Tuesday, 29 June 2010

beauty queen news

You may have seen the BBC story about Miss Cornwall being stripped of her title because she's not Cornish. The BBC doesn't put up a picture of her. This is for muddle-headed reasons to do with prissiness and a misguided idea of what the BBC is - it is in no way consonant with the millions of other pictures of pretty girls all over the website on news stories to do with anything but pretty girls - here the subject is literally a pretty girl. Here is a terrible picture of Laura Anness, the ex-Miss Cornwall, taken by a not very competent professional photographer:

Where did I find this photo? Yes, the ever-informative Pageant News Bureau, your one-stop shop for this kind of thing. The page describes Miss Anness as Miss Plymouth, which is where she lives. Did she really think people wouldn't find out?*

* Is Miss Cornwall an easier title to win than Miss Devon? Or is it that, just for this year, Laura knew for sure she was a crucial bit less pretty than some Nemesis-milkmaid figure?

Monday, 28 June 2010


1. My mother taught me to make coleslaw. The secret blew my mind and is well worth an Inspiring Photo Essay. You'll have to wait a couple of weeks for it, though, for various reasons.

2. Elizabeth I was romantically besieged by Eric the Swede. She rebuffed him, and he eventually married Kate the Nut Girl, a nutseller he fancied and whose virtue was impregnable (he had a type). I don't know where Cuppy found this story. You can get a version of it on Google, but only in one place, which is rare. Google is interesting. I wonder if anyone else has noticed that.

department of too literal metaphors

I listen to The Archers, and there it is. It's often excruciating. On Monday, philandery Brian - about to enter the next stage of Ambridge's JR Ewing vs Cliff Barnes struggle with Matt Crawford - met up with an old colleague called Benedict who has a new, young wife, Amanda. We meet Amanda via the following dialogue:
Amanda - Mike's caught a super two-pounder! He said it had put up quite a fight.
Benedict - That's what you love most, isn't it, darling? The battle of wits while you're reeling them in.
Amanda - That's the best part. Everything afterwards is an anticlimax. I suppose you two have been chewing the fat over land prices ... Can we look at the riding course you mentioned, Brian?
I wonder if there was anyone at the meeting thinking, 'Hmm, obviously this is good. I'm not saying it's not good. But a bit too on the nail, perhaps? Just a bit?'

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Melons and Modigliani

I was in Kew Gardens the other day, falling in love with the Atlas Ceder. There was a photo exhibition. This was my favourite:

Saturday, 26 June 2010

further on bradman

Possibilities about Bradmanesque, Isner-Mahut records (see post below for context) have been raised via Twitter:

1. Federer reached 22 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, and the next greatest runs were Lendl and Laver, both on 10.

I say: the magical thing about Bradman and Isner-Mahut is that they absolutely, definitively embody a very simple truth about a major sport. Who was the best batsman ever? What was the longest ever match?

Federer's record might be - history suggests is - just as unbreakable. Fair play, but it feels to me a fundamentally less interesting record. Injuries, one other player's miraculous day or other factors might break such a stat. Someone else, for instance, might have been a greater player than the Fed for longer and still not have the stat, and 'Who was the greatest player' is a more interesting question than 'Who reached the most consecutive grand slam semi-finals, indicating consistency of excellence over a long time.' It is A measure of that thing, but not THE measure. A cricket average is not a perfect measure of batting, but the astonishing gap between Bradman and everyone else means that it doesn't have to be.

For instance, tennis-wise, Rod Laver won the Grand Slam in 1962 before going pro, and in 1969 he won it when pros were allowed to play in the Grand Slam tournaments again (only player to have done it). That's another way of looking at longevity and durability.

2. Nadia Comaneci: 7x pefect 10s at Montreal Olympics. Scoreboards weren't built to cope; had to display as 1.0.

I say: I have problems with subjective scoring systems, and I don't know much about gymnastics. My question: is Nadia Comaneci* definitively, absolutely, unarguably the greatest gymnast of all time?

Any more? I'm really interested in this now.

* In 2006, aged 44, she had her first child. He's called Dylan. So is my cousin. You do the math.

Friday, 25 June 2010

isner vs mahut = bradmanesque

Don Bradman's average is the most astonishing stat in sport, still.* But Isner vs Mahut joined it in the list of things that occupy entirely their own statistical reality. I'm trying to think of other records like them. There must be a few.

* Bradman's test average score was 99. In the history of test matches, only three other players who have completed twenty innings have averaged over 60, and they all averaged less than 61. Only about 40 others have averaged more than 50.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

just quickly

1. Paperback out soon. Blogged about it at Vintage yesterday. Lovely Vintage.

2. One of funny stories emerging from Isner-Mahut is that Ronald McIntosh was sent to commentate on it as a way of cutting his teeth and ended up on the mike for a year and a half. People think Isner and Mahut have endurance, but McIntosh had to deal with Greg Rusedski's inanities hour after hour. (Sample, 'That's Mahut's 76th ace already'.)

There's a third thing. It doesn't escape me but I haven't time to do it justice. If you like Tall Tales, by the way, I hope you are saving July 29th.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

naked footballers

Steven Gerrard showed his torso a couple of games back, and I thought: lots of footballers show their chests and none of them seem to have any hair on them. As it happens, I see a lot of naked men, and so I know this is unusual. Do they all get waxed?

I could believe it, especially of the top ones. They have a lot of free time, and I wouldn't be surprised if they widely embrace a porn aesthetic - their wives and girlfriends definitely seem to.

I have been watching John Isner playing Nicolas Mahut since before the beginning of time.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

since i am obsessed with dead earls

It is astonishing that it took doing a bookswap with Mick Jackson to get his book The Underground Man. It's very good, like everyone says. There is a bit in Edinburgh where the Duke is wandering through a medical specimen gallery:
The lasting impression was of my having come upon an awful carnage, the result, perhaps of a terrible explosion, which had scattered its victims into several hundred jars ... here (the label assured me), suspended in alcohol, was a human heart, looking like nothing but a soft black stone.
The Duke then wonders whether it might not be possible 'to take all these marinaded pieces and reintroduce them to one another? To reacreate out of all these miserable, disparate parts one frail but functioning human being.' But of course not.
He has been unwhole for far too long. If he was put back together there would be no making sense of him. He would be an altogether too vinegary man.

Friday, 18 June 2010

...and they, you may be sure, have richer friends of their own

At Barrow's Farmhouse, as per below, there was a library for guests. I idly picked up an old Fay Weldon book called Little Sisters. I'd never heard of it. I read most of the first page. I wrote the name of the book on my hand, and bought it as soon as I got home. This is why:
We all have friends who are richer than ourselves and they, you may be sure, have richer friends of their own. We are most of us within spitting distance of millionaires.

Spit away - if that's what you feel like.

But, after the manner of these things, Elsa, who has not got a penny to her name (except the remnants of last week's pay packet), knows Victor, who is an antique dealer, who knows Hamish and Gemma, who are millionaires.

And Victor and Elsa, one Friday evening, cursed or lucky things, sit in Victor's big new light-blue Volvo at the gates of Ditton House, where Hamish and Gemma live, and wait for the great teak veneered doors to open and let them through.

Victor is forty-four. Elsa is nineteen, and his mistress. A year ago, when Victor was still a tax accountant, he fished Elsa out of his typist's pool. She flapped and wriggled a little, and then lay still, legs gently parted.

we all have friends who are richer than ourselves

A lot of books are published. Many of them, for no very good reason, slip off the general radar. I have a very interesting thing to say about that in the next post. But first:

I was at a magic wedding in Somerset on Sunday. I stayed at Barrow's Farmhouse, a brilliant b&b in East Chinnock near Yeovil where the hosts said we could have two singles instead of the twin we'd paid for, where they drove us to the wedding in the next village, and so on. They have pigs and a croquet lawn. I have put in all the details so Google may randomly* send people here and see that no less a travel advisor than me advises you stay there.

* This is a poor use of the word 'randomly'.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

owls and other animals

I went to this exhibition yesterday. What do I know from art, but I think Gemma Anderson is special.*

The works are etchings, and they are drawn directly onto copper, from life, with no preliminary sketches. This gives them a quality I can't really describe and which looking at them via a computer screen absolutely doesn't prepare you for, and I nearly put up one up, but I didn't want to misrepresent it. There is a definiteness to them, and sense of depth that I don't want to use the word authenticity to describe because it's a debased word, but I can't think of a better one.

Go and see these. I loved the Ezo Owl, and Fernandina, and all the others.

* McCrum-style warning: Gemma is a friend of a friend, and I have met her once.**
** I think it was Robert McCrum who said that all reviews by people who know people should explain the connection. Whoever's idea it was, it's a good one.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

stupid terry eagleton

Quick round-up of things I wish I had more time for:

1. Terry Eagleton's opinion piece in today's Guardian is hopeless. Its dazzling thesis is that football is the opium of the people. (Telly too.) Eagleton's level of attack would be appropriate to a pretty bright A-level history essay:
If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football
2. Good Irish myth about Fionn, who became the first wise man after eating the Salmon of Knowledge. Beats an apple. It's an old story but I'd forgotten about it until @clairefrilly reminded me.

3. On Light Reading, a creepy story about chickens.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

cuppy! it's been ages!

Hasn't it? Never mind. This is from the Frederick the Great chapter of The Decline and Fall of Practically Everyone ('Finally Frederick William threw up his arms and exclaimed, "Fritz is a flute player and a poet!" By and large this has been the verdict of history.'):
Frederick also did something for what was then believed to be learning. He appointed Monsieur Maupertuis president of the Academy of Sciences at Berlin. Monsieur Maupertuis had once visited Lapland to measure the length of a degree of the meridian in order to demonstrated the flattening of the earth at the poles. As a result of this journey he somehow got the idea that he, personally, had flattened the earth at the poles.

At Mollwitz, Maupertuis climbed a tree to see the battle more clearly, and was captured and taken to Vienna. Only twelve superior minds could understand Maupertuis. And they weren't at all sure.
And, from William the Conqueror's chapter:
The Bayeux Tapestry is accepted as an authority on many details of life and the fine points of history in the eleventh century. For instance, the horses in those days had green legs, blue bodies, yellow manes, and red heads, while the people were all double-jointed and quite different from what we generally think of as human beings. There are 620 men and women in the tapestry and 370 other animals.*

* I don't know who the people were who made the thing, but I know plenty of people just like them.

Monday, 14 June 2010

I am surrounded by a conspiracy shrieking "Fish!" from every direction

That is what I thought to myself when Marie gave me a book the other day. The opening line of the book:
On the verandah of the Buckley's Crossing Hotel, reclining in dimpled leather armchairs, Judges Carrington and Thorpe observed in silence the giant trout shuffling across the bridge.
I am very grateful to have the book, The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon, and the first chapter bodes very well.* But I am not just fish guy.

In other news, I can't wait to go to this.

* It can be really annoying getting hold of books published in Australia. I have been gently trying to get hold of Frank Moorhouse's Dark Palace for ages, having loved Grand Days, to which it's a sequel.**

** I've just bought a second hand or imported copy.***

*** I assume Australians feel similar frustrations re The Kilburn Social Club.

Friday, 11 June 2010

once in a while, a nearly perfect fact

4% of Englanders think England will win the World Cup, say YouGov. 46% of Americans think America will win, say Nielsens.*

*On US sports site ESPN. The first comment, with blissfully: This article is genius. So much truth in this. The Brits need to quit thinking they are amazing and the best at football. Cause' they aren't.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

in aunty mabel's nighty

This week on Spotify, I am mostly listening to Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep. For whatever reason, this is the one I am enjoying most:

Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968)
There’s nothing makes a Greenland whale
Feel half so high and mighty
As sitting on a mantelpiece
In Aunty Mabel's nighty.

It makes a change from Freezing Seas,
(Of which a whale can tire),
To warm his weary tail at ease
Before an English fire.

For this delight he leaves the seas
(Unknown to Aunty Mabel),
Returning only when the dawn
Lights up the Breakfast Table.

It's a very good website.

(I listened to a lot of 10,000 Maniacs in my gap year. I still love Planned Obsolescence. No one else seems to. Stupid other people.)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

the year of the hare

The last time or last-time-but-one I was in my equal-favourite bookshop*, there was moment of serious consternation when it was realised that at no point had they made me buy (made me buy) Arto Paasilinna's The Year of the Hare.

'It's like breathing pure oxygen,' I was told. An odd review, you might think. I wouldn't have come up with it, but after reading the book, it seems just right somehow. Certainly I can't think of one I'd prefer to give you. Certainly don't read the insane, spoilerful Amazon reviews. Also, for what it's worth, I don't think the cover description of '... with an ecological theme' is at all helpful.

It's a Finnish icon, it's very short and I absolutely loved it.

* West End Lane Books being my favourite predated them being on Sky Arts, but this video didn't cool me towards them

Monday, 7 June 2010

alistair darling is not dead

On the obituaries front, the Guardian's post about the Tories' tax cut plans includes:
... the key word is "plan". We need ministers to sound as if they mean it, as the late Alistair Darling was starting to do with his deficit reduction plan after facing down Brother Brown

old warriors

I don't want to be in a war as much as the next man, but if you don't think that obituaries are getting less ... (hmm; less good is one way of putting it, but that's not quite it. It is something to do with grandeur and scope also) ... as the last generation of World War II vets die, then you have no blood, or it's an odd kind of blood you have.*

On April 27th, Vivian Cox: born Bangalore, Footlights and blues hockey at Jesus College, Cambridge, England hockey also, close aide to top brasses during the war, chatting with Churchill and Roosevelt, one of the first four into Tokyo after surrender riding shotgun with McArthur, taught for a few years then became a Producer at Pinewood Studios and of the Royal Command Performances, then made food programmes for telly, in front and behind the camera, did a bit more teaching and then a final pre-retirement period running the Mermaid Theatre and winning an Olivier for translating Henri de Montherlant's The Fire That Consumes. Apparently, he was great fun, knew everyone and name-dropped relentlessly.

* A thought: generations in the modern era have relentlessly complained that their are no mountains to climb. Cox would have looked at the explorer polymaths of his youth and said that the world was so small now... I will think more about this. I might favour you with these thoughts. There was certainly a good thing I read back in the heady late nineties and written in about 1906 which said that the world was now so complex that anyone had to specialise if he (it was 'he') wanted to achieve anything, which meant the end of the grand generalists.

Friday, 4 June 2010

i think the new bits in my back are made of omnium steel*

Generously assuming you to be no fool, you have already read John Finnemore on the length of a giraffe's neck and a good nap. It immediately made me want to do similar things, but I am a busy guy, so I didn't.

But then, a couple of hours later, I wanted to check on the names of fictional metals. I typed 'fictional m-' into the search box. The suggestions were 'map generator; monsters; maps; metals; mothers'. There were no particularly existential moments, but it was interesting all the same.

My favourites from the list of fictional metals on Wikipedia:
- Phrikk, from the expanded Star Wars universe, which is a metal which can survive the destruction of a world**
- Vibranium, which is what Captain America's shield is mostly made of. It is sort of associated with Antarctica and the African country of Wakenda. Specifically it can absorb all vibrations in the vicinity as well as kinetic energy directed at it. The energy absorbed is stored within the bonds between the molecules that make up the substance. This doesn't kill it and makes it stronger
- Unobtanium, which is the funny maguffin metal in Avatar which inexplicably the company does not mine by tunneling OR acquire easily from the floating islands which must be more or less made of it. What I didn't know was that it is a long-standing engineers' joke to describe a non-existent material with desirable properties, as in, 'If you want to carry that load with a single strut, it'll need to be made of unobtanium'***

* Stronger than titanium; weaker than adamantium
** The Frick is my favourite gallery in the world. Coincidence?
*** Or, 'If you want a metal valuable enough to be a maguffin worthy of this ridiculous plot, you can't use gold or similar - it'll need to be unobtanium'

Thursday, 3 June 2010

london assurance

It's magic. You probably have to queue for day tickets, which means getting there around eight (or a bit before) and waiting until 9.30 for the doors, which I did yesterday. I quite enjoy that though, on a sunny day. It's one of those all-in-it-together kind of jolly, well-mannered queues made up of people who don't usually have to queue for things.

The only problem with day tickets is if you're seeing a show whose spectacle is not best-suited to front row seats*: London Assurance looks great, but it's not huge choreography and dancing mountains: front row is more than fine.

* I saw Much Ado About Nothing from the front a couple of years ago. One amazing moment in that production saw Simon Russell Beale, on verge of discovery, leaping into a pond. The moment was more amazing if you didn't even know there was a pond in the set because your eyes were too low. There was a sudden gracefully pratfalling leap, a fraction of sideways weightlessness I can still recall in the cathedral of my mind's eye, a confusion and a splash.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

the natural

I love the movie; I am reading the book. Thirty-four-year-old Roy Hobbs has finally got his chance to play major league baseball. The veteran manager looks him up and down and asks what the hell he's doing there. Roy says that the scout had the authority to sign him. The manager replies:
That's right, that's what I said, but who needs a fielder old enough to be my son?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

today's favourite horse

My favourite horse, today, is the grand old man (horse) of 1920s American racing, Exterminator (great name).

He was huge and ugly, and he was bought to help another horse practice. His trainer didn't think much of him and called him the Goat. Some other guy, who kept watching Exterminator jogging alongside the horse he was supposed to be helping, got the trainer to race him in the Kentucky Derby which he had provisional entry for because of a race the year before, since when he hadn't raced. He won. He carried on winning for years. His jockey said, 'When he was at his best, Exterminator could have beaten Man o' War or Citation or Kelso or any other horse that ever lived on any track doing anything.' That was his jockey, of course.

Seabiscuit fans (if you are not Seabiscuit fan: read Seabiscuit) will remember that nasty War Admiral owner Riddle kept pretending he'd let Seabiscuit race War Admiral and then pulling out. It was the same with Exterminator and Man O' War, except with the latter pair the race never happened, so there will never be a movie.

Like Seabiscuit, he was much happier if he had a pony friend to keep him calm. Seabiscuit's was called Pumpkin. This is the two of them together.

Exterminator ended his life in leafy fields with a succession of companion ponies, all called Peanuts. Keen followers of my (not just my) recent public performances will know why this story entertained me so much today, and who else I expect to be entertained by it. If you are not a keen follower of my (not just my) recent public performances, just imagine what you are missing.