Saturday, 3 July 2010

vignettes from the great clear out (6)

several people have helped us today SO much, I can't quite believe what they accomplished between them! Praise the Lord for Christian friends who willingly gave up their time and energy on this very hot day.

Two gardens readied for our departure (from pretty parlous states), cupboards emptied and cleaned, things taken to charity shops, shipping cartons constructed and a lawnmower cord severed by exciteable mowing!

Also came across a little note from when I was reading The Shack. On p.90 we come across God (Father) listening to funk. Which reminded me of The Mighty Boosh - a couple of stellar episodes about jazz, exploring our ignorant prejudices about it as well as mocking its producers and enthusiasts.

Wasn't quite so convinced by some of the theological speculations in The Shack, it has to be said. For example, Young suggests that "fathering" was most lacking when creation was broken and that's why God appears as "Father" (p.94). But don't the eternal relationships within the Trinity shed some light the other way - towards our meagre understanding of what father-son means? Of course, I mused, that formulation seems to leave "woman" out of the picture, which is not good. James Jordan's provocative thoughts on hair and glory may give us some pointers here... [PART 1] and [PART 2] of his "liturgical man / liturgical woman" essay, another collection of not-wholly-convincing speculations slightly more to my taste!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

UCCF is not dull

A very amusing tribute to theologian Wayne Grudem, in the style of Grease...

Some delightful book plugs inspired by various TV memes and bods buzzing around in 2008...

vignettes from the great clear out (5)

Versions 1 and 2 of a Film/TV Music quiz.

The earlier one is on faded old manuscript paper in my childish hand, and was performed by me and Ad on piano and euphonium at the Widcombe Baptist Church New Year's Eve party and talent show in 1992 (or maybe 1993). One of our finest collaborations. Completing Halo on the X-Box a couple of years ago is not far behind, especially given my incompetence at such games.

The later version was longer (32 themes!) and for piano solo, and was put on while people had some drinks and nibbles at our friends' wedding in December 2006 (or thereabouts). One team got 100%, which was impressive - and scary, because some of the themes were obscure and, I thought, only in my head... It is written in my slightly maturer hand without the use of musical notation, in the back of the old account book

Ahh, nostalgia, followed by disposal. Definitely the way to go...

last concert with Jane

...and the penultimate one in Cambridge for quite some time, if all goes according to plan with our shift eastwards. I was under the influence of man-flu, ibuprofen and paracetemol so my emotions were suppressed in the service of finger art, but it was still exhilarating and moving (for the performers, at least, though the audience seemed quite happy, too!) It was nice to end with Brahms 3, which has long been a goal, and very gracious of Jane to indulge me by learning my Fantasy in G minor, which has been performed once before, in Cricklade College, Andover, by another great violinist, Daphne Moody - also a pupil of Grinke in the 70s... small world! There were quite a few kids in the audience last Wednesday at the URC, and they all said they liked my piece the best - so take that, Mozart & Brahms.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sonata No.18 in F major

Andante cantabile
Andante con variazione

Written in 1788, this was Mozart’s final violin sonata, though by no means his most dramatic. There is an almost serene gentleness to the outer movements, with touches of cheeky humour, and only the central Allegro (in sonata form) betrays any agitation. As was customary for the classical period, the piano takes centre stage and most of the good melodies.

Johannes Brahms
Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108

Un poco presto e con sentimento
Presto agitato

Brahms’ last violin sonata is a much darker, brooding work. Mystery, and a sense of circling round something unpleasant characterises the opening movement. There is tremendous stasis in the harmony—the whole development section is worked out over a dominant pedal, like an insistent drum beat, a menace that is only finally put to rest in the coda over a tonic pedal. The slow movement brings much needed warmth before an ambiguous scherzo and brutal finale.
In this last movements the composer completely upsets the pulse and the expected rhythms, pushing his idiom and his interpreters to their limits.

yours truly
Fantasy in G minor (1998)

This Fantasy is a teenage pastiche of all that I loved about romantic virtuoso music. Taking in Verdi’s Requiem, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Peer Gynt Suite, James Bond and a Rachmaninov prelude (plus a few others) I weave together three themes—one martial, two reflective—in various minor keys, before the triumphant conclusion in the tonic major. There are a lot of notes—I apologise for that… what can I say? I was young and foolish.

Monday, 7 June 2010

vignettes from the great clear out (4)

My old account book from Downing days. Fiscal rectitude was drummed into me by the folks, and I kept (almost) comprehensive accounts up to the Christmas of my second undergraduate year. Weekly expenditure seems to have fluctuated somewhat: £231 in w/b 18th March 1999 down to £6.76 for October 18th-24th 1999 (though mostly around £70 p/w). Wonderful to see how I was sustained by gifts from Grandma and Auntie Celia, complaint to the railways that netted me various vouchers, and the odd psychology experiment.

I was quite pleased with owning several credit cards and being generally a liberal sort of chap, so there are numerous receipts from the Eraina Taverna and the Ghandi for hundreds of pounds, which I used to pay on behalf of whatever party I was with, and then recoup. If I'd have been smart I'd have charged a fee for that service of course!!

A Star Wars game in an envelope. I designed and made some sort of board game (back in 1996?) based on those rather fun novels by Timothy Zahn that are set in the years after Return of the Jedi. Some of the biro artwork is quite neat, though I say so myself, but I think it's value as a game is probably rather limited!

the heart of Romans 10

Last week at Hope, we heard a great sermon, passionately and warmly delivered, from Robin Whaley, who works for Eden Baptist. The text was Romans 10:5-15, part of our long series on Romans that should come to an end in August. RW took a 'trad' line on imputation of Christ's righteousness, which is perhaps a slight puzzle (search for "imputation" on David Field's old blog to see just a small amount of the theological musings it has generated...) and not actually in Romans 10 itself, so that didn't really distract from what was an excellent exhortation.

The question is, who can be saved? Relevant for believers and nonbelievers...

The simple answer is, you need to be "righteous", in a right standing with God

Two ways to get righteous - one that doesn't work (trying to clean yourself up and keep the law 100%) and one that does (verses 6-8). This is righteousness by faith, that is given by God.

This was always God's plan A, saving faith in Jesus. We don't, can't and never could do God a favour! (tragic illustrations of the Hindu holy man rolling across India, and Robin's own pre-Christian misconception of what would improve him) Instead, He draws near to us.

God does use people in His world, however, not least in sharing this good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The call to "preach" - see verses 14-15 - is not for a select few extroverts, but for all of us. Let's get passionate about it (alongside our other worthy passions).

This message is huge in importance (the Torah pointed to it; it is the centre of history), in scale (v.12 tells of a vast new community) and in power (able to bring sinners to God).

Meditate on it and get excited!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

vignettes from the great clear out (3)

Very neatly organised in swanky plastic wallets, the old notes from a Pilgrim Homes conference on elderly people in the church, whih a team from Rock went to a few years back. Brought back memories of a care home close to my heart, Bridgemead, in Bath, set up by Christians about 20 years ago - one was our family GP, another was a local businessman and chess player who was a good friend to me when I was in my teens. I used to go in and play the piano for Sunday afternoon church services, taking a stroll down leafy Cleveland Walk from our bungalow near Sydney Gardens. Now that my Mum works for another care home in Bath (doing a heroic job in a place where her employer simply does not put in the resources necessary) I have yet more reason to consider Bridgemead the only really decent place I have come across for elderly people who are not able to live on their own. Sounds like Pilgrim Homes have a tremendous reputation, too, though, so let's hope that more such places are opened.

An old L'Abri cassette catalogue - listing all sorts of interesting letures I shall not have time for! The ones of various bits of classical music looked partiularly interesting. Nevertheless, it went the way of all flesh... I am surprisingly cheerful about offloading all these old (and some new) bits and pieces, so praise the Lord for that. Hopefully a good sign that my treasure is in heaven.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

profitable insomia

Came across this fascinating link when thinking about musical opportunities in years ahead...

I particularly enjoyed what various peoples had to say about the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah: like a jet engine, "crying music" or “not steady.” This last group "wondered how a song with so many high and low pitches and loud and soft volumes could be considered fine art". Ouch.

Also managed to rip 18 more albums to the back-up drive. Don't want to take all 600 CDs to the othe side of the world when they can sit in the attic and something the size of a large filofax can do the business.

Which is not to say that doing without most of my sleep tonight will be pain free in the hours to come. Perhaps the possible collapse of the old laptop has been preying on my mind rather too much. There are a LOT of files on there (not backed up since about Christmas, alas) I would be very sad to lose! And almost all of our projects for the next 6 weeks will be up the creek... Back to praying not preying.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

vignettes from the great clear out (2)

Old music is getting the once-over at the moment. A few sad volumes have decayed so much (or are missing the solo parts) and have had to be junked, which feels very wrong. One simply shouldn't throw books away, especially not sheet music!

Came across some compositions by me. A work claiming to be the solo piano arrangement of the finale of a concerto in A major (entered into a "perform your own composition" class at the Mid-Somerset Festival in 1996?), which never actually existed in any other form except for several drafts of the first 20 bars of so full score. There are a great many drafts of the most recent classical piece I tried to compose - sometimes for clarinet, sometimes viola, sometimes euphonium, and with various attempts at writing out the piano part. A sad end to what could have become quite a nice pastiche work if on;y I'd had the time!

Also came across equivalent material from the 60s in the form of Gordon F's sketchbooks. More completed compositions than I managed - lots of short works for intermediate piano, and the drafts for his excellent Prelude & Fugue, which I've performed a few times.

Plus the copies of pieces I was asked to record for my sister to sing a few years back when she was well enough to be going to the Welsh College of Music and Drama for woodwind and voice on Saturdays. And a lovely handwritten note (her writing is a perfect feminine version of Ad's!)

If I didn't have man flu and thus no strength to spare I'd be bawling me eyes out at all these dusty home-made pieces of culture and history.

vignettes from the great clear-out (1)

Some old sheets of glossy local authority propaganda, on that back of which Nick had written out the chords for some jazz standards so that I could provide the lower part of some 4-hands jazz a few years ago when he visited us in TG. He does have a wonderfully florid hand!

Nostalgia at every turn, as our house has spilled its guts all over the floors.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Kirk on resurrection in Christianity Today

A splendid article I need to mull on later, and work out how to pass on all its good points when people ask me tricky questions, which happens from time to time!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

maybe Orthodoxy is everything... ;-)

Searching online for David Thomas' discussion of the dating of Paul of Antioch's Letter to a Muslim Friend (as you do), I stumbled upon this blog, which opened a window onto modern Orthodox Christian experience.

Most interesting indeed, and one to return to when I have two-and-a-half hours spare (possibly in July) is this lecture by a real scholar, Roman Catholic professor Sidney Griffith. His breadth of learning and ability to synthesize and interpret the complexity of Middle Eastern Christian history in its fragmentary and repeatedly politicized context is outstanding. I've read most of his publications, and if I had time I'd read them all!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Geography is everything a teacher at my school used to say, and as my brother, who now teaches it at a posh and overachieving school (even more than the one we went to!) is fond of reminding me.

Well, here's a fascinating Christian geographer's blog. It's not all maps and colouring in, you know.

So interesting that I'm putting it in the sidebar too, if I can remember how to do that...

no Psalm 8 without Hebrews

Jesus Christ is the one who makes most sense of that Psalm and indeed of everything.

And while we're on the subject of nostalgia, Hebrews and Psalm 8 were right there at the start of this blog (eke and mild and Hebrews 13). Glad to know I haven't moved on from what is important, but, rather, I ought to have moved further into it. Like the fractals, I hope to be going round and round, not in circles of emptiness, but in spirals of ever-increasing richness. That's what growing up is about, and thus what growing up into Christ all the more so. And, of course, it can't be done without Christian brothers and sisters, so praise the Lord for the church, too.

nostalgia and productive chat

We had Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian in Cambridge last week to speak at Great St Mary's the Corn Exchange for "Passion for Life". Saturday (which I didn't hear) was the Reason for God; Sunday (which I did) was Counterfeit Gods. Each evening was loosely based on key ideas from his two best-selling books. By all accounts the Sunday one was better - I certainly found it stimulating, and it contributed greatly to the conversation started between Dave and Dave months ago, which I joined in the Panton Arms shortly before we wandered up to hear Keller.

What a great chat that was - stimulating and intimate, the history of philosophy, the perspective of faith, music, searching, questioning, formulating, reformulating, just what our brains were made for. Looking forward to continuing. Probably have to read some Schopenhauer, now...

It really took me back to the panelled rooms of Downing College at the end ofthe last century, staying up all night with green tea and my agnostic best friend and best man, whiling away the hours on everything - not to mention back to the studying itself, a historical whip-round political thought and ethics from Plato to Nietzsche (in amongst more prosaic [and poetic for that matter] stuff on medieval social history or Renaissance literature).

And that got me thinking about another friend who stayed up all night patiently trying to explain chemistry to me (in those days I was still under the impression that A-level chemistry was "true" and was pleased with myself for having done some science as well as all the arty-farty business), while writing beautiful fractals on the computer. We managed to discuss Reformed theology and the Christian life quite a bit, too, and it was great to see him again at my 30th in the summer after a gap of many years.

Praise the Lord for such wonderful experiences, and for keeping me following him since then. What a wonderful world, what wonderful creatures, what a wonderful Creator.

 O LORD, our Lord, 
  how majestic is your name in all the earth! 
  You have set your glory 
  above the heavens. 

 From the lips of children and infants 
  you have ordained praise
  because of your enemies, 
  to silence the foe and the avenger. 

 When I consider your heavens, 
  the work of your fingers, 
  the moon and the stars, 
  which you have set in place, 

 what is man that you are mindful of him, 
  the son of man that you care for him? 

 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [c] 
  and crowned him with glory and honor. 

 You made him ruler over the works of your hands; 
  you put everything under his feet: 

 all flocks and herds, 
  and the beasts of the field, 

 the birds of the air, 
  and the fish of the sea, 
  all that swim the paths of the seas. 

 O LORD, our Lord, 
  how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Economist and the earthly city

I am 5 days behind on The Economist (i.e. last Friday’s has not yet been opened). Either my bowels are moving more quickly than usual (the magazines are generally stored in the bathroom), or else it’s been a productive week in other areas of endeavour. Anyhow, as I finished off last week’s edition this morning, I was taken with the style of the obituary, as often happens. The page on Alexander Haig (American General, White House Chief of Staff under Nixon, head of NATO, foreign policy spokesman for Reagan, etc, etc) closed with a sweet metaphor from the General’s book Caveat, riffed by the journalist…

The [Reagan] White House was as mysterious as a ghost ship; you heard the creak of the rigging and the groan of the timbers and sometimes even glimpsed the crew on deck. But which of the crew had the helm? …It was impossible to know…

If someone evidently had the helm, General Haig saluted. If not, rather than let drift and uncertainty give any comfort to America’s enemies, he had acquired the habit of seizing the wheel himself.”

Grand sentiments, steely nerves, national business – all in a day’s work for the rich and powerful, I suppose. Even the little people like me can get dewy-eyed about this sort of stirring stuff, actual or fictional (as happened when I re-watched the ludicrous yet strangely charming cornfest that is Independence Day over lunch on Tuesday). But let’s be aware of the mythic and ideological guises of the state, the nation, human hierarchies, construals of enemies, and so forth. Let’s remember what really lasts, where the city with foundations comes from, who it comes from, and what really counts...

Friday, 26 February 2010

the mini-series has concluded

Jane and I have loved the Grieg-Beethoven combo over the past year or so, and audiences seem to have got into the swing of things, too. Wednesday witnessed a very swashbuckling performance of Beethoven 3 and Grieg 3, and we hope to repeat it with less swash for the University of the Third Age (what a good idea that is) next week.

Ludvig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat, Op.12, No.3

I Allegro con spirito

II Adagio con molt’ espresione

III Rondo (Allegro molto)

Beethoven’s first three violin sonatas were dedicated to his teacher, Salieri (an Italian composer who didn’t poison Mozart). They display clear adherence to classical forms and were designated sonatas ‘for piano and violin’, with the emphasis definitely on the piano. In these early works Beethoven was writing music for the concert platform and music to pay the bills, not music driven by a need to express deep inner passions. There is a certain foursquare-ness to the design of this sonata. Nevertheless, more than its fellows in Op.12, this third work looks forwards. The opening Allegro sticks to the letter of classical sonata form, but is busting with dark, wayward harmonies and crams in far more notes than one might expect from such a stately opening. The Adagio’s extended coda gives space for plenty of jolts and surprises, characteristic of the composer’s maturity. In the final Rondo Beethoven employs his skills in counterpoint to good effect, along with a gift for folksy melody that one normally associates with Dvořák or Grieg.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Violin Sonata No.3 in C minor, Op.45

I Allegro molto e appassionato – Presto

II Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza – Allegro molto – Tempo I

III Allegro animato – Prestissimo

Twenty years separate Grieg’s second and third violin sonatas. The earlier work was carefree, experimental in form and infused with Scandinavian folk music. This sonata – and particularly the first movement – is angry, extremely simple in structure and more sparing in its melodic inspiration. The opening theme rushes around before collapsing into the more lilting second subject. The development offers mystical cascades and a violent bass, ending up in a flurry of gruff diminished chords that fade away into a quiet false recapitulation. The real recap is impossible to miss! And see if you can spot Grieg’s jazz moment just before the coda. Norway seems to exercise more influence over the sweeter second movement, a simple ABA of melodies that do the hard work and various patterns of accompaniment that don’t. In the C minor third movement, a binary AB/A’B’, we are subjected to constant buzzing and foot-stomping (A) alternating with pure romantic indulgence (B). The insistent coda may be in C major, but was Grieg protesting too much in this, his final chamber work?

Friday, 19 February 2010

bring back the Luddites!

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. I used to think I could understand most modern English prose. I also used to think that the University of Cambridge was immune to the excesses of garbled postmodern opacity. Alas, not. Here is the abstract of a paper delivered to the Literary Theory Seminar yesterday evening. My provisional verdict on it is "complete twaddle". It's not just a pointless piece of abstract musing or antiquarian interest (I found plenty of examples of those as a student, and might even have been responsible for some), it's truly, madly, deeply incomprehensible.

This essay explores how to find a way of being in the world at a time when
common meanings become scarcer and the gauntness of unmediated objective
existence starker. A recent study of the poetics of place in modern French
writing (by Steven Winspur) stresses the irreducibility of ontic presence
as itself revelatory. I argue that the way humans encounter objects and
places is more problematic, not because "absolute contingency" (Curry 1999)
is not a given but because the "way" along which it is given offers a
threshold of relation which is hyperbolic. The conditions for
re-enchantment do exist, but as part of a poverty of dependent response
making itself "less" in order to "greet" the object as sacrally given, but
in a way which does not disperse the enigmatic commonality of that

The mute presence of the non-modernist spear-grass in Wordsworth's Ruined
Cottage is at once chastened and in excess of the naturalistic. What
exceeds the naturalistic is a givenness not reducible to the conditions of
description of the object. Here a plenitude of existence is already
diminished but retains its role as gift amid the scarcity of its own
reception. This section involves some debate with Paul H Fry's radically
ontic reading of Wordsworth's poetics.

The second part of the essay reflects on some fragmentary remarks in
Merleau Ponty's The Visible and the Invisible, Jean Luc Marion's notion of
the "adonné" and the themes of call and response in Jean Louis Chretien,
before adducing William Desmond's sense of the "between" further developed
in John Milbank's writing on diagonals. The between is not a mediation but
the sheerly disjunctive porosity of being, whereby nothingness is itself
open to divine invitation.

Any ethics of responsiveness (Wheeler, 2008) should include a response to
the inaffordance of origin, not as a negative idealism, but as the apex of
what it is to live in relation to existence under the radical poverty of
gift. My argument concludes that the scarcity of origin finds itself rooted
in the hyperbolic, ie in an earth offered sacral horizons, not just
frugally from within but as an active (festive) poverty before, which
generates ritual and art.

I then began to read the paper itself, just in case it got any clearer...

creeping out of the Luddite era

Yukie kindly uploaded our recent concert onto youtube in various slices.

Mozart: Sonata for Keyboard Duet in C, KV.521

(1st mvt)
(2nd mvt)
(3rd mvt)

Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op.23 
(part 1)
(part 2)

Satie: La Belle Excentrique - serious fantasy 
four odd movements

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

more letters

While I was away in a mobile phone blackspot last week my post was opened and a message left on my mobile (which I could just about pick up if I held the thing upside down while standing next to the external kitchen door of the Harby Centre, so long as I didn't move my head at any point!) by the lovely post-opener to the effect that I had passed a music exam with distinction.

I was quite chuffed, as it was the Associated Board's LRSM, the second-highest diploma one can get round here, and I'd had to wait about 7 nervy weeks to hear the result. In fact, I was awarded a distinction, which was extremely pleasing, since when I took the exam in the heady summer of 1998 (the last time I did anything exam-like on the piano) I failed!

I don't think I've got all that much better over the last 12 years, but I am sure that the ABRSM's diplomas have got a lot easier. Just compare the syllabus pre- and post-2005. Back in the good old days there was a 3-hour essay-based repertoire paper and a long listening test that included fiendish 4-part dictation... before you could get anywhere near the recital! This time it was just a long programme note and viva that was required in addition to the keyboar-based stuff.

So, chuffed indeed, but well aware that the value of the piece of paper has been roughly in keeping with the value of sterling over the past decade!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

more recent Orthodox missiology

Well-meaning attempts at proclamation-in-power, or less well-meaning cynical manipulation of religion for secular political ends has dogged the Roman Catholic Church more than any other, but the Protestant churches have been by no means free from such taint, nor have the Orthodox.

Recent missiological writings from the mainstream and historic denominations have tended to shy away from exclusivist positions and from what evangelicals would recognise as direct proclamation of the gospel. The wording of many WCC documents, and the thoughts of today's Orthodox spokespeople on mission is often rather mealy. Alternately uplifting and hand-waving, these writings express an ambivalent view of cultural power.

On the one hand, we read of the great importance of "inculturation" (granted) which 'occurs when Christians express their faith in the symbols and images of their respective culture. The best way to stimulate the process of inculturation is to participate in the struggle of the less privileged for their liberation.'

Lovely, but why is Vladimir of Kiev still celebrated (nay, revered) by the Orthodox? A brute who was impressed by a showy Byzantine liturgical celebration (aimed straight at the elites of its day) and who forced his people to be baptized in a river, thereby 'accepting the Christian faith' on behalf of the Rus, and perpetuating in a new place a 'gospel' of power and a church so violently implicated in the workings of the earthly city that its integrity as a church has often been obscured...

[The quotation is from a 1982 WCC document, Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation, recorded with approval by Ion Bria, a leading Orthodox missiologist and academic, in his Go forth in peace: Orthodox perspectives on mission (Geneva: WCC, 1986), pp.80-81.]

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

January 28th at URC

With a proper pianist playing the secondo part for Mozart and Brahms, and then a swop for the final number...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sonata in C major, K521




This is the most beefy of Mozart’s sonatas for 4 hands, and also the final one. It was written in 1787 and dedicated to Babette and Nanette Nortrop, daughters of a wealthy Viennese merchant and pupils of the composer. Mozart considered it “rather difficult”, and since he was one of the most accomplished keyboard players in history we find no reason to quibble with that verdict. Difficult for the pianists, but easy for the audience. From the bold double-dotted main theme, the gentle second subject (which the other performer keeps trying to spice up) through various brilliant episodes and flourishes, the first movement is instantly appealing. Even the tender slow movement has its virtuoso passages, particularly the central, minor section. A deceptively simple, almost twee theme sets the tone for the rondo. The pianists keep interrupting each other, sometimes to change the mood, sometimes to amplify it, and sometimes as if to say ‘I can do better than that’. The coda is robust, and some silky chromaticism slides the music to its jubilant conclusion.

Johannes Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op.23

With a slow-moving theme built of falling scales and a date of composition just a few years after Schumann’s death, we have a recipe for a very moving work. The first three variations grow in their complexity and figuration before a dirge in E flat minor (redolent of the Horn Trio’s Adagio) almost brings everything to a halt. After that Brahms takes in a graceful Viennese waltz, a rambunctious pub ditty, a meandering study in thirds, a sinister scherzo, and a dark, angry outburst before the final variation. This is a slow march, celebratory yet tinged with sadness – not the sadness of a funeral but of warm memories of a chapter now closed.

Erik Satie, “La belle Excentrique”, a serious ballet

1. Grand Ritournelle

2. Marche Franco-Lumière

3. Valse du “mysteriex baiser dans l’oeil”

4. Cancan grand-mondain

This little suite is utterly ridiculous from start to finish – both in its musical ideas and in the challenges set for the performers, who keep jumping in each other’s way, reaching over and even crashing into each other. Originally an orchestral ballet score for the famous French dancer Madame Caryathis, Satie penned it in 1920 and 1921, before making the arrangement for two pianists in 1922. Enigmatic as ever, he commented on the work, “My music likes an atmosphere: a woman calling to mind more a zebra than a doe”. The Marche contains hints of the theme to Spiderman (particularly in its incarnation as ‘Spider Pig’ in The Simpsons Movie). The waltz “concerning mysterious kisses on the eye” (!?) is the only dark corner of the suite, but it pokes fun at various dance styles along the way before the final romp, a “very smart Can-can”.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

incomes in Britain

Found a fascinating article in the FT a few weeks ago that turned up again in this afternoon's tidy-up. All about the distribution of incomes in the UK.

"Middle class workers richer than they think", Tues 5th Jan 2010.

Based on 2007-08 prices, and also based on all people with incomes (whether pensioners, those on benefits, full-time and part-time workers).

Mean (average) weekly income per individual, £487 [=£25,342pa]
Median (central figure if you line them all up) weekly income per individual, £393 [=£20,436pa]
Mode (most common) weekly income per individual, c.£260 [=c.£13,520pa]

Other interesting facts:

A childless couple making £25,000 each are in the 87th percentile - i.e. only 13% of the population earn more. That means that most yuppie couples in Cambridge are unquestionably "rich" (especially given the rest of the world...)

Having a child means you need an extra 20% on your income to maintain a
similar standard of living.

47,500 people (the top 0.1%) make more than £350,000 per year!

More stats are available at, the people who did the hard work.

Friday, 15 January 2010

a rather sadder chapter

The shocking conduct of Greek clergy among the Alans, including extortion rackets, observed by Bishop Theodore in 1233 (sent three centuries after the nation had been baptised) was part and parcel of the general neglect and intolerance of non-Byzantine believers or seekers. The Bishop of Cherson even objected to Theodore’s ultimately vain attempts to properly preach to and disciple the Alans, crying,

‘“The Devil take the godless Alans who are even worse than the Scythians [Mongols]!” … In the eighteenth century, when Russia was conquering the Northern Caucasus, General Eropkin found in the Baxan village of Kabarda a decrepit codex of the Gospels in Greek. The locals explained that they knew only one way to apply it: they used to put it on a sick man’s head. This is an ironic epitaph to Byzantine missionary efforts in the Alania.’ 

Sergey A. Ivanov, ‘Mission Impossible: Ups and Downs in Byzantine Missionary Activity from the Eleventh to the Fifteenth Century’, in Jonathan Shepherd, ed., The Expansion of Orthodox Europe: Byzantium, the Balkans and Russia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp.251-66 (p.261).

Of course, whether or not one believes that the application of a book to the forehead is 'a good thing' does depend on one's perspective. In the hagiography of one Iakovos, a Greek shepherd who was killed by the Turks in 1520, we read of a local Muslim woman of high renown who was cured of a nasty illness by having  copy of the gospels held above her head.

N.M. Vaporis, Witnesses for Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period 1437-1860 (Crestwood, NJ: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000)., p.58.

So, if you're a critical modern historian (or me) you might be tempted to sneer at such practices, but if you're an 18th century priest collecting uplifting stories of Orthodox life under oppression (or even if you're simply republishing them in the 20th century) then such things can apparently form part of a rounded approach to Christian witness...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Orthodox missiology

The lure of proclamation-in-power is so strong, particularly in churches with a lot of direct investment in material culture (i.e. the ones with a lot of expensive buildings and gold-coated gubbins). This has long been true of what we might call the historic (ossified?!) churches of Christendom. Even some of their modern writers are happy that evangelism-by-impressing should be considered an important part of mission work.

If I am slightly negative about this approach, don't think I am altogether happy with revivalist tent meetings, either, or that I am an expert evangelist myself. Horses for courses, one might say. But cultures change, and some churches are not really keeping up...

Alexander Veronis (Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations [Minneapolis, 1994]) comments on Stephen of Perm (1340-1396), a godly and successful evangelist among pagan peoples in what shortly became central Russia. Veronis is quite happy that the celebration of the liturgy as an alien event and the impact of impressive buildings should be considered an important part of mission work. This courageous priest went outside Russian territory, lived among the pagans and spent many hours teaching, arguing, debating as well as working alongside them.

Stephen’s method of preaching was not always so aggressive. His most successful means of converting the Zyrians came through the power of the Divine Liturgy and the majesty of various church structures. Throughout Orthodox history, the beauty of the divine services and church buildings have played an important role in the witness of the church… Stephen had adorned the church with beautiful icons and ornaments because he knew the power such a sight could have on the native population. He only had to recall the powerful influence that a beautiful church and liturgy had on the conversion of Prince Vladimir and the Russian people. (p.61)

Zyrians came to see the church building, not yet for prayer, but desiring to see the beauty of the church, adorned as a beautiful bride (p.62). These visits enabled him to preach the truth to many more than he debates with local religious leaders did.

Fair enough, but such an approach simply did not work (and does not work?) among Muslims. There were plenty of impressive structures and other-worldly liturgical celebrations going on in the former Byzantine empire in the middle ages and early modern period. But putting one's trust in the impressiveness of physical structures is not going to work in the long run: such things decline. And as they did, so did any hope that that sort of ‘mission’ would bear fruit among the conquerors of eastern Christendom...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I never really got into that, which is perhaps a bit odd for a musician with academic leanings. Anyway, a little certainly goes a long way; there is no doubt that my appreciation for music was boosted by music A-levels in 1997 (at the time, poorly understood, if I'm honest), a diploma in musicology (AMusTCL) in 1998 and by occasionally dipping in to academic works since then. But listening to Charles Hazlewood's programme Discovering Music on BBC Radio 3 has been about as helpful as all that study - I can't recommend it more strongly!

Anyway, before Christmas I had to knock up something a little more high powered than my usual chatty programme notes, and this is what came out...

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Sonata No. 62 in E flat major, Hob. XVI/52

I Allegro

II Adagio


Haydn’s last and grandest sonata was written in 1794 during a visit to England. Along with Sonata No. 60 in C major, it was composed for and dedicated to Therese Jansen, a rising star of keyboard performance.[1] The thick opening chords and dramatic gestures of the first movement almost prefigure the changes Beethoven was to bring to the keyboard, and to musical taste in general. At every opportunity Haydn surprises the listener in this Allegro, whether in the frequent harmonic shifts, often unprepared, or in the radical contrast between the grand opening theme and some of the other material. James Taggart points out the humour introduced with the ‘laughing notes’ in the tune at bars 27-9, very redolent of the opening bars of Sonata No. 60.[2] Haydn totally disregards convention when he jumps into E major at the close of the development section – a development section very short on the dominant but bursting with other keys. That leap prepares us for the unusual choice of E major/minor in the Adagio. This is in ternary form, but is essentially monothematic. All the melodic material is generated from the rhythmic organisation and relative pitches of the first three notes. Although slow, there are many flamboyant touches and often a feeling of improvisation. The final movement is in a more conventional sonata form, much more tightly constructed than the Allegro and taking in fewer surprising key-centres, though still highly chromatic in places. Haydn scattered pauses liberally throughout the Presto, adding to a sense of tension and urgency created by the insistent repetition within the main theme and the very early use of the supertonic minor to re-state that theme.

Gabriel Urbain Fauré (1845-1924)

Nocturne No. 4 in E flat, Op. 36

The interval of a falling fourth characterises this elegant, deceptively simple work. The structure is loosely ternary, but since the middle section has two quite distinct melodic ideas (albeit in the same key and bracketed by the same semiquaver figuration) perhaps ‘ABCA’ would be more accurate. Each section is essentially a double statement of its main melodic idea, the second iteration more elaborately accompanied than the first. In each case this double statement of the tune is followed by a transitional passage. There are thematic links between ‘A’ and ‘B’ and ‘A’ and ‘C’ in particular. The falling fourths with which the main theme opens find their place in the second section – bell-like semibreves head each bar, appearing in pairs a compound fourth apart. Section ‘C’, which contains the climax of the work, employs material from the tail-end of the main theme of ‘A’ – a falling fifth preceded by rising triplet figure. A coda in the style of ‘B’ over a tonic pedal ushers in the calm conclusion. Musicologists delight in finding parallels between Impressionist art and the sound world of French music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: ‘For Fauré, as much as for Debussy and Ravel, evocations of bells are a recurring colour, standing out rather in the manner of Van Gogh’s characteristic crimson splashes’.[3] It is not hard to find sources in the composer’s life for this love of bell-like sonorities. He grew up under the sound of church bells and his career began in the Catholic church. Between 1866 and 1892 Fauré worked as organist or choirmaster for churches in Rennes and Paris.[4] To take just one other example from his large output for piano, the monumental Thème et Variations closes with a fortissimo peal of bells on a long descending scale.[5] It is intriguing that Fauré chose to set that peal against a slower-moving rising scale in the lower register, and that his long falling scale moves from right hand to left, just like at the climax of this less ambitious but no less beautiful Nocturne.

Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)

Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 35, No. 1

As Fauré owed a great debt to Chopin for much of his piano writing, so Mendelssohn drank deeply from the wells of past great musicians. Fellow Lutheran J.S. Bach was undeniably an important influence, and the extent of that dependence has long been the subject of great debate among musicologists. This negatively affected Mendelssohn’s reputation for more than a century.[6] However, the six Preludes and Fugues are more Romantic than neo-Baroque, more innovative than conservative.

The most striking feature of the un-Bachian prelude is Mendelssohn’s skilful employment of the “three-hand technique” of virtuoso Sigismond Thalberg (1812-71), in which an inner tune is decorated on either side with florid figuration.[7] But there is much more to this restless work than first meets the ear. Although a midget in comparison to the weighty fugue the prelude has great structural integrity in its own right – almost a miniature sonata form. After the main melody is stated in the tonic minor it is repeated with a modulation to the dominant (minor) via an upward leap of a seventh. New thematic material made up of alternating rising and falling note-pairs (like a second subject) builds to a climax. A chromatic fantasia rippling downwards from the dominant opens the ‘development’ section in which the main theme with diminution (the leap of a sixth becomes a tritone, anticipating the crucial interval of the fugue theme to come) is heard twice, abortively. A fleeting passage relying on major harmonies gives way to a diminished seventh that slides into the dominant seventh which introduces the ‘recapitulation’ back in E minor (a single statement of the main melody with slightly altered accompaniment). The ‘second subject’ is then heard in the tonic before an extended coda over a tonic pedal. Mendelssohn could hardly have made his E minor more emphatic here – despite the taunting intrusions of E major harmony (which serves to prepare for outbursts of the modified first subject in the subdominant) the heavily chromatic contrary-motion scales pull the music relentlessly back to the minor, and the simple arpeggios of the final bars underline that harmony in no uncertain terms.

E minor and a mostly dark, dissonant mood dominate the double fugue. The chromatic principal subject comprises rising tritones and falling, sighing scales. Mendelssohn frequently shrinks the subject’s opening interval of a minor third to a tone or a semitone, giving him great flexibility in the direction the music will then take. Major harmonies begin to predominate from the fifth entry of the principal subject, in the tenor part, and the music is firmly established in the warm relative major by the time the tenor again has the tune. This is a false dawn, however, for after the cadence the music begins to fragment. Falling away from G major the voices enunciate dyadic gestures as they fade, at first overlapping and then breaking apart into separate, halting breaths. The return of the principal subject in the bass brings unity to the voices and a long accelerando begins along with greater dynamic range. The acceleration continues through the first dynamic climax and the introduction of a second fugue subject (an inversion of the principal subject, now featuring staccato articulation) right up to the emphatic return of the principal subject in the tonic minor – first in the highest voice (bar 73) and then in bass octaves (bar 77). At the climax of this radical fugue, the left hand octaves produce an effect reminiscent of organ pedals going at full blast. When the right hand enters again Mendelssohn gives it not the fugue subject but a glorious E major chorale of five stately lines. The last of these is instantly recognisable as the second line of Ein feste Burg ist Unser Gott. Tempo 1 is reaffirmed in the coda, which gently explores the principal fugue subject in a calm tonic major. Since the fugue was written as a response to the death of Mendelssohn’s friend August Hanstein, it is not too fanciful to accept R. Larry Todd’s suggestion that its dissonant path represents the course of Hanstein’s fatal disease while ‘the culminating chorale… distinguished by smooth stepwise motion, [depicts] his release through death and spiritual redemption’.[8]

Achille-Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Étude V (pour les Octaves)

The programme closes with a second up-beat, highly chromatic work by a composer nearing the end of a glittering career whose contribution to the piano repertoire was as important as his influence on the development of musical language was far-reaching. Unlike the Haydn Sonata, however, this piece is very short. Written in 1915, it betrays little of the well-known anxiety and depression that Debussy experienced as a result of the First World War, though several other Études from the set of twelve seem to have the shadow of conflict over them: III – pour les Quartes, IX – pour les Notes répétées or the brutal XII – pour les Accords, for example. If there is anything unsettled here then it is in the slightly sinister central section. The form is loosely ternary, and each main section is further subdivided.

The opening section is expansive and bravura, elaborating in turn on significant elements of the first ‘paragraph’ (bars 1-4). Thus from bar 11, the falling triple semiquaver motif and the off-beat melodic phrases are developed, while from bar 23 Debussy returns again and again to the rising, overlapping flourish that traverses almost the entire keyboard. This flourish has been the cause of some confusion among pianists, since Debussy reportedly said that the penultimate (left-hand) pair of notes was printed an octave too high in the first edition. Unfortunately, he apparently did not comment on the final (right-hand) pair, which is thereby potentially left out on a limb above its fellows, but perhaps ought also to be brought down an octave.[9] Given this ambiguity, I have decided to retain the first edition’s notation for my performance. This permits the flourish to expand dramatically in pitch as it rises, as if the rate of change was itself changing, which seems in keeping with the mood and virtuosity of the work.

The central section’s extended diminished whispering eventually gives way to a pentatonic romp. Instead of being shared out between the pianist’s two hands, in different registers, which had produced a rather unsettled effect, the three-note groups of melodic material are now united, without accidentals, in four bars of Strepitoso double-octave passage work. This leads to a reprise of the opening material in E major (the tonic). Debussy avoids the slip down into E flat major that he had employed in the first section, and provides a dreamy episode in the upper register of the piano, based on the fortissimo passage from bar 11. As he heads back to the tonic, for six bars the elements of the first bar – bass octave, central chord, high triple semiquaver motif – are taken apart and put back together in a slightly different order, then insistently squeezed and sharpened. There is a final chromatic rush before the jubilant conclusion.

[1] Tom Beghin, ‘Thoughts on performing Haydn’s keyboard sonatas’, in Caryl Clark, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Haydn (Cambridge: CUP, 2005), pp. 203-25 [p. 14].

[2] Franz Joseph Haydn’s keyboard sonatas: an untapped gold mine (Lewiston: Edwin Mellon, 1988), pp. 60-61.

[3] Roy Howat, The Art of French Piano Music: Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Chabrier (New Haven: Yale UP, 2009), p. 15.

[4] Biographical information about Fauré is taken from the notes to the Naxos recording of Nocturnes 1-6, online at (accessed 19/12/09).

[5] Howat, French Piano Music, p. 15.

[6] For a balanced and contextualized approach, see James Garratt, ‘Mendelssohn and the rise of musical historicism’, in Peter Mercer-Taylor, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn (Cambridge: CUP, 2004), pp. 55-70.

[7] Steve Lindeman, ‘The works for solo instrument(s) and orchestra’, in ibid., pp. 112-29 [p. 124].

[8] ‘On Mendelssohn’s sacred music, real and imagined’, in ibid., pp. 167-88 [p. 180].

[9] Howat, French Piano Music, p. 235.

Back at the King of Hearts in Norwich

Jane and I headed back there in November to do another recital, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole place. My Grandma came down from Lincolnshire and has waxed lyrical about it ever since. I hope we will return - we are plotting another Beethoven-Grieg combo, which seems to be what comes up when we go to Norwich!

Beethoven, Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30, No.2

I Allegro con brio

II Adagio cantablie

III Scherzo & Trio (Allegro)

IV Finale (Allegro)

This is pure Stürm und Drang Beethoven. From the dramatic first subject of the Allegro con brio (a declaration of war?) to the insane coda of the Finale, the Sonata is dark, brooding, angry and full of passionate outbursts. The second subject of the Allegro con brio may be in a major key, but it sounds like an army on the march, and the buzzing semiquavers of the tonic minor are never far away. This driving busyness underpins even the lyrical passage at the start of the development section, and after 16 bars the violin gives up, reasoning, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. The main subject of the Finale (a rondo) is even more bold, swelling to a tremendous crash that announces each new section. The momvement is peppered with counterpoint, false starts and more notes than you can shake a stick at. Thankfully the middle movements provide some much needed respite. The vast Adagio cantabile contains one of the most beautiful and yearning melodies ever penned, with aching dissonances on the third beat of each phrase that cry out for resolution. In the various episodes of this slow movement Beethoven strays a long way from the warm key of A flat major (the same key as the slow movement of the famous Pathétique Sonata, also in C minor) and spices up the pacific mood. The miniature Scherzo and Trio are in C major; the former light and spiky, the latter like a rustic dance, whose innocent fun is soon to be shattered by the arrival of the Finale.

Grieg, Violin Sonata No.2 in G major, Op.13

I Lento doloroso – Allegro vivace

II Allegretto tranquillo

III Allegro animato

Written 65 years later, in 1867, the optimism of this work is in complete contrast to the Beethoven. And yet the opening Lento (a slow introduction in the manner of the classical symphony) is a lament in G minor that only gradually finds its way to sunnier keys. The rest of the movement is a lively rondo, built from elements of Norwegian folk tunes. Shortly before the end it seems as though the spirit of Elgar is hovering over the music, as one of the dance themes is slowed right down, and harmonised richly in a very noble, ‘English’ fashion! The E minor slow movement is in a straightforward ABA form, in which A starts gently but ends up as dramatic and angry as Beethoven and B is a distant pastoral song in a bright major key. In the last movement Grieg returns to the “springtans”, a Norwegian dance. The tranquil middle section, whose melody returns more grandly before the final flourish, is redolent of the slow movement, and in fact all the themes of the sonata are re-used and developed as the work progresses. See if you can spot the famous ‘Grieg’ theme from the opening of his Piano Concerto. Grieg wrote this sonata in just three weeks, while on his honeymoon, and his feelings are pretty clear!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Nikolai Miaskovsky (1882-1950)

Fabulous Crimble pressie from the parents – Miaskovsky’s complete symphonies, on 16 CDs with several filler pieces, too (overtures, string suites, etc), making each disc at least 75 minutes long. AMAZING value! Notable symphonies so far would be two of the shortest; No.19 for brass band – the first movement recalls Candide’s sweeping melody, and the slow movement starts like the Skye boatman’s song – and No.8 in a very bumptious C major. There are many moments redolent of 20th century English string writing, and so far few dichordant or revolutionary elements. How Miaskovsky can have been denounced as formalist (in 1948, just 2 years before his death) is beyond me, though perhaps his final works did display more ‘modern’ features. That notwithstanding, the spitefulness of state censors (nor, tempting though it may be, the irrational behaviour of awkward people like me) is hardly something I should expect or particularly wish to understand.

musical synasthesia?

I recently sent this email to someone who asked me about my experience of this phenomenon/condition, along with sub-queries on a particular (though theoretical) key and 'sadness' in music.


My synasthesia is not very strong. I don't usually see colours when I hear single notes, but more when I get harmonic impressions. Sometimes I might get a weak colour sensation from a single note, and it will tend to be the colour of that note's major key.

It's definitely the case that people with synasthesia experience colours differently - I read about Scriabin's very pronounced condition and many of the colours were different to mine.

"G sharp major" does not really exist for me, since I would hear it as A flat major. That is a dull, but rich red with hints of purple. (I'm not sure what I would see in the almost inconceivable case that someone was in B major and then modulated through sharp keys all the way to G sharp major!)

"Sad keys" are partly determined by musical context. All the minor keys are potentially sad. Perhaps I could say that E flat minor and B minor are particularly "sad", while G major, A major and E major are particularly "happy" (I omit D major from that list because it seems richer than "happy", but this is leaving the question of colours somewhat).
Here's a non-systematic and incomplete list of impressions...

Greens come from E, E flat, G and G flat
Yellows come from B and D
Reds come from A, A flat and F sharp minor (F sharp major is like arainbow, with orange emphasis)
F minor is ivory and purple, sometimes pink
C minor is black, dark brown, also gun metal, and other things hard toput into words (C major is like a shiny version of that, or sometimes can be matt, like peat)
B flat is almost white; the minor is grey
D flat is almost colourless, but also sometimes off-white
C sharp minor is impossible to put into words! But I love it.

Romans 5

Something interesting came up when I was studying Romans 5 the other week in preparation for a sermon in our series at Hope (... then click on "Media")

In verses 12-21 a vast chiasmus opened up before my very eyes...

A B C D E D' C' B' A'

Note in particular the two ways [C and D] in which the gift of Christ affects fallen man, and how the content of A is developed through E and A'. Our attention is also drawn, in this difficult passage, to the central claim, which repays long meditation.

[A protasis (interrupted)]
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

[B what law does and did]
for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

[C transformative]
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

[D forensic]
Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.

[E alternate summary of protasis-apodosis]
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

[D' forensic]
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

[C' transformative]
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

[B' what law does]
The law was added so that the trespass might increase.

[A' protasis (complete) and apodosis]
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

NYT editorial on public science

Science not so impartial, whatever either of those two words mean!

A really interesting article to help bring some enlightenment to the crazed devotees of mythical 'Science' anyhow. As they say about guns, science doesn't tell the truth, people do (or don't). And it's a lot more complicated than a machine you can point and click.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

In Bruges

Same preposition, same rudeness. Less creative in its insults, but more intensive. Somehow a virtue is (almost) made out of the storm of words. In this case it's the cute Irish accent saying various swear words rather than the Scots, but there is a distinct Celtic slant to them both. We Anglo-Americans are such vouyeurs of the peripheries...

A surprisingly old-fashioned film, with a very surprising turn by Ralph Fiennes as London crime boss. There are big issues, big principles, and no nudity.

Notice the simple/straightforward "morality" of the characters (though Brendan Gleason's Ken has a greater maturity there, scoring 0.00002 instead of 0.00001): rudeness, violence and killing are fine, but not killing children. The film’s morality is slightly wider than that of the characters. After all, those who live by the sword die by it, and no one else does.

Once again, however, I have reservations about enjoying something so rude and violent. To the pure all things are pure, but whatever is noble, whatever is good...

In the Loop

Armando Iannucci’s acclaimed political satire. Three stars out of five, I think.

But ten out of ten for rudeness – it might have scored higher than any Tarantino for swearing and truly offensive insults…

Although it’s the right length In the Loop is less a feature film and more an expensive exercise in astonishment. Desperately sad, like The Office; every cell in my body cringes at how dreadful the characters are, and yet how true and real they are. Frightening as well as compelling, but not one to watch again.

Performances were pretty good, in that faux documentary way, but unfortunately all the drama ebbed away towards the end. Minister for International Development, Peter Forrester, was too much of a caricature by that point for us to care about his resignation or about the ‘clever’ plan of the odious spin doctor to have him fired instead. Even the prospect of war was not very compelling. Jaded viewer or poor drama? Maybe both...

The Law (Torah)

I was mulling on this again, as I preached on Romans 7 recently. Some very helpful chat with Mrs L…

What is the Law to us Christians? (And what do we even mean when we say, ‘the Law’? – that’s a big question that turns on some technical points and also on the big sweep of redemptive history.)

Are we bound by its commandments?

Is it a spur to holiness?
Not profitably so

Is it a measure or guide?

So can we read it with profit, and if so, what profit?
Good question!

Think about Galatians 5, on the fruit of the Spirit (the good life, as it were). “Against such things there is no law”. In other words, what does the Law have to do with our ethics now? It has nothing to do with measuring or defining the good, Spirit-filled life. As Colossians 2 says of the Torah (or what sounds like at least part of Torah), “such things have the appearance of wisdom… but are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”.

But can we only say ‘we don’t need the Law for our ethics now, thanks’ because it has already had such a tremendous influence, direct and indirect, on Western culture for hundreds of years? Is it indeed the case that the Law is OK as a guide to secular national life, but not for Christian ethics?

Of course, since New Testament ethics is hardly radically opposed to Torah in many areas we will find an amazing similarity between the Spirit-filled life and the Law. But is that because both come, as it were, independently from the same source, rather than one being a development or part-adoption of the other.

Hey, I almost sound like a Lutheran or Dispensationalist in those musings!

Weed Killers of Three Million AD

A short story I wrote at the age of ten. Well, I say wrote, but in fact (in eerie foreshadowing of my maturer struggles with finishing projects and love of peripherals) what I actually wrote was…

the contents page

Chapter 1 – The Exam Day

— “— 2 – The Kidnapping

—“— 3 – Weedkillers

—“— 4 – Design & Making

—“— 5 – The Last Stand of Base 2?

the opening page of chapter 1


Chapter 1.

Saturday is the worst day of the week and this one was really bad. It was the day of my entrance exam to King Edwards School. I was eating my breakfast and reading a comic and I needed some more milk. “Pass the milk Dad,” I said with my mouth full. He put his paper down to pass the milk and it was then that I saw the Headlines….

the back-cover blurb, on the back cover of the little notebook I had commandeered…

A boy goes to an exam and is taken 3,000,000yrs into the future. The humans want him to design a weapon to destroy plants which have evolved into Giants.

Can he do it before they make a mazzive raid on the Base?

Will his weedkiller weapons work?


UK - £1.50

NZ - $5.50

Notice the happy acceptance of evolution! Must have been in my unreflective phase before I went to that seminar by creationists ;-)

Notice also the dodgy punctuation inside the speech marks! How I dislike that now.