That Cyd! When you’ve danced with her you stay danced with.
“And when the Brits initially kept their distance, Led Zeppelin grabbed America from the opening chord.”
- Barack Obama.
So, is it true that the people responsible for launching the careers of The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix kept their distance from Led Zeppelin? The only test I can think of is to see how well their records performed in the charts. In this, Wikipedia is your friend. And it shows that all of Led Zeppelin’s studio albums did at least as well in the UK as in the US and that Led Zep I (the one with that opening chord) did better.
Face recognition is now starting to loom large, and it won’t be long before etiquette changes in response. The internet has been instructed to email me whenever face recognition gets a big mention, and the emails ever since I said to do this have flowed to me in a steady trickle. Face recognition will soon be a Big Issue, and for many it already is. To photo anyone in public will soon be universally understood as like a potential public announcement of exactly where they were, exactly when. I presume that celebrities of ever decreasing celebrity are already hunted down with such software. Now regular people are starting to track each other. Soon, this possibility will be routine. Governments will want to make it illegal for anyone except themselves to behave like this, but I can’t see how they will be able make this stick.
I wonder where my husband was last weekend. I know where he said he was, but … let’s run the programme, and see if anything shows up. Was he in London with that tramp with the pink hat, I wonder?
That young speaker I heard yesterday for the first time seemed like quite a dangerously clever chap, with a potential big future that I disapprove of. So, www, show me every picture you have, and I don’t just mean the ones with his name attached. What does he do with himself? How does he relax? How does he unwind? Give me some dirt.
That kind of thing.
As the memory of the internet grows, people will be living more and more of their lives in a state of perpetual surveillance, of everyone, by everyone. At present, your name needs to be spelt out and attached to such revelations for them to be revelations. But that is fast changing. Soon, your face will be enough.
When I say “soon”, I don’t really know when all this is going to happen, and be seen to have happened. This may already be happening, or it may only really get talked about a decade hence. But happen it surely will. Whereas I only arrange to be informed when the words “face recognition” appear in an internet news story, it is surely only a matter of time before we can all of us say “show me any picture that looks like this person”. → Continue reading: What happens when face recognition becomes the new reality
German asparagus in season. Heaven.
- Michael Portillo samples the cuisine of Germany in his latest European Railway Journey.
I am greatly enjoying this show, and am recording it. I am finding it to be a wonderfully relaxing and entertaining way to soak up a mass of historic trivia, such as (this week – just as one for-instance) how Eau de Cologne got started. I also learned about that upside down railway that I have seen so many pictures of but have never pinned down to a particular place.
And not so trivia, because Portillo is focussing particularly on the period just before World War 1. Europe’s last golden age, in other words. Railways were not just for tourists, they were for
This week, Portillo was wearing a rather spectacular pink jacket, of a sort that he would never have risked when being a politician.
This quote about the absurd Tory MP, Nadine Dorries, caught my eye:
“Ladies, if you really want to be Gladstone and Disraeli, it’s best not to act like Thelma and Louise.”
Of course, Dorries might secretly want to promote the idea in the public’s mind that MPs have now become so powerless and overshadowed by the doings of Brussels and so on that they don’t really have much point any more, so what is wrong with appearing on some moronic “reality TV” show? However, as a taxpayer, I resent paying this woman’s salary and providing her with an opportunity to make a prize twerp of herself. If she wants to make it in entertainment, she should do what thousands of other young actors, actresses and showbiz types have done.
Oh well, at least it means we don’t have to talk about four more years of Obama just yet. My prediction that he would lose turned out to be a dud.
Of course, for sheer entertainment value, we have Francois Hollande, the president of France, now that Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to four years in the slammer. Maybe the old “bunga-bunga” politician should be put on the show with Ms Dorries.
Last week, on Wednesday October 31st, unaware that this was “Halloween Night”, and entirely for my own personal reasons, I happened to find myself at Piccadilly Circus, in the middle of London. Lots of people were dressed in funny costumes, with a definite bias towards monster masks and make-up that suggested extras in horror movies. I had my camera with me and snapped away. It was dark, but the big adverts flickering away above and beyond the scene ensured that it was quite well lit. Some at least of my snaps came out okay.
Halloween has been on the up and up in Britain for quite a while. But when I was a kid half a century ago and more, the big deal at this time of year was Guy Fawkes Night aka Bonfire Night aka Fireworks Night. Halloween was, then, even a distant American rumour.
Guy Fawkes Night is supposedly tonight. Remember remember the fifth of November, etc. I can’t remember the rest of the words of that nursery rhyme or poem or whatever it is, but the date is imprinted on my brain. But Guy Fawkes Night seems to be fading in popularity even as Halloween has risen up to challenge it. It is now, as I finish this posting before its November 5th deadline expires, nearly midnight, and had I not, in my central London home, been listening out for explosions, I would have heard hardly any. Even with maximum alertness, I heard only a tiny few. I am told that many pet dogs are driven nearly mad with fear by these bangings. If only for the sake of these suffering dogs, I now wish that the Guy Fawkes habit would cease entirely.
So, why is Halloween on the rise, and Guy Fawkes Night in decline? It can’t only be that people want to make life better for dogs. Let me now try to guess some of the ways.
Let me start with the simple impracticality of arranging a bonfire these days. As life gets ever more urban, random clutches of combustible material just don’t get accumulated, the way such stuff did in the big suburban garden of my childhood, or out in the public places of Englefield Green, the outer London suburb we lived in, which really did have and still does have a big “green” bit. Simply for that reason, I should guess that Bonfire Night retains more of its old popularity in places like Englefield Green – even more so in the proper countryside – than it now does in central London. In Englefield Green, there is somewhere sensible to do it on a proper scale.
But even that may not be enough for Englefield Green to continue Bonfire Nighting in a big way. The organising classes, the people who once would have organised public space Bonfire Night gatherings complete with a big bonfire and lots of fireworks, are now obsessed with health-and-safety, either because they really believe in it or because so many others do believe in it that the law now hovers over the slightest suggestion of un-safety. Bonfires? Fireworks? Worst than that, fireworks that children hold? Children being children, following Bonfire Nights in the olden times there were always a few stories of children burnt or even blinded by, e.g. mistaking a proper firework for a mere sparkly thing that you were supposed to hang on to. Then, the moral was: well, kids are kids, and those ones should have been more careful and have been better looked after. And: bad luck, how sad. Now, such incidents provoke nationally broadcast sermons about how We Need Tighter Regulation, and lawsuits that go on for ever.
The Organising Classes would probably now like Bonfire Night to be made illegal, to the point where, if it survives, it will do so as an act not of harmless self entertainment, but of popular defiance against officialdom.
But in truth, Bonfire Night, aka Guy Fawkes Night, is not a satisfactory vehicle for such defiance. After all, what Guy Fawkes Night (to choose that particularly pertinent title) celebrates, is the public execution, by the government, of a Catholic terrorist who tried to blow up Parliament. Guy Fawkes night is an officially sponsored celebration of a government victory over anti-government disruption. If we want to defy the government with a Guy Fawkes themed event, we would do better to fake up a Parliamentary explosion and dance around it in Guy Fawkes masks, like the ones worn in Vendetta, and now at every other political demo anyone tries to arrange in London. The thing that gets burned should be Parliament, not a “Guy”. Having already written the previous couple of sentences I watched this clip from Vendetta, that Guido Fawkes has up today, by way of celebrating November 5th and all that. And in that clip they do blow up Parliament, and a huge crowd all wear Guy Fawkes masks. But this doesn’t mean that Guy Fawkes Night is destined to continue as it was, more that the imagery of Guy Fawkes Night is, so to speak, being asset stripped and applied to other activities, activities which are not confined to just the one day in the year.
As for the fireworks side of things, fireworks work best when resources are pooled, and when a precise time is agreed upon as the moment of celebration. I vividly recall visiting West Germany in the 1980s, over the New Year, and witnessing the night sky of Germany being lit up with ferociously Teutonic unanimity at precisely midnight, at the exact end of the old year and the exact beginning of the new. (I wish digital cameras had existed then.) And I recall thinking how much better this was as way to do fireworks than our British week of tiny little bangs and sputters and sparkles. The point was not that all these German fireworks were paid for by the government. Lots of them were impeccably freelance in their financing, as well as in their manufacture of course. The point was that everyone agreed about exactly when the fireworks would all be detonated, so that all could share the fun, and then go back indoors and carry on with their lives.
Then the same thing happened on Millenium Night in London itself, just as it did everywhere else on the planet. This was far more impressive than any “Fireworks Night” display.
Meanwhile, what of Halloween? What’s the appeal of that? Let me try to count at least some of the many reasons why Halloween, unlike Bonfire Night, is now on the rise. → Continue reading: Is Halloween supplanting Guy Fawkes Night in Britain?
“The only intellectual satisfaction I took from the Dark Knight Rises was when I fell asleep and had a dream about socking Sigmund Freud in the mouth. Analyse that.”
Tim Stanley, in the course of writing a fairly scornful view of the new Bond film, which he hasn’t seen and doesn’t want to see.
I must say that I kind of get his point. Whenever I see a film described as “dark”, “gritty” or, even worse, a potential Oscar-winner, my BS detector comes on. But I generally like what Daniel Craig has done with the 007 role, despite the fact that he goes too far in looking like an army squaddie in a tux. He’s not Ian Fleming’s Bond, but solidly entertaining nonetheless. I am off to the movies on Saturday.
Anyway, this from Stanley is a corker, however unfair:
Here is a photograph of a sculpture, which I recently chanced upon, in the part of the city that is London known as the City of London:
The sculpture is called “Rush Hour”. It said so, on a sign in the ground in front of it. I also photographed the sign. This is a good habit for a photographer to get into. Cameras are not just for taking pictures. They are also for taking notes.
What struck me about this sculpture, as I looked at it and photoed it, was how depressed they all look, especially when compared with London’s sculpted warriors. The warriors depicted on war memorials had any number of agonies to contend with, yet they stick out their chests, jut out their chins, look the world proudly and defiantly in the eye and tough out whatever challenges and horrors they are obliged to endure. These office drudges, on the other hand, have given up. Their eyes point downwards, avoiding any contact with the world or with me and my eyes. They trudge forwards, following the person immediately in front. They do not look like people fighting a war, successfully. They look more like prisoners of war, in a war that their side is losing.
But, when I got home I checked out the website mentioned in the sign in the ground under the sculpture, the sign that I had photographed, and when I did, I got quite a shock. I was confronted by this:
These city commuters are facing the cares and stresses of their lives with a degree of stoical optimism, even heroism, that their cousins in my photograph conspicuously lacked. Urban drudgery may defeat lesser beings from foreign lands, but Britain can do it! We shall prevail! Final victory over financial services industrial monotony will be ours!
I actually had to study the above two photographs quite carefully before being entirely convinced that they are both of the same thing. Are there, I wondered, several versions of this sculpture, in different places? I slowly worked it out. These are the same statues, in each photograph. But the photo at the website was taken by someone crouching down, very low, and perhaps even lying on the ground (which means, for instance, that at least one of the figures at the back is entirely blocked from view). The figures are not on a pedestal, as both photographs make entirely clear. But this other photographer makes them look as if they are.
Particularly significant, as I say, is the matter of eye contact. In my photograph, the commuters dare not look at me. Instead they look downwards. This is why they look so defeated, so ashamed even. But in the website photo, they are looking straight at the camera, and although not happy exactly, they seem proud of what they are doing, and confident that they can face any challenges life presents them with.
The lighting is different, and that does make a difference. But mostly, the difference is in the angle of vision.
The point of this posting is not that the angle you see things from makes a difference. Most of us know this. My point is that, when it comes to the particular matter of human statues, it can make a very big difference, far bigger than I, at least, had realised, until I spent those minutes checking these two photos to be sure that they were of the same thing.
What, I wonder, might be the effect of photographing war memorial statues, statues that are on a pedestal, from a position of vertical equality, or even slight superiority? Suppose, while photographing the figures at the centre of the recently unveiled memorial to Bomber Command, that I had somehow raised myself up to their level, or even somewhat above that level. Might my photographs have looked different in their psychological atmosphere? Would the figures suddenly have seemed less heroic, less like the masters of their fate and more like the victims of it that many of them must surely have felt?
If so, it would appear that pedestals are an even more significant part of our civilisation than I had realised.
“Unlike Mitt, I loathe Sesame Street. It bears primary responsibility for what the Canadian blogger Binky calls the de-monsterization of childhood – the idea that there are no evil monsters out there at the edges of the map, just shaggy creatures who look a little funny and can sometimes be a bit grouchy about it because people prejudge them until they learn to celebrate diversity and help Cranky the Friendly Monster go recycling. That is not unrelated to the infantilization of our society. Marinate three generations of Americans in that pabulum, and it’s no surprise you wind up with unprotected diplomats dragged to their deaths from their “safe house” in Benghazi. Or as J. Scott Gration, the president’s Special Envoy to Sudan, said in 2009, in the most explicit Sesamization of American foreign policy: “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries – they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes.” The butchers of Darfur aren’t blood-drenched machete-wielding genocidal killers but just Cookie Monsters whom we haven’t given enough cookies. I’m not saying there’s a direct line between Bert & Ernie and Barack & Hillary … well, actually, I am.”
Funny how these trends in kid-friendly TV animals go. Back when I was a nipper, we had Basil Brush, Top Cat, the cast of the Magic Roundabout, the Muppets, and the timeless Tom and Jerry cartoons. A later generation had Roland Rat.
Aficionados like to point out that Basil Brush was modelled on the late, great Terry Thomas. Definitely a Tory.
Remember sing-songs down the pub? OK, do you at least remember hearing that once upon a time there were such things as sing-songs down the pub? And Fred would stroll over to the old Joanna and have a tinkle on the ivories…
If this sounds as remote from modern life as the Wars of the Roses, that might be because for the last few years Fred would have been liable to arrest. The Licensing Act 2003 made live music at pubs illegal without a licence no matter how small the venue.
The good news is that it is no longer a crime to play a mouth organ in a pub without a licence.
The bad news is that for nine years it was a crime, and we submitted.
I’ve just discovered, while reading a Guardian piece about and against censorship by Nick Cohen, that Salman Rushdie has just published an autobiographical work about what his life has been like for the last decade or so, while being subjected to the calculatedly frenzied threats of the Islamist hordes following the publication of The Satanic Verses.
I have never regretted for a single second purchasing my copy of The Satanic Verses, and I still have it. But like many others who voted thus with their wallets, I soon gave up with actually reading the thing.
Joseph Anton, on the other hand, looks like it might be quite a page turner. As a general rule I far prefer reading autobiographies by award-winning literary novelists to reading their award-winning literary novels. Whether I enjoy reading Joseph Anton or not, I won’t regret buying that either. Which I just did.
I have yet to discover why it is called Joseph Anton, but I’ll find out soon enough. And … I just did. While inserting that “page turner” link above, I found myself reading this:
So there we are.
Bloody hell, I also just found out: 656 pages! That’s a lot of pages to be turning. Maybe just bits of it, eh?
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