrings went untugged. Teasing his audience by inviting requests (‘Nope, sorry, it’s got to be the one that’s in my head already’) Boo seized on a thrown-out shout of Ontario to set up a trio of ‘dead puppies’:

Ontario, complete with slightly anomalous sing-along chorus, segued smoothly into Murder in the Dark, Boo's depressing, pessimistic picture of married life, and then (abandoning any pretence of requests now) a tight I Felt Her Soul Move Through Me finished the section. Credited on the album to Hewerdine/Reader/Henderson/Dodds, to my mind this song is nevertheless Boo’s own - and possibly his finest. Written after the death of Boo’s mother and Eddi’s father in just a short space of time, it’s a simple but powerful piece with clever and subtle images. Hearing anything sung live often brings out different aspects, and this time the couplet ‘Too late I landed / To say goodbye’ suddenly struck me as the keystone of this short song.

But it wasn’t all miserable. We enjoyed Patience of Angels and - this being a folk club after all - Boo obliged with a new song Harvest Gypsies written for up-and-coming folk artist, Kris Drever as well as the sentimental favourite Follow my Tears; the choruses of all accompanied by an enthusiastic audience.

Boo finished with Peacetime, which will be the title song of Eddi’s new album out in January. Peacetime’s not a new song - it’s on Anon. I’d never really thought of it as a ‘protest song’ before, but that’s how Boo described it, neatly extending and tying off the angry thread that I detected weaving in an out of all his songs that evening.

Boo has recorded eight albums with Eddi, and he told us that Peacetime is the best of the lot. Listening to the song last night it wasn’t hard to imagine it with a Simple Soul type arrangement, with Eddi’s vocals soaring over the top.

A new album! Eddi Reader sings the songs of Boo Hewerdine, perhaps? A great prospect.

Boo’s on tour for a while longer on his own before he joins up with Eddi in the New Year. See him if you can.

Rosalie Deighton
Rosalie Deighton

Set List

Stone in your shoe
Bell Book and Candle
Harvest Gypsies
Patience of Angels
Slow Learner
59 Yards
Honey be Good

Follow My Tears
I felt her soul move through me
Murder in the Dark
16 Miles

25 November 2006

Partick Dixon: Futurolgist

An unusual morning listening to the slightly alarming 'futurologist' Patrick Dixon.

He's an interesting character: so far as I can gather he makes a living with ideas - giving speeches, consulting and writing books, of which he's written many, spotting trends and analysing significance. Good work if you can get it.

He was speaking in a church and his thesis went more or less like this

1) Modern Society isn't sustainable

  • in business, surveys of the 25-35 and 35-45 age groups reveal widespread wish and plans to 'downsize' and leave business. They are disillusioned and lack purpose
  • fast mutating viruses threaten world health
  • birthrates are falling in developed countries (and in Britain the government has adopted an unofficial policy of unlimited immigration to counter this)
  • divorce rates are rising and families breaking down
  • large corporations no longer offer the comforting stability they once did, as they all fall victim to rapid take-overs, restructurings and name changes
  • people are failing to achieve work-life balance - and becoming more concerned about that
2) A sense of the unsustainability and purposeless of much of modern life is causing people to look at the spiritual side of life

  • people are becoming more 'spiritual' than they used to be and realising that we are more than 'a bag of bio-data'
  • and even non-spiritual people, atheists, become spiritual in the face of death
  • but this is trend is unfocused, and too much is wasted on crystals, alt medicine etc etc.
3) The way forward is for people to find Jesus

  • this will provide a purpose in an otherwise purposeless and morally bankrupt society
  • even if it seems unlikely, at first sight, that Jesus was "who he said he was", just the small possibility that he might have been dictates that we should investigate (a weak form of Pascal's Wager)
  • and anyway, if you look around you can see that Christians do good works
4) The best way to find out more is to sign up the Alpha Course

  • this is a challenging 12 week course that offers people the opportunity to find out what Jesus actually wrote (sic)

[hmmm, the logic isn't entirely unassailable , is it?]

Anyway, he wasn't as structured as I've made him seem. The reverse in fact: he gave an emotional speech, with anger, at the modern world, sorrow at what he saw around him, a very emotional and touching present-tense first-hand account of a death, a trembling lip relationship with Jesus. All this with humour and passion as well.

He was good, but he was also slightly scary. I left somewhat glad that he's directed his religious energies in a mainstream direction. I'm sure he wouldn't have the slightest interest in founding a cult, but I half-think that if he wanted to, he could.

I did like and admire

  • his way of connecting trends and features in modern life to make patterns and conclusions
  • his fluency with, respect for and enjoyment of ideas
  • the way he's found to make a living (I'd like his job)

I didn't like

  • his casual way with statistics (but give him the benefit of the doubt, this was an informal talk, presumably his books are footnoted)
  • his furthering of the idea that a life without religion (indeed without his particular religion) is necessarily purposeless and without direction
  • his use of emotion to carry his audience - there was a little Thomas Hardy's preacher about him
  • for a futurologist, he didn't give the sense he was grounded in history (is is really the case that people are more spiritual than in the past? It seems unlikely to me)
But if you get a chance to hear him - especially perhaps in a business, rather than a religious context, go along. He's a good way to fill an hour.

21 November 2006

The very first day that I...

The very first day that I went to the gym at my workplace (with that awkward feeling anyone who has ever been to a new gym will know) I settled down on the first piece of familiar kit - a treadmill.
After 2kms the woman on the next treadmill tapped my arm to attract my attention. Bizarrely she complained that my locker-key, safety-pinned to my shorts, was annoying her. It was jangling too loudly!.
I've been to that gym hundreds of times since, and never had anything like that since.

The very first day at in a previous job I arrived absolutely determined to take all the opportunities a new job offers: above all the chance to create a good first impression
Entering through the revolving doors, I went in just as someone else was coming out, I must have revolved too hard because I caught his heels with the door and he stumbled and swore at me.
I never had trouble with that revolving door ever again.

The very first day that we moved into our very first flat, we set to work sweeping up the builders' dust in the back garden.
From nowhere a little old lady appeared at our elbow. 'You bought this flat?", she asked, with no ceremony. We admitted it. "You want to be careful - there's water down there". And with that she scuttled off, leaving us rather worried. .
In three years we never saw anyone in our back garden again. (She was right though)

The very first day I went to University, the very first person I spoke to seemed like a nice guy - friendly and interesting. University was evidently not so hard as had I feared.
But he turned out to be a Christian trawling for recruits.
In three years hanging around the college bar, I never got approached by a Christian again :-)

Many people seem to have odd first-day experiences like this: odd things that happen on your first day, but never before or since. What causes them?

Three theories:
1) The effect is an illusion. Things like this happen every day, it's just that we only notice, or only remember these unremarkable events because of the 'first day' context.
2) Being nervous or uncomfortable, we unconsciously project an air of vulnerability that encourages other people to mix it or approach us.
3) Fate/God or some other supernatural force enjoys teasing us.

It must be a mixture of (1) and (2), right?

On the very first day after I passed my driving test, I took my Mum out for a drive (as you do) and a tree blew down in the road right in front of us.
I did an emergency stop and came to rest in the branches.
Needless to say, in twenty years of driving since, I've never had a tree fall on me again.

"The Gods, too are fond of a joke"

17 November 2006

Figaro at the ENO / Opera as Musical / Feral Memes

To the Coliseum, a rare excursion to the Opera to see the ENO's Marriage of Figaro.

Slightly odd to have them singing in English AND with surtitles.

The critics didn't like it much. Ho hum: I enjoyed it a lot, but (and get ready, here's the philistine bit...) I couldn't help thinking it was 90 minutes of wonderful entertainment packed into three hours.

"What if", I thought to myself, during one of those slow bits in Act 2, when the central characters were badly bogged down trying to heave the plot along two more tiny steps, "What if you cut out the all the 'sung' dialogue, lost all the twiddly bits removed a couple of the sub-plots and focused more on the real songs? A bit like a musical in fact.."

Luckily, my inner culture-alarm bell rang insistently in my mind, and I refrained from expressing my childish, ignorant thought out loud during our sophisticated, witty, £27 bottle of ice-bucketed chardonnay, interval conversation. Phew.

And then I read in the papers about what Trevor Nunn is doing with Porgy and Bess

A feral meme indeed (How do ideas spread?)

03 November 2006

Rowan Williams' unorthodox Theology

The first programme in Humphrys in search of God featured an unusually deferential John Humphrys interviewing the unfathomable, confusing and confused Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Much of the reaction has focused on Williams' strange lack of Christianity in his answers - only one passing mention of Jesus but much enthusisam for rather formless spirituality, aimless meditation in search of ... question mark (sic) and his rather Philip Pullman-like concept of thinning membranes between our world and...um...God's world.

But what struck me wasn't RW's formlessness - we're used to that - but rather his unexpected deviation from accepted theology, when he seemed to suggest that we are not judged on our lives on Earth, but have plenty of time to make up with God after we're dead.

The interview went like this

John Humphrys: What happens to me ultimately if I don't open that door?
Rowan Williams: If you don't open the door you're not fully in the company of God. And it's your choice.
John Humphrys: And after death?
Rowan Williams: What I'd love to think of course is that after death a possibly rather unusual experience might happen in which you'd say good God I got it all wrong.
John Humphrys: Too late then.
Rowan Williams: No.
John Humphrys: After death??
Rowan Williams: I think we continually have the choice of saying yes or no.
John Humphrys: So that death is not the end of us?
Rowan Williams: Death is not the end of us. I want that's rather axiomatic for a religious believer.
John Humphrys: Ah what, quite so, but I said us meaning 'us non believers'.
Rowan Williams: Non believers?

RW seems to to clearly be saying that there's time to repent after death. Which surprises JH, and which presumably surprises most Christians? That's not what he's supposed to believe is it? I thought that judgement for us non-believers comes at the point of death... and then we've had it?

Curiously the BBC seems to be protecting RW from himself: their transcript of the show has RW saying the opposite. RW's clear 'No' (after JH's - 'Too late then') - is transcribed as 'Yeah' ! Perhaps a cover up, perhaps the transcriber simply couldn't believe his/her ears?

Luckily you can listen to to it for yourself here (it's around 26mins in) and see who is right.

STOP PRESS! The transcript now corrected.

-----Original Message-----
From: Rosemary Grundy [mailto:rosemary.grundy@bbc.co.uk]
Sent: 07 November 2006 15:21
To: botogol@greenideas.com
Subject: FW: HiSoG
Thank you very much for pointing out the error in the Rowan Williams' transcript. This is now being corrected.
Regards Rosemary Grundy
BBC Religion & Ethics