Silly Tory

Life I've just heard a very silly Tory on Newsnight actually say in her incredulous voice: "Is Leeds a big city is it? Is it really in the north?" Well, yes it is and erm yes it is. Have you ever actually been there? It's election time again and I spent the day as Poll Clerk, in Woolton this time. Quiet but steady day with a fairly big though not staggering turn out. To be honest the most exciting thing that happened was a fox turning up for a sunbath on the lawn in the school we were working. Now, do I stay up for the results? Will there be a Portillo moment? I doubt it...

This is heaven to me.

Liverpool Life I spent today in history. I don't mean that I suddenly turned up in King Arthur's court or prehistoric Britain, I mean that almost everything that happened to today had something to do with history, my own, others or my cities. It's been a bit of whirlwind and if there is something I've ultimately learnt is that what's past has passed and whilst there's nothing you can do to experience it again directly, there are always ways and means to look at it from a different point of view.

Over breakfast I caught up on last night's episode of BBC Two's Horizon which investigated the building of the Hadron Collider in Geneva, a particle accelerator with added extras that come November, after twenty-years of build up, will attempt to recreate the conditions in the universe just after the big bang. Or create a massive black hole that will suck in the Earth and cause destruction across half the galaxy. They're not entire sure.

All of that was fascinating - particularly the slight look of horror on one scientist's face when it became apparent that the black hole thing can't entirely be ruled out - but what particularly interested me was the description of the night sky and the stars and galaxies that we can see at night, assuming the city's light pollution hasn't swamped everything.

It reminded me that because of the distance that light travels to reach Earth, when you look into the sky you're actually looking back in time, and the fainter the stars, the further they are away and so the further you're looking backwards into history. One star was mentioned whose light began to travel a hundred and fifty years ago, or as the scientist noted, during the civil war.

Even though you're look at a pinprick, your seeing what that pinprick looked like a hundred and fifty years ago. It went on -- the orbital telescope Hubble had taken a picture of an area of sky and the galaxies highlighted were still in the process of forming - these were 'just' 700 million years after the big bang and as it stands, until November, the closest we can come to seeing those conditions right now. These is watching magic happening from a time before humanity even evolved.

As it's Wednesday I visited Liverpool Cathedral for another of the talks celebrating Liverpool's Eight Hundredth Birthday. Today's lecture considered the health of the city, the growth of hygiene and the slum clearances, noting with some irony that the last of the back to back properties in the city have now been refurbished into luxury apartment.

The statistics were stalk - in the mid- 1800s the average mortality rate amongst the working class and unemployed was just fifteen years old, thirty-five amongst professionals. Obviously there has been some improvement of late, but Liverpool is still at least three years below the national average.

In and around the lecture I decided try the cathedral's new interactive tour, The Great Space. As I must have mentioned before, I've been visiting the Cathedral for over twenty years, all through my life, particularly during my secondary school years as a member of the school choir singing in everything from the Founders Day (some have a hall, we had a cathedral) to special events such as a visit from the Queen.

I can never fail to be awed by the place, in ways that I wasn't at such tourist attractions as Notre Dame in Paris. Perhaps it's because I feel like it's my cathedral, my designated luxury item if ever I get invited onto Desert Island Discs. But there were still places within and without I'd never been to and that's what 'The Great Space' is about - allowing the visitor to see the cathedral from a different angle.

This then was my first trip to the roof. It takes two lifts and a hundred and eight stairs to get there, winding about the bell tower, it's massive musical instrument within. The interior of the tower itself is very industrial, red brick instead of the sand stone found everywhere else. It perhaps wasn't envisaged that the public would ever see this side of the cathedral, like dropping into the back stage of a theatre. The sound when the bells are in full swing must be deafening.

Obviously the view from the top is outstanding, this the tallest vantage point in that part of the city, nothing in the area quite coming close. I live at the top of a tower block, so I'm somewhat used to see Liverpool from above, but nothing prepared me for the awesomeness of the sight, being able to see in one glance my bus route home, home being perfectly visible and suddenly looking puny in the distance.

I've been to all kinds of towers, looked out across all kinds of cities, but all of those were strangers. It's different when it's your city and you can recognize (almost) all of the landmarks in eyeshot. What I hadn't prepared for was that I could see my own life unfolding below me, from yes, home but also schools and to even my current work place. Despite spending some of my me in Leeds and Manchester, I'm still a Liverpudlian and the view through each carved crack in the wall demonstrated to me what that means.

The rest of the tour opens with a ten minute video explaining the sheer effort and force of will which led to the design and erection of the building. Through the device of a biography of a craftsman born on the day the foundation stone was laid, the history of its erection unfolded; even during the world wars the work slowed to a crawl but it never stopped. For the first time I actually understood the magnitude of the human achievement. From the foundation in 1906 to the consecration in 1978 generations had worked on it and I was a monument to their collective achievement as much as anything else.

The architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had designed the building almost as an apprentice but had died before the final bit of stone carving was slotted into place. He said (I'm paraphrasing), and is what inspired the name of the tour, that we shouldn't look for him in the carving of the stones but the spaces in between. I was particularly moved by the fact that despite the grant from a wealth local family, the people of Liverpool had also given, the idea being that outside of the sheer horror of their daily lives, they could look up at this house of god and say: 'I helped to build that'.

Later in the tour, a display indicates the points across the building's timeline when each of the different sections were completed and at the end of the tour, standing on the bridge across the centre for the first time I could see that if you walk from the naive end of the cathedral to the back door, you're literally walking through eighty years of history. As the steward who'd kindly taken me up there noted, you can see the history of stained glass over the past hundred years, from a window in a very traditional style at one end to a very colourful, very abstract patternation (which wouldn't look out of place in the Metropolitan at the other end of Hope Street) on the other.

Other details worth noting. I hadn't realised that the Lady Chapel had been completed first and services begun whilst the rest the building was completed and it's revealed that as well as a time capsule, the foundation stone also hides a tin buried by a workman all those years ago which has a note in it complaining about the same poverty spoken about in the lecture I'd just been to. Plus you could always tell a workman from the cathedral by their non-symmetrical hands, one was fine from holding the mallet, but the other was muscular from the sheer hard graft that went into brandishing the chisel.

It's a good audio tour as these things go, although with perhaps a little too much poetry than I'm a fan of, rhapsodic descriptions of things which are already clear and bizarrely too desperate attempts to shoe horn in references to The Beatles for tourists. Cleverly when you draw near to a video display unit, they're enhanced by extra music and narration which can't be heard by other visitors. In one area I was amazed to find modern work men, in hard hat and florescent tabbard looking at the tools that were originally used in the buildings construction, like two eras touching one another.

Having already been touched though the opening video, in the end I actually cried. On that balcony are headphones which when listened to give the visitor an idea of what it must be like to be standing within the cathedral choir from that bridge, the voices around you echoing about the space intermingling with the sound of the organ, the effect absolutely convincing as though song and pipes are giving an impromptu performance just for you.

I cried, because it sounded exactly as it had all those years ago in the school choir, the memories of all those years flooding back. I couldn't really sing and I couldn't read music, learning everything parrot fashion from my colleagues, all at sea during the descants and never really getting the hang of things in the later 'bass' years. The steward saw the waves of nostalgia and I felt like I had to tell her, about Founders Days, about singing Zadok The Priest for the Queen and about the Thousand Voices in which all of the school choirs in Liverpool filled up the space with The Old Rugged Cross and You'll Never Walk Alone.

Then, oddly, on the way home I was given a reminder of where I am now. Passing The Adelphi Hotel I saw a girl with two large bags and a map and a puzzled expression in their face. I asked her if she lost and in showing me her destination she flicked through many pages of her A-Z and it turned out she was trying to get to the Solna Hotel which is almost opposite were I live.

When I told her all about this she was somewhat flabbergasted but in the end grateful to fate or whoever runs these things that the one person who stopped her, happened to be the very person who could tell her which buses to get, where to get off and which direction to walk. Almost like those scientists who look into the sky and try and work out were we all come from, she was able to look to me to find out were she needed to get to.

42 is 7 days later

TV It had to happen eventually. The official website has announced that the show's going to be pre-empted for a week to make way for the Eurovision Song Contest, or actually all of the other live(ish) studio audience shows that fill the Saturday night schedule when Doctor Who's not on and apparently definitely need to be broadcast instead.

Amusingly, the website has dropped a link to the feedback form at the BBC and inevitably their inbox is bound to be filled with annoyed emails from fans gainfully fulfilling the stereotype, probably with the words 'flagship' 'popular' 'top rated' and 'license fee' in them somewhere, as though the BBC are going to change their schedule based on that. Seriously, the lady is not for turning if there's europop to be broadcast.

On the upside it means the show isn't going to be on at some preposterously early hour which as we've seen ratings wise isn't a great idea. On the downside it also means that the series is going to pushed even further into the summer which as we've seen ratings wise isn't a great idea. Although actually it'll be good to have a break for reasons that will be apparent to anyone who's read my review of Saturday's episode.

Links for 2007-05-01 [] - Rmail

  • Observations on film art and FILM ART : Film forgery
    David Bordwell discusses whether a film could be plagarised with reference to a Peter Jackson movie I wasn't aware of called 'Forgotten Silver' in which he faked the existence of a turn of the century filmmaker from New Zealand.
  • filmlog: D.O.A. (1988)
    Neo-noir that can't quite break away from a crushing eighties idiom that makes everything seem horribly dated and that includes a soundtrack that oscillates between to cool thriller rhythms and someone trying to break out a guitar factory.
  • Amazon Bookstore's Blog: Boys, Be Dangerous: Questions for Conn Iggulden
    Cool interview at Amazon's new blog with the authors of 'The Dangerous Book for Boys' on what could be considered a particular British book for the American market, including new material and losing apparent irrelevancies.
  • Antarctic conservation blog: Conserving Bovril
    The continuing job of preserving Scott's provisions continues.
  • Wikipedia: Silver Shadow (song)
    It's the first single by the All Saints in which someone called Simone Rainford had lead and Mel and Shaznay on backing vocals. Looking at the single cover is like watching the Buffy pilot with wrong Willow. Oh - and this was 12 years ago!?!
  • Links for 2007-04-30 [] - Rmail

  • Observations on film art and FILM ART : 1525 big thumbs up
    David Bordwell reports on Ebertfest and reviews the forgotten films on show. Also quotes! 'I've learned more about directing by working with bad directors than with good ones. And I've worked with a lot of bad directors.' - Joey Lauren Adams.
  • the dogs of Doctor Who
    We think its bad in this country! Look at the information plastered all over broadcasts on Sci-Fi Channel US's broadcast of 'The Christmas Invasion' -- that's just horrible.
  • The New Yorker: Acting Out: The Current Cinema:
    Incisive review of Spiderman 3 which makes we want to see the film even less. I can't think of any of the summer blockbusters being a must see with the possible exceptions of 'The Borne Ultimatum' and 'Oceans 13'. But do they count?
  • The Observer: 2007: a scorching new space odyssey
    Mark Kermode's incisive discussion of the influences behind Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine', a film which still lingers in the mind.
  • Uncomplicated

    Life This morning I filled in my first tax return. Ever. When I worked for the Liverpool Biennial towards the end of last year I had to register as self employed and so here I was this morning trying to work out how a standardized form applied to me. Even ringing the help line didn't help. Everything is set up with expectation that I had my own business with a name and address, an annual profit and probably employees with staplers and coffee breaks.

    I was clearly not but neither the online or paper form would accept that. The word from the call centre advisor was essentially that I should fill it in as best you can which I did but it still didn't seem entirely satisfactory and so when I reached the end and also taken into account the money I received on benefit and after calculations it said that I didn't owe anything, I simply couldn't believe it.

    I'm not a very trusting person. Well, actually I like to think I am with people, but always expect procedures to be more complicated than they probably are, automatically set up to trip me up and first opportunity. A similar thing's happening at work, where I'm learning about and following rules and I just expect there to more to them, more things that can go wrong.

    I don't know what happens now that I've submitted the return, but I've a sneaky suspicion I'll be getting a letter from them at some point because it's not all there or they don't understand. Which wouldn't be too much of a shock because lately, sometimes, I'm not sure that I really am either. Isn't paranoia brilliant?

    "It's true that the plot is almost ludicrously stupid."

    TV Never mind here, the reaction on the blogosphere to the latest Dalek two-parter can be described as mixed. A perfect example comes from Stuart Douglas:

    "The Dalek two-parter is rotten. The acting is frequently sub-standard (the girl playing Tallulah escapes some criticism purely because she was surely told to play the part as an exaggerated carciature - 'top of the woild' and all that). The direction is dreadful (the choreography of Martha's dash across stage, the way that Lazlo is quite clearly the mysterious shadowy pigman but Tallulah can't spot it). The writing is amongst the worst in all of Doctor Who ('' may be the worst line in the series ever). The design is abominable (why does the Dalek Human hybrid look like Scaroth wearing a penis wig?)."

    I can't help but agree about some of the choreography of the action which really needed a Graham Harper to work -- that dash across the stage really worried me at the time -- not in a wake up in a cold sweat way, more in a 'That doesn't seem very good -- oh well' format. But perhaps, given that this is the same franchise that brought us The Underwater Menace and episode two of The Space Museum (yawn) we can forgive it for anything.

    Odd. Ood. Odd.

    Elsewhere I forgot to mention last night my "review" of Doctor Who which proved to be pretty divisive in the comments on Behind The Sofa. I haven't read many good reviews of the story online most agreeing that despite everything it seemed to spend too much time with spectacle and not enough in relation to telling a good story. As I tried to intimate in the review, I can't completely blame writer Helen Rayner. There's a shopping list culture in play at the top in which the producer says to a writer that they want:

    1930s New York
    Pig Men

    ... or something and then expect them to put together a decent story. Sometimes it works and sometimes you wish that they'd just left the writer to their own devices. In this story whenever Raynor touched anything related to the depression and its effects it was gold. As soon as it strayed away from that the flow of the story suffered. Martha seemed particularly ill served, generally trailing around in the opening episode and then spend most of the closing episode discovering something the Doctor already knew then having him turn up and do the really heroic thing she was primed for. As a wise woman once said: "It was odd." Oh and Dalek Sec's prosthetic was just distracting. Not one of Neil Gorton's best efforts...

    Pipe Cleaners

    About Lately I've been having fun with Yahoo's Pipes. With the number of RSS feeds I have in Bloglines increasing exponentially it's becoming apparent that even with the method there are just some things I'm not going to be able to read as regularly as I'd like and that actually I only ever generally fish through them for certain things. So I've been linking them together and using keyword searching on such things as title I'm able to fetch the things I might want to look at. For example, I've an uber-feed which collects together all of The Guardian's rss with a search for anything that mentions Shakespeare. But, that could be used for anything, so I've fully embraced the stalker mentality and a copy of it is looking for anything written by columnist Laura Barton as well.

    Ratings of the Daleks

    "Oh what do you want now?"
    "I thought you might interested in hearing the ratings that the show got last night."
    "Go on. Surprise me."
    "6.5 million people watched it. 37.8% share."
    "Is that good?"
    "More people watched Casualty for the first time in ages."
    "Right. So no then."
    "It is a bit disappointing considering it's a Dalek story and they're supposed to be bankers for you."
    "I see your point."

    Links for 2007-04-28 [] - Rmail

  • Guardian Unlimited Books Review: The philosopher's view
    AS Byatt's review of AD Nuttall's last book of Shakespeare criticism. 'I correct this sense of oppression by remembering reading Hamlet in class at 14. I hadn't known language could be like that. It changed me for ever.'
  • Audiobaba Music Search
    It's Pandora for people on dial-up -- just the results not the music