Friday, 26 February 2010

A depressing day at LSE

For the first time in a month, I have travelled down to LSE. It is clear that I have not enjoyed this year to anything like the extent of last year. Last year I really enjoyed the Philosophy of Science course - much to my surprise. In retrospect, this is because of the seminar discussions. That is something I don't have this year. But the main factor is that I don't know the people on the course this year like I knew them last year. Last year there was Caroline, Victor, Leonardo, Anne Marie, Matt, the various Americans, Femke, and so on. This year I don't even know the names of any of the people on my course, yet alone have lunch with them regularly like last year.

So today I was down for John's History of Science lecture/seminar. Much of this term is material we did last year, but today's was pretty good being on atomism and corpuscular theories - something I wasn't interested in last year but am more so this year - mainly due to Kepler's attack of Epicureanism in De stella nova. But as usual, no one wants to get a drink or lunch afterwards.

A brief trip to the library and some new books. Then I figured I would go and crash out in the MSc sudents roon in the Philosophy depeartment building. Stretched out across three chairs I am soon asleep. I wake to hear several other students talking about me - who is this old guy crashed out in our room?

So I headed off for a walk in the rain towards Covent Garden. Then the idea hit me to go and visit the National Gallery and find out some more details of the exhibition I'd like to see of the Delaroche Lady Jane Grey picture. Of course the main part of the NG is free. I had no real plan in mind, instead heading right at the first junction taking me into fairly modern paintings - Renoir's girl in the rain, and so on. Highlights were the Rhetoric by Justus of Ghent and Sassaferrato's portrait of the Virgin Mary

Justus's Rhetoric

Sassaferrato's Virgin Mary - staggering blue colour on the original. Very expensive pigment I don't doubt.

But it is a poor day and I was feeling pretty unhappy as I sat in a pub eating my dinner and reading one of the books I got from LSE library, prior to seeing Satyagraha.

Philip Glass's Satyagraha

At 6:30, after a rather poor day in London, (see next blog post), it was time to wander down to the Coliseum for the performance of Philip Glass's Satyagraha. I suspect that few people have seen two different Philip Glass operas in less that two months - a claim to fame that I am actually quite proud of!

I am seated in the upper circle - the lap of the Gods. Around me are quite a number of young people - are they stand-by students, there do seem to be a lot of them. The performance hasn't sold out but it is pretty full. I bought a recording of this opera in the early 1980s and have a god idea about what would be in store. Yet I was surprised at how the performance setting made me realise just what some of the sections meant. For instance, I had not realised that the crowd in scene I of Act II were laughing, even thought they are singing "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha" repeatedly. I had always assumed that this was just some sort of vocalisation like that found in Einstein on the Beach. But now I am clear on this!

Act 1, Scene I and Act III, Scene III are the highlights in my view, but various other scenes also stood out. I thought the mezzo-soprano was really good as was the woman who sang the role of Gandhi's protector. At around 3 hours, this is still not an easy listen, and the first two scenes of Act III are not the best that Glass has ever written. But this might be because they come before the truly extraordinary Scene III - a bit like the argument that Act III of Parsifal is made all the better by having had to sit through the first extremely dull first two acts.
So for Scene III, Martin Luther King is on a podium at the rear of the stage with his back to the audience and is addressing a crowd. Gandhi is mid-stage and performs alone the most amazing piece of Philip Glass music that I think there is. It is a piece that I know extremely well, but was not affected negatively by this - quite the opposite, I was totally captivated by it. Truly amazing.

Afterwards I walk back to Marble Arch, taking in the evening scenes. A good end to what had been a very poor day up to the evening

From the ENO production

From the Stuttgart production - my favourite scene in Act 1

Monday, 22 February 2010

Joanna Newsom's new CD and concerts

One of the weekend papers had a long interview with the truly wonderful, Joanna Newsom. Much to my surprise, she has a new triple cd boxset out in a couple of weeks. I came across a recording of her in concert in Australia earlier this year and though this had some new material on it, it gave no indication that the new CD would be quite so long!

I first came across Newsom in a review of her early material in Wired magazine. Then, of course, came the wonder that is the Ys CD - definitely the album of the Millennium in my view and one that I listened to incessantly for a very long period of time. I saw her headline the Friday night at Green Man in 2007 (see very early blog entries for a review of this) and have really enjoyed her live shows with the small band. A bootleg video of her in concert in Philadelphia was also stupendous.

Much excitement about the new CD then. Also she is playing two shows in London at the Royal Festival Hall - I once saw the Cocteau Twins there - and I have scrapped a ticket for the first night, May 11th.

So I have ordered the new CD but then have been greatly tempted by seeing it available from an internet site. In the end I downloaded one track, Have one on me - the title track and longest at 11.02. Hopefully this will keep me going till March 1st and the official release

Photo from one of the full orchestra shows

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A memory from years ago that sprang up today

Another quiet Saturday working (but not very well). Suddenly a memory flashes into my head for no good reason. I often wish I wrote down every such event. Over time I would accumulate a fine work of literature - or not.

One Saturday afternoon I was walking home from town when I met two girls from school. I happened to mention that my parents were away for the weekend and so they decided it would be a good idea to come round that night. Who was I to argue against this?

My parents were tea total but received wine from friends each Christmas, etc. A large number of bottles had accumulated over the years. Three or four bottles of red would be drunk that night.

I had (and still have of course) a somewhat eclectic taste in music. At one point I put Fripp and Eno's Evening Star on the record player, side 2, the long track, An Index of Metals - still one of the most amazing tracks ever recorded in my view. We listen to it several times through that evening, each time more drunk of course.

Eventually my two companions started to discuss how different they look from one another! One was tall and very slim, the other shorter but curvier. Both with shoulder length brunette hair, (my favourite still), one with the most amazing brown eyes (also still my favourite), the other with grey-green, and so on. Each time I was asked what features I prefer and I mumbled accordingly. But then, much to my surprise, the girls decided to get undressed so I could compare them properly -I remember this made quite an impression on me at the time!

This is the only occasion in my life on which I have been in a room with two naked girls! It took place in 1979

Why did this memory suddenly appear in my head today for perhaps the first time in a dozen years? Who knows? I wonder if they still remember that night


This morning, I was watching a really old episode from 1978 of Top of the Pops. Kate Bush was number one with Wuthering Heights. One of the two girls above once had a shaggy perm like Kate Bush's. Maybe that's why I suddenly remembered this later in the day.

Can it really be 32 years since Kate Bush was first number one. Recently I have noticed that I definitely experience the events described in Draaisma's book Why life speeds up as you get older.
Teenage Kate - she certainly made a big impression on me!
Mumsy Kate - no doubt would also make a big impression on me!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Historical dramas - a brief flirtation with media studies

For the past couple of days I have been engaged in what can only be described as an aspect of media studies - that much-dismissed "academic" subject. Principally, I have been looking at various presentations of the life of Anne Boleyn. There have been several TV shows about her - at least two series under the title The Six Wives of Henry VIII, such as the David Starkey series from 2001. There have been various dramatizations, such as The Tudors, which I haven't seen but which often seemed to get poor comments in reviews and various earlier versions. And she has been the subject of quite a number of biographies.

And then there are the two movies I have watched this week - The Other Boleyn Girl (again)and Anne of a Thousand Days, the latter in glorious technicolour from 1969. It is only by being immersed in so many different portrayals so quickly that you can see how very different these portrayals really are. Quite eye-opening I thought.

On a slightly different theme, I read a few weeks back about a new TV dramatization of the life of Spartacus (Spartacus: Blood and Sand). This stars Lucy Lawless of Xena fame and is styled in the manner of the movie, 300. The article said that it was extremely violent, but also very explicit - the next stage in the trend established by the series Rome a few years back. Though not yet on TV here, it is on elsewhere and episodes have appeared on various internet sites. I have seen the first three so far. It is clear that this is quite a different portrayal than Kurt Douglas years ago!

I am particularly taken by the character of Ilithyia, the second female lead. She is the bored, young wife of a senator and daughter of someone very important. She is clearly very taken by the gladiators and exhibits a remarkable blood lust. That she speaks in a posh English accent is also quite erotic. I am very keen to see how her character develops over the coming weeks.

Ilithyia, played by Viva Bianca, in Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A bizarre planning story

Just before Christmas we heard that a planning application we had made for changes to our garage had been turned down. Our application was being handled by a architect in Abingdon which has done a few of this type of building in the local area. In early December, he was due to start the appeals process for us, but we hadn't heard anything of this for a few weeks.

When I called him today we were rather shocked to discover that he has left his wife and family and disappeared - supposedly down to somewhere near Torquay - leaving a number of clients in the lurch. Yet Raymond was in his seventies, so it is not entirely like Reginald Perrin

So I have had to start work on this myself. A couple of calls to the Planning Office and I have discovered that the appeal was not filled, but that we still have three months left if we want to. But I also learnt that it might be possible to sort out the objections directly with them, rather than appeal and I am off to meet them in a couple of weeks time. They have also heard of Raymond's disappearance, so my plight to not unique

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Pancake Day

Another day in which I feel I have started to make some progress back towards a decent level of productivity - the last two weeks or so have been pretty poor. My current working day is split between academic work and filling various cracks in the floor of Linda's studio - a good half-term week DIY project.

My DIY is accompanied by listening to episode of In our Times on the i-pod. Today's included programmes on the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Infinity, Supernova and Spinoza. The 40 minute length of these is a rather nice marker of the passage of time

Upstairs, my academic work is focused on Latin and various chapters from The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology. It is accompanied today by two videos that I have recently come across. Firstly, a performance by Bat for Lashes in Spain last year with nice versions of Glass, Prescilla and Daniel. The lead singer certainly has some great outfits!

Bat for Lashes at the Primavera Festival, Barcelona, 2009

Secondly, an amateur video of Lush at the Electric Ballroom in Camden in 1996. I had a ticket for this but couldn't go because of excessive work. I am reminded once again how exotic looking Miki was (and probably still is)

The lovely Miki
The redemptive power of music again
And today is pancake day. Emma reminded me of this the other day and said how sad she was not to be at home where we could have done pancakes together. I certainly have many happy memories of past pancake days. Unfortunately, I forgot to buy more milk today and so I didn't have pancakes either
No doubt they would have looked just like this if I had made them

Monday, 15 February 2010

Back to work & programme on My Lai

So back to work today with a new strategy to try and get me started again. I have a couple of small article / chapters to read and take notes on. I have some planned music for the day. So hopefully I will manage a decent amount - or at least enough to get me thinking that I have started again. It is over two weeks since I did a full day's work.

A decade or so ago (perhaps?) I read Seymour Hersh's book on the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Last night I stayed up and watched a 90 minute show on the History channel about this - Four Hours at My Lai - a repeat of a UK TV prog from some years ago. This was very dramatic stuff containing long interviews with several of the main participants. I would have liked to have seen more about the long process by which the truth eventually came out, as this is a great story in its own right. The scenes with the Vietnamese survivors were especially poignant I thought. I was also struck by the bravery of the helicopter commander who threatened to open fire on the US soldiers if they approached a further 12 women and children in a bunker, and that of the soldiers who refused to kill the civilians.

One of the photos taken by the "official" US photographer, but with his own camera so they weren't censored. Amazing stuff - no wonder the US military is so keen to keep control of warzone reporting these days.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The gloom begins to lift??

A couple of things have just begun to lift my gloom a little.

First up, this week's Biography class was exceptional. We were given a whole stake of primary sources related to Anne Boleyn, together with a 10-page biographical piece. Our task was to try to digest the primary material and consider how we might use each bit. This is exactly the sort of deep thinking class that I am most keen on. My knowledge is Anne Boleyn is actually quite slight based solely on the recent movie, The Other Boleyn Girl, and the small amount I have absorbed by general education, but I have have become very interested in her as a result of this class. So I was instantly considering buying a relatively-scholarly biography of her and examining in some detail how the primary sources have been used.

Included in the primary material was a collection ofr contemporary portraits of Anne Boleyn. This is not much like she looked, but is a nice picture! Natalie Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl

My favourite of a selection of portraits of Anne Boleyn

On a similar-ish theme, one of the weekend papers had an article on Delaroche's painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, especially the rather "up, down, up" view that people have had of it over time. I am rather in the "up" camp, and have always quite liked what might be called "heroic narrative painting". Amazing to think that for years it was rolled up in a storeroom below what is now Tate Britain. The picture is now at the National Gallery and might well be worth a look. Apparently Nancy Mitford once told Evelyn Waugh that this painting was the source of her teenage sexual fantasies - not very clear to me why this was the case

Delaroche's The Execution of Lady Jane Grey from the National Gallery
In Oxford I had a good look at biographies of Anne Boleyn before selecting Eric Ives's The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy. The main rival was Alison Weir's very recent book and I might buy that one as well soon. Ives's book looks the most scholarly. We already have several books by Alison Weir around the house and I would like to get some idea on her career as a biographer
One of my books on doing a PhD has a chapter on "flagging" and I have been reading this for advice on getting moving forward again. Advice was to do some reading in related, but different areas, select and read some short articles and listen to some music. I could do all that I reckon. Interestingly, this particular book was bought and read initially in 1997 - so I have apparently been seriously considering a research degree for the last 12 years.

New downsides, though, include problems with the website from which I download UK TV programme and the death of Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie from my favourite TV show, Deadliest Catch. A couple of night's ago, I was watching an episode when he had really overdone it - awake for close to 4 days by drinking 55 cans of Red Bull. Amazing that he was only 53 - a warning to us all.

And to end on an upnote - we did have a nice Valentine's day meal though Linda is not very well at the moment. An M&S, £20 special, supplemented by one or two extras, and pretty good too.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Back feeling glum . . . .

The brief uplift on Friday and Saturday was reversed strongly on Sunday with a very poor day. No doubt much thought will be spent on the various ramifications of all this. So quite a gloom hangs over the start of the week. Attempts to get into some new reading rather fail - I probably managed less that 10 pages of academic reading today. And earlier resolutions to write more have so far come to nought.

So I worked through more issues of my various professional association journals - a deeply depressing activity though I did find a saving of over £200 on something I have to pay out soon. You can tell things are bad when my main day's listening are albums by the Smiths - though one should also admit that they were superb records. Not even my new books from Saturday can get me going.

One bright spot is an article of women and sleep (the "new feminist issue" apparently) in The Times on Saturday by Naomi Wolf. A very foolish picture of her in pink pajamas accompanies the article and gives the cue for headlines like "In bed with Naomi". Maybe I should re-read her book The Treehouse, which I found a very inspirational in the past.

What a fine picture!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Trip to Cambridge - this week's book buying, cd sales

This week's book buying is partially boosted by the sale of half a dozen CDs. Today's purchases include three other books by Alberto Manguel for a total of just £10 secondhand, including what looks like another really good book, The Library at Night. Also a recent book by Anne Fadiman whose Ex Libris is one of my favourite books and one I have been re-reading recently. Also a book of readings on Neo-Platonist philosophy (including Proclus) and finally - for a complete change - Kim Cattrall's Sexual Intelligence. This years book purchases total £279 so far but are offset by CD sales of £127 for a net spend of £152.
Rather a nice photo of Kim Catrall I thought. I was never a huge fan of Kim Cattrall in Sex and the City, but I did rather like her in one of the early Star Trek films

So off to Cambridge as Emma has arranged for us to have another "formal" meal at Trinity with her. We travelled across after lunch so we had time for a few other things. Linda has bought Emma a new ball gown for this years last May Ball. And while there were sorting that out, I discovered that the Cambridge University bookshop was having a "2 for 3" offer on books from their Cambridge Companion series. And as luck would have it, there are three such books that I wanted, none of which are avilable cheaply secondhand. So I have bought the CC to Dante, Renaissance Philosophy and Arabic Philosophy
For the rest of the afternoon we attempt to assist Emma with her summer trip planning. She has booked a month in Asia already starting mid-July and is working on a trip to Africa in September before starting work in November.
Our formal dinner is all very nice. I have to wear a suit, which I am not keen on, but otherwise it is all good. It is always odd to see Emma in her academic gown and to see how unphased she is by the whole thing (where Linda and I think it is an amazing thing to do). of course if I am accepted to Oxford we could go to formal hall there.
I chatted a bit with Emma's friend Abby, the theology student. In this jobs market, it is a really brave choice to have done such a subject at University. Still I would have interviewed a Cambridge theology graduate when I was at Cambridge. Such a person would be bound to be interesting to have around I would have said. But not sure how Abby is getting on with the idea of a job - seems she is joining the vast group who are taking enforced gap years next year (as are many of Emma's friends)
Linda sleeps all the way home which I listen to some gawd-awful experimental classical music on Radio 3. But at least it kept me awake. Sounded like a recording of various instruments being dropped down a flight of stairs

Friday, 5 February 2010

A slight uplift at the end of a depressing week

This has not generally been a good few days. I have hardly done any academic work but instead have been doing a variety of other bits and pieces. I have been working through back issues of various professional journals (something I hate but which I need as part of my increasingly forlorn job hunt); I repaired the water tank in the loft (so that water no longer drips out of the overflow pipe) and have done some prep work for re-insulating the loft; I have weeded the raised beds in the front garden and planted a load of bulbs; I have continued to sort out stuff in my study - five more boxes out to the garage; I have listed another 50 CDs on Amazon (and sold a few already). All good stuff at certain times but not when I should be working hard on my studies

The problem remains a combination of the delay in hearing from Oxford about the PhD and a recurrence of some domestic issues. Most books on doing a PhD emphasise the necessity for a good support system to be in place. Sadly that is not the case with me - quite the opposite in fact. It is tough to be motivated in such circumstances.
I didn't go to LSE this Thursday as the proposed talk was on Francis Bacon who I am not very interested in. But the biography course was good again - I got a very good report from our teacher which was nice. And I did enjoy Latin again today, even if I made a complete hash of reading my section - too many obscure names of people.

But I have had a slight pick up at the end of the week, mainly due to starting to read one of my recent book purchases - Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading. This is an extraordinarily wide-ranging work and one that I feel I am going to really enjoy. From the opening pages where he describes his own realisation that his love of reading was shared by others, I have been totally hooked.
The opening chapter has many photos of various depictions of reading and I have been inspired to find some of my own off the internet.
Isaac Walton in a window of Winchester Cathedral - of course the phrase "study to be quiet" is not a call to religious contemplation as its location might suggest, but is advice related to fishing from The Complete Angler - perhaps a reminder that I should go fishing at some point soon (if the weather ever improves)

The rather lovely frontplate to the collected works of Erasmus - as edited by Beatus Rhenanus, famous editor and book collector (see below). I have been reading a lot about Erasmus as I plough through books on various aspects of the Reformation - indeed it might be time for me to read a book solely on him - maybe Bainton's classic biography that I have owned for years

Two pictures of Erasmus - by Holbein and Durer respectively

Beatus Rhenanus - the man himself

The tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine - clearly a keen reader

Saint Dominic - founder of the Dominican order of course.

To my mind the most erotic moment in a film featuring books is the scene between Sadie Frost (as Lucy) and Winona Ryder (as Mimi) in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Lucy interrupts Mimi while she is looking at illustrations in what purports to be the Arabian Nights and then claims to have done many of the things shown - at least in her dreams. I am a big fan of this film for all sorts of reasons!
Sadie Frost and Winona Ryder discuss things that might or might not do with their respective spouses in Dracula - pretty sure this scene wasn't in the original book!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Back on late Middle Ages, Renaissance thought

After a few days in which I haven't done much work, caused no doubt by the PhD verdict, I have finally got back into doing some. I have decided not to go up to LSE this week and so I have four pretty clear days this week.

The last couple of days have been spent mainly on Latin. I have got slightly ahead of schedule for the translations for my course and am now working through some of the exercises that we might be expected to do this week. But I am still poor at learning both the weekly vocabulary and verb conjugations and noun declensions. Progress seems good to me (though I haven't had a look at any "proper Latin" per my PhD project so don't have an up-to-date view of how I am doing compared to this)

Also I am back reading some late Middle Ages material (mainly from the history of books and the re-discovery of Greek works from the Arabic). Finally, I have also continued the big clear out of stuff from the study. A dozen boxes have been removed, patches of the floor that have not seen light for years are now clear again. Everything has a veneer of good order.

Today's images are on the theme of "scribes" to match my current reading

Four beautiful pictures - if I had lived in the Middle Ages, I would like to have been a scribe!

Monday, 1 February 2010

The strange tale of the Karl Jasper biography

One of the books I got out from LSE library last week was a biography of Karl Jaspers. I only know a little about him, mainly as a figure on the sidelines throughout Heidegger's life. But I fancied a little bit of a change from the reading I have been doing. On the coach home to Oxford I read about 30 pages, starting from chapter 9 when he is just being appointed a university professor towards the end of WWI. I was quite impressed with this book.

Over the weekend I was sorting out my weekly book order and one thing that I do as part of this is to see which of the books I have taken out of LSE can be acquired really cheaply. So I soon found an ex-library copy of the Jaspers book for less than £2, which seemed good to me, so that formed part of this week's order.

Later on over the weekend I thought I would have a quick look at the other Jaspers biography I bought a few years ago and hadn't liked. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be the same book as I had out of LSE and which I was really enjoying - and which I had just bought a copy.

So I have bought a copy years ago of a book and not liked it, borrowed the same book from a library in the UK and not realised that it was the same book I had already read, liked the book more this time and so bought a copy from the USA, before discovering I already owned a perfect conditioned UK copy.

Still, my existing copy is perhaps worth £15 secondhand, so I could sell this one, keep the cheap, secondhand one, and be up about £10 on the deal. This all links back rather nicely to Bayard's How to talk about books you haven't read, which I was reading in Austria a few weeks back. This has quite a number of points about questions such as whether, if you can't remember having read a book, the book can really be called a book you have read. As I get older, this sort of thing happens more often. For instance, I frequently come across references to articles that I think would be really interesting only to discover later that I have read the article and, in some cases, may even have previously taken notes on it.