Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A great song I've not heard for 25 years - Harare Mambos

I found on youtube a track that was one of my favorites years ago after hearing it on John Peel - the Harare Mambo's Kudendere.

The girl who sings the second verse has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard

The Youtube link is


Monday, 16 March 2015

Recent reading 2 - Cedric Villani's Birth of a Theorem

Now this is a curious book.  It is not every day that a book about mathematical discovery is featured on Radio 4.  What I particularly liked about this book was the inclusion of various bits of the actual mathematics, rather than just miss it out as such books usually do.  True, the mathematics is incomprehensible, but that rather adds to the value of including it.

The account of the collaboration on the proof is also very interesting - especially the number of re-writes it went through.  And apparently you can win a Field's Medal before your proof has been accepted for publication.

Sadly I will never win a Field's Medal.  For most of my life this was due to insufficient mathematical ability, but for the last fifth or so of my life, it is due to my age.  Which is a better reason - similar to the explanation about why I will never play in an under-21 international football match

And why do the French produce so many great mathematicians?  And the Hungarians?  And Jews?

Recent reading 1 - Steve Hanley's The Big Midweek

There are quite a number of books related to The Fall - biographies of Mark E Smith, books about all the people who used to be in The Fall ("The Fallen").  One of my recent reads has been Steve Hanley's recent autobiography of his time in the band.

I saw The Fall about half a dozen times in the early to mid 1980s and, though I continued to roughly follow the band since, I do tend to look on that period as being the "golden age", especially as the track Smile is probably in my all time top ten (my preference is for the Peel Session version).  This corresponds to much of the period that Hanley was in the band.

I was particularly struck by the effort it seemed to be to keep the band going - the day-to-day stuff.  Indeed it remains something of a mystery how the band is still going.  As I write this I am listening to quite a recent LP by the band, Ersatz GB, not a record I know well.  And yet the current version of the band is the most stable there has ever been - I assume that is due to Mark E Smith's current wife.

Some years ago, there was a great documentary about The Fall in which Paul Morley wondered aloud whether we had all been fooled by Mark E Smith.  Whether he might not be the genius we all think, but instead was just a drunken tramp who we had all been tricked by.  Hard to tell at the moment I would say.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Knocking down an Outbuilding

I feel that there comes a time in all men's lives when it is necessary to do something manly with a crowbar, sledge hammer, heavy duty power tools and so on.  And at the end of the day, one hopes for a large pile of rubble to show the results of the day.

Today we started on demolishing one of the "petits touts" to open up the garden.  An hour or two is spent on the removal of the tiles and wooden chevrons from the roof.  This reveals that actually, the walls are really thick.  Moreover, one end is covered in an extremely hard render which is very difficult to break through.

Undeterred by such minor set backs, a few hours later it is clear that the petits touts is on the way down.

And by the end of demolition day one, there is something of the view we eventually hope to have of the opened up garden.

Day two sees some serious sledge hammering and the render gradually succumbs. 

There are few more manly sights that a man with his sledge hammer and the large pile of rubble he has created from the sweat of his brow - it is like Corbett posing with tigers in India, or Hemingway with a large tuna.

So the outbuilding is more or less down by the end of day two and now we have the issue of disposal of the debris.  This is scheduled for five or six weeks time and the current plan is to hire a tipper lorry that we can move several tonnes in at once - even so, it is possibly one day's work and three trips to the dump to move it all.  And then we still have to knock down the last sections and dig out the concrete foundations.

It does look more open though!

Building a Wall

It was -4 overnight, but the forecast is that today will be dry and sunny - perfect weather for building a wall across the back of the garage.

So we have a hole that needs to be filled.  We have 50 breeze blocks, carefully calculated to fill the hole (provided we don't make any mistakes)

We have a trailer with a quarter of a tonne of sand, 125kg of cement, a wheelbarrow and two spades.

We have a space on the floor where we can tip our sand

And another space where we can mix our cement/sand mix in the ratio 1:4.

The first row is always the most critical and must be dead straight in all dimensions - up/down and side to side.

The gaps are filled in, and row two commences with a piece cut into two, so the joints don't line up between rows.

This means that the occasional piece has to be cut - the joy of a large angle grinder.

By mid-afternoon, we have several rows in place, and are getting low of mix.  A maximum of five rows should be done on any one day.

So the next day is similar weather.  And rows 6 to 10 go in, with more cutting.  We have 3/4 of a piece left over when we have finished.

Was there ever a nicer wall built (in part) by me?  Most definitely not!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

"Journey on the Crest" and "Wild"

With all the current comments on the movie Wild, I have recently re-read Cindy Ross's book, Journey on the Crest, one of my all-time favourite books.  Is the the fourth or fifth time I've read it?

There was a time, in the early 1990s when I did go through a brief period of thinking seriously about doing a long distance hike but it remained just a day dream.  The closest I came to doing one was when I walked the West Highland Way in 1994 (?).  Cindy Ross's book was one of the ones I read about that time and it remains one of the best books on long distance hiking.  One day perhaps I will go and see The Three Sisters mountains - that might be the limit of what I might do on the PCT!

And in the aftermath of Wild-related press coverage, a picture of Cindy Ross returning to the PCT 30 years later

After finishing Journey on the Crest, I decided I would read the book of Wild.  I did rather enjoy this but some aspects of it do bother me.  Firstly, the walk actually took place in 1995 but was only written about 15 years later and published in 2012.  Secondly, though she does do very well on her walk, she is fairly hopelessly incompetent and I'm not sure I liked that feature of the book.  Though I have no experience of the PCT, I think there is a very good chance that her experiences are quite different to how most people experience the trail.  For some reason, I am also slightly bothered by the fact that she "only" walked 1000 of the 2400 miles.  But the book is very moving and I enjoyed it a great deal.  It hasn't risen above Cindy Ross though.

The real Cheryl Strayed and "Monster"

And Reese Witherspoon, who is very good in the movie.

Some people online has expressed concern that as a result of the movie, the PCT is going to be overrun with idiots.  I am possibly inclined to share that view

A PCT website has a parody of Wild called Rabid, reflecting a 2013 thru-hikers view.  I don't know if it is a full work, but the extract I read was very funny.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Snow in our bit of France - now there's a rarity

Snow overnight - the deepest fall in the Charente Maritime for several years!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Watching Diva - a name from the past, Jude Willetts

I watched an old favourite movie this evening, Diva from 1981.  I think I saw this at a cinema in London when it first came out and it was one of the first movies that I ever recorded on video when I first got a video recorder.

I have always liked to think that I was most like Gorodish - living in his ultra-cool loft, with his strange, electronic music playing, going on about the "Zen in the art of buttering bread", his ridiculous jigsaw puzzle of the wave, the cute Vietnamese girlfriend . . .

But I was probably more like Jules, the postman who bootlegs the opera performance.

Gorodish is so cool

I'd still like a wave water feature!

I remember back at Easter 1982 meeting a girl in my home town.  She lived next door to one of my friends and was really into philosophy and cinema and David Bowie and such things.  We watched Diva together one night at my house - a rather fond memory.

And by the power of the internet, here she is, in a previous work role as Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology.  Who'd have thought.  She is currently also on Linkedin I discovered.

Of course I knew her as Jude Willetts.  Definitely one of the most interesting people I met as I was growing up.

I wonder if anyone looks for me on the internet - I suspect not!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Listening to more Nouvelle Vague cover versions

My current in-car listening are three albums by Nouvelle Vague.  Many if their cover versions have grown and grown on me over the last week or so - for instance, the superb version of Echo and the Bunnymen's All my Colours

But most recently, the outstanding track for me has been their version of Dance with me - originally an absurd track by Lords of the New Church.  There is a marvelous video for this on Youtube that features film from John Luc Godard's movie, Bande a part, which has been synced with the music, and features the three main characters in the movie doing a ridiculous dance together in a cafe.  Not sure if this is the official band video or not.

So Nouvelle Vague issue an album named after a Godard movie, with Godard one of the leading lights of the nouvelle vague filmmakers in France, and possibly illustrate one of their songs using a classic nouvelle vague film.  All very odd.

I saw the film as a double bill with Godard's A bout de souffle ("Breathless") in London when I was a student in the early 1980s.  About time I watched some more movies like this.

The girl in the film is called Anna Karina and was married to John Luc Godard in the early 1960s.  She was actually Danish though, not French.  The hat is very cool, as is the black ribbon in her hair.  I particularly like the little jumps they do.  In the movie, the dance is referred to as a Madison, but actually isn't a Madison.  This scene was said to have influenced Quentin Tarantino and the dance sequence in Pulp Fiction.  Great stuff.

Edgar Froese - RIP

Sad news over the weekend with the death of Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream.  I first heard Tangerine Dream on John Peel when he played a long excerpt from Rubyon Part 1.  What a stupendously great track that is.  The first TD album I bought was Force Majeure, with the beautiful Cloudburst Flight on it.  Since the early 1980s, I have probably heard most of their albums, except some very recent ones.

A real highlight a few years ago were the Bootleg Box series, partially-fan-created live sets which focused heavily on the improvisational, sequencer led shows from the late 1970s.  This morning I have been listening to Live at the Palace Des Arts, Montreal, from one of these boxsets.  The 19 minute "first movement" has been one of my favourite tracks of the last few years.

I saw TD in concert a couple of times in the 1980s and then once again a few years ago at the Shepherds Bush Empire - a show I wasn't that struck on at the time.  There is an internet-based TD project called "Tangerine Trees" which I have also heard a lot of stuff off.  I shall be trying to find some of these recordings later on.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Our aborted plans from last year are back on . . . ?

Last June we felt we were on the cusp of an enormous change in our lives.  Our current home was going to be rented out and we were going to live in France for a year or so while we worked on our latest renovation project.  But much to our disappointment, this didn't happen as planned and in the autumn we formally aborted the plan.

Just after Christmas and the plan is back on.  Our neighbours have some friends who they thought might like to rent the house and we have just had our second meeting with them this weekend.  We are pretty sure the deal is on.  The enormity of this is only just sinking in as I start to work on some sort of plan to clear the garage and move all the stuff we want down in France.

Long lists are being created of everything that needs to be done and by when.  Timelines are being drawn up, and various transport arrangements are being booked.  We are going to have yet another de-clutter and throw out.  And our prospective tenants are going to use a surprisingly large amount of the stuff we don't want to take with us.

So this is it.  Two years away from our Oxfordshire home.  A renovation to finish, sell on and another purchase planned with the proceeds.  A complete break for Wife, who will no longer work day to day.  Vague thoughts about what other things we could do in France.  Plans for visiting various places - Paris, Chamonix, Brittany, Cahors, the Pyrenees, etc.

What impact will it have on the rest of the family?  My mother, Wife's brother, Daughter.

So much to think about.  So much that needs to be done

A splurge of movie watching

We rarely have runs when we see lots of current movies, but we have managed to see three in the last few days.

First up, American Sniper, which we quite enjoyed although felt it spent too long in Iraq and not enough time on what happened when he got back. Sienna Miller was very good we thought, though under used.  I hadn't realised it was a true story - though it was also interesting that Bradley Cooper's portrayal is apparently a much more likeable character than the real person.

Next, The Imitation Game.  I read Andrew Hodge's biography of Alan Turing when it first came out years ago, so this was a very familiar story.  Given that this film also has best film and best male actor Oscar nominations, I have to say that I did enjoy it more than American Sniper.  I have also read a number of Turing's own papers from when I was at university - that seems a very long time ago though

But without doubt, I actually most liked film number three, Wild.  One of my all time favourite books is Cindy Ross's Journey on the Crest, her account of her trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.  So I had all sorts of reasons for looking forward to this one, and was not disappointed.  And I am now desperate to read Cindy Ross's book again - for what will be perhaps the fourth or even fifth time.

Friday, 16 January 2015

A great album I haven't heard for years

For the last year or two, I have been digitizing much of my music collection and selling many of my CDs on Amazon.  In a box containing several hundred cds I have stumbled across Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom - one of the most amazing records ever and one that I haven't heard for years and years.

I remember buying this on vinyl in the 1980s.  The beautiful gate-fold-sleeve cover.  And some extraordinary tracks.  I have probably listened to the track Little Red Riding Hood hit the Road about 30 times in the past three days.  And I'm going to listen to it again now.