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Friday, 18 December 2015

Bazza's 'Numbers Quiz' for Christmas

This year my traditional Christmas Quiz is not about Christmas but, instead, it's about numbers!
Q1 Add the total number of dots on a standard die to the number of dominoes in a standard double-six set.   
Q2  ‘A bronze desk’ is an anagram for a slang expression for which number? Subtract that number from the number of carats in pure gold.
Q3 Take the lowest number on a standard dart board that cannot be scored with a single dart and multiply it by the prime number that is nearest to ten.
Q4  What are you left with if you take the Meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything from the binary number 101010?
Q5  How many points do you score if you start a game of Scrabble with the word ZOO? Now take what oil does not do with water and turn that Roman number into an Arabic one and add it.
Q6 How long is a piece of string? I found some mixed length of string in a drawer. One piece was the same length, in feet, as a tennis court and another was the same number of feet in length as the number for a hurricane on the Beaufort scale. Add those numbers together.
Q7 Take the number of days of rain after The Flood and subtract the usual number of lines in a sonnet.
Q8 The Plieades star cluster has a much more common name which contains a number. Multiply that number by the number of stars in the Solar System!
Q9 Multiply the number of members of the UN Security Council with powers of veto by the number of the Apollo mission that first landed on the moon.
Q10 How many apples would you have if you took 15 apples out of a barrel of 200?
BONUS QUESTION: In case that wasn't hard enough for you here is a teaser to think about:
What numbers should replace the question marks in this sequence?
1, 50, 6, 45, 11, 40, 16, 35, 21, ? ?

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Painting of the Month (58): Dec. 2015, Edward Hopper

Night Windows, 1928.Oil on canvas, 29 x 34 inches. 
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

Edward Hopper, (1882-1967), specialised in painting night scenes of New York City. He showed views of bars, cafes, offices and domestic scenes. They evoked a real 'feel' of New York and frequently portrayed lonely individuals in unremarkable situations. At the time of this picture he was resident in Greenwich Village and this is a view into a neighbouring apartment. The woman is in an inelegant pose and seems to be oblivious of the viewer; the viewer becomes a voyeur. The way in which the woman is half out of view is something adapted from the work of Degas, someone whom Hopper admired, (see below). 

We get a glimpse of someone's private space in the same way that one might do when looking out of a train window. The curtain blowing out of an open window suggests a summer evening and this scene is really more redolent of 1920's New York than views of skyscrapers; the isolation and urban loneliness of individuals who are actually crowded together is suggested. Hopper was always interested in the effects of light and this painting is almost a triptych with the three windows. Here are some other pictures by Hopper. 
To me, each one of these paintings strongly suggests a narrative and a back-story :

Listening to Dissatisfied Blues by Brownie McGhee from the album Back Country Blues

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

New World, Second Movement

I have always enjoyed Dvorak's beautiful and moving New World Symphony. I was listening to it a few months ago when a part of the second movement suddenly started sounding familiar. Listen to the part I am talking about here. The melody begins at the 45 second point. A bit of research on the internet revealed that it is the basis for the melody of a song called Going Home which you can hear being sung by the extremely talented Norwegian soprano Sissel by clicking here.

             Sissel Kyrkjebø

However, I knew that wasn't really what was ticking a box in my memory and last Saturday on the very popular BBC radio Saturday morning programme Sounds of the Sixties my search was finally over. Before they had their big hits Sailing (later covered by Rod Stewart) and The Arms of Mary, The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver were known as A New Generation and they had a minor hit with a song that I had always liked at the time called Smokey Blues Away. Take a listen here and you will understand why I liked this poignant, sad song. 
This song, as far as I can tell, is not available on any CD or digital source and vinyl copies are hard to get. So You Tube is one of the only ways to hear it!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Wreckless Eric

When the punk rock explosion in the USA, the UK and Australia subsided in the late 1970s a second wave of so-called 'post-punk' or 'new wave' acts emerged.
Wreckless Eric in the 1970s
Among these was the English singer Eric Goulden, known as Wreckless Eric. He made a few interesting albums and singles but for me two singles are outstanding.
Released on Stiff Records, they are, the much-acclaimed:
and Hit and Miss Judy (1979)
Click the titles to hear the songs (best played loudly!)
A little more recently!
And if you would like to hear it sung in a Scottish accent, listen to the Proclaimers

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Painting of the Month (57): Sept 2015 Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci: The Mona Lisa c1503 - 1507. The Louvre, Paris.
No photograph could do it justice.
Probably the most famous painting of all time Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic painting of The Mona Lisa is a relatively small picture measuring only 30 x 21 inches. Why is it so famous? Well it’s not for nothing! Let’s start with some history; Madonna Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini was the wife of the silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo (in Italian the painting is known as La Gioconda). We know her as Mona Lisa, of course. ‘Mona’ being an archaic Italian word for ‘Lady’.
Leonardo was the true Renaissance man with interests in invention, painting, sculpture, music, mathematics, anatomy, geology, astronomy and much more; a real polymath. He started the painting in 1503 and worked on it, on and off, for four years and did not really stop working on it until shortly before he died in 1519.
There are very many innovative and unusual elements of this painting which, today, are taken for granted. The subject is not a famous person, she is shown sitting in what is known as a three-quarter pose – something never done before and is still a preferred angle. It’s also a half-length portrait rather than head-and-shoulders or full-length. The Italian term sfumato, meaning ‘smokey’ is translated into English as ‘feathered, shaded, fuzzy or blurred’. It is a technique brought into prominence by Leonardo based on the subtle use of layers of translucent paint. The glowing skin around the eyes is a good example of this. It was also extremely unusual to show an imaginary landscape, (which is clearly unfinished). If you look at the landscape on the left of the painting and compare it with that on the right you can see that the two halves don’t match properly – the view is impossible. The realism of the fading detail of the distance was also new. Before then artists showed as much detail in the distance as in the foreground. His deep knowledge of anatomy is seen in the masterful painting of her hands - always a difficulty.
The clever pyramid composition always draws the viewer toward her eyes. See left.
Mona wasn’t always an international celebrity until, in 1911, she was stolen from the Louvre by a workman who thought she should be kept in Italy. No one noticed for a day, thinking it had been removed for publicity photographs! She was returned there in 1913 and, since several attempts at vandalism, has been kept behind bullet-proof glass.

Her ‘about-to-smile’ expression and ‘eyes that follow you around the room’ are world renowned and there have been countless pastiches and interpretations of the original.

Mona Lisa has become embedded in modern popular culture

Listening to Joan Baez singing Love Song to a Stranger (click the title to hear it).This is a live performance of one of the saddest songs I know.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Romford Garden Suburb

I led my Sunday morning walking group on a tour around Romford Garden Suburb today. After Hampstead Garden Suburb was built in north-west London in 1907 some of the investors wanted to build another project in north-east London. Sir Herbert Raphael had the idea of a competition for the best house designs in order to generate publicity for the project.
The Garden City movement had begun with the building of the world's first Garden City in Letchworth in 1903.
Sir Herbert owned a large estate with a mansion (Gidea Hall) and grounds all around it. He donated 90 acres on the western flank as a public park and founded a golf club to the east. This had the effect of preserving the surroundings and stopping encroachment into the area. Although I live only about seven miles from this area, until researching local places, I had never heard of it; as it turned out nor had any of my friends! It seems to be an incredible local secret although it was the talk of London when it opened in 1911. Around 122 of the leading architects of the era designed 159 homes for the exhibition. A great variety of English architectural styles were on display and there was plenty of reference to local styles as known in the surrounding County of Essex. The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the time is very evident. In the map below I have outlined the local Conservation Area in red and if you find UK postcode RM2 5JB on Google Maps you can go down to street level and see many of the interesting house designs. I have shown a selection of photos that my wife took below.
The area of The Exhibition Estate (as it is known) shown bordered in red.
There were two classes of homes for the competition: Four bedroom 'Family homes' to sell at £500, well above average for the time, and also three bedroom 'Cottages' to sell at £375.
Many of the houses are now valued at between one and two million pounds.
I particularly like this style with herring-bone brickwork set in the Tudor oak beams.
Designed by Michael Bunney and Clifford Makins.
Most of the homes have retained their chimney stacks as an architectural feature
This Philip Tilden designed property is Grade II listed.
In the UK that means one can't make external changes but as the property is in a 
conservation area anyway it's doubly protected.
This house has, unusually, had its two tall chimneys removed. It was designed by
Clough Williams-Ellis who later designed Portmeirion in Wales where the  cult TV series
The Prisoner was filmed in the 1960s.
This picture, taken from Google Maps, is of  the Class 1 Family Home first-prize winner in 1911. It was designed by Geoffrey Lucas. Don't forget that these buildings were not judged on their prettiness but rather their utility, ease and economy of management and maintenance.
In 1934 a second competition was held to help sell the few vacant plots that were available. All of those new homes were in the Art Deco style that was dominant at that time.
A graceful Art Deco door and window

Another of the successful 1934 designs (some of them are disappointing).
Finally, this house won the 1934 first prize by probably the most famous of the architects, Berthold Lubetkin, co-founder of the influential Tecton Group.
As I am in a good mood I am listening to Jackson Browne's lovely Linda Paloma. Listen here!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Painting of the Month (56) Aug 2015: Velázquez

Diego Velásquez: Las Meninas, 1656, in The Prado, Madrid

This is one of the most analysed paintings of all time and is often described as the most important work by Diego Velásquezthe leading painter of the Spanish Golden Age. It has some incredibly unusual aspects and things that, even today, seem to be remarkable.
The subject is the Infanta (a female daughter of a ruling King & Queen: a princess) of Philip IV of Spain and Queen Mariana. The Infanta is surrounded by her Maids of Honour, Las Meninas of the title, and a dwarf, there for her entertainment. Some of the subjects are looking out of the picture and others are interacting among themselves. The painter himself is on the left of the picture looking at his subject – the King and Queen who are standing where you, the viewer of the painting, are standing.

At the back of the scene their reflections can be seen in the mirror. Also at the rear of the room a mysterious man can be observed in the doorway; it’s not clear if he is coming or going. He helps to create depth in the scene by being placed at the ‘vanishing point’ where the lines of perspective meet.
Notice how the light falls on the Infanta while the two maids are half-lit and form a frame around her.
Incidentally, the red cross on Velasquez's chest is the Order of Santiago, which he did not receive during his lifetime; the King had it added to the painting as a posthumous honour three years after Velasquez had died. I love the way that the long-haired young boy at the lower right is shown trying to rouse the dog from his slumber with his foot. If you click the picture to enlarge it you can see details more clearly.
Listening to Albéniz's Suite española. I seem to be having a Spanish evening!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Famous Last Lines Quiz

Friday, 17 July 2015

Painting of the Month (55) July 2015: Natalie Graham

Natalie Graham is a British watercolour painter and printmaker. I am a bit of a sucker for this loose style of watercolour painting, especially with an imaginative use of colour. Because of the difficulty in controlling the wet paint, the artist needs to utilise great skill in manipulating the image. While the colour seems to be unrealistic, when one spends a little time looking into the picture it seems to become more real; the lion looks vulnerable and like a pussy cat!
I know very little about this low-profile artist but I like her work. More of her work can be seen here.
Listening to:  ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ by Belle & Sebastian, an old favourite. Listen on You Tube.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Painting of the Month (54) June 2015: L S Lowry

Laurence Stephen (known as "LS") Lowry, 1887 -1976, was an English artist with one of the most recognisable styles of any painter and is often regarded as the most popular of English painters.
Industrial Landscape. L S Lowry 1887- 1976
Because of his distinctive style, where he painted lots of industrial landscapes often populated with large numbers of 'matchstick' people, he was often classed as a naive artist. I think being popular led to him being looked-down-upon by many art critics. I don't accept that his work is second-rate in any way; he really captured the essence of life in northern England and he conveys a real affection for his subjects making the hard grime of living in an industrialised zone appear to be not a bad thing. Here are some more of his works to give a better overview of it:

Listening to something very rare: The Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys together singing 'Don't Worry Baby'. There is a live version on You Tube but I like the studio version at this site.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Painting of the Month (53): April 2015: JMW Turner

Rain, Speed and Steam: The Great Western Railway
JMW Turner, 1844, Oil on Canvas
The French Impressionists acknowledged their debt to Turner and you can see why in this late masterpiece. The newly-laid Great Western Railway line ran from London to Bristol and Exeter. In this painting the train is viewed passing over Maidenhead Viaduct across the River Thames looking back east toward London. In his most famous painting, 'The Fighting Temeraire', Turner seemed to be mourning the passing of the old ways as the new took over. In this one he appears a little more sympathetic to the new technology although I think there is some ambiguity. A tiny hare can just about be seen in the right-hand corner of the painting (with enlargement). This has been cited as a reference to the limits of technology while others believe the animal is running in fear of the new machinery and Turner meant to hint at the danger of man's new technology destroying the inherent sublime elements of nature. A little easier to see is the little boat on the river to the left, which may have the same purpose. Apparently there is a ploughman in the distance, which I cannot see at all, presumably with a similar function.
Turner has very cleverly implied the speed of the train by the use of perspective with a central vanishing point which gives a steep, foreshortened view, drawing the eye strongly towards the centre thus conveying the feeling of high speed.

A further interesting point is the modern theory to why this master inspired the Impressionists with his 'fuzzy skies': towards the end of his life he was suffering with cataracts.
Listening to: Los Cuates De Sinaloa - 'Negro Y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg' from Breaking Bad. You can listen here

Monday, 6 April 2015

We Real Cool

We Real Cool is a brilliant short poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, an African-American lady who lived in Chicago and wrote poems about urban life there. This poem, written in 1959, is small and exquisite like a jewel. The piece supports endless worthwhile analysis of its meaning but beware – its simplicity is deceptive!
Gwendolyn Brooks 1917-2000
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike Straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

The sub-title, "The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel" sets the scene just like, say, a Shakespearean stage instruction such as "Outside the Castle. Enter a Servant." It carries a lot of information for the reader and is the only really specific information in the poem. The poet has painted a picture; there are seven young guys playing pool. The number seven is often associated with gambling and the name 'The Golden Shovel' is very ironic. Pool halls are dingy, badly-lit places and 'Golden' implies sunlight, wealth and health - all absent from the scene. A shovel implies manual labour (also absent!) and hints at grave-digging which may be a signal for that punch-in-the-face moment of the last sentence.
The poem only consists of a couple of dozen words, all of a single syllable but it is laden with meaning. The poet is imagining what she thinks the young men are thinking. "We real cool. We left school." speaks volumes and we may infer that if they didn't leave or skip school they may have been saying "We are real cool. "We lurk late" hints at various possibilities of misdemeanour's. "Striking straight" implies a long time spent playing pool.
"Sing sin" hints, again at possible anti-social activities. And "We thin gin" refers to the practice among young guys in the 50s to add water to Gin, the most popular spirit at that time. In the final stanza the word Jazz is used,  like the first word of the previous four lines, as an adjective. There are many differing versions of what that means, some of them unsavoury. The poetess has coyly let people make there own interpretation of it - I will do the same! So we have a bunch of school-age kids, possibly gambling, drinking and getting up to no good but we should be careful of rushing to judgement. It may all be a show of bravado.....
In the final sentence, "We die soon" Gwendolyn Brooks has probably switched to what she thinks they should be thinking or she fears may be their destiny.
The achievement of this poem is to paint a picture as powerful as a realist painting by Edward Hopper (look him up!) but with far less brush-stokes.
Listening to Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright. It has wonderful guitar and bass playing. Just try not tapping you foot to it! Listen here.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Story of Boris

The Story of Boris

As I have been really busy with other stuff recently I am re-posting this from April 2010.
Boris, left, with his brother.
I had an Uncle who was a rare book dealer. Several years ago, after his father's funeral, my cousin John told me this story.
Uncle Ben was interested in Russian literature and was reading a volume of poetry by Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago. My grandfather came from Russia in 1906 in the wave of Jewish emigration from that place at that time and, although he spoke good enough English, he never learned to read or write it. He saw the book had a photograph of the author on the back.
"That's my cousin Boris!" he said. "No, Dad, that's Boris Pasternak" said Uncle Ben, smiling indulgently.
Granddad (known to our large family as 'Pop') insisted it was his cousin so Uncle Ben set about researching it. Pasternak's father was an artist of renown and his mother a famous concert pianist. While he was growing up Tolstoy, Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Rilke were regular visitors to the house.
His father converted to Christianity and Boris went off to University and Pop never saw him again but he was proved to be right; all of the facts he gave Uncle Ben were verified and it turns out that Bazza's grandfather was Boris Pasternak's first cousin.
I think it means that I share about 1.5% of my genes with a Nobel Prize winner. Explains a lot don't you think?
I'm listening to the Dixie Chick's 'Landslide'. I actually prefer it to Fleetwood Mac's original. You can listen here.

Friday, 20 February 2015

My Last Duchess

Because I love this poem so much I have rehashed a post from five years ago. Even if poetry is not your 'thing' please take a few minutes to read this poem and then read my shocking revelation at the end. You will probably re-read the poem and you might, like I did, when first introduced to Robert Browning's poem thirty years ago find your jaw is on your chest with open-mouthed amazement! Sometimes in art and literature the best rewards come when one has to work at bit at understanding what is being presented.....
Lucrezia de Medici by Bronzino c.1560
Generally considered to be My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess
by Robert Browning (1812-1889)

That's my last duchess painted on the wall,Looking as if she were alive. I callThat piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's handsWorked busily a day, and there she stands.Will't please you sit and look at her? I said"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never readStrangers like you that pictured countenance,The depth and passion of its earnest glance,But to myself they turned (since none puts byThe curtain I have drawn for you, but I)And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,How such a glance came there; so, not the firstAre you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas notHer husband's presence only, called that spotOf joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhapsFrà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps"Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint"Must never hope to reproduce the faint"Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuffWas courtesy, she thought, and cause enoughFor calling up that spot of joy. She hadA heart how shall I say? too soon made glad,Too easily impressed; she liked whate'erShe looked on, and her looks went everywhere.Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,The dropping of the daylight in the West,The bough of cherries some officious foolBroke in the orchard for her, the white muleShe rode with round the terrace all and eachWould draw from her alike the approving speech,Or blush, at least. She thanked men good! but thankedSomehow I know not how as if she rankedMy gift of a nine-hundred-years-old nameWith anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blameThis sort of trifling? Even had you skillIn speech which I have not to make your willQuite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this"Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,"Or there exceed the mark" and if she letHerself be lessoned so, nor plainly setHer wits to yours, forsooth, and make excuse,E'en then would be some stooping; and I chooseNever to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,Whene'er I passed her; but who passed withoutMuch the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;Then all smiles stopped together. There she standsAs if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meetThe company below, then. I repeat,The Count your master's known munificenceIs ample warrant that no just pretenseOf mine for dowry will be disallowed;Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowedAt starting, is my object. Nay we'll goTogether down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
The single word Ferrara at the beginning would have set the scene for 19th century readers of this poem. It is set in the sixteenth century Italian city-state of Ferrara. The speaker is probably Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara who is showing a courtier around his privately commissioned works of art. A painting of His last Duchess is hidden behind a curtain ("...none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you but I...")
He describes her as if one of his many possessions and tells how she rated the friendship and attention of others above the gift of his "nine hundred years old name".
When I first read this poem my blood ran cold and I was genuinely shocked when I realised what the Duke was implying:
"......I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. 
There she stands as if alive".
He's had her killed! Oh my God! He talks about her as if she were faulty goods that he had to be rid of. Please read the poem again with this knowledge and notice how cleverly Browning has shown the casual nonchalance of the Duke.
At the end he is preparing to go downstairs to size up his next potential wife while talking about some of his other possessions. The Duchess was 17 years old when she died.

Chilling; the work of a master poet.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Painting of the Month (52) February 2015:Millais

Ophelia. Sir John Everett Millais, 1852
Four years before this painting was made the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in London in 1848. Millais was one of the three founder-members whose main idea was to return to the style of art that they thought should dominate. They objected to the classical style that Raphael and others has promoted, favouring instead great attention to detail, nature and bright colours. In particular they objected to the founder of the English Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds; apparently they referred to him as "Sir Sloshua". On the whole I don't go too much on their work but I think this particular painting is a bit special.
Ophelia was the character in Shakespeare's Hamlet who is depicted drowning in a Danish river. Her death does not occur on stage but is eloquently described by Queen Gertrude, Hamlets's mother. She fell from a branch into the water and floated without trying to rescue herself because her voluminous dress filled with air and kept her buoyant. However, the dress eventually became saturated and she drowned. Another character suggests it was suicide. (Prince Hamlet had rejected her because he was pre-occupied with his 'To be or not to be' soliloquy in which he contemplates the attractions of suicide - it's a laugh a minute is Hamlet.)
There is a very interesting story about Elizabeth Siddal, left, who was a favourite model for many of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets. Millais had her posed in a bath of cold water for many hours during the winter while he meticulously painted. (He had previously spent months outdoors painting the scenery ). Small lamps were lit under the bath-tub but they were inadequate to keep the water warm. 'Lizzie' became ill, possibly with pneumonia so her father threatened legal action action against Millais, who ended-up paying all of her hospital bills. Others have speculated that it was her addiction to laudanum that had made her ill. Life imitating art?
Sir John Everett Millais was born in Southampton, England in 1829 and died in Kensington , London in 1896.
Sir John Everett Millais

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Letchworth Garden City

About 40 miles from the centre of London, in the County of Hertfordshire, south-east England, lies Letchworth, the world's first garden city.
Letchworth from the air (
Letchworth, Willian and Norton were three villages all mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1068 and the area that they covered was to form the basis of the Garden City in 1903. The 'green belt' movement also began there; this was a way of controlling building to stop the expansion of towns and cities. There is a huge one around London and it is almost impossible to get permission to build on 'greenfield' sites. This has the effect of limiting urban growth (and inflating property prices). The population of Letchworth is around 34,000 and remains steady. It is an early example of modern town planning and a deliberate mix of urban and rural elements. It remains a very attractive and desirable place to live.
The Mercure Letchworth Hall Hotel where we stayed last weekend. 
Letchworth is also the location of the UK's first roundabout (traffic circle)

The town is also the home of this noted Art Deco cinema of 1936......and of this charming old railway station (1903)
One other unusual thing about Letchworth is it's legal format. It is believed to be the only community where a charitable trust, rather than elected representatives actually controls ownership of land and property. In effect all of the shops and commercial properties pay 'rates' and any surplus money is fed back into the local economy..  
Listening to: On The Rocks, the University of Oregon's acapella singing group performing an open-air version of Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance'. It's poor quality vision and sound, probably shot on someone's phone, but hilarious to watch and wonderful to listen to: