Thursday, April 29, 2021

About Detta O’Cathain

Susannah Herbert, quoted in the Telegraph obituary of Detta O’Cathain, the former Barbican boss:

The tragedy of Baroness O’Cathain stems from her passionate self-belief and her inability to persuade others to share it.

Friday, April 23, 2021

About description

Very belatedly I’m becoming aware of the importance of image description in social media, a courtesy that allows people with sight loss to engage better, especially with image-centric platforms such as Instagram. Either one can rely on the platform’s inbuilt object recognition technology, or write a brief description of the image, which sight-impaired users will be able to access with text-to-speech software. Of course, the principle has long been used in audio-description for films, and in audio guides in art galleries and it’s certainly a good way to make such art forms more accessible, although inevitably it has its limitations; it can tell you what’s depicted but the wobbly heft of a Rubens thigh, or the wild, mad intensity of a Van Gogh yellow may be harder to put across. 

There is art, of course, where such subtleties aren’t really the point; where the whole reason for the work being there is something that can be wholly encapsulated in a paragraph. Indeed, the object itself is secondary to the idea. In fact, maybe this could be a useful rule of thumb, a sort of Turing test for art. If an image description can entirely and satisfactorily communicate a work of art to someone who can’t see said work, then that work can be categorised as a piece of conceptual art.

[image description: black-and-white photograph of a white porcelain urinal at a three-quarters angle, signed along the bottom left rim “R. MUTT 1917”, against a black background]

Monday, April 19, 2021

About Helen McCrory

Given that it is a bit irrational to mourn the death of someone you never knew, I was still sadder to hear of the passing of the actor Helen McCrory than of the Duke of Edinburgh a week before. Mainly because McCrory was little more than half the Duke’s age and left two children under 16, but also because she was a fabulous, compelling performer. And on the occasions when she wasn’t inhabiting another character, she appeared to be a wise, perceptive woman; here she is talking to The Chap in 2019.
I don’t think I’ve ever been interested in any play about the happy, successful, lighter moments of life. I think that’s a very modern, pervasive idea in our entertainment, whether it’s on Instagram or in fiction, to show only the good and the perfect side of yourself. It’s just a lie and it’s very dull, and it’s nothing that anyone should even strive for. Obviously when you’re younger, all the dark side of life holds a lot of interest. Every teenager listens to the Doors and reads Sartre.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

About April 18

91 years ago today, on April 18, 1930, the BBC evening news bulletin consisted of the words “there is no news”, with piano music filling the rest of the 15 minutes. Cursory Googling suggests that this wasn’t a bad call, and that very little of historical importance occurred on that day; beyond, of course, the announcement that there was news, which became the only thing that anyone knows about that day, certainly raising its significance above that of the 17th or 19th. Once again, absence becomes a presence.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

About Prince Philip again

There is much generic media mulch sustaining a collective derangement over the death of an old, old man, but one or two useful responses – very few of them originating in Britain, sadly – have appeared. Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, for example, who analyses Philip’s strange social status, half macho action man and half placid househusband (and to some in Vanuatu, of course, a god), wittily but not without sympathy. And while others compile jolly listicles about the Duke’s various sub-Bernard-Manning one-liners (“slitty eyes”, ho ho ho), Lane pulls out one quote that is at once genuinely funny and rather poignant. Called upon to cut the ribbon at a new college building, he declared:
A lot of time and energy has been spent on arranging for you to listen to me to take a long time to declare open a building which everyone knows is open already.
It’s as if he was entirely clear-eyed, fully aware of the daftness of his role, but even if he drew attention to it, nobody listened; like Brian declaring he’s not the Messiah, or a first draft for a particularly bleak sitcom, one in which Tom Good never dares to try self-sufficiency, Reggie Perrin never goes for that naked swim, and they just carry on and on in an unpleasant dream from which they can’t be roused. I almost feel sorry for the old boy.

PS: Patrick Freyne in the Irish Times a few weeks ago:
Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.
PPS: Stewart Lee on a collective delusion from years past: 

PPPS: Michael Rosen, whose nib appears to have been sharpened by his recent brush with death, on the monarchy: 

I gather 
they give us continuity 
I gather that 
if we didn't have them 
we wouldn't feel continuous. 
If I want continuity 
I read an old book 

I gather 
they give us permanence. 
I gather that 
if we didn't have them 
we wouldn't feel permanent. 
If I want permanence 
I look at a rock.

PPPPS: And I’m not sure who did this, or how sincerely it was intended but, um...

PPPPPS: Clearly someone didn’t think the above was quite mad enough. This is what passes these days for proper journalism by a proper journalist in a proper newspaper:

Friday, April 09, 2021

About Prince Philip

I will not be pointing and laughing at an old man who has just died, nor at a woman who has lost her husband of over 70 years. However, I hope I’ll be permitted to raise an eyebrow at the various media organisations that have seen fit to pad out what’s at best a 20-minute story (he’s dead; here’s some archive of when he was alive; here are some people saying nice things about him) into a rolling news juggernaut that’s swept all other programming before it. The BBC in particular is tugging its forelock across all channels, which is pretty impressive for an organisation that’s supposedly a quivering nest of Trotskyite wokeness.

Special mention though to Reuters which ran a live feed of an aerial view of Buckingham Palace, which would have been an odd thing to do even if Prince Philip had died there (he was at Windsor Castle) and then it turned out the footage was of the Tower of London anyway.

PS: A reminder of the wonderful Kastom people of Vanuatu, who worshipped the late Prince as a god.

PPS: And this.


PPPPS: The BBC. Eight hours. Across all channels. Now try to imagine what it’ll be like when *she* goes...

Thursday, April 08, 2021

About Monster Fun

Pulling together a further tranche of Perec-lite memories, I seize upon thoughts of Monster Fun comic, and in particular the Badtime Bedtime Book supplements that were stapled inside. While I was never a comic fan in the classic sense (the Marvel Comic Universe mostly leaves me cold), I was besotted by the anarchic, gently spooky humour of Monster Fun for what felt like most of my childhood. Yet when I check the cold hard facts, I find that it ran as a standalone weekly for little more than a year, June 1975 to October 1976. Proof again that when you're seven or eight years old, time stretches way out beyond the horizon (in all directions) and usually in a good way. 

Thursday, April 01, 2021

I remember (part one)

 (An explanation.) 

I remember watching the Marx Brothers’ movie A Day At The Races for the first time, on TV, when somebody repeated a reel by mistake; and I was so wrapped up in the lunacy, I just assumed it was part of the film. 

I remember Richard Nixon’s blood clot.

I remember Stanley Green the protein man and Lord Mustard the tap-dancing busker. 

I remember answering the phone with a number. 

I remember the London Planetarium. 

I remember when everybody had a poster of BĂ©atrice Dalle.

I remember Hercules the Bear and Victor the Giraffe. 

I remember the death of General Franco. I didn't know who Franco was or why it was important; but my mother said it meant her friend Carmen could go home now. 

I remember polo necks under shirts. 

I remember “Nicholas Parsons is the Neo-Opiate of the People”.