Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Simply Sublime

A really quite beautiful try by the Scarlets against Perpignan, finished off by St Rhys, brought to my attention by my son.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Umbrella Man

Terrific short documentary (with enormous production team) by Errol Morris, brought to my attention by Mr Rupert Walters.  Watch it here.

I ought  to add that it is only six minutes long, so will not disrupt your day too greatly.

If you can't get to it on the link, try googling "new york times umbrella man"

Saturday, 19 November 2011


Playing pool at the Prince Bonaparte
Was not always such a genteel pastime.
I'm not saying you were going to be knifed
Or have your gut perforated with a pool stick,
Just that you got looked at. If you've been looked at
You'll know what I mean. The smoke was good
And the stink of beer, and altogether the sense
Of usedness the place had, like an old tool.

These places are gone now
Because renewal is the luxury we have time and money for
And doesn't the year do it anyway?
Isn't it natural? Isn't there a happy bruise or two
Of purple crocuses on the green?
Don't we rejoice? I

I've not drunk in the Prince Bonaparte for years
But if I went I would miss the smoke and the spilled beer
(Though it's more Merlot now than ESB)
And even the being looked at, and I'm afraid
That in the good food and the new decor
And even the svelte young women, I would not rejoice.  

Wynn Wheldon

NB I'm delighted to say that the great Hugo Williams has considered this poem fit for publication this week in that august and discriminating journal of fine writing, The Spectator

Further reading: The Moon under Water by George Orwell, to be found here

Friday, 18 November 2011


I read this thirty odd years ago and it was wonderful. It is even more wonderful now. A masterpiece in fact. In a hundred pages all the big themes are touched on - the Great War, religion, sex, friendship, art - but what the book is chiefly about is the power of nostalgia. It takes nostalgia seriously. Written from the point of view of an old man writing about his youth, it reflects on what I'm afraid I want to call the 'tristesse du bonheur' - the sadness of happiness - happiness's preciousness and rarity, which goes some way to explaining the bittersweet nature of nostalgia. It is also a love story, with a McEwan-like 'moment' at the end on which all turns. I'm afraid I have to add this to my books of the year. I'm very much hoping that the next book I read will not be a masterpiece or that I'll take too long to finish it if it is.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


This is an incredible story. A Chinese government Ministry wants to award Putin a 'Confucius Peace Prize' for his treatment of the Chechens and his opposition to the NATO action in Libya. Those in a higher Ministry yet don't want to. Last year the prize was awarded to someone from Taiwan who was never made aware that he had won and an unknown girl accepted it in his stead.

Dissident and recipient - to communist fury - of the Nobel Peace Prize (which of course he was not allowed to collect) LIU XIABO remains in prison.

Personally I think the former KGB man and the current communist regime in China deserve one another and should be encouraged to award each prizes every year. Or perhaps they could combine and award the Occupyers a Mao-Stalin Prize for Direct Action.

Altogther very reminiscent of old communist practice. i thought China was supposed to be the 'coming' nation.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Gordon Nunns

Graves of Gordon Nunns, my grandmother's brother, who died on September  1st, 1918.
More information here.

NB Actually this of course is not the grave, but a memorial tablet.


After the woeful 'The Jury', last week's great disappointment, a night of first class telly yesterday evening, beginning with University Challenge, followed by Masterchef, then Andrew Graham Dixon on the Art of America, which had a little too much history and not enough art, but still had AGD doing his immensely engaging stuff.  After this there was a documentary charting the sad story of the theft of the incomparable Barnes collection of post-impressionist paintings by the Philadelphia establishment, which put one off thoroughly from visiting that city, with its undeniably dodgy-looking Mayor and ethically questionable 'charitable foundations'.  This in turn was followed by a documentary telling the extraordinary story of Mark Hoffman, a genius forger but a really crummy murderer (still, to be both these things at the same time is fairly incredible), who attempted to bring down the Mormon church in which he grew up by forging documents calling its founding into question.  He also knocked off the odd poem by Emily Dickinson and letters by Melville, Twain, Hawthorne, and even a copy of the earliest printed document in American history.  I'd like to have learned more about his techniques but I suppose there wasn't really room for more.  Cracking stuff, and the end of a first class evening's viewing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

After the rather wonderful Edward Thomas biography by Matthew Hollis I wanted to read ‘Into the Silence’, the book about mountaineer George Mallory that has had such rave reviews. I took a look at the price and decided against (I have subsequently ordered it from Amazon at less than half the price). Instead I picked up ‘Goodbye to All That’ by Robert Graves, a book I remember my father urging on me when I was about 17 (he and Graves got on very well during a Monitor). And it turns out that George Mallory was Graves’s Best Man (Graves could not imagine Mallory not reaching the summit of Everest).

Well, it is book of the year so far (I discount Great Expectations on the grounds that I have read it before): astounding book. It is written with a dispassionate artlessness that fails entirely to disguise the fact that Graves cannot help himself simply telling stories. Stories of school, stories of war, and stories of peace. It is, nominally, an autobiography, but a less reflective autobiography it is impossible to imagine. Instead we have a sort of Homeric approach which is all about what happens. What we make of what happens is pretty much up to us. Either the author took for granted what we would make of things or he is uninterested in weighing up or analysing. For example, it is not until the later stages of the book that his objection to the war becomes explicit (it was Graves who made sure that Sassoon was delivered to Rivers at Craiglockhart rather than court-martialled).

Graves wass proud of his regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers), in particular the first battalion, walked whenever he could on the hills behind Harlech in north Wales, once ran a grocery shop in Islip, was a professor of English in Cairo (where he taught Nasser), was given up for dead three times, saw ghosts, was a virgin until he married, visited Thomas Hardy and knew Lawrence of Arabia.

The number of characters - people – who die may explain the dispassion. Had Graves lingered on each one we would have a had a very long book indeed. Horrifying. Getting children to read this rather than study history from dry text books would give an altogether truer picture of the Great War. A very good book indeed.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Caitlin Line

I've no idea what is going on in this picture: It looks like two lions snoozing in the sky above Ally Pally. I may be wrong. I like it very much. Check out Caitlin's Goldsmith's blog here.

Well, it's not Ally Pally - it's Crystal Pally.  It is important to know that this is a BIG picture - about nine foot square.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Casablanca debut

The band formerly known as Lo Fi Culture Scene, and now to be known as Casablanca, will play their debut gig at the Islington O2 Academy on 27 November. You can buy tickets here.

You can hear a couple of tracks here. More to be added next week.