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Friday, 26 December 2014

Answers to the Christmas Quiz and a new question.::

Here are the answers to the Christmas Quiz which was obviously not hard enough! Next time it will be extra difficult! Also, at the end, there is a bonus Christmas question that will really make you think. Probably.

1) The Latin word meaning 'coming' gave us what term which still refers to the coming Christmas period?  ADVENT means coming or arrival
2) In which European language does 'Nadolig Llawen' mean Merry Christmas? WELSH
3) Who composed the Lieutenant Kijé orchestral suite, part of which is a familiar piece of Christmas music? PROKOFIEV
You can here it here
4) In which fictional place was it always winter but never Christmas? NARNIA from C S Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
5) In which continent did turkeys originate.....? (In the UK we don't celebrate Thanksgiving but, traditionally, eat turkey at Christmas.) NORTH AMERICA, the US and Mexico.

6).....and why are turkeys so-called? Because they were first brought to Europe by Turkish merchant ships (and were thought to have come from India). 
Well done to those who got them (even by 'research'!)
And here as promised is the new question:
In the lyrics of Elvis Presley's song Blue Christmas there are three other colours mentioned. What are they? If it's too much for your brain listen here

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Quiz Questions (22): Christmas Quiz

It's a while since I posted a quiz so here is a new selection of harder Christmas questions. Cheating is definitely allowed! I wish all readers of this Blog a peaceful holiday season and prosperous new year!
Over 1,000 Santas took part in a Charity Run in Bristol, England last weekend.
Your correspondent was there!
1) The Latin word meaning 'coming' (oh, behave!) gave us what term which still refers to the coming Christmas period? 
2) In which European language does 'Nadolig Llawen' mean Merry Christmas? 
3) Who composed the Lieutenant Kijé orchestral suite, part of which is a familiar piece of Christmas music? 
4) In which fictional place was it "always winter but never Christmas"
5) In which continent did turkeys originate.....? (In the UK we don't celebrate Thanksgiving but, traditionally, eat turkey at Christmas.)
6).....and why are they so-called?

Listening to 'Linda Paloma' by Jackson Browne:
and there is a good a live version:

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Painting of the Month (51) December 2014: Manet

In 2005 a BBC Radio station ran a competition where listeners voted for their favourite painting in the UK. For the next few items in this series I will be featuring a random selection of those pictures. By 'random' I mean paintings that I personally like!
A Bar at the Folies-Bergieres. Édouard Manet 1892
There are many interesting features of this painting that, despite it's late nineteenth century setting, make it quite modern. Firstly it is generally believed to be the first painting to depict a registered trade mark. Can you spot it? I will reveal it at the end of this article. Secondly there is the impossible composition; the girl behind the bar is looking straight out at the viewer of the painting yet, in the mirror behind her, her reflection can be seen talking to a customer at completely the wrong angle. For years I thought it was the back of another barmaid. The gent with the top-hat should be in front of us blocking our view. The girls name was Suzon, who in reality did work there, but Manet had painted her in his studio and added the background from quick impressionistic sketches he had made. She looks sad and detached from her work. She wears a locket around her neck which hints at a love far away from this world with the sinister stranger at the bar with his Jack-the-Ripper-like menace. This picture was painted immediately after The Ripper was 'active' (1888-91). 
Eduard Manet worshipped the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez and his painting 'Las Meninas' is the surprising inspiration for this picture. Looking at the picture, below, can you see the connection and the elements that interested Manet? Let me explain:
'Las Meninas'. Velazquez 1656.
There is a strange mix of positions and points of view. The artist, the Infanta and a dwarf courtier are looking out of the picture at the viewer while others, within the painting, are interacting between themselves. Also reflected in a mirror, near the centre are what is probably the King & Queen who would be looking into the painting. Possibly they are the subject which the artist is painting. Shouldn't we be looking at their backs?

At each end of the bar is a beer bottle with a red triangle design on the label - the trade mark of Bass beer brewed in Burton-on-Trent, England. (Founded in 1777 and still going though not a patch on the great beer that it once was since being taken over by Anheuser-Busch!)
Listening to Negro Y Azul (The ballad of Heisenberg) by Los Cuates de Sinaloa from Breaking Bad. Fab! Listen here

Saturday, 29 November 2014

My Heroes (40): Roger McGough

I went recently, with my younger daughter, Laura, to hear the Liverpool poet Roger McGough reading works from his long career. In the 1960's he used to be in the band Scaffold with Paul McCartney's brother, Mike.
It was in our local library with a small audience and it was a very entertaining evening, both funny and moving by turns. I bought a few books and told him that the last one of his that I bought was as a teenager - many years ago. He looked at me over the top of his glasses with mock horror! He still has an element of that Liverpool wit, long associated with The Beatles.
Roger McGough now.....

....and then, left.
Here are a few of his poems to enjoy:

God bless all policemen
and fighters of crime,
May thieves go to jail 
for a very long time. 
They've had a hard day
helping clean up the town,
Now they hang from the mantelpiece
both upside down. 
A glass of warm blood
and then straight up the stairs,
Batman and Robin
are saying their prayers. 
* * *
They've locked all the doors
and they've put out the bat,
Put on their batjamas
(They like doing that) 
They've filled their batwater-bottles
made their batbeds,
With two springy battresses
for sleepy batheads. 
They're closing red eyes
and they're counting black sheep,
Batman and Robin
are falling asleep.
We're the Mafia cats
Bugsy, Franco and Toni
We're crazy for pizza
With hot pepperoni
We run all the rackets
From gambling to vice
On St Valentine's Day
We massacre mice
We always wear shades
To show that we're meanies
Big hats and sharp suits
And drive Lamborghinis
We're the Mafia cats
Bugsy, Franco and Toni
Love Sicilian wine
And cheese macaroni
But we have a secret
(And if you dare tell
You'll end up with the kitten 
At the bottom of the well
Or covered in concrete
And thrown into the deep
For this is one secret
You really must keep.)
We're the Cosa Nostra
Run the scams and the fiddles
But at home we are
Mopsy, Ginger and Tiddles

Lastly, to show that there can be depth as well as humour.....
I explain quietly. You
hear me shouting. You
try a new tack. I
feel old wounds reopen.

You see both sides. I
see your blinkers. I
am placatory. You
sense a new selfishness.

I am a dove. You
recognize the hawk. You
offer an olive branch. I
feel the thorns.

You bleed. I
see crocodile tears. I
withdraw. You
reel from the impact. 
Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's: Dissatisfied Blues by Brownie McGhee. Listen on You Tube:

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Painting of the month (50) November 2014: Bazza

 To celebrate my 50th Painting of the Month post I am featuring an obscure artist known as Bazza of Redbridge. He is a watercolour specialist and this is a retrospective of some earlier works including some quick holiday sketches - one of his favourite ways of working. The paintings vary in size from postcard to A4.

15 minute flower study

Painted for my Grandson, Sonny ,when he had cancer at the age of five.

Copied from a small picture in a holiday flat.
The Beach Huts

Some chap in a fantasy library with a Cezanne forgery on display.

Sonny about a year after leaving hospital, aged six.

Quaint local Street, Woodford Essex, UK

Carvoiero, The Algarve, Portugal

Carvoiero, The Algarve, Portugal

English rural scene. Composed from an amalgam of three separate photographs.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Boroughs of London (3): Bexley

When I chose the London Boroughs as the topic for this series I should have thought it through a bit more. It should have been called 'A Review of Some of the More Interesting and Historical London Boroughs'. Bexley would not have been on that list! However, I have often said that, if one keeps digging, something interesting can be found about almost any topic......
The London Borough of Bexley shown in green in the south-east of London, just south of the Thames.
The village of Bexley, after which the Borough is named, has a charter dating from 834 but hardly any other local places are mentioned in the 11th century Domesday Book. It didn't really start growing quickly until the 17th century and the development of the railways in the 19th century was a major impetus for growth. It still has a tremendous amount of green open spaces. The population now is around 237,000 blah, blah, blah.
The most important building is Hall Place, which is Grade 1 listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It was formerly a private stately home but is now owned by the local authority and houses a museum and several galleries. I don't know for sure but I bet it's available for wedding receptions.
Hall Place built around 1540. The second wing, on the right, was added about 100 years later.
I don't think you could say that the architecture is sympathetic to the original building.

Bexley is also renowned for being the location of the only house built by and lived-in by William Morris, founder of the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement.
Located at Bexleyheath, the house is uniquely built of striking red brick. It is now owned and run by the National Trust and open to the public. And, big surprise, it has a tea room! The house is a fabulous example of one man creating his own dream home. He was not the architect but he put in plenty of ideas including hanging paintings by Edward Burne Jones. There is also a very charming garden where one can stroll and imagine what it must have been like to live there.
I knew I would find something interesting there!
Next in this series: The London Borough of Brent, home of Wembley, the national football stadium.
Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's Bette Midler singing 'Buckets of Rain' duetting with the writer of the song, Bob Dylan. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Man Delights Me Not

Gary Oldman and Tim Roth as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
"I have of late - but wherefore I know not-lost all my mirth
forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, 
the Earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to 
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, 
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights me not: no, nor woman neither, though, by your smiling you seem to say so."

This is Hamlet describing his melancholy to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Of course, William Shakespeare had a genius gift with words but he also had great psychological insight into the human mind. Although I read these words quite often they take on a whole other perspective when heard spoken by great actors. I have selected some You Tube examples of how the speech comes alive and a final special treat!.

1) Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet
2) Iain Glen as Hamlet in 'Rosencrantz and Guidenstern Are Dead'
3) David Tennant as Hamlet
And finally a wonderful sung version from the musical 'Hair'
4) What a Piece of Work is Man

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Boroughs of London (2): Barnet

This the second in my new series which looks at the London Boroughs in alphabetical order:
The place name Barnet is derived from the Old English word  bærnet meaning "land cleared by burning". It is the second largest of the 32 Boroughs by population and covers over 33 square miles. Various parts of the area were mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book and the 1471 Battle of Barnet was very important during the Wars of the Roses when the House of York defeated the House of Lancaster to place Edward IV on the throne. At that time Barnet was a small town to the north of London.
The Battle of Barnet 1471
In 1588 Elizabeth 1st granted Barnet the right to hold the annual Barnet Fair. In Cockney Rhyming Slang 'Barnet' means hair as an abbreviation of Barnet Fair.
Hampstead Garden Suburb, within the borough was set up in the early twentieth century and is a fine example of early town-planning. The philanthropist couple Henrietta and Samuel Barnet were instrumental in it's formation but now, contrary to the original conception, it is one of the wealthiest districts in the country.
Hampstead Free Church, Hampstead Garden Suburb
With respect to the Borough and it's residents I have to say that it's not the most exciting part of London although it does have some 'nice' residential areas.
Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's: The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ very loudly! Listen on You Tube.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Painting of the Month (49) September 2014: Vlaminck

Restaurant de la Machine à Bougival, 1905

"You talkin'' to me? You must be talkin' 
to me 'cos there ain't no-one else here!"
Mauruce de Vlaminck, 1876-1958, was a member of The Fauves, (literally 'Wild Beasts') a group of painters working in the early twentieth century led by Henri Matisse. The other leading member of the group, beside those two was André Derain. The main characteristic of Fauvism was 'colourism': a way of expressing mood through the use of strong and strident colour rather than painted detail. In the picture above there is no real attempt to depict reality. The loose style of composition can be seen as a development of post-impressionism - mainly via the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin. Fauvism was soon overtaken as a movement by Cubism and Vlaminck 'blamed' Picasso for it's demise. He looked like a heavyweight boxer and not the kind of chap that you might want to upset!
He travelled all over France to paint and also spent some time painting by the Thames in London.
The works of the Fauvists are usually very colourful, of course, and rather cheery with a high 'feel good' factor. Another striking example of his colourful work is shown below.
A Day in the Country, 1905
Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it’s: ‘All Apologies’ by Nirvana. Listen on You Tube:

Friday, 29 August 2014

“This is Just to Say”

Born and died in Rutherford, New Jersey 1883 -1963
“This is Just to Say”  by  William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

This absolutely brilliant little gem of a poem by William Carlos Williams is a masterpiece in saying a lot with a few words. There is a whole back-story that you simply can't help hearing when you read it. One imagines it as being a scribbled note left on the kitchen work-surface and it speaks of some kind of blissfully happy domestic situation. You can taste the plums and somehow you know that she won't be angry when she reads the note. Apparently she wrote a reply:

Dear Bill: I've made a
couple of sandwiches for you.
In the ice-box you'll find
blue-berries--a cup of grapefruit
a glass of cold coffee.

On the stove is the tea pot
with enough tea leaves
for you to make tea if you
prefer--Just light the gas--
boil the water and put it in the tea

Plenty of bread in the bread-box
and butter and eggs--
I didn't know just what to 
make for you. Several people 
called up about office hours--

See you later. Love. Floss.

Please switch off the telephone.

This is very sweet and also, in it's way, tells a bigger story. I love the last line about switching off the telephone.
Some may ask whether "This is Just to Say" is really a poem at all but have no doubt that it is a great one. The lines all appear to be fairly similar but they contains lots of different metres but, somehow, it still seems to have a kind of rhythm  when read. Incidentally, I think the first line can be read as a part of the poem. This poem has probably been over analysed since being written in 1934; it has even suggested that it's sub-text is about sexual frustration!
I prefer just to read it and smile.
Continuing my experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's: Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne'.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Boroughs of London (1): Barking & Dagenham

Welcome to my new project which is a tour of all of the Boroughs of London since Greater London was formed in April 1965. I will be looking at interesting buildings and other stuff (to be frank I'm not sure how this will pan-out yet!) London has been described as a series of villages and each Borough contains several different areas or districts all of which were probably actual villages at one time. There are 32 Boroughs and I will also include the City of London which is not actually a Borough but an administrative area (much like the status of Washington DC in the US).
In alphabetical order, Barking and Dagenham is where we start:
As the name implies, Barking and Dagenham were formerly two separate boroughs before the creation of Greater London. They were then within the county of Essex, one of the 'Home Counties' which is the name given to those counties which surround London in the south-east of England. Hand-axes and other tools have been found in the area dating from the Palaeolithic era about 10,000 years ago and the names both date from Anglo-Saxon times before the Normal invasion of 1066.
Eastbury Manor House, Barking, built 1573 during the reign of Elizabeth I
Eastbury Manor House was originally in an isolated position, on rising ground with views of the Thames across marshland to the south. Rescued from ruin in 1918 by the National Trust, the exterior retains its original appearance. Tree-ring analysis shows that the roof timbers were felled in the spring of 1566.  It's now used as a meeting and community centre.

The other truly remarkable building in the borough is (the ruins of) Barking Abbey. Like so many ancient monastic buildings in Great Britain it fell into ruin in 1539  when Henry VIII was instrumental in starting the English Protestant Reformation when the Pope would not grant him a divorce. Barking Abbey was a very important community and a major land-owner in the area with it's influence spreading for many miles around. The ruins shown below are less than five minutes walk from Barking Town centre.

Barking Abbey operated for nearly 900 years and was a vastly wealthy community

Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's: The Proclamers 'Sunshine on Leith'. Listen on You Tube:

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Painting of the Month (48) August 2014: Gainsborough

Mr and Mrs Andrews, Thomas Gainsborough c.1750
The National Gallery, London
This very interesting painting remained in the family of the sitters for two hundred years and did not become generally known until the twentieth century. It combines two genres of painting; the landscape and the conversation piece, usually showing a group of at least two people in an informal pose. Basically Mr Andrews is showing off his assets and I refer to his estate as well as his wife. She sits stiffly submissive; she too is a possession placed on a fancy Rococo-style bench. The dog in art is a symbol of loyalty.  
Thomas Gainsborough was only twenty-one when he painted this early masterpiece and it was quite pioneering in showing the realistic changeable elements of British weather.
Difficult to see in  the background (although if you can enlarge the picture you can see more clearly) are cattle and sheep on the right, middle-distance and I can just make out a couple of horses below the trees to the left. Mr Andrews has got his world under control and now he can relax although he doesn't appear comfortable holding the firearm.
Thomas Gainsborough, self-portrait 1754
Note the similarity to Mr Andrews.
One fascinating aspect of the painting is that a part of it is unfinished. Look at her lap. What could be intended for adding into that space. Embroidery? Knitting?
It was probably the hope that a small child would be added later.
Incidentally the oak tree which they stand in front of is still there today on the Essex-Suffolk border in Eastern England.
The marriage of this couple was not for love. It was a business decision that brought together two great estates. You are looking at Mr and Mrs Andrews Inc. They don't look happy do they?
As an experiment I am going to be mentioning the music that I am listening to (usually on Spotify or You Tube) as I post. Right now its Luciano Pavorotti duetting with Bryan Adams at Sydney Opera House in a 'live' recording of 'O Sole Mio'. Don't care for it much....

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

My Heroes (39): Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In 2002 the BBC commissioned a poll to find who were, according to public opinion, the 100 most important Britons ever. It was no surprise that Sir Winston Churchill came first but the pleasant revelation, for me, was the man who came second - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers the world has known.
Brunel pictured in front of the chains of the SS Great Britain
Like many brilliant people, before and since, he was not afraid to fail; and he had many failures in his relatively short career. Let's look at some of his magnificent achievements. His early successes included the first tunnel under a navigable waterway, (the River Thames), and the wonderful Clifton suspension bridge.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England
The Great Western Railway was one of the wonders of Victorian Britain. It ran from London to Bristol and later was extended to Exeter in Devon. The characteristic of Brunel's work was innovation and engineering originality and a high level of precision. 
His greatest achievement, however, was probably the SS Great Britain, launched in 1843 which was the largest ship in the world at that time. It sailed between Bristol and New York and Brunel also conceived an incredible scheme to extend the Great Western Railway across the Atlantic by utilising steam-powered ships!
The SS Great Britain now restored, pictured in Bristol
He died of a stroke at the young age of 53 in 1859.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

London Monopoly (25); Final stop, Mayfair.

So, at last my journey around the London version of the Monopoly Board has come to an end at Mayfair - deemed the most expensive part of London. There is a pervading atmosphere of timeless quality, tradition and, mostly, wealth in Mayfair.
Berkeley Square Gardens in the centre of Mayfair
I believe that a Nightingale sang there once upon a time...
In 1686 a new location for a two-week long fair held in Haymarket was needed so the 'May fair' was moved to a nearby area of open fields. Development then began in a part known as Shepherd Market and the fair existed there until 1764 when it moved to Fair Field in Bow, East London after complaints from residents. And the name Mayfair stuck.
Since that time until very recently Shepherd Market became synonymous with prostitution but it's image has changed to become a charming centre of pubs and restaurants.
Shepherd Market, Mayfair (
It is thought that the Romans settled in the Mayfair area during the conquest of Britain in AD 43 but moved their camp a short distance to the east to be nearer the Thames. However they would not have had to pay the astronomical rents that they would today! Even in the game of Monopoly if you land on Mayfair with added hotels you are likely to get wiped out.
Beautiful shop entrance in Mount Street in the heart of Mayfair
I am working on my next major London-based project to follow this. Coming to your computer soon!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Painting of the Month (47) July 2014: Matisse

Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953
Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953, The Tate Gallery , London
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) had a long and successful career as a painter but by the 1940s ill-health had meant a change in the way he worked. He was famous for being a 'colourist' and this picture certainly maintains that tradition, utilising a complex and clever scheme of coloured pieces of cut-out paper to depict the shell of a snail (or is it? read on!) and managing to create an enormous sense of movement.
This is one of his last creations, which he directed his students to compile. He firstly drew the outline, probably using a long pole from his wheel-chair or bed and then told the students exactly where to place the painted paper. This was then traced and sent off to be pasted in place to the exact millimetre.
Matisse himself did not call this work The Snail; he called it La Composition Chromatique. However, it is universally known as The Snail but there may be a clue that, although Matisse was well into his eighties when this was created he had not lost his sense of humour. Take a close look at the top-left lilac-coloured piece of paper. Can you see a very tiny outline of a small creature crawling along the top? That's the snail!
This image has become an iconic reminder of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. I have shown some more of his glorious output below.
I will be in France for a long weekend so replies to comments will be a bit later than usual!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Spotlight on a Website (9): NASA Astronomical Picture of the day

This occasional series looks at websites that I often visit. NASA's Astronomical Picture of the Day (click to view) is always accompanied by an expert description and features some of the most beautiful and jaw-dropping images to be found on the Internet.
THE SUNFLOWER GALAXY, Image Copyright: Bill Snyder, Sierra Remote Observatories
AURORA OVER NEW ZEALAND, Image Copyright David Weir, Earth & Sky Ltd
Image Copyright: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, NASA

Friday, 13 June 2014

Painting of the Month (46) June 2014: Christian Furr

Queen Elizabeth II. 1995
When he painting this picture of Queen Elizabeth, Christian Furr was the youngest artist ever to have painted her. She was 69 years old and he was a mere 28 year old. The work, commissioned by The Royal Overseas League, hangs in their headquarters in St James, London. Royal portraits
historically told so many stories beyond what the paint on the surface showed. Attributes of power and wealth sent a clear message to the viewer but I really like this picture very much because of the humanity on show.
The Queen looks like she is having to suppress a grin and, correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the artist captured a twinkle in her eye? She choose Furr herself to paint this portrait.
Furr was born in The Wirral, Cheshire, England in 1966 and his art usually looks more like these works: