Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Captain America:Perverse Criticism

It’s fair to say that the reviews I’ve read of Captain America have been mixed. They have ranged from abusive vilification to implausible eulogy. Something has niggled at me as I have read them though. While some of the criticisms may be fair others seem distinctly unfair. It’s a metaphor I have used before in other contexts but some of them seem to be kicking the dog because it barks.

For example to criticize the movie's top-and-tailing with present day scenes  on the grounds that they are there to tie it to the forthcoming Avengers movie is to miss the point that I made in my review. Captain America IS about two different versions of the character: the war hero and the modern day superhero. It’s true that those scenes will link it to the Avengers but they are also, to my mind, a crucial part of the character and it was far better to do it in framing sequences than trying to tell both stories. And together they are around five minutes long. Hardly a major intrusion.

To criticise it for having too many forgettable characters , by which I can only assume we are talking about the commando team, is to ignore the fact that this isn’t any old commando team - it’s Sergeant Fury’s Howling Commandos – as much an essential part of the WWII Captain mythos as his shield is.

And criticising the patriotic tone of a movie that is a fairly faithful retelling of a tale that was by its very nature designed to be nothing but patriotic seems as perverse as what amounts to a criticism of a comic book movie for being, well, comic-book-like

Captain America


Walking back from the Cinema it occurred to me that the four most recent films I've seen have all been superhero adaptations - X-Men: First Class, Thor, Green Lantern and now Captain America. All those other films were to some degree or other flawed. X-Men had some serious plot holes and some unnecessary historical exposition, Thor was spectacular in the true sense of the word and very enjoyable but suffered from sequences that were clearly there solely to set up the connection to the forthcoming Avengers movie and Green Lantern was an object lesson in how to make a very bad superhero film.
So what about Captain America?
Well it isn't the first attempt to bring it to the screen, not even the first live action attempt. None of the previous versions were successful so why should this one be different? The problem lies in the very nature of Captain America's story- not the one in the comic books but the one in the real world. It isn't really one character but two. The character was originally conceived as a super-patriotic strip in 1940 to rally the folks back home during the war. He fought alongside such characters as the Submariner,  the Human Torch and Sergeant Fury's Howling Commandos, and together they took on the evil might of the Third Reich. That incarnation was cancelled in 1954.
The character was revived in 1964 —  having been frozen in the ice since defeating the Red Skull — and started his more modern lease of life, The problem the movie makers have always had is that they try to tell both stories in a single movie. And it doesn't work. One version I saw on TV collapsed the entire WWII story into a single mission where he was created, fought the Red Skull and got frozen, begging question of how he is such a well-known and recognisable icon when he eventually gets thawed out if no one had ever heard of him in the 1940s.
The new version boldly sets everything —  apart from two very short framing sequences —  during the war, allowing time for the character to be drawn in rather bolder strokes than any previous version, and it's all the better for it. In fact it's extremely faithful not just to the original concept of the character but to the style, look and atmosphere of the original comic books. The plot is straight-forward, action-filled and even the inevitable (given the character and setting) triumphalism is tongue-in-cheek and self mocking. It may not be thought-provoking or intellectual fare but it's a jolly good romp. If you're a comics fan then you may enjoy it just a shade more, but most people should enjoy it anyway.
So of the four recent superhero movies, I'd say it's the clear winner.
And now can we please have some movies that aren't based on comics?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Evil Empire

They used to refer to Microsoft as "The Evil Empire" but nowadays I'm pretty sure Google has taken the crown. The King is Dead, Long Live the King.

I've been on a bit of an anti-Google trip for the last couple of weeks, ever since I discovered that while I am here in Harrow using my gmail account is about as secure as posting all my private correspondence as full page adverts in a national newspaper.

The problem is straightforward but, as far as I've been able to determine, has no solution. I am teaching in a school where all the academic staff have a single common logon user and password. When I log on to use Gmail anyone else who logs on can see what I'm doing.

Worse than that is that if I forget to explicitly log out of every single site that uses my Google account password - which, incidentally includes all of my blogs - then my login remains active and even though I may have shut down the computer and gone for a walk anyone subsequently logging in still gets to see my emails.

This, I am told, is a feature to save me the trivial inconvenience of having to log in again when I get back.

Common login details are standard in all sorts of organisations. The lack of security beggars belief.

Why post now though?

I just watched the video about Google+ in this link and am truly appalled by the arrogance of it. The idea that everyone who uses any Google product will find themselves forced into being part of Google+ is monstrous.

Here's a quote "Google plus is in its early phases. Expect all of Google's many apps to continue to merge into their social network over time."

And here's another.

"You don't need to choose Google plus. Sooner or later you're going to end up using it."

I am very seriously considering switching my blogs, my RSS feeds and my email to other providers. The lack of security on the email horrifies me and the idea that when I log into ANYTHING that lack of security will carry through horrifies me even more.

Who's running this show? The Mekon?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Thursday, 21 July 2011

That time of year again

It's that time of year again, the point where I have had my annual visit to one of the London Galleries followed by a nice meal and then followed by an evening at the theatre. This year the theatre was Simon Callow doing for Shakespeare what he has previously done for Dickens, the meal was Lebanese and the gallery was, as last year, the Saatchi where the current exhibition is "The Shape of Things To Come: New Sculpture".
The exhibition is varied and interesting, though often pornographic (and vaguely disturbing) without being erotic. As with last year though it isn't the exhibition that's prompting my post - it's the exhibition guide.
I have reached the conclusion that the reason people don't like modern art has nothing to do with the art itself and everything to do with the specious claptrap of the critics.
Here then are some of the phrases from this years guide. Interpretation notes are provided.

"these identifiers change the viewers perspective and turn the room's vaguely prehistoric ambience into less numinous territory"
(the  little paper crosses on top of the rocks stop them looking like rocks and make them less spiritual - that's what the words mean but surely the intent must have been the opposite)

"explore the boundaries of traditional figuration by embedding his subjects with otherworldly elements and recocneptualising how to represent the human figure in all its spatial, spiritual and psychological mmultiplicity"
(he makes stautues that look a bit like people but not really by using lots of things that people aren't actually made of)

"the crashed car is recycled from a subject of horror into a kind of metaphysical art"
(he bends cars into shapes that they couldn't ever have actually crashed into)

"sculptures which occupy a space between abstraction and representation"
(stylised sculptures)

"abstract deformation is turned into beauty"
(things that should be beautiful are made to look ugly)

"(the) large fuzzy masses look like rubble found at a building site"
( (the) large fuzzy masses look like rubble found at a building site)

"have a lifelike quality which makes their dirty and broken down facture all the more affecting"
(they are quite realistic but poorly made - again, this is what the words mean but seems to me to express the opposite of the actual intent.)

"create a bold new figure for the female nude"
(not very lifelike female nudes)

"explores the actualisation of pattern  and the tension between the exquisite decorativeness ond DIY"
(looks a bit like home decoration but might be art)

"in contrast to pure conceptual forms of minimalism, present a messy aesthetic, both alluring and overtly ugly"
(not really minimalist but looks quite interesting if not very pretty)

"The Milky Way is a sprawling web of wood and neon tubes illustrating its title subject but withot pretending to be to scale, useful or even correct"
(A sculpture made out of neon lights that is called The Milky Way  But isn't anything to do with it really.)

"composed of 119 found neon tubes... suggests a madness held in check but disconcertingly on the verge of being out of control"
(pretty but chaotic - possibly bonkers)

""they are charged with an alter-like quasi-shamanistic power"
(they look vaguely religious and are presented on plinths)

As I say, none of this should be taken as criticism of the art itself which, for the most part I found interesting and ocacasionally marvelous, but with descriptions like that is it any wonder that that the general public see it as being just so much pretentious nonsense?

Features I Shall Never Use

I decided to buy a smaller, more compact, camera to take with me to China. My Minolta has been, and continues to be, a fine camera but it is a bit bulky for my current needs so it can stay here in the UK while I take my new Fuji off to China with me. However glancing through the manual I have spotted a number of feautres which rather baffle me.
For example, while I understand that many people are very fond of their pets does it really need two separate modes available - one specifically for photgraphing dogs and one specifically for photographing cats? And what happens if you have a rabbit?
More baffling to me is the GPS feature. I cannot think of any reason why it would ever be important to me to have the camera tell me exactly the direction and distance a place on a particular photograph is from the point where I am standing when I take subsequent photograph.
I often wish people would just make devices that do what a normal human being wants them to do and not clutter them up with features that no sane person could ever need.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

No News is Good News?

Watching a silent news program with a ticker-tape message strip running across the bottom yesterday I saw the staggering news that

"Reuters: US authorities are not investigating News International"

What next? War Not Declared? No Cars Involved In Pile-up? Celebrity Couple Stay Married?
Since when did the news consist of telling what hasn't happened?

Poetry Unplugged at The Poetry Cafe: An Impressionistic Review

Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, 12 July 2011

First of all let me tell you what this isn't. It isn't, in any real sense of the word, a review. It can't be. Thirty seven performers (plus the MC, Niall O'Sullivan) in three hours (minus the fifteen minute break) conspired with a room so crowded with poets and poetry-lovers that there wasn't space enough to make notes, to make a proper review impossible. Just the name-checks would use up the whole word-count!
I can tell you about the venue, downstairs in The Poetry Cafe, hidden away in a Covent Garden backstreet, below a vegetarian Cafe where the lampshades have Ralph Steadman cartoons, the walls are thickly plastered with posters for poetry events and the customers sit and discuss the relative merits of Kerouac and Ginsberg.
The performance room was filled to no more than about five times a comfortable capacity and every one of the extremely friendly and welcoming crowd was a bone fide poetry aficionado.
The performance reviews though are where it all gets a bit impressionistic.
We had...

... London accents, Irish accents, Liverpool accents and American accents:
...poetry that was prosaic and poetry that was profound
...straightforward, metaphorical and surreal:
...saintly, discrete, scurrilous and frankly obscene:
...rhyming verse and free verse:
...rapping styles, lyrical styles and singing:
...structured, unstructured and chaotic:
...confident performances and slightly nervous performances:
...poems about sex, god, poverty, celebrity, reality, fantasy, food,  fetishism, zombies, flat-sharing, travel, the Government viewed as a boyfriend, the Government viewed as a tyranny, Los Angeles and Chessington, science, art, mathematics:
...poems where I couldn't tell you what they were about if you gave me sixpence.

It was gloriously, wonderfully frantic and intense and what we didn't have - and it's really quite remarkable - was a single poor performance. I got up and did my bit half way through the first half and had a nicely warm response which pleased me given the company I was keeping.

Niall kept a necessarily tight rein on the proceedings and everything went splendidly. For  poets and poetry lovers  alike if you are in the region of Covent Garden on a Tuesday night I'd recommend it, but, if it's always so well-attended, dress in cool clothes and take your own oxygen supply.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

And the winner is...

The award for the most redundantly descriptive name for an establishment must surely go to the one in Harrow on the Hill rejoicing in the name


And to prove it really does seem to be called that I shall take a picture when I'm next passing and post it here.

And Gone Again

I see everyone's followers have disappeared again.
It's about time that Blogger sorted this bug out once and for all.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Two Houses

My house sale is, I hope, progressing.
Out of curiosity about prices I  glanced at an estate agent window in Harrow today and noticed a very similar property being offered. Both are three-bedroomed, semi-detached houses. Both have large front and rear gardens. Both have their own garages. They were built around the same time and they are both described as needing "upgrading". The only significant difference in either the photographs or the descriptions is that whereas the one in Harrow has its own drive, mine has a shared drive with a neighbouring property.

Oh yes. There was one other tiny difference. I struggled to get offers at £80,000. The one in Harrow is listed at £290,000.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A River of Stones:Final Act/Time Lapse

Two small pieces of writing for the river today because one of them should really have been added to yesterday, but I had no computer access.
Yesterday I left for the last time the house that has been my home for over forty years. It was a very strange and poignant moment. I wrote this on the train heading away.

as my final act
I walk around the house
closing all the doors
And now I am in Harrow on the Hill for my annual visit teaching EFL in summer school. As often happens there is a curious sense of time not passing as I walk throught he streets which are almost, though not quite, unchanged from when I left them a year ago. Different buildings have the scaffolding around them as they undergo refurbishment, some businesses have changed their names but on the whole it's the same.

my annual visit to the hill
has become a very slow exercise
in time-lapse photography

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Jam on it

Some people are never satisfied.
My potential buyers for the house (nothing is signed yet) are already getting it at substantially below the original asking price and substantially below the price that I would hold out for if I had more time. I have emptied the house of all furniture, emptied the garage of junk, sorted out everyhting that needs to be sorted out. Even cut the lawns.

Yesterday they couple in question, with the woman's mother in tow, paid me a visit demanding that I use today, my last day in the property, to hire - at my expense - a skip, rip out all the carpets, cut them up, fill the skip and dispose of it.

This, I can say with some confidence, is NOT going to happen. They can pull out of the sale if they want to, and if they do, I wish them the best of luck in finding a similar property at a similar price and especially in finding a mug who is going to pay for the cost of their refurbishment.

Some people just want jam on it.

A River of Stones:Light

For a very long time now the house where the garden backs onto mine has had fast growing conifers along the fence that divides up. And I mean fast. From when they were planted to now they have grown to be much taller than the houses, tall enough in fact that if they fell towards my house they would reach the whole length of the garden. And the garden is about fifteen metres long.

Yesterday he cut them down to a rather more manageable size. They are probably no more than about eight metres high now and have been similarly trimmed in girth and density. It has made quite a difference and is the subject of today's River of Stones piece.

the garden is unusually light
there is suddenly sky
and behind my house
another house

my neighbour has finally
cut down his trees

Monday, 4 July 2011

A River of Stones:Chairs/Getting Closer

Today I gave away the last of my furniture, leaving only the bed and TV in a house that was once overcrowded with far too many tables, chairs, bookcases, cupboards and cabinets. It's been an odd experience dismantling fifty years of my life but it's had to be done.
And now it is.

Here, then, is today's small stone take on the subject.

sitting on a blue suitcase
typing this
is uncomfortable
but the last of my chairs
are now
someone else's

soon there will be
nothing left
of the life I had

Sunday, 3 July 2011

I promise I didn't write this myself

A review of Chaos Theory

All writers have their pre-occupations. They are what lure like-minded readers and perhaps turn an audience into a following. The trick for the poet is to home in on themes that are likely to resonate with a wide body of the public – or at least that part of it that reads poetry.

Although Robert Hale’s latest collection is dubbed “Chaos Theory”, taking the title from a piece illustrating how ‘the smallest of lies betrays the greatest of truths’, the realm inhabited by the collection seems less that of Hardy or Priestley (how different might the world have been but for one small snub or misconstrual) and more the byways of Eeyore’s Gloomy Place. This is no bad thing. Amongst poetry readers gloom junkies are a sizeable target market.

This, however, is gloom with panache, in many shades, avoiding monotony by the interspersal of occasional smile-inducing nuggets. The overall result is not, therefore, depressing even though many of the chuckles are hardly light-hearted.

“Dave” is life affirmingly misanthropic, whilst “All Things to All Men” combines misanthropy nicely with the penumbral. “The Monster” skips its ti-tummity way through the field of fraternal childhood psychological torment, the sinister tone enhanced by repetitive nursery rhyme phrasing. Despair for humanity, an undertone in many of the poems, comes to the fore in “Build a Better Mousetrap” and “These were the ways of the Ancients”.

In a couple of instances accusations of preaching to the converted could be levelled given that only a tiny proportion of the likely readership will call for an increase in background music (“The Death of Silence”) or defend the art of the spin doctor (“Balance”). The choice of the sitting duck target, nevertheless, is redeemed by the deftness of the execution.

“Valentine’s Day Poem” and “The Birthday” deliver, in greetings card couplets, identical wry melancholia on the subject of reluctant solitude. Perhaps unexpectedly for a collection where the tone is only occasionally upbeat, these two, along with “10 Items or Less” (a pithy list poem), “Away from the Crowd” and “Contemplating Suicide” are the only obvious concessions to self-indulgence. Mercifully, introspection is resorted to sparingly and when it is done, for the most part, it is done well.

Regretful head shaking is primarily reserved for human experience in general; “Day by Day”, “Liberation”, “Lucky Dip” “A Christmas Song” and the poignant “I Wish I Speak Well English”. Bemusement is also carried off nicely in the eminently performable “Teddy Bear House”. Indeed if a number of the poems were not written from outset with a view to performance they have emerged in this form. In some hands this could imply nothing more than a lowest common denominator couplet fest but the experience of performing seems to have disciplined Hale to consider the importance of accessibility in all of his work without compromising on technique. This has benefitted even those poems not destined for declamation from the stage.

It is testimony to the persuasiveness of the point of view that verse form seldom appears the raison d’être for the poems although this is rigorously worked through in most of the collection. It is only after a second glance that the ABCDE ABCDE scheme of each verse of “Broken English” becomes apparent or the ABCDBCD of “Contemplating Suicide”. The writer’s interest in form is clear from the Haikus and from such experiments as “Stars: a Fibonacci Poem” (I will trust to Hale’s superior mathematical knowledge that the sequence was faithfully replicated) and “Love Sequence”. Structure, however, is nearly always complementary and seldom becomes a distraction unless the point of the poem is the construction.

A highlight of this collection, that contains many more hits than misses, is the potentially depressing “From out of the Deep”, which, as a reflection on senility, is, with typical perversity, verging on the optimistic. Avoiding a second childhood cliché and dicing with a subtly demanding rhyme scheme, the mental state is succinctly commented upon and capped with the epilogue: ‘The depths give back their gold’. Compare this resolution to the more disturbing ‘terrible silence’ of “Broken English”.

Perhaps the only unnecessary inclusion is “Exhibition”. Even though the non-cognoscenti can get the drift, this faux nursery rhyme about conceptual art could be just a little too exclusive. The poem that follows, “Bird-blind”, is much more effective as comic relief, although when the collection goes into its second print run the reader who unconsciously carries out a scansion exercise whilst digesting the verses might be helped by a re-jigging of the last two lines, if only a transfer of the first syllable of the last line to the end of the penultimate. These lines are, after all, the boom boom of the piece.

Above all, the majority of the poems in this collection reward repeated reading. At the very least this makes them value for money. In The Gloomy Place there is not only much food (or thistles) for thought but also a fair degree of perverse amusement. The collection as a whole may not be particularly enthusiastic about an awful lot but then what well-balanced individual would not want to give Tigger a good slap?
                                   David Love


Saturday, 2 July 2011

A River Of Stones:You Can Choose Your Friends, But...

I can post this safe in the knowledge that the relative it is about will never, ever find his way to my blogs...


You Can Choose Your Friends, But...

he spreads across the armchair
like a water-filled balloon

his vest torn and stained with food

marks that look weeks or months old

the ragged growth of beard makes
maps upon his red raw face

and he tells me why the world
nowadays has gone to hell

Friday, 1 July 2011

How much time will THIS waste then?

Thanks to arnie over at wordcraft for drawing my attention to this brilliant web site. Since he passed on the link two days ago I have wasted hours and hours just poking around on it. I expect I'll be wasting more.

A River of Stones: Key Change

I handed a set of keys in to my estate agent today. I have only five more nights in my house and then, if everything goes to plan, I will never set foot in here again. I have a potential buyer (two actually) and the process of drawing up contracts and selling the house has begun. Today I went to talk to my solicitor about what I can do if anything delays or prevents the sale and I am out of the country. We came up with several contingency plans that are all workable but for the moment are proceeding with the sale to a nice young couple buying their first home.

After seeing my solicitor I went to hand in a set of keys to the Estate Agent and when I returned home, I turned into my drive and for some reason it felt, for the first time, different. It felt as if I was going into somewhere where I was just visiting, somewhere that was nothing more to me than an anonymous hotel room would be. It didn't feel like home.

It prompted todays entry for A River of Stones on the official opening day of the project.

Here it is:

Friday  01/07/11

the backdoor key and the frontdoor key
are joined on an unfamiliar blue keyring
that bears the estate agent's name
and a code number

when I unlock my door later with the duplicate
it no longer feels like coming home