Thursday, 29 November 2007

Neither Dad nor I have laughed as much in weeks

Except at Kate's little jokes of course.

Here is something worth a look. Thanks for the pointer, Pete!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Cam: Cambridge Alumni Magazine

Never in the history of human thought have so few been taught so little by so many

The words of C.D. Broad, a Cambridge philosopher, referring to the new moral sciences Tripos after WWII.

I am tempted to apply those words to the Cambridge Alumni Magazine – interesting reading, and many people have gone into its making, but how many alumni actually read it or remember anything from it? Anything, that is, except a nagging sense of inferiority at not being among those millionaires, stellar academics and public figures that the university has produced in recent decades. And what a lot of them there are. Actually CAM is often a surprisingly good read, and a useful reminder of just how small and insignificant I am! How wonderful that the LORD has chosen the weak things of this world to shame the wise. Though let that never become an excuse for mediocrity or indolence.

Speaking of which, no more blogging for a day or two as I have articles on utopianism to write for imminent publication, reviews of books on church life for NTI and research on the history of mission to Islamic people to crack on with, never mind two music recitals (incl. programme notes), a sermon and the laundry.

Mustard Seed Foundation

Here are some interesting folks. Wonder if they want to give me any cash to look at church councils pre-Nicaea?

Velmirovic vs Planinc

Chess, of course. My latest e-correspondence game against Charles has ground to a halt - I discovered that I was analysing the position with his f-pawn in the wrong place. Whoops. It saves me losing by more conventional means, I suppose, which has become something of a habit recently.

Whereas this game is a treat. White wins with 1. a3, and nearly a whole queen down at the end!

Paper blog

Ever since I was an undergraduate I have carried around with me a little notebook for recording interesting things I come across and jobs that need to be done. Rather like a commonplace book. Constitutionally I am a hoarder, so this sort of book comes in very handy for information- or thought-hoarding: I prefer to hoard things that are not really of any value! Perhaps that is often the way with hoarders. Initially I cannibalized (wrong word, but I wanted to use it anyway!) old school notebooks that had a few pages of German vocabulary or early 90s basic, basic computer science in them (these blue books, smaller than A6, have also come in very handy for some piano pupils over the years, and now that I have so many students such books are essential for the poor teacher’s brain). More recently I have moved to A5: am I more prolix with advancing age or do I notice an increasing number of interesting things?

The current book is almost full, and flicking through I came across something written to be put up on noearthlycity this time last year. I was not a happy bunny that morning as I made my slow way to the office in Huntingdon…

Tuesday. Freezing frozen bikes. Icy cold seat. Brakes first not working then broken (loose) then unaccountably wedged on at back. Walking back home also led to me missing first two buses. House wasted! V. cross. Read Garrison Keillor which was cheering, but also kind of sad. Thought I didn’t even have this book, in which to record my thoughts but then it turned out I did. Nice bus driver let me get warm – then found week old banana skin in side pocket of rucksack. Funny tingling in left fingers and achey back.

Concerts to come

Both are at Emmanuel URC, Trumpington Street, at 1pm.

5th December
Schumann, Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op.101
Elgar, Violin Sonata, Op.82

Rarely-heard profound works from the mature pens of great Romantics – one of the first and one of the last.
Jane Foottit, violinist extraodinaire, will be taking centre stage and I will be in accompaniment mode.

12th December
Brahms, Fantasien, Op.116
Mompou, Impressiones Intimas
Gershwin, Preludes

I seem to be learning a lot of short pieces at the moment, and I prefer to play whole collections if possible (as in the Grieg concert). Not sure why – perhaps in order to see if there is a deep unity to these sets of occasional works or if one can be conjured up in performance, at least.

Moment of doubt: Why do I do this!? Three concerts in just over three weeks, with completely different programmes that are all just beyond my technical powers! Well, I love music, and life would be dull without a challenge, wouldn’t it? Plus, one must keep up one’s bluffing skills (otherwise known as musical interpretation – don’t tell my students)…

Concert just gone

Postcards from Norway (sent on Thursday 22nd Nov, from Emmanuel URC, Trumpington Street, a gorgeous acoustic, a fabulous piano, and a generous lunch in their Fair Shares Cafe afterwards. There are some perks to the life of a musician!

Edvard Grieg, 1843-1907

Lyric Pieces

Op. 12 [1867]

1. Arietta
2. Valse
3. Vektersang
(Watchman’s Song)
4. Alfedans (Fairy dance)
5. Folkevise (Folksong)
6. Norsk (Norwegian)
7. Albumblud (Album Leaf)
8. Fedrelandssang (National Song)

Op. 43 [1884]

1. Sommerfugl (Butterfly)
2. Ensom vandrer (Solitary traveller)
3. I hjemmet (In my native country)
4. Småfugl (Little bird)
5. Erotik
6. Til
våren (To Spring)

Op. 71 [1901]

1. Det var engang (Once upon a time)
2. Sommeraften (Summer’s eve)
3. Småtroll (Puck)
4. Skogstillhet (Peace of the woods)
5. Halling (Norwegian dance)
6. Forbi (Gone)
7. Efterklang (Remembrances)

For colourful music with colourful titles commentary is largely redundant. However, a few facts about Grieg’s life and work may help pass the time. He was born in Bergen and lived most of his adult life in Oslo, returning to a lakeside house in Bergen, now a museum, for his final years. His great-grandfather was Scottish, hence the ‘Grieg’ (which was his middle name, his actual surname being Hagerup) and he had strong ties to the British Isles, often touring here to great acclaim and receiving honourary doctorates from both Cambridge (1894) and Oxford (1906 – a little slower to recognise his genius!). The ten sets of Lyric Pieces reveal his fascination with folk music and with the human voice, and act as a barometer for his increasing maturity as a composer. The first set, Op.12, dates from the year of his marriage to his cousin Nina, a soprano with whom he often gave concert tours. Though these works are extremely simple, sometimes almost twee, they hint at the dark passion to come. The third set, Op.43, displays a greater variety of character and brightness, full of chromaticism and exploring the sound world of unusual keys. The final set amplifies the dark and plaintive moods gestured at in the earlier sets but it is not without its jolly and rambunctious side. Finally, with Efterklang Grieg turns his gentle, straightforward Arietta of 1867 into a sliding, modulating waltz – a fitting farewell to the characterful drawing-room piece from this most lyrical of composers.

From the President

Here is some hard evidence of the existence of a reader of my blog who is not related to me by marriage or blood*. Two other individuals have intimated to me that they have read these ramblings on occasion, but until now I didn’t have anything in writing. Touching, touched, amusing, amused…

Dear Celal,

I had to chuckle when I read your post about my post. If I try to comment on it in this post I will have trespassed further into embarrassing self-referentiality and disappear up my own blog. But I would like to ask one question: how did you discover the existence of the fan club?



*Full disclosure: Celal Birader is related to me by adoption.

how to talk about music

as the previous post shows, it's almost impossible! But someone who has done a very good job of trying is Jeremy Begbie in Theology, Music and Time (CUP, 2000). His insights into the underlying pulses of pieces of music as they are experienced is fascinating, and the analogies and resources for theology are fruitful.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Enescu and Scharwenka

What makes a winning melody? What makes a melody winning?

It seems that how it is harmonized and accompanied is absolutely critical. But to consider the melody per se does not enable us to answer the question in the fullest possible fashion. We need to ask what came before, and what is about to happen. Two case studies...

Georges Enescu, Symphony No. 1 in E flat, Op.13, 3rd movement, second theme
About 2 minutes into this movement (and again at 6 minutes), we hear a long version of the second theme in a minor mode. It's basically a rising scale starting on the tonic, preceded by the dominant falling to the leading note, in one way outlining a perfect cadence, some sort of closure, in another way launching the yearning scale which culminates in a compression of the three-note opening motif. After this it winds its way down again. The building blocks of the theme have all appeared before so it feels familiar yet new. Its harmonization includes some surprising jumps, and the orchestration involves strings melting into winds and back. Its balance of pausing and moving on again is calculated to move one's internal organs very effectively. Each time it subsides into thematically-related material. These brackets of the quasi-familiar and the overall major tonality of the movement make this minor theme stand out in performance.

Xaver Scharwenka, Piano Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op.45, 1st movement, main theme
This theme is announced in skeletal form by the piano, and the whole opening is quiet, though once the strings get going on the melody proper this is the quiet of an extremely powerful engine operating well below its true strength. At this point the piano turns to a rippling accompaniment the strings are well-supported and the harmony moves tonic-relative major-tonic, which if it were not part of such a serious melody could almost be described as lilting or folksy. This theme is always looking forward, its internal repetitions drive it on rather than backward, and Scharwenka knows how good it is so is not afraid to use it a lot! Each time it comes back, we are left wanting more, and he does not disappoint!

Enescu was one of these frightening child prodigies. His musical gifts were such that before he was an adult he could play from memory at the keyboard all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, Symphonies and String Quartets. Scharwenka was one of the most successful performers touring the world at the turn of the last century – he was decorated by most of the royal families of Europe and had no less illustrious a career than Enescu, he just appears to have got off to a slower start!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Isaiah 5

Found my notes at last! Stuffed into Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper

(1-2) preamble, the story of the vineyard

(3-7) the lawcourt and threat of punishment / (7) summary of charges

(8-23) SIX WOES

(8) – the charge of “joining field to field”

(11) – the charge of luxury

(18) – the charge of deceit and mocking God

(20) – the charge of moral reversals

(21) – the charge of self-assurance

(22) – the charge of bad, drunken judges

(24-25) the LORD will judge those who have rejected him and his justice

(26-30) the LORD will call in foreign armies to complete the judgement

The message of judgement continues. Here in chapter 5 it is unremitting. The setting is the lawcourt, a three-party system – plaintiff, defendant and judge. In this scenario YHWH ironically calls upon the men of Judah (3) to be the judge between himself as plaintiff and his vineyard (the whole people). Under this system someone was always guilty (either of the crime in question or of making a false accusation) and someone was always innocent. The system is outlined when Israel’s own corrupt judges are lambasted in verse 23 – there are the guilty (acquitted) and the innocent (denied justice).

This calls to mind another Hebrew lawcourt in Scripture, Romans 1-3. In that setting God is both judge and plaintiff, and humans (both Jew and Gentile) are the defendant. One of Paul’s concerns there is to undermine the smugness of the Jew who presumes himself to be plaintiff against the Gentile with the Law as his witness (esp. Rom 2:17ff.). But the overall scenario is there to face up to the question, how can God justiy the unjust? (Rom 4:5) Only by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ – if the wicked are to be justified, someone else must be punished on their behalf (esp. Rom 3:21-26).

The WOES, the charges against the people here in Isaiah 5 are not pleasant reading…

8-10 The Jubilee principle is broken, and the greedy rich paint themselves into a corner that they fondly imagine gives them security. Like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) they are all alone, not even enjoying abundant life now despite their great riches and still storingup judgement for themselves and the removal of those riches.

11-17 Alcohol comes in with arrogance: both the workaholic rich and the lazy rich turn to drugs and alcohol today. God’s justice towards them exalts him – of course it does, for he is proved just by his judgement. Deep down we cry out for judgement, we need it…

18-19 Denial of God’s immanence enables them to support their own dodgy behaviour

20 False prophets always call evil good and good evil, for they are usually on the side of the oppressor

21 Pride, and pretending to deserve congratulation for their injustice simply because it has rendered them materially wealthy

22-25 Wine is back! Reminds us of the vineyard setting, and the abuse of something good. This leads to the perversion of justice elsewhere, too, “and the rest is history” (AMGD).

This passage is of course developed by Jesus in his tussle with the Pharisees in Matthew 21, the Parable of the Tenants. [The Parable of the Two Sons that precedes it also recalls some of these vineyard themes.] Here is an outline of some similarities…

Isaiah 5

Matthew 21, 23 & 24

1-2 Story of the Vineyard (version 1)

3-6 Story of the Vineyard (version 2)

21:28-32 First Parable of the Vineyard (Sons)

33-41 Second Parable of the Vineyard (Tenants)

5-7 summary and promise of judgement

42-46 summary and promise of judgement

8-23 WOES against people, especially their leaders

23:1-39 WOES against the Pharisees (leaders) including a coda about the people

24 Judgement on Judah through foreign invasion (Assyria, Babylon)

24:1-51 Judgement on Israel (and in AD70 there was an unprecedented foreign devastation)

Episode 11

Ex-President Logan: “I get regular intelligence updates, and I still have my sources” [soft background neighing].

Smart bit of cheeky sound effect.

And of course, regular doses of
We don’t have a choice…
Do everything you can…
How long? Within the hour...

Monday, 19 November 2007

Isaiah 7

This is a particularly artificial place to break the text. 7:1-9:7 is all one section.

During the reign of Ahaz – a bad king – who was under pressure from Aram and Israel (Syria is in league with Ephraim, 3) to create a 3-way alliance against Assyria, which he was so far resisting (good choice) but this led to military action against his kingdom…

(1-2) Judah beseiged and afraid

(3-9) God’s reassurance to Ahaz via Isaiah: a message of “trust or bust” (Motyer)

(10-17) Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign (bust) so God gives it to him anyway!

(18-25) Assyrian invasion is coming against Aram and Israel

It is not clear whether 7:18-25 also tells of judgement against Judah. Certainly, the Assyrians are used as agents of God’s judgement on the Southern Kingdom by the time we reach chapter 8 (we are told of a flood up to the neck in 8:8 and only Jerusalem will be unharmed) but here the focus of the trouble, apart from v.17, seems to be on Rezin and Pekah, while the focus of the words is indeed for Ahaz and Judah.

722BC – Assyria overruns Aram
722BC – Assyria overruns Israel (this invading king in Isaiah 7, Pekah, is the penultimate ruler of the northern kingdom [2 Kgs 16-17] so his sabre-waving did his line no good)
701BC – Assyria scours Judah, though the nation survives this time…

Having just seen the amazing kingship of YHWH in chapter 6, we pass over a human king (Jotham) and move to Uzziah’s grandson, Ahaz. 2 Kings 16 shows him (later on in his reign) undermining the kingship of YHWH out of deference to the King of Assyria (see the stimulating thoughts from Peter Leithart on this intriguing passage). He also breaks the Law with his innovative sacrifices, so it is no wonder that in Isaiah 7:7-9 we find him as a man without faith. Ahaz is the first recorded person to fall under the judgement promised in Isaiah 6:9-13, one of the people who hear but who do not understand, who see but do not perceive.

What is going on with the sign that YHWH gives?

The elements are a boy called Immanuel (14), during whose lifetime, indeed while he is still a child (15), Aram and Israel will be laid waste (16).

Curds and honey (15) are not to be seen as a reference to the land flowing with milk and honey (promise of blessing) but are such as a devastated land might produce (21-25). [Note that the Assyrian army/rage is pictured as a bee in verse 18!]

Who is the child?
Perhaps the son of a favourite courtier. Perhaps Isaiah’s son – since this whole section features another two of the prophet’s children as specially-named signs (7:3, 8:3-4 and the summary in 8:18). In any case, his name, “God with us” will be a constant reminder to Ahaz of what he refused to grasp and trust in – the presence of God with his people to protect and save them. Verse 11 was God giving him a chance to demonstrate faith – and with his false piety he betrayed his lack of trust. So, the sign is for a faithless man, to remind him of coming judgement on him and others who will not trust (17).

In what sense does Matthew 1:22-23 work, then?
The context of the nation and the message God has for his people is very similar…

  • a sinful people
  • ruled over by a bad king with foreign alliances
  • but a faithful remnant (Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, “a remnant will remain” [3], stand for those people who are not faithless like Ahaz, oppressing the poor, etc., as chs 1-5 have decried)
  • in particular, a faithful woman
  • chosen to bear a special son
  • who will be the presence of God with the faithful
  • preserving them through imminent judgement (710BC and 586BC vs. AD70)
Hope at a time of judgement is crucial. That is what Jesus offered and continues to offer

Ken Bailey enthusing

A bald middle-aged man, jacketed, shirt buttoned to the top but without a tie, sits at a desk in the corner of a tidy, but dull study. Long-fingered, sporting a large tasteless wooden cross round his neck and an unfashionable pair of large-framed plastic specs, a few books scattered in front of him, he speaks without eloquence or poise. Tears roll down my cheeks.

Get hold of this man’s teaching on Christ’s birth narratives. Get hold of him unpacking Jesus’ own words about the cross and about mission. Get hold of his magna opera on the parables in Luke’s gospel. It’s all on video and DVD (and his academic books on that particular subject are now available in one handy volume, thankyou Eerdmans). When you have heard the parable of the Prodigal Son as the Middle Eastern peasant audience heard it, you will not be the same again. Grace and repentance come alive in his hands. If you do not weep as you hear Jesus’ tender treatment of the former prostitute and sting at our Lord’s rebuke to Simon the Pharisee you are probably dead.

Isaiah 6 (ii)

Some of these ramblings may be of interest to anyone reading Isaiah. Most of them may not, but this is my blog, and I'm very excited each time Gordon and I study a chapter together!

Remember the kingship of YHWH – don’t jump too soon to His holiness.

And yet, is the whole earth… filled with his glory (3) because of his holiness? We know that under the right circumstances God’s holiness is communicable – Leviticus has a lot about conagious holiness in it. And is the temple shaken because the seraphs are shouting loudly, or because they are shouting about holiness? [GD; whereas I think that this probing tends towards making divine attributes mecahnistic. It’s easy to be distracted by questions about the relationship between matter and the being of God (as in the resurrected Christ’s eating of fish in a creation still subject to decay) but probably it doesn’t add much…]

Holiness – people need protecting from God’s holiness (a moral, rather than ontological category) and that’s what much of the detail of the law was about – to permit God to dwell among his people without breaking out against them for their sins. So the altar is operating in the temple (which is surely the real temple in Jerusalem, not all in Isaiah’s head) as verse 6 tells us. Perhaps all that smoke (4b) is coming from the altar, serving a dual purpose of being a pleasing aroma to YHWH so that he will not immediately destroy the impurity around him and also protecting Isaiah from clearly seeing the figure on the throne (1).

The temple’ curtain is now torn in two (Mark 15:38), such that God can get out and come and sit next to us, while we can get in to him – in Christ alone. We have access to the most holy place through Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25), we are washed and purified, and all this is happening now. Hebrews 12:18-25 reminds us that God is still just as formidable, and his word is still as powerful. But now there is access, not smoke, access to the real temple (Heb. 9:11-12) on the real Mount Zion.

The purification of Isaiah’s lips is a wonderful, personal picture, but it’s still within the system of repeated animal sacrifices. This raises the question of what those sacrifices do for him after this event [not to mention the question of whether or not the coal gave to Isaiah, a faithful member of the (remnant?) covenant community, assurance (much more likely in my opinion) rather than initial salvation, though we have to be careful about our NT spectacles in all this…]. Remember Leviticus I have given you an atonement, so we know that atonement is not self-generated by the worshipper and the intrinsic quality of his offering.

And there is the dimension of fellowship around food that the sacrifices display and embody – the LORD consumes part, the priests get their portion and the worshipper and his family eat as well.

We say that the thinking Jew knows that the animal per se does not make atonement – that is a gift from God. So existentially where does their knowledge of justification come from?

GD: in the once-for-all moment of realisation

JW: possibly in the ongoing covenant observance

And yet, the sacrificial system had built-in flaws – its endless repetition and the use of animal for human. Hebrews 7 is very scathing about its efficacy! And before we leave Isaiah 6 altogether, it’s time to draw stumps…

Saturday, 17 November 2007

a day in London

Started with an early morning prayer meeting with people from Cherry Hinton Baptist church who are down the road from our new church plant - praying for the area, for our outreach and for unity among us. Cold, but inspiring!

Then two piano lessons postponed from yesterday (when I was in Sheffield for the second seminar day with Northern Training Institute), followed by a dash to the station in time to stand in a queue and miss the train we'd wanted to catch.

Got a faster train and then some underground shenanigans to Highgate to meet Nick (best man best friend at Cambridge) and Kate (recently married). We stepped off the Northern Line train to find Nick and Kate stepping off the same train a few carriages down!

After a walk up a hill (something of a novelty for us) alongside the barbed wire security fence protecting Highgate Station and an intriguing adjacent cottage hunger overtook us and we stumbled into an odd pub, with remarkable speed for a party of 4 boasting three indecisive people (and me!)

Long pub lunch (The Woodman) - entertained by the chef, Xavier ("I try to cook a different menu every day... You must finish everything... I don't wan to see any food on the floor...") and sated with his excellent food. More meat in a meal than in a normal fortnight (wanted to alliterate with 'month' but it would have been something of an exaggeration)! Cambridge pub prices in London, and incredible quality - a rare treat. Pint of IPA and then farewell to Kate who was off to China for a 2-week holiday to see her Mum and some friends.

Then a wander round Highgate cemetery with Nick, stumbling across Shura Churassky, Douglas Adams and a cosmopolitan cram of corpses from across the world. Notable numbers of Chinese and Poles, but more other countries than I can remember. We missed Karl Marx, but then had a guided tour of the restricted side of the cemetery with another colourful character (a volunteer with the Friends of Highgate Cemetery) who spun a lot of good stories and gave us some intriguing Victorian social history and an explanation of the art of grave sculpture.

Always rewarding to walk round graveyards, this one no exception. Huge variety of sculptures, lots of plants interwoven, bits of biographies... But I am always astounded by the amount of money spent on these monuments. (The many immigrant families represented here were not the poor ones, let me tell you!) And the pathetic - in every sense of the word - sentiments on some of the tombs and headstones set the mind a-spinning.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Halloween (ii)

Here Ladybug gives a much more intelligent and meaty post than me.

Isaiah 6 (i)

My notes on Isaiah 5 have gone walkies... :(

(1-4) In the year King Uzziah died, the LORD appears, enthroned in the Temple, surrounded by seraphs who proclaim his holiness

(5) Isaiah’s response – woe is me, for I have unclean lips

(6-7) atonement for Isaiah as a result of the operation of the altar

(8) The LORD calls out for a messenger

(9) Isaiah’s response – here I am, send me

(9b-13) Command to proclaim the people’s unrepentance to them – for how long, O Lord? – until there has been almost total devastation. But the holy seed will yet survive…

NB. King Uzziah was generally a decent bloke, but he entered the Temple unlawfully (2 Chronicles 26) in an act of hubris. So his last few years were marred by a nasty disease.

The year Uzziah dies, is also the year that another king, Jotham, is crowned – so at the time of changeover we see the contrast – YHWH doesn’t die, succeed anyone, need crowning with human hands, etc. The splendour of YHWH’s kingship [the international kingship of God is prominent in chs 2 and 9, as well] is also needed to put all the discussion of rulers, kings and kingdoms in the rest of the book into perspective (and to provide context for the Servant Songs, for the servant is a divine ruler, too…).

Do we play down the kingship of God and all its trappings because of our disillusionment with contemporary politics – both in its structure (which we pretend to support, though we pay it only lip service) and its practice (which, in rather self-defeating fashion, we delight in mocking)? It’s very easy to dash onto the holiness of God in this passage, but we should focus first on the kingship, and seek to work this out in every area (including science, for example, as Alexander & White’s, Beyond Belief, which denies the existence of ‘methodological naturalism’, as some believers want to call it, since God is king of all and there is no autonomous ‘nature’).

The kingship of God also keeps the fatherhood of God from becoming sentimental in our thinking. [NB. The Pope is not the Holy Father, God is – sorry to bring that up, as I feel a lot more ecumenical than I did when I was a firey undergraduate, but certain elements in Roman Catholicism are really offensive.] Kingship and Fatherhood are together through the whole Scripture – just look at Adam, son of God, steward/vice-regent of God…

The kingly fatherhood of God comforts us when we have to deal with Alzheimers and all the other effects of ageing. Not a sentimental pat on the shoulder from an ineffective beardo, but the Almighty Himself is a Father to us and guarantees our inheritance and our glory as part of his care for us.

For all this comfort, we must remember covenant judgement. You can’t try to set up on your own (10-13). God is holy, indescribably so, and this gives Isaiah the willies, rather than the awesome majesty of YHWH the King. This holiness means that sin and corruption must be judged and destroyed, which spells bad news for us, unless God provides a way for us to ‘catch’ his holiness and participate in it somehow, unless he forgives our sins. Which he does for Isaiah (6-7), and this transforms the distraught, hopeless viewer into a dynamic servant of the King (5 versus 8b).

cheeky scriptwriters?

24, season 6: President Wayne Palmer, curiously young and lacking in charisma, commenting on the least plausible development so far (up to episode 5), remarks

It’s a desperate measure, but it’s a measure of our desperation

which is painfully akin to The Sphinx’s manner of speaking in the ingenious and bathetic spoof, Mystery Men, starring William H. Macy, Ben Stiller et al about a group of dysfunctional superheroes. [Why is this film not more popular!?] The Sphinx’s best saw is of course, If you learn to balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack, though it turns out that he can split guns in half with his mind as well.

Yes, we have caved in again and are watching 24 before the Christmas holidays…

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Film Fandango


Went to this one on an Orange Wednesday, slightly wishing I was going to see Stardust and fearing corny sentimentality, but came out rejoicing! Apart from The Incredibles (da da da dah, da daaah) this is the only Disney-Pixar/Dreamworks product to come close to the magic of Toy Story, first and best. Production values were stratospheric, the voices were delightful (even though real French people might find them rather hammy), the plot full of interesting twists and details, and there were plenty of belly-laughs. It even had moments of depth and profundity that brought a tear to my eye.

For some reason it did not do so well in the US. I wonder whether the lack of family relationships in the human story (and where were the female rats, may I ask?) was behind that, along with the replacement of the sentiment “there’s no place like home” (Wizard of Oz, but cf. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Antz, Bug’s Life, etc.) with “life is really about change” – a scary thought for some people, obviously…


We're up to S in the marathon that is listening to all the classical CDs that have accumulated in our possession over the years (OK, let's be honest, I've bought a lot of music, probably indulgently at times).

Saint-Saens is much under-rated, as are most composers of art music, IMHO. I was enjoying again his Fifth Piano Concerto, the 'Egyptian' (not genuinely Middle Eastern, by any stretch of the imagination), and wondering whether I might get another concerto opportunity in the next couple of years. S-S wrote some unusual chamber works - particularly the Septet (piano, trumpet and strings). This is an odd piece, almost a compilation of ditties and 'training' moments, but full of surprises and beauty, too. This time round I could have sworn that the trumpet's main melody in the second movement is 'These are a few of my favourite things' from The Sound of Music.

Friday, 2 November 2007

smart voice recognition software

I am the chuffed owner of Dragon 9.5, courtesy of Kate! It's been up and running for a while, and this afternoon for the first time I'm using it to write a sermon (Colossians 4 for Hope Community Church on Sunday). It's not coping too badly, though I've got a long way to go before I can think cogently as fast as I can speak (as anyone who knows me will testify). It's also quite easy to leave the microphone on by mistake when talking about other things, especially when there's someone to talk to (we're both working from home today). Scandalised by something I read on the front page of the Guardian Sport, I said,

And goodness there was at the unpaid the sports section which is the most top earners John Terry hundred and 35 you really should Anco and 21 that all is not too much approximate weekly salaries weekly salaries so getting £6 million a year and prancing around kicking up the ladder in the final at its raw things

Or words to that effect...