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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My Heroes 1 to 30

I have made links to the latest My Heroes in this Blog (numbers 23 to 30) and 21 & 22 from my previous Blog.

(21) June Tabor (Scroll down to 23 Nov 2006)
(22) Bob Dylan (Scroll down to 28 Nov 2006)
(23) John Gribbin
(24) The Everly Brothers
(25) Walter Matthau
(26) Richard Buckminster Fuller
(27) Vincent van Gogh
(28) Isaac Abeniz
(29) Madeleine Peyroux
(30) John Betjeman

The first twenty can be found here.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Quiz Question (10 ): Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is a novella by Joseph Conrad first published in book form in 1902. It tells the story using a device known as a frame: one, unnamed, character is relating a story told through another narrator, while the two of them are waiting in a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary. The book is very well written and, incredibly, Conrad is writting in his third language, English. His first two were Polish and French. His skill with words is nonetheless amazing, as he tells the tale of a company agent who steams three hundred miles up an African river to seek a rogue company man. The themes of the book are the evils of imperialism and an examination of many forms of 'darkness', both physical and mental.

What famous Oscar-winning film was based on this story?
Someone got the answer straightaway! Check the comments and see if you were correct!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

My Heroes (30): John Betjeman

Sir John Betjeman's statue at St Pancras station, London
John Betjeman was knighted in 1969 and made British Poet Laureate, when Cecil Day-Lewis died in 1972, until his own death in 1984. His image was always that of an avuncular cuddly eccentric, slightly bumbling and bewildered and he did nothing to discourage that image of himself.
He was often not highly regarded by critics but was always very popular with the public.
Isn't that frequently the case? His subject matter was rooted in the here and now rather than classical subjects. He was an admirer of architecture and nature.
He famously popularised suburbia as 'Metroland', named after the new suburbs that appeared around London between the wars due to the expansion of the Metropolitan Railway.
Here is one of my personal favourites of his poems.
I really enjoy the evocation of 1930's English middle-class society and I should say, for those under 40 or not British, that Hillman, Rover & Austin were makes of automobile.
I have not the faintest idea what 'her father's euonymus' was!

Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father’s euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summerhouse, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o’clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing’s the light on your hair.

By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

This is from BBC News, April 2007:
The woman who inspired one of Sir John Betjeman's most famous poems has died at the age of 92.
Joan Jackson was immortalised in print as Miss J Hunter Dunn in Sir John's 1941 poem, A Subaltern's Love Song.
Mrs Jackson, who first met Sir John while working at the Ministry of Information in the 1930s, died at a London nursing home last week.
Her son, Edward, said: "She never said she was proud to be his muse but she did not consider it a joke."
John Betjeman 1906-1984
He added: "She just said that John was a nice man."
Joan Jackson the 'muse' for Betjeman's Joan Hunter Dunn

Alas the whole poem was Betjeman's fantasy from afar. I recall him appearing on a chat show as a cheerful old man like a grandfather everyone would love to have and he was asked if he had any regrets in life: " Yes", he replied "I never had enough sex."

Monday, 13 September 2010

Quiz Question (9): Cinema Questions

A change of subject this time. Instead of the usual literature questions here are a couple of cinematic ones:
1) Who was the first actor to portray Hannibal ("I'm having an old friend for dinner") Lecter  on screen?
2) Who played 'Iris' the 12 year old street-kid in Taxi Driver?
Answers will be posted in 'Comments' a few days.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Painting of the Month (9) September 2010: Vermeer

Johannes (Jan) Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c 1650
This lovely painting is so typically Dutch. The milkmaid is not a grand lady but is as dignified as any queen. It is technically a masterpiece. The handling of light is beguiling and the crumbly bread makes one long to take a piece!
Look closely at some of the details. Press Ctrl and + together to enlarge the picture and look for the nail in the back wall casting a tiny shadow; an exquisite piece of detail. Also find the broken piece of glass in the window and check out the brass lamp hanging behind the basket on the wall, the surface quality of which is superb.
The subject is viewed from a low-level giving her a sturdiness and a slightly squat look. Her arms are strong and she is completely unselfconcious. The texture of every surface is tenderly rendered in a homage to the 'everyday' scene. I can look right 'into' this picture for a long time a feel a wonderful peace.
It's in the Rijksmusem in Amsterdam where it is rightly one of the main attractions.