web analytics

October 2014

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2014.

“The perfect weather of Indian Summer lengthened and lingered, warm sunny days were followed by brisk nights with Halloween a presentiment in the air.”

Wallace Stegner, Remembering Laughter

The unseasonably warm weather continues – with the BBC declaring that:

“This year’s Halloween is the warmest on record in the UK, with temperatures reaching as high as 23.5C, breaking the previous record of 20C.”

Nature – however – continues with its plans for the impending winter. Photos – as ever – courtesy of the Fuji x10.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

Tags: , , ,

Image from Wikimedia CommonsEroding solidarity paradoxically makes a society more susceptible to the construction of substitute collectives and fascisms of all kinds.

Elfriede Jelinek

I am sure that I am not alone on this side of the pond in feeling the deepest sympathy for the family and friends of the member of the Canadian armed forces who was murdered whilst on duty in Ottowa on Wednesday last. Many of us in the UK would doubtless also like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with our Canadian cousins.

On a number of occasions during the coverage from Ottowa on Wednesday Canadian commentators described the capital as a ‘sleepy’ city in a ‘sleepy’ country – the inference being that such sudden and brutal exposure to international terrorism had come as a rude shock.

The Kickass Canada Girl was in London on July 7th 2005 and was trying to get to the High Court when the bombs on the underground and the bus were detonated. She found herself with hundreds of thousands of others struggling to get out of the city with all public transport – as well as the mobile phone networks – having been closed down. One of her first observations to me on finally reaching home was how impressed she had been by the calm composure of all of those in whose company she had found herself. This was borne out the following day when the great majority of London commuters simply got back onto the underground and carried on as before. I had to point out that London does have an extensive history of such episodes – a good number having occurred in my life time.

Let me be blunt about this and re-state a truism. Terrorism does not work! The intent – to strike such fear into a civilian population that it will pressure its political leaders to follow a particular course of action – has been demonstrated time and time again throughout history to be a hopeless one. I hardly need detail here the tragic history of groups, sects and organisations that have – even over the last hundred years – failed to achieve their aims whilst creating carnage in the name of some misguided belief.

In the case of London it is hard to believe that a small group of deluded fundamentalist youths ever imagined they might succeed where the the entire might of the Luftwaffe and thirty years of dedicated campaigning by the IRA had failed. It is – of course – not just in Britain that the habitual response to the efforts of tyrants and murderers is a defiant refusal to let such vile actions affect – to the slightest degree – the normal course of life.

I would be most surprised if the response in Canada were significantly different.


Tags: ,

Image from PixabayWhat is it – I wonder – about the autumn that fills me with the urge to set forth on yet another quest – a search for fresh sounds and new (to me, anyway) music?

I am aware that I have done something similar for the past couple of years – which makes me wonder if this signals an emergent pattern. On each of those previous occasions I felt moved to announce the results of my endeavors upon this very forum. Two years ago I found The Poets of the Fall; last year – Shooglenifty.

It may well be that – as the nights draw in and the world outside my window takes on a greyish (even more greyish than usual!) hue – thoughts turn once again to matters of the soul. The creative focus shifts from the extroversion of spring and summer to the introversion of autumn and winter and the fecundity of the harvest season spills over into my own projects. I have once again taken a few days off over this half term – not only to scour the InterWebNet for inspiration – but also to pursue some songwriting of my own.

With regard to the music of others, however, this quest was triggered – as is so often the case – by an entirely accidental encounter with a previously unknown artifact.

Whilst I can’t exactly claim to be an avid fan of Sarah McLachlan – a distinction that I bestow on very few artistes – I do much admire her voice. I also applaud her good taste in influences. She is apparently a long time fan of Peter Gabriel, as testified by her live recording of a remarkably accurate cover of “Solsbury Hill“. She has also recorded an excellent version of one of my favourite XTC songs – “Dear God” – for the 1995 tribute album “A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC”. This latter was a particularly brave choice given the subject matter, which further elevates Ms McLachan in my estimation.

It was – however – neither of the above pieces that caught my attention on this occasion.

For reasons that should perhaps be obvious – and which are only marginally embarrassing – I was perusing online a few of the copious  tourism videos that promote the fair city of Victoria. A link to one such had recently been forwarded to the Kickass Canada Girl, and the viewing thereof had so moved her – bringing on an acute attack of homesickness – that she was driven to arrange a visit to BC for the end of this November. Fascinated by this effect I investigated further.

The film that I discovered had an unusual soundtrack featuring a really quite hauntingly ethereal song. I did not immediately recognise the tremulous female voice and nor did I know the piece. It took a fair bit of research online to discover that the chanteuse was indeed Ms McLachan and that the song was a rendition of that hoary classic – “Unchained Melody“. I had not recognised it because this was an interpretation like no other – keeping the lyric but jettisoning just about everything else – including the melody itself!

Now – I have to admit that I have never really liked “Unchained Melody” – which I consider to be somewhat overrated. This version – however – I love! Judging by the vitriolic comments that others have posted online concerning Ms McLachan’s efforts I am numbered amongst only a tiny minority in so doing – but it was ever thus. I love the mood – the sounds – the emotion – the effect…

Of course – I now want more. The problem is that this version is stylistically atypical even of the rest of Ms McLachan’s oeuvre – so my search for something equally effecting must continue.

Unless – of course – you know of something…

Tags: , ,

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThat great national favourite amongst English hymns – Sir Cecil Spring Rice and Gustav Holst’s “I Vow to Thee my Country” – is apparently no less popular at funerals than it is at weddings, having been intoned during the solemnities for no lesser luminaries than Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and – no surprise – Margaret Thatcher.

The hymn itself is – however – the subject of considerable controversy.

These attacks emanate from more than one quarter. There are those to the left of the political spectrum who are perturbed by the jingoistic overtones of the piece – the thinking being perhaps that such patriotic sentiments are but a short step from something considerably more akin to imperialism.

This nationalistic tenor also seems particularly offensive to some members of the Anglican congregation who perhaps deem it impious to make such vows to earthly powers rather than to god. Some amongst this ecumenical number further point to the fact that the ‘hymn’ actually makes no reference to god at all. In 2004 the Anglican Bishop of Hulme called for the canticle to be banned as being heretical – a view that I find – frankly – itself more hysterical!

In an article in the Church Times in 2013 the Reverend Gordon Giles – Anglican vicar of St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Enfield in the UK – suggested that Spring Rice’s poem should be re-written to make it more acceptable. His doctrinally ‘correct’ version replaces – for example – the original’s opening couplet:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love

…with this – er – improved variant:

I vow to thee, my country, the service of my love,
in full and free devotion, all lesser claims above

Oh dear!

What these strangely earth-bound zealots seem to have missed is that what Spring Rice originally wrote was a poem! To insist upon a literal interpretation is to completely misunderstand the purpose and meaning of art. Ambiguity is essential – the pursuant intention being that each of us should discover our own meaning in the work.

This truism is made manifest by the variety of views that are to be found on the InterWebNet. The first stanza of the hymn may be read as a peon to militaristic imperialism, but just as readily as a lament for the fallen of the Great War. Those with an axe to grind might detect in the second verse either proof positive that ‘another country‘ – ‘most great to them that know‘ refers to the kingdom of god, or conversely evidence that the poem is nothing more than a puff of secular doggerel – in decidedly dubious taste.

I would like to proffer another interpretation…

Unlike that other great patriotic chorale – “Jerusalem” – “I Vow to Thee my Country” actually makes no explicit reference to England or to Britain at all. If the ‘other country’ of the second stanza can be taken as a metaphor for heaven, then why should the ‘country’ of the first verse be interpreted literally? It could – of course – refer to any country, but taking it further – it might not refer to a country at all. The metaphor could stand for a race – a community – a faith – an ideology…

What this first verse surely alludes to is the notion of tying one’s colours to the mast – to making the ultimate sacrifice for something – anything – that one believes in.

The second verse then adds to this – with a glance back over its shoulder to regard again the lessons of history – a terrible warning of the costs of misguided beliefs – be they patriotic, spiritual or ideological. Spring Rice must have been acutely aware when he re-wrote his original verse in 1918 of the paradoxical nature of the war that was shortly to end – caught between the fervour of patriotic support for his country and the knowledge that the powers of Europe had sleep-walked senselessly into an unforgivable and avoidable calamity that had resulted in the tragic and pointless loss of a generation of young men.

In this centennial year of the start of the Great War it is perhaps no surprise that I was overcome by emotion the other day in St Paul’s Cathedral, when attempting to sing this most moving of compositions. This is – after all – what good art does.

And if you should doubt that Spring Rice’s verse and Holst’s powerful melody – accidental partners though they may be – do in fact represent the highest forms of their respective crafts, then you need only look at the suggestions that others have made to ‘correct’ what they see as the hymn’s shortcomings.

If you have no understanding of the power of poetry this might not be a bad place to start.

Tags: , ,

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThe School’s annual outing to St Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate its foundation took place late last week. I was – as ever – an eager participant in this expedition.

My pleasure at being able to re-visit what has become such a significant symbol in my own personal mythology (a grateful prayer of thanks was once again offered on the spot directly under the centre of the dome) is always augmented by the slightly perverse delight that I take from the absurdity of transporting the entire population of two schools (our sister school joins us for the day) across the breadth of London in a fleet of coaches for a fifty minute ceremony. The logistics are a nightmare and the journey takes at least three times as long as the service itself.

Apparently in days of yore the pupils were simply instructed to make their own way to the cathedral – being given no more than a time to be outside the west door and a strict admonition not to be late. I find it rather sad that such a practical course is – in these health and safety obsessed times – no longer viable.

The form that the service itself takes barely varies from year to year. Having in my pre-pubescent existence played the part of the boy chorister, I do still enjoy the chance to belt out some of the hymns with which I fell in love and which were largely responsible for my later and lasting involvement with music.

One such much-loved chorale is the setting of Sir Cecil Spring Rice’s 1908 poem – “I Vow to Thee my Country” – to the music of Gustav Holst – specifically to an extract from his “Jupiter” movement from “The Planets” suite. This stirring hymn makes frequent appearance at our Founder’s Day ceremonies largely because Holst was for an extended period employed as the Musical Director at our sister school.

Spring Rice’s poem – written whilst he was serving at the British embassy in Stockholm and originally entitled “Urbs Dei” (“City of God”) – was at first quite unlike the version that we know today. In 1912 Spring Rice was appointed Ambassador to the United States of America and in that role played an instrumental part in persuading the US to abandon its neutrality in the Great War. Shortly before returning to the UK in January 1918, Spring Rice re-wrote and renamed the poem, significantly altering the first verse to reflect the huge losses suffered by British soldiers during the intervening years. What had been the first verse morphed to become a second verse that is now widely disregarded.

In 1921 Holst was commissioned to set the poem to music. He was, at the time, extremely busy and was relieved to discover that – with only minor modification – the grand theme from “Jupiter” fitted the lyric well enough. Upon such small ‘accidents’ great moments of genius do often seem to hang.

Finding myself in harmony with a two thousand voice impromptu choir for  “I Vow to Thee my Country” in the sublime setting of St Paul’s Cathedral last week proved such an unexpectedly emotional experience that I found myself struggling to give voice at all to the second verse. I was sufficiently moved that I find I must needs say more on the subject…

…but that can wait for a second post…



Tags: , , ,


Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI do not intend that I should spend the next nine months composing a series of valedictory posts for this blog prior to our departure for Canada – though it is fairly inevitable that there will be some such. In the case of a Bath – however – I feel that I must!

For the Kickass Canada Girl and I Bath has long been – as it has for so many others before us – a place to which to run away for a break when the rest of life becomes just too much to bear. I have posted before concerning these escapes on more than one occasion – which homilies may be found here and here.

We have been in Bath at many times of the year, but perhaps our favourites have been those visits that have taken place in the spring – to break the long hibernation of winter – and in the autumn – to celebrate the Girl’s birthday.

Amongst the many attractions that Bath has to offer may be numbered:

  • the classic beauty of the Georgian architecture
  • the abundance of decent restaurants
  • the plethora of stylish hotels and guest houses
  • the spa(s)
  • first class rugby played in an unparalleled setting
  • the highly acceptable (to the Girl – which is a tough test!) array of retail outlets

As the saying goes –  what’s not to like?

Our visit of last weekend followed the form – a well established and much-loved routine. Splendid repasts were partaken of – excellent wines were imbibed – the corpus inperfectus was subjected to steam, dry heat, water jets and vigorous massage – retail therapy was undergone and rugby football was enthusiastically followed. A good time was had by all and the Girl’s birthday was well and truly celebrated!


On the subject of rugby… I had mentioned in my previous post that we would be present on the Friday at the top of the table clash between Bath and Saracens. The latter only narrowly lost out in several competitions last year – finishing as runners-up both in the Premiership and in the Heineken Cup. Their defence is well organised and impenetrable – their attack is remorseless if somewhat unimaginative. Coming into the match last Friday they had not yet been beaten this season.

Bath play a much more adventurous style of rugby, relying on scintillating line breaks and penetrative running. Those – such as I – who love the fluid game, support the club for just this reason. They have in past seasons suffered when their pack have been ground down by stronger opposition, and when as a result they have not had an adequate supply of good ball with which to operate. Over the last few seasons – however – things have been moving in the right direction and they now seem to have a much better balance between an aggressive and fearless pack and a truly exciting group of backs.

Cutting a long story short – last Friday – in front of an excited and highly partisan crowd – Bath overwhelmed the Saracens by 22 points to 11 to record a famous and excellent victory, the first against them in eight attempts. It was a wonderful night to be at the Rec and capped the weekend perfectly.

We are certain – of course – to re-visit Bath when we come back to the UK from Canada – but I know that we will also really miss these splendid retreats.

Tags: , ,

ballot-box-32384_640“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

Thomas Jefferson

The final UK party conference season of the current parliamentary term draws creakily to close with the Liberal Democrats somewhat bravely gathered in Glasgow. The extravasate of the drab convocations that we have had thus far to endure has left us – frankly – numb with disbelief at the grim prospect of the eight months of campaigning that will now follow – in the run-up to the election next May.

The recent referendum on Scottish independence – along with the concomitant hullabaloo south of the border – has provided us with several excellent examples – in both positive and negative veins – of exactly what is wrong with the current political process.

My previous post on the referendum provided the positive illustration. It is quite clear that the splendid and unprecedented turnout on that occasion was the result – not of the frankly ludicrous posturings of the political parties – but of the Scots recognising that, for once, they actually had a say in something that mattered – a chance that they took with both hands.

The flipside side of the coin was – true to form – all too clearly demonstrated by the parties at Westminster. Having until this point remained nervously aloof from the proceedings they were finally galvanised by the single, erroneous poll a week or so before the event that suggested against all the odds that the ‘Yes’ campaign might actually triumph. The panicky political denizens of the capital at once scrambled to Euston station, took to Virgin Trains and headed north.

Once there the three main parties – Tories, New(ish) Labour and the Lib Dems – cobbled together a shaky agreement to dangle before the Scottish people an orange(ish) vegetable in the shape of an extension to the devolved power that they already had – in return for their remaining in the Union. Thus far all entirely predictable – the only surprise being that the consensus held just about for long enough for the poll to actually take place.

What happened next was – sadly – just as predictable. Scarcely had the Scots taken the bribe accepted this generous offer than Tory leader David Cameron scurried from the door of 10 Downing Street to issue this breathless edict. The government would – he insisted – most certainly honour its pledge to the Scots, but in the interests of fairness it would at the same time legislate for a devolution of powers to the poor downtrodden English – which latter must be effected concurrent with the former!

Was this mayhap a noble gesture – the righting of some ancient wrong – the far-sighted act of a great statesman?? Not a chance! It was a piece of shameless, shabby political maneuvering!!

Cameron knows all too well that this belated resolution of the West Lothian question would deprive Labour of its healthy rump of 41 Scottish MPs – and thus of any real chance of a future Commons majority. He further knows that Labour therefore must needs oppose the issue, and that when the Devo-Max process inevitably breaks down as a result he will be able to place the blame on them for the resultant broken promises to the Scots. This has nothing to do with the desires of the English for self-determination. It has everything to do with Cameron and Osborne’s desire to fatally wound the Labour party.

“So what” – I hear you say? “That’s just politics. If you can’t stand the heat…”

“Well” – say I – “that’s just not good enough!”

Had Cameron announced his intention before the referendum – instead of after the count – not only would there have most likely been no agreement to ‘save’ the Union at all, but also a fair chance that the Scots – seeing which way the wind was blowing – would have modified their thinking and given Cameron and Co the kicking at the poll that they so richly deserve!

And these are the men that want us to entrust them with our precious votes?!

Don’t get me wrong – I have no more truck with the shameless hucksters from any of the other parties either – that dare to perch so precariously on the shoulders of giants – those worthy statesmen of yore who so richly decorate the tapestry of the history of this land. It comes as no surprise that the impossibly patient inhabitants of these fair isles now clearly regard politicians as ranking even lower on the scale of pond-life than do tabloid journalists! How many now must be wishing fervently for a ‘None of the above‘ option on the ballot paper?


I would like to think that our forth-coming emigration to Canada will lead to our escaping into clearer air. Sadly – everything I read about Canadian politics suggests that things are just about as bad there as they are in the UK.


Tags: ,

BreathAnd when I breathed, my breath was lightning.

Black Elk

Amazing! Here I am in my seventh decade and I am still discovering absolute fundamentals about the business of living that I would have expected to have learned long, long ago.

The Kickass Canada Girl and I have colds. Fairly minor colds it must be said – and they didn’t disturb our trip to Bath (of which more anon!) so we mustn’t complain. The first cold of the season is – however – always somehow more annoying than any other – particularly if the sun is still shining – which it has been…

My cold came out last week and I had a couple of uncomfortable days at work as a result. At lunchtime on one of those days I was browsing stuffily on the InterWebNet trying to discover if there was any truth in the dictum that one should feed a cold – in other words, wondering if I should force myself to have some lunch. The advice I uncovered – that one should eat if one were hungry – was not exactly earth-shattering, nor particularly helpful.

I did – however – discover from one of the articles consulted something else entirely – which stunning piece of advice was simply to breath deeply!

Now – I expect that all of you already know this, but if that’s the case then how come no-one has mentioned it to me before?

The premise is this: when you have a cold and your nose is blocked and your throat is sore, then you are also most likely to have a thick head and to feel all-round miserable as a result. The feeling miserable actually inhibits recovery, since the resultant dejected slump does nothing to haste its progress.

The thick head is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, which is in turn the result of the shallow and ragged breathing by means of which one tends to try to mitigate the discomfort in nostrils and throat. The answer – stunningly – is to make an effort to breathe more deeply and, in particular, to do so outside in the fresh air. After a short course of such treatment – the argument goes – your head will clear, you will feel considerably better, and the rest of your body will more rapidly follow suit.

Well – I tried it – and you know what? It worked – at least, it did for me!

Now – how many colds have I had over the last sixty years for which this simple trick might have helped?

Tags: ,