Sun, 30 Aug 2015
Traffic Calming

It's not everyday you come across a "car" that looks like this, parked up near London's Mall. Looks like a 70's era Batmobile to me and it definitely drew some attention.

I overheard the owner (or driver) telling someone how they had to plan their route carefully to avoid any speed bumps (the car rides low), and how it wasn't very waterproof. Maybe not a good combination in London. Better in Gotham!

I didn't hear the engine running, perhaps just as well.

Tue, 25 Aug 2015
The Future Self

Anatoly Karlin writes about starting blogging again and about dealing with motivation and productivity. Regarding procrastination, something we all do sometimes but can become a big problem for some of us, he has an interesting comment :

When you are procrastinating, you are essentially trusting your future self to do the work that your present self does not want to. But if you make a habit of procrastination, of being unreliable, would it then be rational of your present self to depend on your (presumably equally fallible and unreliable) future self to do that what your present self is too lazy and slothful to do today? It’s grossly irrational and irresponsible!

In Why We Procrastinate, Alisa Opar posits that procrastination is something that we do because we do not consider our future self as being the same person we are. The background to this is the British philosopher Derek Parfit's view of a person's identity as something that changes as they move through time. We are not the same person in 10 years time as we are today: we see our future selves as strangers.

This idea of people becoming different people as they age, and their changing identity, is something that the writer and philosopher John Gray has brought up in his writing. Gray's an interesting writer but I had to pause my reading for a while to recover a bit of optimism about the human condition.

Sun, 23 Aug 2015
Building a City

I watched the BBC's Building the Ancient City and was relieved it was a good, straight-forward history program presented by a proper Professor (Professor Wallace-Hadrill of Cambridge University).

History programs are quite popular and the BBC is well known for doing them well, but in my experience they have been getting worse with far too much emphasis on fancy graphics, portentous presentation and celebrity pomposity. Sometimes, half the show seems as much a "trailer" (for the next 10 minutes) as useful content. Give me Wallace-Hadrill or the great Kenneth Clark any day.

Wed, 12 Aug 2015
Flapping and Squawking

I didn't expect to come across a parrot in a tree on Clapham Common a couple of weeks ago, and it actually turned out there were three parrots in the same tree. I haven't seen them since in my walks but have definitely heard them! Luckily, I managed to get a fairly decent photograph to prove it.

Mon, 10 Aug 2015
Harmonium at the Usher Hall

The Usher Hall in Edinburgh was transformed last week, looking very colourful as part of the Edinburgh Festival opening.

This was the Harmonium Project by a company of artists and technicians called 59 Productions ("We combine technology and art to tell amazing stories").

Harmonium is a choral symphony by John Adams, an American composer, and each movement covers a whole poem by John Donne and (two by) Emily Dickinson. The production involved the projection of light and colour onto the outside facade of the hall, alongside the music itself. It must have been quite a show but nerve-wracking for the organisers hoping the weather stayed good!

You can catch some of the Usher Hall show on YouTube. You can also listen to all the music on YouTube.

Pictures from The Guardian.

Fri, 07 Aug 2015
A Tibetan Adventure

The Rose of Tibet
By Lionel Davidson

Lionel Davidson was a British writer whose first novel, Night of Wenceslas, was published in 1960. His second, The Rose of Tibet, was published in 1962 and I recently finished reading it. He wasn't very prolific, and sometimes took a long time to produce a new book (e.g. 14 years before his last), but he is considered by quite a few people as one of the best novelists no one has heard of!

The Rose of Tibet is a classic adventure story really, about an English teacher who travels to Tibet, sneaking in to the closed country to search for his missing brother. The year is 1951 and dark portents and prophecies are everywhere in the country, as China readies itself for an invasion. We not only have a Chinese invasion, but a beautiful abbess of a remote monastery, a fortune in emeralds, hidden secrets, monkey gods and a desperate survival strory. This sort of book would make a great film, perhaps in a similar spirit to an Indiana Jones.

From :

The Rose of Tibet (1962) is Lionel Davidson’s second novel. His extraordinary and thrilling tale of a haunted land is among the very finest of its kind and prompted Graham Greene to remark: ‘I hadn’t realised how much I had missed the genuine adventure story until I read The Rose of Tibet ‘. Its combination of adventure and travelogue is further proof of Davidson’s great variety as a writer, and caused Daphne du Maurier to say: ‘It has all the excitement of King Solomon’s Mines ‘.

I'm with Graham Greene on this: it's very refreshing to read such a cracking adventure story again. I am looking forward to reading more.

I think the books are out of print, which won't help gaining an readership. I read mine as an e-book but definitely want to see paper versions. They definitely deserve better. I was struck by the extremely glowing reviews I came across a few years ago on the web for this book and his first.

Thu, 23 Jul 2015
A Medieval Festival

As luck would have it, I was in Swaffham, Norfolk, for the weekend of the 18 and 19th July.

This was the weekend the town celebrated the 800th anniversary of the first mention of its market, in the year 1215.

The town held a Medieval Festival, with lots of song, dance, jousting, archery falconry and an old-style market.

We also had King John, Archbishop Langton and the Barons getting together at the bandstand (after the little girls did their song and dance routine to 50's rock and roll).

Lots of people out and about, the Saturday market busier than usual and an indoor arts and crafts fair, plus nice sunny weather.

A town crier kept everyone informed of the various things going on, when he wasn't cajoling a dance with one of the nuns present.

A very pleasant day out although I regret not buying a bottle or two of the "800" year old ale for sale.

Tue, 21 Jul 2015

By Frank Herbert

I first read Frank Herbert's novel Dune over thirty years ago, but having just re-read it, I now realise how much of it completely passed me by. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a fantastic adventure story but the references to the Islamic conquests, jihad, religious prophecy, selective breeding programs and the nature of the spice drug were background details I didn't fully absorb or understand.

The other thing I see now is how beautifully written the book is: it deserves its high reputation and many awards. The only minor quibble I would take is that I feel it ends a bit too quickly; some characters deserve a little bit more time perhaps.

On the right: The cover of the paperback I read back in the day. A wonderful Bruce Pennington painting.

I went to see an exhibition of some Pennington paintings at London's Atlantis Books a while ago. A lovely little show that really made me appreciate Pennington's unique style.

Left: The cover of the new hardback Dune novel I finished recently. A classic deserves a good hardback edition!

The heart of the novel is the coming of age story of the young Duke Paul Atreides, his awakening to his "terrible purpose" and wonderfully drawn relationship to his mother Jessica. The human and social core remains the most important aspect and is never dominated by hardware or science. This is definitely not a "hard" science-fiction book and it owes as much to Walter Scott as Robert Heinlein.

Beautifully written, fast paced and very moving in parts. If you have not read Dune, you should.

For a long time I had heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted feature film of the book from the 1970's, and been disappointed it had not been made. However, having seen the recent documentary about it, Jodorowsky's Dune, I'm perhaps glad it wasn't. Jodorowsky's a very talented author and artist but he was far too keen on his own ideas and bent on changing the actual story. It would not have been the same at all even if it had looked and sounded amazing.

As for David Lynch's film, I saw it on release and did not really like it: too weird and "gothic". Looking at it now however, I see a lot more to like, even though it is obviously very flawed. There is a lot of deeper substance to Dune and the book deserves much more than only an action and adventure treatment. Lynch tried this and failed (not his fault alone) but a worthy try. What would Peter Jackson make of it?

Tue, 14 Jul 2015
What Would Crito Do?

From the letters page of The Economist :

Some argue that the Greeks have a problem with their economic culture. But
perhaps there is hope of change, for they were not always such bad debtors. The
last words uttered by Socrates were: “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius; pay it
and do not forget.”

New York

Sun, 12 Jul 2015
Summer 2015

Lovely summer Saturday morning for a visit to the 2015 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. A busy start to the show as well as the crowd waited for it to open in the sun-splashed courtyard. The courtyard hosts the first bit of the exhibition: a massive steel sculpture (looking distinctly rusty) called 'The Dappled Light of the Sun' by Conrad Shawcross (below). Appropriately named today.

Inside and up the stairs (brightly striped) to the main exhibition that covers 16 rooms, lots of space for lots of painting, print, sculpture and the odd "installation" piece. Odd is sometimes the right word.

Above: sheep and a goat, Dido Crosby (link)

One thing I always notice at the RA is how clean and pristine everything is: the rooms, the ceilings, the paint on the walls, the floors. They do a very good job keeping the place spotless.

Right : A detail of the highly ornate ceiling in one of the rooms. Lots of this sort of decorative style inside, but perhaps a modern "Grayson Perry RA" style paint job?

Below: Erebus (Man on Fire Version II), by Tim Shaw (link)

There is something slightly unsettling about this huge, bug-like mutation of a sculpture in the middle of the room. There is a man's body inside the black mass of exploding substrate, the head bent down and under, arms outstretched.

Below : People admiring a few of the late William Bowyer's works (link).

Right :
CAPTCHA NO.11 (DORYPHOROS), by Matthew Darbyshire

There are a huge number of things to see here, and a lot of pieces that I marked myself as things I particularly liked. I recalled liking Olwyn Bowey's work from last time but there are many others.

Looking back at the web site now, I appear to have missed two rooms! I try and be methodical but didn't manage it very well this time! Anyway, browse all the art at the Summer Exhibition Explorer web site.