Archive for August, 2007

The Department has decided…

August 14, 2007

I have to wonder what exactly it takes to make a government department think twice about a decision it has taken. You’d think that an inspiring story like this one in today’s Education Guardian would be just the thing to make Department for Children, Schools and Families  wonder whether it was doing the right thing by closing the school at the centre of the story, St Edward’s Roman Catholic primary school in Manchester,  down. 

Ofsted reports have to be formal and impersonal. But sometimes the official mask slips, as it did when the inspectors wrote their letter to pupils at St Edward’s Roman Catholic primary school in Manchester after a visit in 2005. “We think your music lessons are super,” they said.

Those lessons were conducted by Liz Warde, who trained to be both a nurse and a teacher, has an Open University degree in maths and music, plays the violin in an orchestra, was led back to the piano by a plastic surgeon, and tries to improve her own playing skills with a bit of after-midnight practice on her electronic baby grand. Under the direction of the headteacher, Paddy Heneghan, she has used music to fulfil the school’s aim of boosting confidence and raising aspirations among its 240 pupils……. 

Not a bit of it.  

As in all good musicals, there ought to be a happy ending. But St Edward’s closes in 2009 and will merge with a nearby school on a new site.


Picture Post (selected images from the Web)

August 14, 2007

I’ve visited Brian Naughton’s Picture Post  blog for the first time this morning, and I have to say that the judicious selection and  presentation of images that are to be found on the web is pretty impressive.  

Brian, in his short, self-effacing introduction, writes: 

This blog has been created to share my love of photography as both a medium and an art form. I will endeavour to highlight some of the best images and image makers on the Web, and to occasionally accompany the posts with my own thoughts about life, the universe and anything else that seems relevant to the subject matter.

The idea came to me because photo-sharing sites such as Flickr are quantitive as opposed to qualitative. Images of blurry sunsets and family pets abound. The diamonds in the rough can be tricky to find. So, I thought I’d make it easier for people who want a daily image fix – but don’t want to try too hard.

My first impression is that he has done (with considerable brio) exactly what he sets out to do. 

Jazz and me.

August 13, 2007

The question of how I first became interested in listening to jazz came up today. Well I believe that it was listening to the Duke Ellington score for the Martin Ritt film Paris Blues that really got me hooked. This was back in the early sixties in Ireland when there was no opportunities of seeing jazz live, and when the opportunities of listening to it record were almost non-existent.  Of course, I had by this time seen films about jazz, but what I’d never seen was a film in which the playing of jazz was central to the story.

I had seen films like Pete Kelly’s Blues, The Gene Krupa Story, and Young Man With a Horn, all of which dealt with jazz, but it when I saw Paris Blues, which dealt with two characters to whom the playing of jazz was a way of life rather than a way of being successes in showbiz,  that I really began to listen to the music for its own sake.

After seeing that film – about a dozen times, I have to say- I deliberately sought out films which had jazz scores or were scored by jazzmen.  I don’t know how many people have fond memories of Robert (To Kill a Mockingbird) Mulligan’s film version of the Garson Kanin play The Rat Race starring Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. I do, but not because of the film itself was especially good, but because some of the music was supplied by the youthful Gerry Mulligan 

Irish audiences were left in the dark about one of the final twists in  Otto Preminger’s courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder because the censor had removed a key scene in which semen stained panties are brought into court as evidence, but that never bothered me. The marvellous Ellington was enough to make me want to see the film over and over again. (Eventually I did find out what the twist was, but by then I’d watched the film over a dozen times) 

That’s more or less how my lifelong engagement – such as it is – began.

The Clive James-Pete Atkin Songbook Volume 1

August 12, 2007

Pete Atkin has been working on a series of new recordings of Pete Atkin/Clive James songs for his forthcoming album, Midnight Voices -the Clive James-Pete Atkin Songbook Volume One*, which is to be released later this year.

Thanks to Pete and Steve Birkill (see Pete Atkin in blogroll on the right), a preview of one of those recordings, Laughing Boy, is now available as a taster of what is to come. 

On the 26th of June 2007, as part of a posting to Midnight Voices – The Pete Atkin Web Forum, Pete wrote: 

I’m going to call the CD “Midnight Voices – the Clive James-Pete Atkin Songbook Volume One.”  The songs** included will be (not necessarily in this order) –
Touch Has A Memory
Senior Citizens
Thief in the Night
Be Careful When They Offer You the Moon
Thirty Year Man
Sessionman’s Blues
The Flowers and the Wine
Payday Evening
Between Us There Is Nothing
The Hypertension Kid
Perfect Moments
The Faded Mansion on the Hill
Master of the Revels
Laughing Boy
Beware of the Beautiful Stranger


*Simon Wallace (piano), Mark Hodgson (bass),  Roy Dodds (drums and percussion) & Pete Atkin (voice and guitar). Electric guitar contributions from Mike Outram , with additional guest appearances by Sarah Moule  (vocal), Clive Bell (shakuhachi), and Alan Barnes (clarinet and tenor & baritone saxes) 

**Details of all these songs can be found on under the The Pete Atkin Discography link on Smash Flops – the Pete Atkin website. 

New beginnings.

August 11, 2007

My daughter, Helen, has just got the keys to the house she is to move into after she gets married in October. She and her husband-to-be, with the help of her relations and  future in-laws,  are in the process of making  changes  here and there – getting rid of an outside toilet, incorporating the space it gives them into the kitchen, putting in  a window where the toilet door was etc – and as I watched all this activity , into my mind popped the lines of the poem To a Married Sister* by the Irish poet Ciarán Carson  which, to some extent clarifies my thoughts at the time.  

The final stanza runs like this:

     Your husband has talked of mending
     Broken doors, the cheap furniture
     That bore the accidents of others’ lives
     That was there before you. A gold resin
     Leaked from the slackened joints.
     His new saw glittered like your wedding-silver.


*to be found in Ciarán Carson’s  currently out-of-print collection The New Estate (first published by Blackstaff Press in 1976 and by Gallery Press in 1988)

This is John Naughton’s hobby?

August 10, 2007

John Naughton, as well as being Professor of Public Understanding of Technology with the Open University, a distinguished columnist for the Business and Media section of The Observer, the author of A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet and, after Clive James, one of the best TV critics of the past forty or so years, is an amateur photographer of some distinction. Here is a striking example  of what he can do with a camera.

Don’t you just envy people who are that talented? 

Use your head? Not when it comes to voting.

August 8, 2007

What do Bill Clinton and George W Bush have in common? No it’s not that they were elected president of the United States. And it’s not that their respective parties are getting to look lime each other that you cannot tell them apart. It is, if The Political Brain, a new book by Professor Drew Westen*, is to be believed,  that both men have great more appeal to the emotional side of the brain, the side of the brain which determines how voters vote. 

Extracts from Westen’s book printed in today’s Guardian roughly outline the main thrust of his argument. 

A study of my own, and a growing body of research in psychology and political science, show that the political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures, and policies to make a reasoned decision. The reality is that our brains are vast networks of neurons (nerve cells) that work together to generate our experience of the world. Of particular importance are networks of associations, bundles of thoughts, feelings, images and ideas that have become connected over time. 

Just how important networks are in understanding why candidates win and lose can be seen by contrasting two political advertisements: the first from Bill Clinton’s campaign for the presidency in 1992, and the second from John Kerry’s in 2004. Both men were running against an increasingly unpopular incumbent named Bush. Both ads were, for each man, his chance to introduce himself to the general electorate following the Democratic primary campaign and to tell the story he wanted to tell about himself to the American people. And both were a microcosm of the entire campaign. The two ads seem very similar in their “surface structure”. But looks can be deceiving. A clinical dissection of these ads makes clear that they couldn’t have been more different in the networks they activated and the emotions they elicited.

What follows is a clever and very revealing analysis of the “deep structure” of the two men’s advertisements that, although not an eye-opener, brings with it a very convincing explanation of why supported Bush and not Kerry.


*The Political Brain: Thr Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation  is available from Amazon 

**Drew Westen’s wikipedia entry.

Clive James & MySpace’s Cindy C

August 7, 2007

Recently the prize-winning American journalist and commentator Bill Moyers has interviewed Clive James (see my blogroll) for his highly influential Bill Moyers Journal, the weekly interview and news programme that, after a twenty-five year hiatus, recently returned as part of PBS *programming.   

The reaction of an avowedly Christian Pennsylvania dweller, who blogs on MySpace as Cindy C,* caught my eye this morning.   It makes for interesting reading, I think. 

The second guest on Bill Moyers Journal was just as interesting. I liked him a lot. Moyers spoke with Australian reviewer and writer Clive James. Like Ehrenreich, his interests were broadened in his life as he grew and experienced things in his own journey. He has a strong interest in politics, culture and the arts. His latest book is titled “Cultural Amnesia.” He said some interesting things about America and if you want to know the truth here…well, it was rather refreshing to not hear someone bash and beat up my country. I mean, it happens often..I hear it..but Clive James did not do this. He was, in fact, rather kind. And last night…and even today, even right now, you know, I appreciate that. It makes my heart smile a bit….sometimes I get a little tired and discouraged (not to mention a bit saddened) by the current “Let’s blame America” campaign. Sometimes it just hurts a bit more than I would like to even admit.

Clive James did say this one thing, though. He said that when something is going on in the world…like the atrocities and horror that is taking place in Darfur, people wonder when something will be done. He said that this means that people wonder when the Americans are going to do something. He said that “America is decisive” and that this makes others in other countries feel uncomfortable. I get that. I can see that.

He talked a little about terrorism and he suggested that society may be too strong to be taken down by terrorism. He did say several times that the war in Iraq really lasted just “a few days” and that he would never put Bush or Rumsfeld in charge of anything (his comment here made me laugh out loud). He said that when Bush got elected, Cheney and Rumsfeld made the world tremble (his comment here did not make me made me numb for a few seconds).

He talked about the radical terrorists. He acknowledged them. He said the danger is not in the moderates..but it is in the radicals. The regular people are just too afraid to take them on….and they are afraid with good reason. Terrorists are scary. No kidding…ahh….ya think?.

Okay, now with Clive James, this is what got to me. He does not believe in God. He does not believe in a “Heavenly Father.” He said that if there was a Heavenly Father, then the 1.5 million children would not have been killed in the Holocaust. He said that if there was a “Heavenly force,” then His Dad would have been brought home to him. That was sad.

I felt bad for Mr. James for not believing in God. I was and am sad for him. I know he has the right to believe what he wants. That is fine. But it does not mean that I cannot feel badly for him. I do. I wish he would know God. You know, when I was listening to him talk about his, I thought of Elie Weisel**, the author of “Night” among numerous other books about the Holocaust. Someone once asked him if he would ever forgive the people who did this to him and to his family during the Holocaust, and he emphatically said that he would never forgive those people. And then I thought of Sylvia Salveson***, author of “Forgive. But Do Not Forget.” She forgave her captives—with such grace and without any hesitation…she truly forgave the people who were mean to her and she was a believer. So, here, you have three people with horrific and painful experiences from the Holocaust— and you have three very different responses. Hmm… 


 When I listened to Clive James, I was filled with such gratitude because I heard and accepted my “election” from God. At the same time, I also had a heavy heart for him. He seems like a nice person….I said a silent prayer for him, asking God to make His “election” (call) a bit louder and stronger.

This is the kind of writing that’s easy to dismiss, but if one reads it closely then one realises that it is actually is a heartfelt response to what someone has said, and that it has to be read as such. James may not have affected this individual in every way he might have wished – but he has affected her, and surely that is the business he is in. 



*Link is available from top right corner of posting

**See Wikipedia for Elie Wiesel

***She means Forgive- but do not forget by Sylvia Salversen 

Where are we now?

August 6, 2007

 This Yahoo News item comes as no surprise; all the same it is most worrying. 

London (Reuters) – As many as 11 million British motorists are unable to read a basic road map, according to a survey released on Monday. The poll revealed over three quarters of drivers were unable to identify the motorway map symbol, while only one percent of motorists would pass the Cub Scout Map Reader badge test.“It’s pretty embarrassing the majority of Cub Scouts have better map-reading skills than the majority of the adult population,” said Colin Batabyal, head of underwriting and business development at eSure, which carried out the survey.Sixteen percent of drivers have become so heavily reliant on satellite navigation systems that they have given up keeping a map in their car.“It’s time for motorists to take a refresher in map-reading skills,” said Scott Sinclair of national mapping agency Ordnance Survey. “Technology is great but the batteries won’t run out on a paper map.“No serious hill walker would rely totally on a GPS device in case the power goes or the signal is lost, so it should be the same for the motorist,” added Sinclair.

The survey — based on a poll of 1,000 UK drivers — estimated Britons’ poor map-reading skills resulted in 36 billion wasted miles being driven each year.

That’s a lot of wasted miles.

“All books available to All” (The Book Depository)

August 5, 2007

Michael Allen, who describes himself as a  Wiltshire-based reader and writer, and blogs as Grumpy Old Bookman, has, in a recent blog, drawn my attention to The Book Depository, the services it’s now offering and, and more importantly, the services it promises to offer in the future. 

The Book Depository is a UK-based enterprise with world-wide ambitions. Basically, it’s a bookselling business. It aims to deliver books to the customer cheap(ish) and fast; and not just today’s bestsellers either, but highly obscure books too. It works, as I can testify from a recent test.

To call this enterprise ambitious is an understatement. If you want to know more, take a look at the About Us page on the company’s web site.

You will note that the underlying technology is being developed by a team at the University of Bath (one of the UK‘s better universities, specialising in science and technology), and the research is being part-funded by the UK‘s Engineering & Physical Science Research Council. What that means, in plain English, is that the underlying science is considered highly respectable and vitally important. The Book Depository is committed to making all programming open source.

The average customer, however, is not going to be too concerned by that. What your typical punter wants is a copy of a given book, at the cheapest possible price, and to have it delivered as near instantaneously as possible. By interacting with other retailers and distributors, the Book Depository seems to be getting as close to that ideal service as anyone could reasonably ask. Their software aims to work out the optimised purchasing route of each isbn, depending on cost, availability and historical service delivery, and then places orders……..

I have had a quick look through that catalogue and I have to say that it does look pretty impressive. If it can eventually do all it’s looking to do, then it stands a good chance of becoming the serious readers first stopping off point when searching for books.