Thursday 31 July 2014

Remembering Laddie

There is seldom anything to add to the notoriously exhaustive general-interest features on the BBC News website (remember the cardboard boxes?). However, I noticed that this piece on railway collections dogs - which I much enjoyed, especially the tales of Brighton Bob's embezzlement and subsequent kidnapping - makes no mention of Laddie.
 I have fond memories of Laddie, a stuffed Airedale who used to stand in a glass case on platform 9/10 at Wimbledon station. Laddie, born in 1948, collected more than £5,000 for the Southern Railwaymen's Homes in Woking before retiring in 1956, dying in 1960, and being stuffed and returned in a glass case to Wimbledon station, where he stood until 1990, when he was carted off to join the National Railway Collection.
 Our children always enjoyed going to say hello to Laddie whenever we found ourselves waiting on Wimbledon station. I rather miss him... We've all been there. You're waiting on the station, the children are bored. You wonder, is there by any chance a stuffed dog in the vicinity? Enter Laddie.
 (I wonder if any of my fellow South Londoners remember him too?)

Wednesday 30 July 2014

The Historic Present: A Challenge

The great Humphrys-Bragg Battle of the Historic Present rumbles on, with Braggy sounding off today, I believe, from behind the Times firewall. These two broadcasting silverbacks have long cultivated a half-joshing antagonism, but I'm not quite sure why Humphrys chose to have a pop at Bragg over this particular issue. In fact, I wonder if Humphrys was thinking not of Bragg's In Our Time (which makes sparing use of the HP) but of the Radio 4 history series The Long View, which uses it on a grand scale, to irritating effect.
 The wider problem with the historic present, it seems to me, is the way it's invaded fiction. Entire novels are now routinely written in the HP - a case in point being the current Book at Bedtime, a historical novel called The Miniaturist. Does this make the action more vivid and immediate? Far from it; when everything is in the HP, it would take a switch into a proper past tense to liven things up. The historic present is fine and effective in its place, used thoughtfully, but too often in contemporary fiction it's no more than a lazy habit, encouraged by publishers, who seem to think it helps to sell their books (not to me it doesn't - if a book begins in the HP I'm liable to abandon it straight away). I suspect that this fashionable trope will be one of the things that make the novels of our time unreadable to subsequent generations (which is, after all, the fate of most of what is written in any age).
 But here's a challenge for my erudite readers: Can anyone name a great, or even first-rate, full-length novel (in English) that is written entirely in the historic present? I can't think of a single one, but that might just be the summer heat addling my brain...  

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Cass Elliot

Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Cass 'Mama Cass' Elliot - who did not choke on a ham sandwich in that Curzon Place apartment, though the myth has proved sadly persistent. She died in fact of heart failure, probably brought on by her various drastic attempts at losing weight. Her solo career was on an up at the time, after some sad downs, and she probably had much fine music still in her.
 It was Cass's voice alone that won her a place in the band that became The Mamas &The Papas. John Phillips, typically, was reluctant to take her on, on the grounds that she was too fat. Cass was in love with Denny Doherty, and on one occasion - according to him - proposed marriage, though Denny claims he was too stoned at the time to even respond. Denny's eyes were on Michelle Phillips anyway, with whom he had the affair that led to Michelle being temporarily sacked from the band. Cass herself quit after one too many vicious insults from John (though she fulfilled her recording obligations). And so it went on, until the inevitable final disintegration of the once great band.
 Now, happily, what lives on is the glorious music that somehow emerged from that seething emotional snakepit: the Mamas & Papas' catalogue of joyous songs brilliantly performed and produced, the dark masterpiece that is John Phillips' solo album Wolf King of LA (the jauntiest cry of despair ever committed to vinyl) - and the wonderful voice of Cass Elliot. RIP.

Monday 28 July 2014


Here I am, back from a week of jaunting around the country in almost unbroken sunshine. Early in the week, on an impulse, I went to have a look at Margate, a Kentish coastal resort with a reputation for being thoroughly scuzzy and run-down. The reputation is well earned by the part of town nearest the station (as is so often the way - why do so many towns present their worst side to those arriving by train?). However, as you walk further, along the sweep of what is by any standards an impressive bay with fine sands (on which, as Eliot noted, one can connect nothing with nothing), Margate improves, indeed gets better and better the farther you go. Lots of fine Victorian and Georgian buildings with exuberant seaside detailing, looking out over bay after sandy bay, all bathed in a wonderful light - the light that attracted Turner to Margate year after year...
 The Turner connection is celebrated in the town's landmark (literally) art gallery, the Turner Contemporary, which dominates the harbour. Opened three years ago, it was designed by David Chipperfield and has been described as 'ugly, alien and bleak'. From the outside, especially close up and especially at certain angles, it lives up to that characterisation, and my expectations were not high as I approached - but, once inside, all that changed. What looks from the outside like a random collection of blank boxes turns out to be a space full of light and sky, in which the view out to sea and across the bay becomes, to a quite magical extent, part of the building. The effect is breath-taking.
 In an upstairs gallery (artificially lit, which seems a pity) the exhibition Mondrian & Colour was still under way - an interesting small-scale display of works by Mondrian before, as it were, he became Mondrian. Some of them are very fine, others seem like mere experiments in other artists' styles, and as a whole the exhibition doesn't really explain how Mondrian made the leap to his form of extreme abstraction (represented by a few characteristic works, which certainly give more in reality than they do in reproduction).
 In another gallery - this one making good use of natural light - was an enjoyable little exhibit by Spencer Finch, an American artist I hadn't heard of. This was unfortunately dominated by a large 'cloud' suspended from the ceiling which had something of the air of a Sixth Form art project about it. But there was also a fascinating display along one wall that, at first glance, looked like a row of black squares. These were in fact 60 photographs taken with a fixed camera at one-minute intervals as fog came and went across a swathe of forest. Peering into the images in succession, as the fog clears and thickens again, ghostly trees come in and out of vision and sunlight occasionally breaks through, was a strangely rewarding experience. As indeed was visiting Margate. 
 But enough - I must now step out into the sunshine...

Monday 21 July 2014

A Lover of the Dawn?

When I got up this morning (I'm on holiday this week), there was a female Gatekeeper perched on a leaf of the Buddleia bush outside the back door, her tail in the air, waiting for some passing male to take the, er, hint. She is still there as I write...
It's been another bumper year for the delightful Gatekeeper, the most cheering and approachable of our summer butterflies. Its Latin name is Pyronia Tithonus - yes, Tithonus, the mortal cursed by Zeus with the inability do die, whose wretched plight is so powerfully expressed in Tennyson's poem: 'The woods decay, the woods decay and fall...' What could he possibly have to do with the merry little Gatekeeper? I think the explanation must be that Tithonus was the (reluctant) lover of Eos, the goddess (strictly speaking, Titan) of the Dawn. Is the Gatekeeper, then, a lover of the dawn, or at least an early riser among butterflies? This would seem likely, to judge by the hopeful female on my Buddleia bush.
 I've been thinking about the Latin/Greek nomenclature of butterflies ever since reading a fascinating article on the subject in the current edition of Butterfly magazine. From this I learnt that my old friend the Dingy Skipper [see Nigeness passim], Erynnis Tages, is named after the Erynnes - the Furies - because it flies as if pursued by them, and after Tages, a miraculous boy who 'rose suddenly from the ground', just like a Dingy Skipper taking off.
 In other butterfly news, on Ashtead Common yesterday, where Silver-Washed Fritillaries were flying in glorious abundance (along with a few White Admirals), I spotted, high up in an oak, the second Purple Emperor of my life. He was only briefly in sight, but on size alone he was unmistakable, and I got a good sight of the equally unmistakable underwing. As a lepidopteral thrill, it wasn't quite up there with seeing my first - especially as that one was settled on the ground - but it was not far behind. There really is nothing like seeing the Emperor.
 Update: The Gatekeeper has flown - I hope she found her male.

Saturday 19 July 2014

The Great Fire of Carshalton; An Eye-Witness Report by Your Man on the Spot

Having enjoyed a morning stroll around our little local nature reserve - where the Gatekeepers and Ringlets were flying in merry abundance - I was walking back into the village when I noticed a thick  plume of pretty ugly smoke rolling up from somewhere behind the High Street shops. It looked like too much to be an over-exuberant bonfire - and so it proved. As I drew nearer, I discovered that it was the old bakery building behind the baker's shop. There were no flames, but the smoke was billowing out in quantity.
 Already knots of interested bystanders were forming all around, and in minutes the first batch of cops had turned up and set about their usual thing - putting up tape barriers, closing the road and gesticulating at drivers and onlookers alike. More police were soon piling onto the scene, with cars turning up every minute - but no sign of the fire brigade. I nipped into the Co-Op supermarket as it was still open (it wouldn't be for long), and while I was at the till, a young House Sparrow - no doubt disoriented by the smoke and kerfuffle - flew in through the open door, like Bede's sparrow flying through the hall, except that there was no exit at the other end. The last I saw of him he was perched atop Tinned Vegetables.
 When I passed that way a couple of hours later, still more of the High Street was closed, and half a dozen fire engines were now at the scene, with miles of hoses trailing everywhere. They seemed to have done their work and nothing remained of the fire but a smoky tang to the air. The firefighters were sorting out their equipment, amid much joshing and badinage. They seemed to be enjoying themselves; they don't often get to see a fire these days.
 Stop Press: I just discovered that this fire broke out just as the firefighters' latest two-hour strike was under way - what are the chances?

Thursday 17 July 2014

Full Lotus on Train

On the train this morning, a youngish chap - smart suit, achingly trendy geek-style haircut and glasses - was perched on his seat in the full lotus position, like the Caterpillar atop the mushroom in Alice. I have never seen anyone manage that before, but he seemed entirely comfortable. In his lap was an iBook, in his ears were earphones, and he worked frantically at his keyboard, looking neither to right nor to left, throughout the journey. When we reached our terminus, he was still totally absorbed in whatever he was doing and showed no sign of getting off the train. Perhaps he was some kind of performance artist or living sculpture, installed by Southern Railways to travel to and fro for the edification of us commuters. No one but me seemed to notice him.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

'Please find enclosed...'

I see this letter to the pupils in a primary school (scroll down for the full text)  has 'gone viral' - presumably because people think it's wonderful, inspiring, etc. How times change. When I was at primary school, if we'd received a letter like that from the head we'd have concluded, when we'd recovered from the shock, that either (a) he was playing some kind of sick joke on us, or (b) he'd finally succumbed to the catastrophic mental breakdown that never seemed far away. If it had come from him, though, it would at least have been grammatically correct.
 Still, we seemed to do well enough without any such patronising morale-boosters. Most of us came out of that state-run primary school - where average class size was around 50 - highly literate and numerate and with a better knowledge of many things (including grammar) than today's average graduate. In those days, teachers - taking their cue from the job title - were still in the business of teaching stuff. It worked.


As well as being Dorothy Fields' birthday, yesterday was also the 110th anniversary of Chekhov's death, and in the evening I caught an excellent talk by Julian Evans on Radio 4 Extra - Chekhov's Death: Fact and Fiction. In it Evans recounts the events, not as related in the famous account by Chekhov's widow Olga Knipper but as recorded, more accurately, by Leo Rabeneck, the young Russian student who was sent by Olga to fetch the doctor on the night of Chekhov's death.
 His record omits the more romantic, mythopoeic elements in Olga's account and gives the facts in a manner that Chekhov would surely have preferred - tinged with darkly farcical comedy. The body (which had refused to be entirely straightened) was carried away not on a stretcher but in a wicker laundry basket that appeared to be of extraordinary length - and yet Chekhov's body could not be laid flat in it, so he was borne away half sitting up, his face in the flickering torchlight appearing to half-smile. Chekhov the writer would surely have relished the scene - as he would the subsequent comedy of the body being transported in a refrigerated wagon labelled 'Oysters', and the fact that many of the mourners at his funeral inadvertently followed the procession of a General Keller, accompanied by a military band.
 Julian Evans' talk can be heard on the BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Birthday Girl

Born on this day in 1905 was the great lyricist Dorothy Fields. She did some of her best work with Jerome Kern on the Astaire-Rogers movie Swing Time. Which gives me the perfect excuse to link to this... Enjoy!

Monday 14 July 2014

Unexpected Longhorns

There are longhorn cattle in Holland Park! This year, instead of the much-missed pigs, English Longhorns are being put to use, grazing the overgrown meadow. The most beautiful of cattle, they are also the least fussy of grazers and can be relied on to make short work of virtually any plant life that comes their way. The Holland Park group consists of two cows - Jelly and Lulu - and their respective calves, born last autumn: Neeko, a steer, and Noodle, a heifer (that's no combination of them in the photograph above). Having just arrived today, they seemed a little wary of their new surroundings, but were already getting to work on the taller grasses. It's going to be a joy having them around.

The Cathedral of the Fens

This is the church of Walpole St Peter in Norfolk, surely one of the most beautiful in the land. Simon Jenkins, in his Thousand Best Churches, dubs it 'St Pieter de Hooch' for the particular reposeful qualities of light and space in its breath-taking interior. The whole church was built in just two builds, in Early Perpendicular style, and is an exceptionally unified composition, perfectly proportioned - and with an interior full of beauties, not least the beautifully carved woodwork, from box pews to font cover to medieval screens, to say nothing of the 17th-century screen that divides the western end from the rest of the nave. All it lacks is an angel roof - but the balance of plain simple shapes and exquisitely decorated surfaces is just about perfect as it is.
 Anyway, I was there just yesterday, with Bryan, on one of our occasional Norfolk church crawls. It was a curious journey, as the nice lady in the satnav initially directed us, through a dispiriting string of bungaloid Fenland villages, not to Walpole St Peter - but to St Mary, West Walton, which we eventually reached through sheeting rain, arriving in a downpour of monsoon proportions. Peering dimly through the rain I realised two things: we were in West Walton - and I'd been there before, on a walk some 30 years ago, on a hot summer's day...
 B and I sprinted across the fast-flooding car park into the pub to review this strange twist, untwist it and head for Walpole St Peter as soon as the rain stopped. The draught bitter was 'off'; the landlord blamed the weather. We ate baguettes. The rain eased off, then stopped. We went and marvelled at the detached bell tower of St Mary's (Early English and a marvel indeed), where a christening had just drawn to an end. Inside the church (very light, very bare, very Perpdendicular), the vicar, his jacket soaked, greeted us cheerily. We admired his church and told him we were on our way to Walpole St Peter, which we understood was a very fine church. 'Oh yes,' he said dubiously, 'in its way.'

Friday 11 July 2014

History Is Made, In Enfield

This blog cannot let the birth date of Reg Varney go unmarked. Reg - born on this day in 1916 - was a cheeky cockney entertainer of the kind best employed singing at a pub piano. However, he rose fast in the TV sitcom world, starring in two successive hits, The Rag Trade and Beggar My Neighbour, before plumbing the deepest depths with On the Buses (seven series, three - count them - spin-off films). For his long participation in that crime against comedy (in which he starred with Christine Lagarde lookalike Bob Grant) Varney's name shall live long in the annals of infamy. However, his name might live rather longer as a footnote in social history, for it was he, in person, who made the first cash withdrawal from the world's first hole-in-the-wall cash machine - and there he is in the picture above, explaining the finer points of withdrawal to a couple of young ladies.
 This momentous event took place at a branch of Barclay's Bank in Enfield, on June 27th, 1967 (a plaque on the bank wall commemorates the event, though oddly it makes no mention of Varney). The cash machine didn't really take off until the Seventies - and no wonder: in the absence of plastic cards, early machines like the one initiated by Reg issued cash in return for a special cheque, impregnated with radioactive Carbon-14, that you had to get from, er, the bank cashier. I'm not sure they'd quite thought it through...

Thursday 10 July 2014

'Hard to unflatten...'

It's time for a poem, surely. The question is, can I restrain myself from posting another Kay Ryan? The answer is No. Here's one about, well... life and the living of it.

We're Building The Ship As We Sail It

The first fear
being drowning, the
ship’s first shape
was a raft, which
was hard to unflatten
after that didn’t
happen. It’s awkward
to have to do one’s
planning in extremis
in the early years -
so hard to hide later:
sleekening the hull,
making things
more gracious.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Oh and...

My celebration of Dame Barbara Cartland's contribution to aerotowing can be found on today's Dabbler...

The Consolations of What?

Killing time last night in W.H. Smith's at Victoria while waiting for my train, I was mildly startled to come across an entire table covered with copies of a single title - and that title not the latest from, say, J.K.Rowling but, of all things, The Consolations of Economics. The what of economics? The consolations of what? (to paraphrase Professor Welch in  Lucky Jim). This, alas, is not the long-awaited follow-up to Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy, but a new book by an economist called Gerard Lyons, who I gather is chief economic adviser to Boris Johnson and is highly thought of as a forecaster. Indeed, for an economist, his record seems to be fairly good - but heaven knows that is not saying much, economists being somewhere below even meteorologists on that score.   Anyway, the gist and concernancy of The Consolations of Economics (a title that promises so much more than it could ever give) is that things aren't going to be too bad over the next few decades. Well, hurrah for that - but will Smith's shift a table's worth of this one? I'll be keeping an eye on that table and its 90 copies - five by three piles of six copies. Last night a browser was taking advantage of the flat surface provided by all those unsold copies to read an unpurchased paper. In the old days they wouldn't let you get away with that sort of thing in Smith's...

Talking of meteorology, I caught John Humphrys interviewing a Climate Change bigwig on the radio this morning, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Humphrys reminding him that nothing like the predicted warming has happened in the past 15 years. He didn't press the point (that if those predictions were so wrong, why should we believe that current predictions are right?), but it was good to hear it being put 'out there' as they say - on the BBC of all places. A sign of the times perhaps?

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Hey Now!

That superb comic actor Jeffrey Tambor - best known for his work on The Larry Saunders Show and Arrested Development - is 70 today. He should have won every award going, but instead he's made a habit of getting nominated and losing out time after time - four times for Larry Saunders, twice for Arrested Development. (He did win a Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, but that's hardly an Emmy, is it?)
Tambor's performance as Hank Kingsley, Larry Saunders' dim, fawning, endlessly self-promoting sidekick is his masterpiece, a pitch-perfect portrayal of a desperate man who knows that his career, his happiness and his very life hang by the thinnest of threads: his tiny 'talent' - which consists in little more than saying 'Hey now!' Some of his finest moments (there are many more) are preserved in this compilation... Happy birthday, Jeffrey!

Sunday 6 July 2014

'The quickly receding frou-frou of tweed trousers...'

Browsing my overcrowded bookshelves with a view to some thinning out, I came across a collection of previously uncollected pieces by Max Beerbohm, A Peep into the Past (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1972) -definitely a keeper.
 The title essay is a quite extraordinary piece, written in 1893/4, when Max was a 21-year-old undergraduate, and apparently intended for the first issue of the Yellow Book (where, in the event, Beerbohm was represented by A Defence of Cosmetics). A Peep into the Past projects an alternative reality in which Oscar Wilde is an elderly, all but forgotten belle-lettrist, living 'a life of quiet retirement in his little house on Tite Street with his wife and two sons, his prop and mainstay, solacing himself with many a reminiscence of the friends of his youth'.
 'Oscar Wilde!' begins Max. 'I wonder to how many of my readers the jingle of this name suggests anything at all? Yet, at one time, it was familiar to many, and if we search back among the old volumes of Mr Punch, we shall find many a quip and crank cut at its owner's expense. But time is a quick mover and many of us are fated to outlive our reputations and thus, though at one time Mr Wilde, the old gentleman of whom we are going to give our readers a brief account, was in his way quite a celebrity; today his star is set, his fame obscured in this busy changeful city.'
 Bear in mind that this was written when Wilde, then 39, was at the peak of his fame - just a year before it all ended in scandal and ignominy.
 Mr Wilde, we are told, is an early riser and an indefatigable worker, with 'an infinite capacity for taking pains'  and plenty of '"grit", as they call it in the North'. 'Himself most regular in his habits, he is something of a martinet about punctuality in his household, and perhaps this accounts for the constant succession of page-boys which so startles the neighbourhood.' This is not the only hint at Oscar's predilections: when the author ventures to pay a visit to the house on Tite Street, 'I found everything there neat and clean and, though of course very simple and unpretentious, bearing witness to womanly care and taste. As I was ushered into the little study, I fancied that I heard the quickly receding frou-frou of tweed trousers, but my host I found reclining, hale and hearty, though a little dishevelled, upon the sofa. With one hand readjusting the nut-brown Georgian wig that he is accustomed to wear, he motioned me with a courteous gesture of the other to an arm-chair...'
 Beerbohm constructs an alternative literary career for Wilde, in which he has published little under his own name, produces quantities of journalism, and finally writes a play when already in his old age. 'After all,' Max sums up indulgently, 'it is not so much as a literary man that Posterity will forget Mr Wilde, as in his old capacity of journalist.' (Note 'forget'.)
 The visit to Tite Street goes well enough: 'The old gentleman was unaffectedly pleased to receive a visit from the outer world, for, though he is in most things "a praiser of past times", yet he is always interested to hear oral news of the present, and many young poets can testify to the friendly interest in their future taken by a man who is himself contented to figure in their past...'
 Wilde's celebrated wit is represented by a mangled version of a famous exchange with Whistler, in which 'Wilde, beaming kindly across the table, said, to encourage him, "How I wish I had said that!" Young impudence cried, "You will, Sir, you will." "No, I won't," returned the elder man, quick as thought...' Then, at the end, comes an equally painful example of Wildean paradox:
'Just as I was leaving the room I observed that the weather had become very sultry and I feared we should have a storm. "Ah yes," was the reply, "I expect we shall soon see the thunder and hear the lightning!" How delightful a perversion of words! I left the old gentleman chuckling immoderately at his little joke.'
 A Peep into the Past reads now like a strange kind of reverse prophecy, the projection of a future that could scarcely be more different from the one that actually unfolded for Wilde. Did Max sense something frail about Oscar's fame, the possibility of terminal disaster? The least surprising thing, perhaps, is Beerbohm's ability, while still an undergraduate, to project himself as a staid, middle-aged, genteel literary essayist: as Wilde remarked, Max was blessed with the gift of perpetual middle age.

Thursday 3 July 2014

...and George

I write about George Sanders over on the Dabbler today.

Rest in Peace, Big Jim

Rock god Jim Morrison died on this day in 1971 (two years to the day after Brian Jones). My friend the Sage of Tiverton and I - then young and foolish- paid due tribute to Jim in the recording booth that then stood on Victoria station. This was a remarkable - and I think quite short-lived - institution (I wonder if anyone else remembers it?), not unlike a photo booth in outward appearance. You put some money in the slot, entered the booth - two people could just about squeeze in - and belted out your song, which would eventually emerge in the form of a seven-inch vinyl disc.
 Our tribute to Jim Morrison was not a first offence, but it's the only one of which I remember the words. They went, I fear, like this:
'Rest in peace, Jim Morrison.
Rest in peace, Jim Morrison.
Rest in peace, Jim Morrison.
Rest in peace, Big Jim.'
Eloquent stuff, eh? I believe we might have had a few stimulants before the session began. The chief interest of the recording lay in its energetic percussive effects, achieved by slapping and drumming on the walls of the booth. Happily, the disc was soon lost and gone, like so much else...
 Morrison, we now know, was assassinated by a shadowy cell of rogue CIA black ops spooks, acting under the personal command of The Man, who had by this time had more than enough of having it stuck to him.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

'I know he thought a lotta My Medulla Oblongata...'

Rattling around in my head last night, for reasons unknown, was one of Cole Porter's less famous songs, The Physician. This witty - and very catchy - commentary on scientific reductionism (or is it Cartesian dualism?), written for the musical Nymph Errant, has the distinction of having been banned by the BBC in the 1930s. Why? It's hard to tell in this recording by Gertrude Lawrence, especially as she omits the rather saucier last stanza:

'As it was dark,
I suggested we walk about 
Before he returned to his post.
Once in the park,
I induced him to talk about
The thing I wanted the most.
He lingered on with me until morning, 
Yet when I tried to pay him his fee, 
He said, "Why, don't be funny,
It is I who owe you money,"

But he never said he loved me.'
I first heard The Physician on a highly entertaining CD of BBC-banned songs, Listen to the Banned. Some of them seem entirely innocuous, some are rather sweet - e.g. Let's All Be Fairies by the Durium Dance Band - and others leave you wondering how they ever thought they'd get away with it. Exhibit A: Cliff Edwards' I'm Going to Give It to Mary with Love...
 Cliff Edwards, otherwise known as Ukulele Ike, was great friends with Buster Keaton, who featured him in three of his films and enjoyed jamming with him between takes. One such session made it into the final cut of the 1930 film Doughboys - probably a mistake, as both men were in a bad way as a result of their respective addictions (Keaton booze, Edwards mostly drugs), but even in these sorry circumstances there's something mesmeric about Buster. There always is.
 Cliff Edwards, a man of many parts, went on to be the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney's Pinocchio. He died in 1971, a penniless charity patient in a Hollywood hospital, and his body, unclaimed by anyone, was donated to the University of California medical school - but happily the Actors' Fund of America intervened to purchase his remains and see to his burial. Disney paid for the grave marker.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

As If

Why? I asked myself last night, as I trudged home from work through the cold, gloom and drizzle - Why do I always fall for it? 'It' being, of course, what the Met Office whimsically calls the Weather Forecast. For two days running, the Met Office projection of a fine, warm, dry day had been mugged by soggy reality - and these two days were but two more to add to the year's tottering pile of wrong 'forecasts'. And it's not as if I even believe these products of the Met Office's whizzy banks of warmist-friendly supercomputers; I know they are more than likely useless, and yet I religiously, or rather addictively, follow them, a fool returning to his folly - and, what's worse, I act as if they are thoroughly reliable.
 What is going on? Am I falling for the drama of it all, with those twinkly, unabashed presenters and their CGI maps and satellite images and their talk of 'pulses' of rain and cloud 'bubbling up'? They have the air of reassuring omniscience of old-time family doctors - every bit as plausible, and every bit as unreliable. And of course I know this, but there I am, every night and morning, hanging on their words, even as my better judgment tugs my sleeve and warns me to take them with a bushel or two of salt. Perhaps it's a case of 'As If' thinking, as advocated in some quarters - as in: we 'know' there's no such thing as free will but we can behave 'as if' there is, or we 'know' there's no God, or no meaning to life, etc... Wait a minute - weren't we talking about the weather?
 The good thing was that the day actually started as per forecast (and even this isn't always so - the 'forecast' sometimes contradicts what the 'forecaster' could see by looking out of the window). It was warm and sunny enough for two Marbled Whites to be flying on that trackside edgeland my train passes every morning. A heart-lifting consolation on my way back to work after two weeks of freedom.