Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bourgeois and Maurice

Ok, everyone has until this weekend to go see Bourgeois and Maurice (neo-cabaret duo) at The Soho Theatre. They are everything Time Out magazine makes them out to be - and more - so sell your soul to get a ticket and get your heart stolen while you watch them. But, don't worry, you will get both back ten fold.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Women in Power

So, now it is official: Johanna Sigurdardottir is in power as the leader of the Social Democrats in Iceland.


I was at Balliol College yesterday evening having dinner. The wall is covered with male luminaries from years gone by, past masters and fellows. Balliol was the first traditional all-male college to elect a woman as fellow and tutor in 1973. But there is very little space for her portrait (if one exists), should the college decide to hang it up. Maybe the men decorating the wall at present could be moved a little closer together to make way for a woman among them.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Anyone who has walked past our house over the past few weeks will know who I am voting for today. I have never put an electioneering poster in the window before, but because the BNP has tried to grow roots in our ward, I took on the self-imposed social responsibility to show other voters who I won’t be voting for by showing who I will be voting for. And I thought I would do my bit to show democracy in action.

This has turned into a crazy by-election with six candidates, including UKIP. The BNP canvassed out house again last week. This time the pamphlet was slightly more sophisticated than the last one (sophistication relative to the BNP). They are really trying to push it. Hope Not Hate came around as well with the headline DON’T VOTE FOR SCUM on the front of their leaflet (not so hopeful a headline).

Anyway, away from the election mania, here is a picture I took of the bluebells in Wanstead Park last night (it was taken on a mobile phone). We bumped into a couple who said they had lived in Wanstead for 17 years and had never known about the bluebells! They may have been more excited about the blackberries that come out by the lake in the autumn, but we forgot to mention that.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Matthew Williamson

A big thank you to Time’s 2 for printing this picture of fashion designer Matthew Williamson in Today’s Times 2 supplement:


Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Artistic Licence

On the theme of letters to the editor, here is one I wrote to The Telegraph a couple of years back when I was a student (it is the ninth letter on the page when you scroll down and is headed 'Artistic Licence'):


I wrote it at the desk of my overpriced digs in Jericho. It was past 10pm. My boyfriend at the time was driving all the way from Somerset to Oxford on the spur of the moment. I decided to write this letter to kill time waiting for him. By the time he arrived, I was engrossed. I remember greatly appreciating his patience after he had waited for me to finish it.

I was surprised but pleased it was published a few days later when I had almost forgotten about it!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Irresponsible Gambling

Today's Daily Telegraph has published a letter that was drafted by (hup hum) the Methodist Church media team :) on behalf of nine signatories.


(Scroll down the page to the second letter)

This is ahead of tomorrow's debate in the Lords on The Draft Cateogies of Gaming Machine (Amendment) Regulations 2009 regarding raising the stake and prize money for category C and D fruit machines.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Underwater Swimming

This week I discovered the magical sensation of swimming backwards underwater. So magical, that I almost forgot to share the experience with anyone!

Swimming backwards underwater (where your back faces the bottom of the pool) is not the same as swimming forwards underwater because the breathing control is different. This has to do with the fact that the nostrils are facing towards the surface and, of course, gravity is weighting the water into them. This isn't a problem when you are swimming forwards underwater (with your stomach facing towards the bottom of the pool). The balance is also different, more complicated, but the reward is not just the sensation but the visual aesthetic of the water's surface from underneath (I recommend goggles).

It is an art I have yet to master but I think it will be well worth the effort.

A fellow swimmer once told me she loved underwater because her heart rate slowed and it calmed her down. Swimming underwater actually involves a lot of concentration - when you are starting out. Then, when you learn to master your breathing, the pleasure of underwater swimming really kicks in.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Library Protocol

Here is a snippet of the conversation I had with one of the two security guards on the door to Humanities 1 at The British Library today:

Security Guard: "You can't take that handcream into the library because you might smear it on our books and the repair work costs thousands of pounds.
Me: "I'm not here to smear handcream on to the books, I am here to read them."
Security Guard (grunts and, with no glint of humour in his eyes, says): "Yeah well, someone might say they want to take a machine gun into the library, but they aren't going to use it."
Me (bewildered): "Excuse me?"
Security Guard (sighs): "If you use the handcream make sure you rub it into your hands before coming back into the reading room."
Me: (I was walking off by this point.)

Unbelievable. I guess the British Library is still reeling from the news that it has managed to "mislay" 9,000 books.


The irony for me was that in the book I came to read at the BL today, there was a sentence in which the author declared she had taken a book she was sent and did not want to read and submerged it in water.

Cue the resurfacing of the idea of waterproof books!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Warnings Against Condoms And Virginia Woolf

If you haven’t heard anything ludicrous today, try this: “The idea that you can solve a great spiritual crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous.”

Aids a "spiritual crisis"??!!!!

This piece of lunacy comes from the RC Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, reported in The Church Times today. He was, says the report, talking to Sky News at the time.

Cardinal Pell goes on to say that the sexual revolution came out of “Virginia Woolf and that crowd” and “is ruining society”.

Cardinal Pell's history clearly starts and finishes in the 20th century. And his knowledge of the Bloomsbury set is probably even dimmer.

It is almost too stupid a comment to bother arguing against. I think I will leave it.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Madame De Sade

The reviewers have got it wrong about Michael Grandage's Madame De Sade starring Judi Dench at the Wyndham Theatre in the West End; it is a fantastic play. No one who has any sympathy with Peter Brook's theory of theatre in The Empty Space could think that the play is too word heavy - the play is not just about what happens on the stage, but what happens in the mind. What happens on the stage is secondary to what is happening in the mind - that is, if the viewer is also a listener. The special effects did such things to Rosamund Pike's final speech that I am sure that speech alone could have won her the whoops and cheers she got from the audience at the curtain call. And the dresses were dazzling along with an aesthetically decorated and angled set.

Perhaps the reviewers would have been kinder if the Marquis de Sade who, the maid tells us at the end of the final act, has turned up at his wife's door a decrepid wreck of a man after 18 years in prison and for whom his devoted wife has spent years pining, had not been turned away by the very same wife minutes after her extolling him as a man of God in a final revelation (which will see her enter a convent), but had been permitted to walk on to the stage for us all to see. That, however, would have defeated the whole point.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Slow Down London

Slow Down London – what a fantastic idea! A ten day festival from April 24 to May 4 organised by the Go Slow movement will encourage Londoners to calm down, relax and “live life in real time”, The Times reports today.


I wonder if there is a city faster than London. When I ran down a main street in Vienna recently, an old man actually stopped and remarked on my apparent need to rush somewhere. When I ran down the Ku’damm in Berlin a couple of years ago, walkers stared at me gone out. But if I run down Oxford Street, no one batters an eyelid. And there will probably be someone running past me at the same time. In London, it does seem that no one can get anywhere fast enough and that people have little tolerence for those who choose to take their time. So many Tube commuters often appear lost in frustrated contemplation about where they have to be in five minutes time that it must chip away at the soul if it is constantly battered into believing it is on the back foot.

In this fashion, the idea of meditation becoming part of school life – reported in The Guardian today – sounds wonderful. The practise of meditation does not exclusively belong to any one religion and many atheists and agnostics are champions of its benefits as well. Another great idea!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

At The Friends Meeting House...

An anecdote to share from ten minutes out of my day today:

Walking down Euston Road on my way to see a friend at The Welcome Trust, I happened to spot the administrative centre of Quakers in Britain. Curious, I stepped inside.

People were filing out of the main Friends meeting hall and into the lobby. In the lobby was a table playing host to what looked like electioneering pamphlets. Almost all of the leaflets were anti-EU on one subject or another. I looked around at the well-dressed crowd milling about the lobby – probably all of them over 35 and mostly Caucasian. Some of them were wearing badges with CIB written on them. Who on earth were these people?

I searched out the friendliest face in the room – an elderly man standing alone by the door – and asked him. Funnily enough, he was a Quaker and nothing to do with the CIB lot (he was there for another meeting in a smaller hall). CIB, it turns out, stands for Campaign for an Independent Britain.

I asked the man what the Quakers had to do with the CIB group. Nothing. They had just rented out the hall to them. He explained he didn’t know what the vetting procedure for renting out the hall was, but that they (The Quakers) were quite desperate for money.

I said I hoped they would draw the line at the BNP. He said he was sure there weren’t any BNP members there. He also said the CIB group hadn’t filled the hall; there were probably around 100 of them.

I had another browse of the table and a man behind it spoke to me. It turned out he was author Philip Foster, a sceptic of man-made climate change whose books include, "Sustainability – The New Religion” and “Evidence For The Reliability Of The New Testament”. He was there to promote his latest book, “While The Earth Endures”, which contains a forward by climate change sceptic, David Bellamy. Philip was also a CIB member.

I had never heard of him, so I asked him what he thought caused climate change. He said it was mainly radioactive energy from sunspots, completely outside mankind's control, and that CO2 played only a miniscule part. He told me that it was worth looking up the International Conference on Climate Change held in New York last month (which I hadn’t heard of) as opposed to the Copenhagen Conference (which I had). The New York Conference, I discover from google search, was a large gathering of global warming sceptics.

Philip also laid into the 2007 IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), saying the number of scientists who believed climate change was man-made had been incorrectly reported by the cobbling together of signatures.

He chose to close his argument by showing me pictures from his book of 16th century landscapes where the painter had depicted overcast skies. During that period, he said, sunspot activity was low and we were experiencing a Little Ice Age.

It could just have been that the artist liked painting overcast skies, but I didn’t fork out for the book to find out more.

Friday, 3 April 2009

English National Opera

John Berry, English National Opera's artistic director, has accused critics of "murdering" new risk-taking productions, according to today's Daily Telegraph.

He is also reported as saying that London is more conservative than Berlin.

Does he know that in Vienna, where opera houses are filled every night, you can pay as little as 3 euro for standing viewing? To stand in the pit at The Globe or the Donmar Warehouse you would have to pay a lot more.

Perhaps the fact that we are in a recession and that you can pay as much as £78 to sit in the balcony four tiers up at the English National Opera is closer to an answer as to why people aren't flocking to performances.

Women And Violence

The Guardian’s G2 has run a feature today about actress Keira Knightley starring in a new ad for Women’s Aid about violence against women... by men. This is a problem that is well worth raising awareness about.


However – violence against women is not just perpetrated by men. Women also uninvitedly attack other women – and men – yet no one talks about it.

I happen to know of examples where women have been the perpetrators of violence within the home – not big, burly-looking men like the man in the Women’s Aid advert, but who, nevertheless, have caused fear and intimidation in the home because of their recourse to violence. I have seen gay charities speak out about domestic violence, but domestic violence isn’t exclusive to a sexual relationship. Hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people live in house shares with friends, acquaintances or strangers. This group is often forgotten by the media.

Domestic violence also includes family life. From what I have heard, and from what I have witnessed, it more often than not a woman who raises the punitive hand to a child, not a man. I have never seen a man beat a child in public, but women will.

Why women do this is another discussion, but it is one we should be having.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury Interview (well, almost)

This afternoon I very nearly interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who was at Methodist Church House in London for an annual Anglican-Methodist meeting.

Unfortunately, his meeting with the four strategic leaders of The Methodist Church overran (by eight minutes) and he had to be back at Lambeth Palace at 6pm.

The interview would have focused on the Anglican-Methodist Covenant signed six years ago, discussing examples of and barriers against unity between the two churches, before broadening out and exploring key issues which the Church should be addressing today. It would have been a three way interview with the President of The Methodist Conference, Rev Stephen Poxon, and would have been available to download as a podcast.

Oh well. There is always another time! (I hope.)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

British National Party Canvass Our House

Last night when I came home my jaw dropped when I saw an electioneering pamphlet from the British National Party on the table in the hall where our post sits. This, to my knowledge, is the first time they have stood for election in the ward where I live (we are having a by-election on April 23).

The headline for the flyer was a quote by a mum to a local newspaper: “My daughter seems to know a lot about Eid and Diwali, but if I ask her about Jesus, she looks at me like I am mad.”

The inference is that Christianity is exclusively western, that Jesus was Caucasian and Britain has a monopoly on him.

Jesus was Jewish, which is probably news to the BNP. He also taught people to love their neighbour as themselves.

The problem with refuting the illogical arguments of the BNP is whether it is giving them the publicity they so crave. I think that it is a judgement call to make depending on the circumstance. Holocaust denier David Irving debating at Oxford University in 2007 is a case in point. I agreed with the Union’s decision to allow him to debate because it would enable his arguments to be knocked down one after another in the chamber and the protests outside the Union would illustrate the strength of feeling against him. But he is not the kind of speaker who should be invited to debate on a privileged platform on a regular basis.

Using the vote to fight against extremism is certainly one reason to get down to the polling booth on Election Day.