Monday, 4 September 2000

Entry #95

Listening to:
Shostakovich, violin concerto no. 1 in A minor, op. 99.
Just read:
Mary Mitford, Our village. This would be a difficult book to read quickly, but it would be well-suited to a "dipping" approach. The short vignettes of settled village life in Berkshire in the early 19th century make for pleasant and often amusing reading. There is no over-arching narrative, so this means that there is no page-turning drive to move from one vignette to the next.
Now reading:
John Byng, Rides round Britain. This is another 18th-19th century personal account from the Folio Society. It has a bit more narrative oomph to it because it is a series of descriptions of trips that the author took in the 1780s and 1790s. I like travel-writing, and Byng has quite an appealing style: blunt and to the point. He complains a lot about the state of the beds in the inns where he stays, and I realised after a little thought that they probably didn't have sprung mattresses in that day and age. March of technological progress, eh?

Wednesday, 6 September 2000

Entry #96

Listening to:
Eliades Ochoa, Sublime illusion.
A recent movie:
High fidelity. This is a film based on the book by Nick Hornby. I read the book 4 years ago while on holiday, and enjoyed it, but didn't remember a great deal of detail from it. Reading about the film in advance, I was impressed by the way that even the terribly partisan British critics said that the film was fine, despite having been shifted in setting from Britain (probably London) to Chicago.

The way the main character, Rob, played by John Cusack, addresses the audience directly ("talks to camera") is initially rather disconcerting, but it grows on you, and comes to seem reasonably natural. His sidekicks at the music shop that he runs are very amusing, and the central romantic plot is well worked out. Not being able to remember the book very well, I can't tell exactly how honest the film is in terms of details (it does invent some skateboarding musical talent, perhaps to give Rob's life more potential meaning than the book does), but at the level of tone and general emotion, it does a great job.

Friday, 8 September 2000

A Proms Concert

Listening to:

Ian Bostridge, The English songbook.


Don’t practice (i.e., attempt to figure out) tumble-turns after doing a fairly arduous swimming work-out.

Beethoven and Stravinsky at the Proms

I went to another Prom concert on Wednesday night. The programme was Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms followed by Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The Stravinsky was only really convincing in the final movement, the Laudate Dominum. Both the Laudate’s and the Hallelujah’s were quite spooky and eerie.

The Beethoven took a little while to get going. The woodwind seemed to have a very harsh tone in the first three movements. The oboe soloes in the second movement, and the clarinet and horn in the third movement were all a bit rough I thought. However, the final movement was amazing. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, some other phrase or moment caught you unawares, and wow! The choir (the BBC Symphony Chorus) must have fielded over 100 people, and this made for some amazingly powerful moments. Bernard Haitink conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

There is a review at the Daily Telegraph.

Monday, 11 September 2000

Byng, Britain and the ways of cats

Listening to:

Puccini, La Bohème.

Still reading:

Byng, Rides round Britain. I’m continuing to enjoy this. Perhaps the fact that I’m a diary writer myself predisposes me to like things that are presented in a journal or diary like manner. I read two complete Tours over the weekend; one round Wales, and the other in Sussex. Byng is quite harsh about the standard of the inns in the former. He also complains about towns being ill-paved, the sort of concern that just doesn't enter into our lives these days, when the whole country is covered in a big, maintained road network. Of course, equally, it is now no longer possible to have the sorts of “adventures” that Byng managed within one’s own country.

For example, he has a bit of a moan about the fact that locals don’t know how to direct him so that he has to rely on other travellers’ accounts and potentially dodgy maps. Locals are also typically ignorant about the nature of the interesting antiquities in their region. One he mentions as having told him that something was an ancient auld thing.

From the LRB of 22 June 2000:

The ways of cats are caught well in her [Rebecca West’s] grieving letter over Ginger Pounce, a fine marmalade creature:

He ... was always very careful not to make a fuss of me, but in a cagey way let me know that he knew I was doing pretty well for him and there were no hard feelings. He had a very reserved, reluctant way of licking my hand in a way that suggested he was saying to himself: I hope to God the woman won't start to think I want to marry her.

Wednesday, 13 September 2000

Entry #99

Listening to:
Mahler, symphony #2 Resurrection.
Here's an interesting interview with Brian Kernighan. Brian Kernighan is famous for being one of the authors of the first book on the C programming language. (The other was Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of the language, so the book is often just known as K&R.)

I've recently found the home-page of James Gleick, who wrote quite an appealing popular science book about chaos theory and the people behind it. He's good on the experience of being a beta tester for an early version Microsoft Word, but I don't think much of his piece on the Ariane 5 crash, which ends with the feeble line:

Fortunately, he points out, really important software has a reliability of 99.9999999 percent. At least, until it doesn't.

Friday, 15 September 2000

European fuel taxes

Listening to:

Couperin, Nouveaux concerts. I feel as if I’ve typed this one in quite few times as I’ve been doing this log. I don't think I listen to it that much. I think it must sense when Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings are coming up so that it can leer up in my subconscious and get itself selected for playing at just the right time. Oh yes, semi-sentient CDs.

A neat story, logged by David Chess a few days ago, about a strange PC bug whereby your computer starts to play Für Elise.

So, is Europe going down the gurgler or what? Many (most?) of the countries of Western Europe seem to have been afflicted with wide-ranging protests about the high price of petrol. People have blockaded refineries, and the supply of petrol has been seriously reduced. Yesterday, the radio said that 75% of petrol stations across the UK had no petrol.

Perhaps even more astonishing is that 91% of people seem to be in favour of the protests. We don’t own a car, so maybe this makes us too insensitive to the problem. There are loads of articles at the Guardian. Characteristically, the Daily Telegraph is convinced that high taxes on anything are fundamentally wrong, and says that they're unfair on British hauliers. This is nonsense, as I will attempt to explain next time.

Monday, 18 September 2000

More on Rides round Britain

Listening to:

Oscar Peterson's finest hour. My birthday present. I’ve listened to this a number of times since then and I’m coming to like it more and more.

Still reading:

John Byng, Rides round Britain. This is coming along well. I read a long account of a trip to “the North” over the weekend. He goes to a variety of places south of Manchester, in an area that I guess is now known as the Peak District. He is very scathing about Buxton. Later in the same trip he goes to East Anglia and Hertfordshire. He goes to Cambridge and hates it. The inn was expensive, of poor quality, and he couldn’t find anyone to let him into King's College Chapel (easily Cambridge’s most famous landmark).

I would have probably read more over the weekend, but we ended up playing quite a bit of Roller-coaster Tycoon. This is a very appealing game, and quite addictive. I’m not much of a park administrator myself. However, as a “backseat driver”, I really come into my own! :-)

As promised, my argument disputing claims that Britain's high fuel taxes disadvantage Britain’s hauliers (truckers). The claim is that French truckers can out-compete their British counterparts because they can get their fuel more cheaply in France. If however, French trucks are competing on the same routes as British ones, then the British drivers only need to follow the French trucks, and refuel at the same places as the French drivers to incur the same fuel costs as their competitors. If the French drivers are not competing on the same routes, then there is no fair comparison possible.

Wednesday, 20 September 2000

Mahler, Elgar and Handel

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 10. This symphony is one that Mahler never finished himself, but which was subsequently published as a “performing version of Mahler’s draft”. Mahler’s wife was initially suspicious of the project to do this, but was apparently brought round to the idea on hearing the initial performances of this version. It does sound like Mahler, and there doesn’t seem much argument against letting the world in on music that would otherwise be accessible only to musicologists, who would be forced to imagine it as they read the manuscripts.

Elgar’s third symphony was recently turned into a performable work in a similar way.

Cute Water Company

I rang the water company this morning to pay our bill. They put me on hold for a little while and played me some music. It was a familiar baroque piece (but not Vivaldi’s Four Seasons I hasten to add), and I thought Good on them for putting something interesting on. A few seconds later, I realised that the familiar music was in fact Handel’s Water music. Nice! I felt like congratulating the operator who eventually answered the phone and talked to me.

Friday, 22 September 2000

Vegemite and Ego-Surfing

Listening to:

Ian Bostridge, The English songbook.

A country defined by foul-smelling, extremely salty black paste? Yup, it’s Australia. Actually, we eat Vegemite in NZ too.

Ever searched for your own name on a search-engine? Apparently, this is called “ego-surfing”. According to this article, it’s also a prudent thing to do.

Monday, 25 September 2000


Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata no. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 Pathétique. I wonder when it was that the word “pathetic” came to have its modern derogatory tone. I’m pretty confident that its use in 19th century English was similar to that in French. Beethoven actually gave this sonata its nickname, something he didn’t often do. (For example, the “Moonlight” and “Appassionata” sonatas both got their nicknames from other people.) I’m not sure who gave Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony the same nickname, but in any case, the use of the word is not meant to imply “feeble, helpless and incapable” in the unsympathetic (ooh, there goes the same word in disguise!) modern sense.

Maybe the modern world is fundamentally less tolerant of helplessness than it used to be.

Still reading:

John Byng, Rides round Britain. No progress with this over the weekend, I’m afraid. I did invade Russia in the Kishinev scenario of Panzer General II. I’ll have to write a game review of PG2 at some stage.

Wednesday, 27 September 2000

Run Lola, run

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 7.

A recent move:

Run Lola, run (Lola rennt in the original German). (IMDb page.) We got this out on DVD and were pleasantly surprised to find that we could watch it fine on our computer. (We don’t have a TV.) In fact, we had to first configure it (yes, you can configure DVD movies (!)) so that we got German audio and English subtitles. I thought it was very enjoyable. It keeps the attention held throughout. It’s not very deep, and doesn’t really repay much extended thought, but I still found it very enjoyable.

Friday, 29 September 2000

Maps and Racism

Listening to:

Schumann, piano trio in D minor, op. 63.

Maps and Racism

An interesting piece on how to demonstrate racism to school children by teaching them to discriminate on the basis of eye colour. It further includes a link to a site selling copies of the Peters Projection maps. These are neat maps, which have the property of presenting the correct areas (one square inch anywhere on this map represents an equal number of square miles). (Another Peters map site.)

Of course, it’s not just the projection you choose that has potential political significance, it’s what you decide to put in the middle of the map. The Peters one puts Africa and Europe in the middle, and cuts through the Pacfic and Bering Strait. Maps I saw when I lived in Canada quite ridiculously put the Americas in the middle of the map, cutting Asia in half at about India. In New Zealand, maps are currently centred on New Zealand, smack bang in the middle of the bottom of the expanses of the Pacific. The cut is then down the Atlantic, at cost perhaps to Iceland and Greenland.