Monthly Archives: February 2014

Two faced


I’m having a Dickensian patch.

First, this was Simon Callow’s take, focusing on Dickens’ passion for dramatic performance.

DickensIt’s easily seen to be one of the ruling passions of his life, and although I knew about the readings I had not realised how professional and extensive his acting career was.

Then there’s the bargain audio book:

Hard Times

It has to be said that Hard Times is hard going – which is why my paper copy of the novel has been sent off to a Good Cause.  The bitter comedy in no way mitigates the grimness of the story, and I’m listening in short instalments as I wash up and do the chores.  I’m also noting (perhaps as a result of reading Simon Callow’s book) how often Dickens included something very like stage directions for how a character should walk, stand, arrange his limbs and so forth.  I wonder, did that help the BBC when they were producing adaptations for TV, or did they feel they had his ghost complaining at every change and breathing on their necks?

And finally the new film, The Invisible Woman, based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same title.  The book was excellent; the film merely good.  There was a little too much cinematographic lingering on carefully lit cheek, lips, and neck; but this is a grown-up film.  It preserves well the sense of silences and reservations in Dickens’ family relationships, and reveals his streak of ruthlessness and double-think.  Social position conferred power upon him, and he did not scruple to use it in personal relationships, while the world outside doted on the jovial, convivial, compassionate Boz, a role played almost to perfection by Dickens.

I don’t think any of these works made me love Dickens more; but they all earned their place in my week.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: xli


xli : Soak your slippers

I’ve not been gazing for a long time, what with germs and bad weather.  So I stuffed myself into leggings, dashed out into the moonless black to see where the sky had got to.  Everything was mushy below 45º but Jupiter was brilliant in Gemini and Mars was a rich glow near Spica.  I could just pick out the globular in Hercules with binoculars, but the seeing wasn’t good even where the sky seemed clear.  Low down in the fuzzy stuff and looking through trees I think I picked up Saturn for a moment.

A seeping sensation brought me back to things terrestrial.  There must have been a shower earlier; and it was 2 a.m.

Things to do when you can’t sleep : xl


xl : Oceanography

A MOOC via FutureLearn for the small hours.  I have difficulty retaining details by the time I reach the quizzes (how many grams of salt … positive or negative planetary vorticity … eh? what?) but am quite pleased to have encountered the Chilean Blob and the CoFeMUG project (‘pronounced coffee mug’) and I FINALLY have a vague idea why the sea is salty and where the magnesium goes.  Some of the pictures are very pretty too.

Unfinished business


Oh dear.  Lapses into portentous prose throughout, and you can feel the schmaltz index rising in the final pages; it might almost be a Spielberg film.  And this is not surprising, as Forester had worked in the film world and perhaps (I’m guessing here) hoped that this book could become a screenplay for a film in due course, adding to the many war movies churned out during and after the Second World War.  In addition, the time was 1943, Forester was employed by the British Information Service, and in writing heartening publicity (aka propaganda) he was only doing his job.

The Ship

And in fact the best parts of this book are those about people doing their jobs.  Forester’s docudrama version of the second Battle of Sirte is interesting, but the heart of the book lies in describing what people were actually doing: who watched which switchboard, who sat in a dark tunnel with a torch and no idea what was going on, who had to feed 600 men in half an hour between actions, and how he did it, who had a custom-built chair while someone else sat on a home-made stool bolted to the deck (the answer is not what you might think).

The portraits of the characters are a little disappointing, at least to me.  Forester had sailed as an observer on HMS Penelope for a time, but was never himself in the Navy in any capacity, though he was obviously deeply impressed by what he saw, and perhaps this led to false notes in his account.  Or, of course, maybe I just don’t like being told what to think.

The finale, infested by virtual violins, exists to paper over the cracks, as in 1943 no-one could know the resolution of the greater narrative.  Forester was not a bold enough writer to utter the challenge of simply leaving off.  Pity.

Pig salad


The longer days have set the birds singing, and have woken the garden a little.  The pigs, with their simple tastes, are the first to benefit.

Ex libris


Pictures may be worth hundreds of words, but only if you get the pictures right.  Tufte discusses how this may be done, analysing dozens of exemplars to identify the features of successful communication through illustration, art, graphing, and diagrams.


Inside, it is beautiful, stuffed with surprising and unfamiliar images.  To name a few:

  • a presentation which obscured the prevalence of damaged O-rings (the ‘disappearing legend’ problem);
  • the schematic ultimate weed (‘has no redeeming features’);
  • the title page of Hobbes’ Leviathan;
  • a streams-of-story diagram for the history of pop and rock (with omitted musicians carefully noted);
  • computer-simulation of the development of a storm.

And the book cost less than a sandwich.

Beating a bound …


to see how much of this county is left.

The drainpipes have all come down:

1 pipes

and the loose scree material has been scrubbed away from the sandstone columns:

2 sandstone

But the incoming tide was racing up the beach and I took to the cliffs instead.

A bite has been taken out of the path – mine among the first of many feet tramping down the brambles to make a new one:

3 path

Further on, the path had gone, the fence had gone and the field is going.

4 no cows

Not long ago this was a grassy slope which we walked over:

5 slop

A landmark has washed away in the storm;  without its human artefact, the point looks curiously pointless.

6 nothing

Clouds came rushing from the west, towing their shadows along the bay.