Friday, December 22, 2006

RUTH BERNHARD - 1905-2006

Ruth Bernhard, one of the more important photographers of the Twentieth Century died a couple of days ago, at the monumental age of 101. She was born in Germany, and moved to the USA where she spent the rest of her life. She spent some seven decades taking pictures, and being involved with people like Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston – great names indeed. She was best known for her studies of the female form, and her still lifes. Her nudes were very classically and theatrically lit, and veered to the sculptural in style. If you want to see her pictures, just type her name into Google, and they will pour out at you.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but you sometimes wonder what it is that keeps people positive at these great ages. This seems to be a simple and powerful example, and is something Ruth Bernhard produced and gave out at her 90th and her 100th Birthday parties.

Just read this and imagine if you’d feel the same at that age. I found this on a website run by someone who knew the Good Lady well, but it’s so strong, I think it needs a wider audience.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I have spent the last week recovering from our Cricketers’ amazing performance in throwing the 2nd Test away, and finally managed to write my thoughts down, which I finally published last Wednesday, just after the first day of the 3rd Test had finished. True to my form as a pundit, I got it completely wrong, haranguing most of our team for playing, for the first two matches at least, like a team of Big Girls Blouses.

In that blog, I threatened to eat my hat if they ever managed to get their act together, and start to make a game of it all. As is the way of things, the first day of the Perth test showed England in a totally different light, winning the day all ends up. Australia was bowled out for 244, and we ended the day on 51 for 2. Panesar took 5 wickets, so that at least is a resounding “Yaa Boo Sucks” to the England team selectors.

My faith was therefore recovered, all was well in the house, Duncan Fletcher wasn’t an idiot after all, and I felt pretty good. So, in a fit of Sauvignon Blanc driven magnanimity, in spite of England’s terrific performance, I Published.

And was Damned.

Or so I thought. The next two Cricketing days were, to say the least, not England’s finest. Watching Adam Gilchrist put together the second fastest 100 EVER was astounding. Anyone who thinks cricket is a gentle game should watch a replay of his knock. It was utterly brutal – a man on a total mission to destroy the other side. He will probably never have another day like it, and although it put a huge dent in England’s chances, it was quite riveting to watch. And, to make it even worse, it built on centuries from Hussey and Clarke, as well as a nearly one from Ponting, to put Australia into an position where an England win, or a draw seems a tad unlikely.

So, by rights, I should stand on ceremony, and keep my hat firmly on the hat-stand. But being ever the optimist, after the first day, I thought England might just do it.

And in an attempt to help them along, I thought if I did indeed eat my hat there and then, that keeping my side of the bargain would put them under some form of moral obligation to keep theirs.


Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

Saturday, December 16, 2006



What is Prescott about?
We seem to have lost him off the radar recently, what with the Croquet, and the Affair. But, here he is again, this time anointing the Portuguese with spatterings of his “Green” credentials at Meeting of the Party of European Socialists.

Firstly, at short notice, he had to condense a prepared ten minute speech into five minutes. Apparently his novel technique to solve this problem was to speak twice as quickly as he had previously planned to do – actually for him, that’s a terrifyingly logical solution to the problem. Mind you, the thought of listening to the Good Man précising a speech on Socialist Greenery, on the fly, would have us all hiding behind the sofa. His approach to the concept of the Precis would probably be to read out each alternate word, and coming from him, that might just make as much sense as the original would have done.

But no, instead of that, the audience were treated to a uniquely Prescottian “scattergun” approach to oration. Actually, as a bye-the-bye, what is the adjective pertaining to Prescott – Prescotty (as in the dog), Prescotts (as in the Guards), Prescotch (as in the Whisky), Prescottish (as in the Highlands), or Prescottian (as nearly in Nova)?

Anyway back to the story, in the middle of his speech he seemed to get really wound up, and lost his way a bit, and in response to the inevitable “Spit it out!”, he did precisely that ,and fired one of his incisors at a member of the audience. He had presumably just got to the rousing “We shall fight tooth and nail …….” bit at the end, and got a bit carried away with the metaphor.

In his defence, it would seem the man has been undergoing dental work (A Bridge Too Far?) and what came out of his mouth was a part of the Work in Progress.

He managed to finish the speech, though I simply can’t get my head around John Prescott lisping his way through an extemporised Green speech in Portuguese. There seems way too many pitfalls there for the DPM even to contemplate. But there you go.

In normal Blairite fashion, the Labour apparatchiks at home had to put their spin on the issue, to try and recover some sort of normality out of this little gem. But even they seem to have failed here. All that seemed to come out of the Machine, when asked for the inevitable comment by the Media, was that his Private Office was “tight-lipped”.

Ho, Ho, Ho! Bit late for that, I'd have thought.
Christmas Humour, Westminster style.

Friday, December 15, 2006


This piece was written a couple of days ago, and due to, as Harold Macmillan once said, “Events, Dear Boy, Events”, I’ve only just got round to publishing it. I’ve also just heard the score after Day One of Test Three, and hope that I may yet have to eat a good part of the hat I’m currently wearing.

Nothing would give me greater pleasure. And anyway, none of us know whether the team’s underwear is different for this match – See Below!

You see it written today that, for many people, Sport has now taken the place of War and Tribalism. It does seem to sit toweringly in many (usually Men’s) people’s list of the Most Important Things in Life. That’s not the case with me, so I’m probably a bit weird.

Except for last week, and THE CRICKET.

I simply didn’t understand why at the time, but the personal impact of our team losing the 2nd Test Match was far more dramatic than I could have imagined. I’d been daft enough to sit up until what a friend eloquently described as “Burglar’s Hours” watching the first two matches in Australia. Last week, for the first four days of the game, I had four 3 o’clock in the mornings on the trot, and interestingly not a great deal of sympathy from The Steering Committee as a consequence.

Come the last day, I chickened out at 1 o’clock in the morning, with our batsmen, at 61 for 1, getting some batting practice in, as the Draw obviously and inevitably approached.

To hear the ghastly details of what actually happened, painfully spelled out later in the day, brought me up with an involuntary shudder – something very few sporting occasions have ever done.

There have been acres of punditry since Black Tuesday, explaining the whys and the wherefores, and I’m not sure anyone has stood back and got the whole picture yet. One of the reasons Cricket is such a good game, is the huge psychological element which plays itself through the whole of the period covering the lead-up, the actual game itself, and the aftermath of the action. It’s literally part of the game’s fabric.

One writer was looking back to find a sporting parallel where such a crushing defeat was carved out of such a strong winning position, and the best he could come up with was Devon Loch blowing it all 50 yards from the line in the 1953 Derby. I think he should have looked at the 1981 Ashes where the Australians must have felt much the same after Botham with the bat, and Willis, with the ball, pulled a cricketing rabbit out of the hat.

But the event which comes to my mind was in the 1996 Masters Golf tournament, where Greg Norman led by 6 strokes from Nick Faldo going into the last round, and managed to lose by 6 strokes to Faldo, eighteen holes later, having played a life-changingly disastrous round of golf. Norman, gracious in defeat, claimed basically that it was only a golf game, and that no-one had died that day, so no big deal. Except that, magnificent golfer that he was, he never won, or got anywhere close to winning, another Major. Whenever he got anywhere near contention, you can just hear those whispers of doubt coming into his mind – “Remember Augusta 1996”, and that was it gone. Let’s hope that’s not the mind state of the England team out in Perth.

But here we are, at the start of the next test, and what have we learned? Apart from the fact that the Australians have some really top class Premier league batsmen, and in people like Shane Warne, a decidedly useful bowler. The other thing they seem to have is an utterly burning desire, not just to win, but to crush us. They never let up, and you’ve got to admire that immensely. I think they have a desire not just to win back the Ashes, but to take this series 5-0. Just to show the world that 2004 was an aberration, and that they are simply resuming their rightful place on top of the world.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. We’ve shown, in fits and starts, the capability to bat well – just remember Collinwood and Pieterson in the last match. If that wasn’t a class act, I don’t know what is. But look at the bowling. Our fastest strike bowler Harmison is playing like a .... You fill in the detail here. His attitude and demeanour says it all – he seems as if he’d rather be almost anywhere else other than on a cricket pitch, and don’t you think the Australians haven’t picked that up. His combined bowling figures in both Tests are 1 for 288. And when you add Anderson at 2 for 303, and Giles, the man at the other end, stopping the flow of runs and spinning them into a state of bamboozlement with figures of 3 for 262, you don’t have to look far for one main reason for the current state of play – between them that’s 6 for 853 in 4 innings! Bring on Monty!

But what about our self-belief, our confidence and our inner desire to thrash the living daylights out of them - that’s where we simply don’t come up to scratch. We need some form of psychological brainwashing to erase the memory of the first two matches, and instil a new self-belief in the players. You can just imagine the whisperings of Warne and Co, as soon as we get anywhere near a winning position – “Remember Adelaide, Remember Adelaide”!

I’m reminded of the film “Bull Durham”, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. It’s a real, feel-good Baseball film which focuses on the mind games which go on aimed at making people play well. Tim Robbins, as the rookie Pitcher was throwing the ball all over the park and couldn’t get his pitching act together at all (an interesting resonance with Harmison). To make him focus and play his natural game, she got him to wear one of her suspender belts under his kit – to free up one half of his brain, and to stop him thinking too much about the next pitch. And it worked!

Now I bet Duncan Fletcher, who to my mind bears a lot of blame for where we are in this series, hasn’t thought about that one. I mean, Harmison’s playing like a big girl, so wearing their underwear probably isn’t that bad an idea. I think I’ll send them a copy.

I have a feeling they’ll need something a bit different.

Friday, December 01, 2006



There I was yesterday, sitting in the doctor’s, waiting for the practice nurse to give me my annual bollocking for not eating enough nuts and berries in my quest to avoid another heart attack, when I picked up one of their magazines to read. The small article I read, I simply thought someone was pulling my leg – big time. Especially when I looked at the date on the cover, and saw it was April 2006.

It talked about a piece of music by John Cage, an avant garde experimental American composer who died in 1992. The piece rejoiced under the catchy title of Organ2/ASLSP. Now the only piece of music I’ve heard (if that’s the right word) by John Cage is his 4’33”, which is a work performed in three movements, and lasting (yes, you’ve guessed) for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, without a single note being played. It was broadcast a while back from the Barbican, and a very strange feeling it gave off, watching a packed house sitting quite still during the performance.

This other piece, where the ASLSP means “As slow as possible” is actually being taken very, very, very literally. Originally written as a 20 minute piece by Cage, the work is currently being performed in a beautifully restored church in Germany.

This particular performance is planned to last for 639 years. It started in 2001, and its completion is expected in 2640. In this piece, Cage was fascinated by “the discovery of slowness”, and the symbolism of the “planting of a musical apple tree”. Apparently his aim was to “rediscover calm and slowness in today’s fast changing world.” Well, even after his death, he’s done that in spades. The location for the performance is St Burchardi’s Church, in Halberstadt, Germany, an old ruined building which has been painstakingly restored to act as the home of this strange project. The 639 years comes from the length of time which had passed between the building of the church in the mid 14th Century, and its recent restoration. The team putting on the concert, wanted to match the life of the building with the length of the music’s performance, so 639 years it is.


Apparently the first 1½years of the performance were total silence, and then a couple of notes started to play in July 2004. The piece is playing continuously (click on to hear it), and you can visit the church during the week to hear the action. The notes are held lovingly down on the keyboard by weights, and the next new note is due to be played on July 5th 2008.

Rather bizarrely, to fund the project, you can “Book a Year”, and the performance during that year will be “yours” for €1,000. You may think this would have no takers, but the first year currently available is 2014, and the range already sold is quite mystifying. You can understand someone buying the last year, so they could be there, at least in spirit, at the music’s climax, but 2553? Someone must know something I don’t.

I have to say, I thought this was an April Fool’s prank when I read the short article, but a swift trawl of the Internet proved my suspicions totally wrong. Some wag has seemingly already tried to get the 72 terabyte download from KaZaA, and apparently there are people already waiting for the 5,597,640 CD Box Set, even though the timing of its release is still unconfirmed.

I really don’t know what to say about this – I find the thought of it all quite unnerving. But listening to it for a few minutes does set your mind going, and if that was Cage’s intention, well he’s succeeded. I even suspect that an afternoon in the exquisite surroundings of St Burchardi's in Halberstadt would be a strangely moving experience.

I’ll bet you the seats for July 5th 2008 are already sold out. Extraordinary!