Monday, 29 April 2013

Green dentistry

A bit of a proofreading gaffe in our local paper, the Express & Echo, in this story about advances in dentistry (online here). I hope the person concerned is being chastised.

It's not just a geeky scientific point: anyone with a competent level of general knowledge ought to have spotted it.

- Ray

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Isle of Wight - James Redding Ware

A brief elaboration on one of the books mentioned in the previous post, Passing English - and James Redding Ware:

Ware's The Isle of Wight (London: Provost, 1871, Internet Archive ID Internet Archive ID isleofwight00warerich) is worth a glance if you're a follower of Isle of Wight literature. The text doesn't contain anything wildly original: it's a competent enough "me too" IOW travelogue with a lot of the recycled historical and geographical anecdote typical of such books, and a deal of purple prose. It's inexplicably in a typeface using the long s, which makeſ all the referenceſ to Freſhwater and The Needleſ and landſlipſ fairly tireſome to read. But on the plus side it has some very nice photos - ones I've not seen before, in this very well-trodden genre - by two acclaimed photographers, Russell Sedgefield and Frank Mason Good. Check out: 

Brading, from the Down
The Needles from Scratchell's Bay
Ryde, from the Pier
Shanklin Chine
Shanklin Church
Blackgang Chine
Carisbrooke Castle
Lane at Shorwell
Freshwater Bay
Scratchell's Bay

Here are my favourites:

Lane at Shorwell - Russell Sedgefield
This is looking down Shorwell Shute: see Google Maps.

Shanklin Chine - Russell Sedgefield

Blackgang Chine - Frank M Good

Bonchurch - Russell Sedgefield

Freshwater Bay - Russell Sedgefield

The Needles - Frank M Good

Ryde from the Pier - Russell Sedgefield

Scratchell's Bay - Frank M Good
Considering the general coastal erosion on the southern Isle of Wight, it's quite
remarkable how little the cliff profile at Scratchell's Bay has changed over 140 years: see Flickr.

Ventnor - Russell Sedgefield
- Ray

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Passing English - and James Redding Ware

Clare just bought a copy - the modern HardPress reprint - of James Redding Ware's Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang and Phrase.

It's extremely interesting reading. Unlike many compilations of now-historical slang, it isn't a retrospective view on slang terms that "made it" into established language, but a collection of ephemeral and highly local expressions, generally annotated by date and location. From an initial dip into the book, the majority of its wonderfully colourful expressions I'd never encountered before. For example:

Church a Jack, To (Thieves'). To remove the works of a watch from its case, and put them in another, of course with the view of destroying the identity of the article.

Devonshire compliment (W. Country except Devonshire). Doubtful politeness: e.g. Do 'ee 'ave this cup o' tea in the pot; t'ull on'y be thrawed away!'

Oysterics (Mid.-class, 1900-04 on). A coined word, suggesting hysterics, to satirize the panic in reference to oysters creating typhoid fever.

Pusserspock (Naval). Corruption of 'purser's pork' - bad, hard salt-meat, name being given to it because the purser was the purchaser.

Quartern o' Bliss (Low London, 1882). A taking small woman. Diminutive of 'Pot o' Bliss' - a fine woman. 
The book is online at the Internet Archive: Passing English of the Victorian era (Ware, James Redding. Pub. London: Routledge; 1909. Internet Archive ID passingenglishof00wareuoft).

James Redding Ware, the London-born author of the book, is also interesting. He's better known by his pseudonym Andrew Forrester, in which role he was a wide-ranging jobbing writer. His particular innovation was in writing stories of Miss Gladden, one of the first female detectives in fiction (though definitions vary): see The Female Detective (Paul Di Filippo, Barnes and Noble), and No1 in ladies' detective tradition back in print after 150 years (Alison Flood, The Guardian).

He also wrote many magazine articles, plays, at least one novel - The fortunes of the House of Pennyl: A Romance of England in the Last Century (James Blackwood, 1860), and a number of potboiling books, including The Road Murder. Analysis of this Persistent Mystery (1865), The Modern Hoyle; Or, How to Play Whist - Chess - Cribbage - Dominoes - Draughts - Backgammon, and Besique (1870, co-written), The Isle of Wight (1871), Before the Bench: Sketches of Police Court Life (1880), Life and Speeches of His Royal Highness Prince Leopold (1884), Wonderful Dreams of Remarkable Men and Women (1884), Famous Centenarians (1886), Mistaken Identities: Celebrated Cases of Undeserved Suffering, Self-deception, and Wilful Imposture (1886), and The Life and Times of Colonel Fred Burnaby (1886). And these are just the ones under his own name.

- Ray

Monday, 22 April 2013

Jun Togawa sings Pachelbel

戸川純 "蛹化の女" by GO-GO-STALIN

A year back - see Guernica - Kaigenrei - I mentioned the avant-garde/retro Japanese group Guernica. Good to see there are other fans: MetaFilter just had a post - Say you love me or I’ll kill you! - featuring tracks by Guernica's lead vocalist Jun Togawa.

I especially liked the versions of a song called 蛹化の女 ("Pupa Woman"), which is sung over Pachelbel's Canon. The one above is a pretty straight lyrical version over a standard orchestration (it's also at Grooveshark). Then there's this rather rawer live version played against acoustic guitar ...

... and finally a punk version:

They're all brilliant in different ways.

A look at the Jun Togawa Collective website finds a translation:
In a moonlit white forest
Dig at the foot of the trees
To find many pupas of the cicadas, ah

My overwhelming love for you has changed me
In the woods under frozen moonlight
Sipping sap from the tree, I am an insect

When you are to notice me
The girl who has changed into an insect
With an amber colored stomach
Shall have a parasitic plant
Growing stems of sorrow on her amber colored back

In a moonlit white forest
Dig at the foot of the trees
To find many pupas of the cicada, ah
My overwhelming love for you has changed me
In the wood under frozen moonlight
Sipping sap from the tree, I am an insect
So it's a song about unrequited love: the narrator has been waiting so long that she feels like a cicada pupa, waiting for years underground for its day of release. Personally I find it a poignant metaphor, but I rather concluded that Clare isn't a romantic soul. When I told her about the song's scenario, she said of the narrator - and I quote this with her permission - "she should get over it". :)

- Ray

Friday, 19 April 2013

Enchanted April

The rather heavy-handed Miramax trailer

We were just re-watching the 1991 film Enchanted April, which is very worth seeing.

The story concerns a group of four women who rent an Italian coastal castle, San Salvatore, in the early 1920s. All have problems:  Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot have unsatisfactory marriages to men who don't appreciate them (Lottie's husband is a humourless Pooterish social climber, Rose's an aimable buffoon); Mrs. Fisher is an elderly woman who hides her insecurities behind infirmity, name-dropping and a waspish manner; and Caroline Dester is a rich society beauty who's feeling burnt out by the meaningless of upper-crust life (her male friends are straight out of the Drones Club). The four go to the castle, and its atmosphere helps resolve their separate angsts, even winning over Lottie and Rose's husbands when they too visit.

While the scenery is beautiful (surprisingly and evocatively reminiscent of a number of southern English cliff and undercliff locations) and the characterisation perfect, the plot is minimal: there's a little conflict beyond bickering over rooms and personal space; a little romance, but not wildly so; and a little wry and gentle social comedy. But the mix somehow works perfectly. It's seems no accident that the mansion's name means "saviour", and perhaps the central thrust of the story is what San Salvatore does to people: it seems akin to the benign house in John Buchan's Fullcircle: Martin Peckwether's Story, in which an unpleasantly earnest young intellectual couple move into a Restoration mansion and become altered by it, until their attitudes become those of its amiable originator (see previously Life and death in Bludleigh). Enchanted April has a strong theme of regeneration and change, as in its anecdote - reprised in the closing credits - concerning a walking stick left in the ground sprouting into a tree.
Mrs. Fisher thought highly of this story, and often spoke of it. It was about a cherrywood walking-stick. Briggs's father had thrust this stick into the ground at that spot, and said to Domenico's father, who was then the gardener, "Here we will have an oleander." And Briggs's father left the stick in the ground as a reminder to Domenico's father, and presently—how long afterwards nobody remembered—the stick began to sprout, and it was an oleander.
- The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1922
Castello Brown: image by Stan Shebs, reproduced from Wikimedia Commons
under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The filming location for San Salvatore was Castello Brown above Portofino, a much-modified 16th century fort that's now a house museum. Elizabeth von Arnim - check out her interesting life - who wrote the novel the film is very faithfully based on, visited (and wrote the book) there in 1922. As she died in 1941, many of her works are out of copyright including The Enchanted April (Project Gutenberg #16389)

See also Project Gutenberg: Von Arnim, Elizabeth, 1866-1941.

- Ray

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Exmouth Museum - small but perfectly formed

Pardon the lack of posts lately. It's nothing sinister; I've just been massively busy practising for next week's The Mysteries production (see left sidebar). But last week I took myself out for the morning, and paid a long-overdue visit to Exmouth Museum.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Exeter Fountain Project and other public art

Passing through Exeter today, we saw Simon Ruscoe's temporary sculpture installation Only Hope Remains on the central square of Princesshay. It's part of a series - seven steel figures struggling to stay above an imaginary waterline - which Ruscoe calls The Exeter Fountain Project: "a response to the major fears, angers, frustrations amd struggles faced by humanity today".

From the press release:
20 foot sculpture appears overnight in Princesshay

On Friday 29th March, a 20 foot steel sculpture appeared unannounced and overnight in Princesshay’s main square. Exeter born artist Simon Ruscoe's sculpture, Only Hope Remains, is set to amaze shoppers in the city for two weeks during the Easter holidays.

In 2004 Ruscoe embarked on the creation of a massive collective sculpture with the ambition of seeing it on permanent display in the city; the work is now almost complete. The sculpture on display in Princesshay is one of seven steel figures, some over twenty feet in height, struggling to stay above an imaginary waterline which Ruscoe labels The Exeter Fountain Project. These incredible sculptures are made up of over ten thousand pieces of metal, each one cut by the artist’s hand. Ruscoe’s vision is that the figures be situated in water to create stunning reflections that could be floodlit to achieve maximum impact.

The figures are a reaction to injustices in society, reflecting tensions and troubles that exist in our times. While each figure can stand alone, as a group, they are united in their struggle for survival. Simon Ruscoe comments, ‘Over the last few years, living in this country has got increasingly hard for the majority of people. Most of us have to work harder and harder simply to maintain our lives, for many just surviving is a real and frightening reality. Holding your head and your family’s above water is symbolic of the harsh day to day reality of our times. The figures I have created are neither emerging nor drowning. They question the future, who will sink or swim?’

Ruscoe is aware that the work might be contentious but he believes; ‘My intention has never been to offend people. I believe that my sculptures are both beautiful and challenging and I see that as a good thing. We are emotional passionate beings, living in challenging times; I believe the art we surround ourselves with should reflect this. Work that achieves this can only empower us.’

Because of his attachment to Exeter and its people, he’d like to offer these sculptures to the city with the aim that these will, in time, become iconic for the South West in a similar way to The Angel of the North for Tyne and Wear. The sculpture would attract great attention and promote Devon as a dynamic and culturally exiting place to live. Ruscoe adds: ‘Being around art that is moving, meaningful and beautiful, enriches people’s lives, it encourages others to visit and helps give a city a genuine sense of soul.’

People may also be aware of other sculptures by Simon Ruscoe in Exeter. His metal unicorn is situated adjacent to the Phoenix Arts Centre and the University of Exeter recently commissioned sculptures by him. Apart from working as a sculptor, he has funded the entire project himself working as a cleaner, a hospital porter and a technician in a number of Devon Galleries and Universities. Simon adds: “I would like to thank Princesshay management who have bravely supported the project by offering the sculpture to be exhibited for two weeks over the Easter period.”

Wayne Pearce, Princesshay Centre Director, “Simon is incredibly passionate about his exhibition and we are pleased to support him by offering a venue for his latest work to be shared and viewed by the public. As a centre we are always keen to support local initiatives and projects pioneered by members of the community. Simon is clearly very talented and we’re sure his latest sculpture will catch shopper’s attention!”

Following the exhibition in Princesshay, Simon is looking for an organisation or an individual with the vision and passion to help either with promotion or citing the work. Perhaps a landowner who would allow him to exhibit one or more of the figures in a prominent place so that he can gain support and interest for this thought provoking and spectacular sculpture. 
See for further background and images.

I hope he succeeds in finding a prominent location (though Clare didn't like it, I found it impressive). Exeter's collective attitude to public sculpture in its modern developments strikes me as idiosyncratic, with many of the best works ill-placed. For example, we have the excellent Exeter Riddle sculpture by Michael Fairfax, a striking mirrored obelisk that demands a central location in some plaza - but which is instead sidelined on the High Street pavement (see Google Maps).

Conversely, the goddawful Blue Boy, a complete eyesore, gets a prominent location in the middle of Princesshay. This Victorian cast iron commemorative statue is painted, as some over-literal interpretation of the name, in bright blue gloss paint. It'd look perfectly fine as cast iron, and I can't imagine what was going through the head of whoever decided on the lurid and deeply unaesthetic paint job.

There are a lot of very good public artworks around Exeter, though you often have to be observant to find them: see Exeter Memories / Exeter's Public Art. Probably my favourite, in a quiet sort of way, is the Elaine Goodwin 'City Wall Mosaic' in the entrance to Broadwalk House (see Exeter Memories again).

- Ray

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Song recollections

I have a strong tendency to misrecollections, and even mondegreens, about songs heard in childhood, and a few such songs came up in conversation this evening. I thought I'd check them out.

Case 1:
Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it''s wet with rain.
This turns out to be correctly recalled; it comes from the 1952 You Belong To Me. Here's the Jason Wade cover:

Case 2:
Those faraway places
Where elephants roam
This Google finds - the tune also identifies it - to be misremembered lyrics of the 1948 Far Away Places:
Those faraway places
With strange soundin' names
Here's the 1961 Sam Cooke cover:

Case 3:
I never see the morning bright,
I sleep all day and dance all night.
I know that it's wrong, but it's swell.
This one is baffling me.

- Ray

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Spring for a day

On Saturday, Clare and I took one of our regular walks around Exmouth, and along the beach to Orcombe Point and back - around four miles - taking in the newly-developed Jurassic Coast Gateway site - which, maybe for the benefit of the infirm or plain lazy, has been newly-built in addition to the pre-existing official Jurassic Coast start at the Geoneedle site on the clifftop above.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Faust (2011)

Johannes Zeiler (left) as Faust; Anton Adasinsky (right) as Mauricius

Another film recommendation: we just borrowed the video of Faust, Alexander Sokurov's 2011 film adaptation of the Faust legend. Russian-made, with dialogue in German, it's a "free fantasy" adaptation of the legendary Faust -  a man who sells his soul to the Devil - as portrayed by Goethe and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus.

In the Sokurov film, Heinrich Faust is a disillusioned middle-aged academic working in a seedy hospital in a seedy little German town, struggling to understand the nature of life through dissections and dabbling in alchemy. Penniless, he fails to pawn a ring, and buys hemlock to commit suicide. However, at this point he's visited by the sinister moneylender, Mauricius, who drinks the hemlock instead. It doesn't do anything but give him stomach pains, which amazes and intrigues Faust, who takes up the moneylender's offer to show him a side of the town he has never seen.

As the two wander the town, which is populated with grotesques and eccentrics, discussing life and theology, it becomes clear that Mauricius, though not overtly identified as the Devil, is something very strange. He shows Faust some corrupt highly-placed people who are his clients, and gets kicked by a carter who evidently knows his nature. Undressing in a laundry, he is revealed to have a monstrously deformed body with (as a woman comments) "nothing in front" and all his tackle at the back. While at the same laundry, Faust becomes attracted to a young woman, Margarete (played by Isolda Dychauk - a casting straight out of Vermeer). Things turn considerably for the worse when Mauricius starts a quarrel in a tavern by calling the wine "donkey-piss", then in the further mayhem caused by his miraculously making quality wine spout from the wall, engineers it that Faust fatally stabs a soldier with a meat fork. The two go to the soldier's funeral, when we find that the soldier is Margarete's brother; Mauricius uses the situation to broker a meeting between Faust and Margarete. However, despite her attraction to him, the (correct) rumour is spreading that Faust was the murderer, and he further blows his chances by admitting his guilt to her. He goes to Mauricius, who finally springs the deal: Faust's soul for one night with Margarete. Faust signs.

Mauricius conducts Faust through a tunnel to Margarete, who is standing on the edge of a lake, evidently contemplating suicide. Faust embraces her and they both fall into the water. What happens next is a little enigmatic: is the fall a metaphorical one of falling into passion, or literal?  I took it as the latter: that the pact has granted Faust's wish in letter rather than in spirit: that Faust and Margarete are both dead, and Faust has spent the night with her only in the sense of being in the same place.

The next morning, Faust appears to wake, with grotesque figures creeping toward the window of the room where he's lying with Margarete. Mauricius aids him in fleeing town, and they ascend a rocky landscape, meeting characters we know to be dead, as Faust (we assume) is too. But Faust finds the wilderness interesting, and is fascinated by the workings of a volcanic geyser. His curiosity about the world revived, he finally tires of Mauricius's nihilistic gripings, buries him under rocks, and confidently departs into the vast glacial landscape.

The film has had mixed reviews. It was a hit at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, where it premiered, but has also been described as "ponderous". It may be; its plot is a tapestry of detail, character, and strange encounter, all relevant to the theme, but not all directly relevant to the central story. I did, however, find it gripping, and its atmosphere intense; it's filmed in Iceland and in various Czech castles, all in visually beautiful subdued pastel (Faust's blood as he signs the pact is about the only saturated colour in the whole film). The film is carried by Anton Adasinsky's charismatic performance as Mauricius, combining the appearance of decrepitude with flexibility and sudden vigour; I didn't know until Googling that Adasinsky is a mime, clown, and veteran of physical theatre. And he does bring a certain dark Boschian humour to a rather solemn movie, in the sheer bizarreness of the characterisation, as when Mauricius reveals his Cronenberg-style body in the laundry (the New Statesman review described it as "as if a Doctor Who villain had strayed into Ingres") or the exchange when Mauricius prepares to defecate outside a church (the horrified Faust tells him he can't do that - he agrees, and instead, with much off-camera groaning, does it inside). If you like weird and moody films, check it out.

- Ray

moviemaniacsDE trailer

the more action-focused atlanticfilmtrailers trailer