“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” -- Kevin Arnold, 'The Wonder Years'

Life Apologies for neglecting you these past couple of days. As I've mentioned this is my first full week back at my admittedly part time work and my body not to mention my brain is still getting back into the work ethic. This weekend is the first back for the other job that I began before the summer break so new procedures, new geography, new work mate. Of course it will take me a while to get used the first two and equally obviously I've already met my new colleague way back when (the late nineties would you believe) and somehow managed to remember one of the conversations we had proving once again really what a strange construct my brain is.

Speaking of which, we recently had a box of old slides converted to jpegs, most of which I haven't seen before. These include my parent's wedding pictures and a whole range of photos of me as a baby, toddler and slightly older. I've mentioned before how I have a very dim memory of the seventies, as though the rest of me is trying to pretend I was born in the early eighties (even though the bags under my eyes say otherwise). Luckily, these are almost filling in the blank spaces one piece of outrageous decor at a time. Here then is the one year old version of me giving you an unfocused wave:

Bless. And there's more from where that came from. Coming soon.

“[The piano is] able to communicate the subtlest universal truths by means of wood, metal and vibrating air.” -- Kenneth Miller

Music I spent lunchtime at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool in the company of piantist Bors Giltburg as he gave a recital of Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Chopin and apart from the banging noise from the basement which was audible between movements, it was a treat. Since this was my first live classical music concert since the Proms, I felt like one of the stooges on What Not To Wear at the end when whoever’s presenting that week takes them around the clothes shops so that they can demonstrate what they’ve learnt. Coupled with the music appreciation text book I’ve been reading I could see where the pitch and rhythm where and why the composers did certain things and it didn’t totally destroy the experience.

What was surprising was how different the music sounded live. I’ve become very accustomed to listening to music on my headphones which means in some cases it can feel as though I’m standing in the middle of the orchestra or at the very least from the conductor’s spot. In the hall, obviously, the sound is emanating from a single area but what I think you lose in terms of being able to hear every nuance of the composition you more than make up for in the ability to simply concentrate on listening to what you’re listening to with far less distractions, the difference between watching a film in a cinema and at home perhaps.

If I’d listened to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C minor (Op. 111) at home would I have noticed the heart-rendering brief appearance of a melody in the first movement which would become The Ode To Joy from his Ninth Symphony. I love that I’m gradually noticing these things, being able to see classical music as a series of periods rather than a great amorphous collection of pieces and how the composers and musicians influenced one another, and also how like writers and painters they’d often try out notation in one place and expand it elsewhere, or shelving some ideas in one place and use them elsewhere.

I love too that as Giltburg spurt into Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor (Opus 23), I recognised what I was hearing and it was like greeting an old friend. I’m listening to a different recording as I write by Bella Davidovich which I co-incidentally borrowed from the library this week and I can see why musicians love Chopin -- he gives them room for some personal expression the softness of textures and tempo when required. Giltburg was less deliberate than the version I’m hearing, although it could simply seem that way -- I was sitting at the front of the hall just metres away from the piano.

As I left (the woman along the aisle from me in the long blue mac having been woken up by the final burst of clapping) I heard a couple of twentysomethings enthusing about what’d they’d seen and I had to agree with them. It is amazing that the pianist is somehow able to shift both hands across the keyboard and often have them doing completely different things. I can type and pat my head while I stroke my tummy but I can’t imagine ever being able to create chords with my right hand and shift my other up and down the rest of the keys with that kind of dexterity. If only I’d listened to my parents on the night before secondary school began when they asked me if I’d like to try a musical instrument…

100 Things About Me, Version 2.0

01 The first book I remember being read to me as a kid was The Midnight Folk by John Masefield.
02 My favourite time of day is the night.
03 I bite my nails.
04 I've been drinking a lot of coffee lately. My concentration seems to be all over the place and paradoxically I’m yawning more. I should drink more water.
05 I'm disappointed if I haven't done at least one new thing each day.
06 I have hazel eyes ...
07 ... and light brown hair ...
08 ... and my birthday is 31st October which makes me a ...
09 ... Scorpio. And everything you're heard is true.
10 I don't wear jewellery. It just looks wrong.
11 My Dad is a retired watch maker and can always tell the time off the top of his head. I can as well, but I always seem to be five minutes out...
12 My five favourite films are The Seventh Seal, When Harry Met Sally, Clerks, It's a Wonderful Life, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Some of those always change.
13 I'm happy if you're happy.
14 I don't smoke.
15 I probably post far too much stuff on the internets. A friend said they couldn’t read everything because I’m ‘a bit prolific’. He’s probably right.
16 I can't say 'Honey'.
17 My keyring still has a key to every house I've ever lived in on it (except for the ones I've had to give back) and a key fob in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.
18 I have a hundred and thirty friends on Facebook. I’ve even met some of them.
19 I once married Julie Delpy in a dream.
20 My mobile phone ringer is Chopin’s Opus 64, Waltz in D-flat major or the "Minute Waltz”. Although on the phone it just says Chopin, as though that says everything.
21 I cried at the end of Titanic when I saw it for the first time.
22 The first poem I ever wrote was about a MouseSnail. I still don't know what one of those is. But in my young head it could swing through trees.
23 I haven't seen the girl I had my first kiss with since two minutes after it happened.
24 Four things I'd eat on the last day of your life: Fish and chips; Spaghetti Bolognaise; Christmas Steak; Caesar Salad
25 Religiously, I'm a non-denominational spiritualist. That way I can't piss too many people off.
26 I studied Information Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University which makes me a qualified librarian.
27 Some personal philosophies, beginning with: 'Wherever you go, there you are.'
28 'This life has been a test. If it had been an actual life, you would have received actual instructions on where to go and what to do.'
29 'Be yourself. No matter where you go.'
30 'Funny how the girls you fall in love with never fancy you. Funny how the girls you don't do.'
31 'I can't hurt to help.'
32 'But sometimes it can hurt to help.'
33 I didn't hear Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven until the age of 28.
34 The best present I never ended up giving was a mug designed to be used as a black board with free chalk. It looks good, but it makes your tea taste funny.
35 The funniest postcard I have on my wall is of a pig orbiting the Earth.
36 My writing is always better when I'm working from someone else’s ideas. I'm not really that imaginative. I don’t think.
37 I can recited the whole of the first episode of ‘Friends‘. Still can't get REM's ‘It's the end of the world..’. Yet. But I can talk my way through Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘That Day’
38 Red wine if I’m drinking.
39 The first film to make me puke was ‘Annie’ (I was in a theatre in the bottom of an Isle of Man ferry in particularly choppy waters). The second was ‘Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan’. The third was ‘Switchblade Romance’
40 I spent a year commuting to Manchester University for an MA Screen Studies course. I miss the reading time on the train.
41 Really good classical music performances make me really cry.
42 someone with a personality. not a sheep, someone who speaks her mind. unpredictable but rational. willing to go out on a limb, be spontaneous, but responsible. someone interested in the world, who like me wants to discover the possibilites and how everything works. someone funny without being purile, spritual without banging on about religion all the time. who doesn't mind making an idiot of themselves if the outcome is pure.
43 I have the same name as the big bad demon in the 'Hell's Bells' episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
44 My birthday is on Halloween. Coincidence?
45 If there was one person from my past I would like to meet again it would be Rosie Holt. We were in halls together in Leeds and I always worry about what happened to her. Sometimes you don't hold on tight to the people who you later wanted to be life long friends. That's Rosie Holt. Rosie Holt. Rosie Holt. I'm hoping she'll find this if she ever does an ego search on Google, so I'll repeat her name again, Rosie Holt. Just email and tell me you're OK will you?
46 I'm the only person I know who watches BBC Four. More fool everyone else.
47 I once owned a rabbit called Dunk after the character from the Wheetabix commercials.
48 My first job was at The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.
49 One of the best jobs I've ever had was volunteering in the Media Centre at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. For some reason I cared more for it than for jobs I've actually been paid for.
50 This was the sound of my voice in 2003. I seem to be less generic now.
51 No 42 nearly said "I never can get the hang of Thursdays", until I thought of something else.
52 My favourite superhero was Spiderman.
53 I always wear odd socks. If it's job interview this differences can be very subtle. I once wrote a manifesto for odd socks wearers on a post-it note. I don't have this any longer.
54 My favourite jacket is a denim jacket I bought a few years ago which I'm afraid to wash because I life the colour and I don't want to it fade. Consequently I don't wear it all that often because I don't want it to get dirty. I do however seem to spend much of my time wearing white t-shirts and blue jeans.
55 The first holiday I remember is a wet week in Polperro.
56 The one thing I always remember about my Eighteenth Birthday is faux-Russian dancing with a girl I'd had a crush on for years to the dance version of the Tetris music by Dr. Spin. At that same party someone tried to request The Smith's Girlfriend in a Coma.
57 If I could live anywhere in the world it would be New York.
58 Anywhere in the UK, it would be Edinburgh.
59 Anywhere in England it would be Leeds.
60 Anywhere in Liverpool it would be the city centre.
61 I didn't drink alcohol until the age of 20. My first drink was a bottle of Carlsberg at a Jazz Festival in Leeds. I still have the bottle.
62 I'm never what people expect.
63 Sometimes when I write in my weblog I wonder if anyone is reading. Are you?
64 My favourite play by Shakespeare is Measure for Measure. Unlike most of everything else, the ending isn't certain and takes an unexpected turn, a bit like life. My second is Hamlet, for obvious reasons.
65 I only ever need six hours sleep. If I get any more, I feel sleepy for the rest of the day.
66 My typing is better and more coherent after a good sleep.
67 I'm in all the crowd scenes at the end of the film There's Only One Jimmy Grimble.
68 The world needs to think more. Thinking is a good thing.
69 I've never taken drugs.
70 At various times I've owned or borrowed an Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum+, Acorn A3000, Camputer Lynx, N64, Nintendo Gameboy, 286, 386, 486 Pentium etc, Sega Master System, Sony Playstation.
71 My current computer sits on a giant oak dining table in my room. The theory being that when I move out I'll at least have a table to sit at. I quite like the idea of not having chairs when I do get my own place. The floor is an underrated placed to sit.
72 The first weblog I ever read was Rebbeca's Pocket. It took me a while to notice other people were doing the same thing.
73 Doctor Who. There I said it.
74 On book case behind my bed which I use because I don’t have a bedside table, there is an electronic alarm clock with a real bell inside which I got for my Eighteenth birthday.
75 I hate computers. It's pity they can be so damn useful.
76 My last holiday was to Cardiff for two days. Does that count?
77 I don't take holidays quite as much as I should.
78 When I was kid, I wanted to grow up to be Zoologist. Then I saw a documentary in which an animal was put down and I cried for days and gave up that ambition.
79 I've never been very good at science.
80 I've never been very good at learning languages.
81 My handwriting is atrocious due to years of typing everything.
82 I don't eat fish. Much.
83 My watch is on a chain which dangles around my neck. I'm the only person I know who has one.84 I had a nursery teacher called Mrs Kilgallen. She used to call me the banana boy because I used to eat banana butties for lunch every day.
85 I've never stolen anything from a shop.
86 I was once at The Albert Dock in Liverpool with a friend and momentarily distracted Alan Bennett by doing Beavis and Butt-head impressions.
87 The first time my name appeared in print was because my blog was quoted in The North West Enquirer. It was their final issue.
88 The only time I visited a magazine office was Zzap! 64 in Ludlow. It was very small and similar to a telesales place I worked at for a week on very low wages.
89 I always include my middle name because I'm the only Stuart Ian Burns around.
90 There are very few famous people I'd want to meet. If I see them in the street I tend to walk past because they really aren't that much more important than you are.
91 But if I could choose, Claire Danes, Woody Allen, Joss Whedon, Laura Fraser, Bill Murray, Alanis Morissette and Kelly Macdonald.
92 I once called up a radio station in the middle of the night to make the important point that Harry Enfied isn't that funny. I wasn't drunk. This year I asked a question on the Radio Four programme, 'Any Questions?'
93 I once walked through a Macdonalds drive-in to get a burger with the cars. I wasn't drunk.
94 I don't need to get drunk to do weird things.
95 When I was training for a job once, I had to say three things only one of which was the truth. I said I'd had am album out, I'd had a book published and that I was in a film. They all thought it was the book, which is quite flattering.
96 I'm not as well read as some people think I am. I've just seen a lot of film adaptations. It's amazing how people never know the difference. I don't tell them I've read the books, they just assume.
97 I've left some really embarrassing stuff out of this list.
98 I now have pine a wardrobe in my room.
99 I used to keep my clothes in a filing cabinet.
100 Is up to you ....

I want you the reader to tell me what the last entry on the list should be from what you've read over the past few years. You can bung the answer in the comments box or by email and I'll pick the best one at the end of September and there’ll be a special prize.

"The more the world is changing, the more it stays the same, life is full of small surprises, it's a never ending game..." -- Miss Cilla Black

Life It occurs to me that I haven't written a proper version of one of these since the Proms so here's an update. In the past couple of weeks I began a new job (yes, the one whose interview happened this day) and everything's going fine so far. Like the other one which begins again at the weekend, it's part time which leaves room for other things and both help with the forward momentum of what I want to be doing with my life. Abruptly, that's all I'm going to say about that for reasons I wrote about here, last time I mentioned having a new job. Oddly enough, I notice my anonymous commenting grammar and spelling checker was at work in that post as well. Hmm. I do wish people would put a name to their criticism.

Anyway, other than that I'm continuing with my music appreciation investigation, learning today about 'word painting', a technique used during the renaissance period when vocalisation was still king. What it describes is the way that composers and musicians would make the music mirror the words being sung. So if someone is singing the word 'ascending', the notes themselves move upward, 'descending' leads to them going downwards and if the subject of the song is 'running' the tempo becomes really fast. Which explains to a degree why the madrigal music from the period sounds relatively alien to these ears. It also reminds me of the film music which is sometimes described as 'mickey-mousing' in which the score matches the on-screen action. If someone climbs stairs, the piano works its way up the scale; if they're surprised there's a crash from the low notes.

I'm not sure what the blogging equivalent is, but imagine what it might be when I say that the next post is going to be an update of the 100 things about me. V 2.0 if you will. It's four years since the last one and I want to update a few things. I don't even have a filing cabinet any more for example.

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." -- Pablo Picasso

Poll I've decided to try Blogger's new poll facility now that I have a question to ask -- for those reading in RSS, Tumblr or Facebook, it's on the sidebar of the actual blog.

"For every shadow, no matter how deep is threatened by morning light." -- Isabel, 'The Fountain'

Film Even though some people appear to have missed it, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain was one of the best films of last year and like Blade Runner before it, seems to have gained a resurgent interest since the critical derision and poor box-office which greeted its original release. It's certainly film which has fixed in my brain, the images and the poetic script, fractions of which are available at the imdb. In many ways too it seemed like a broad re-imagining of Bill Forsyth's Being Human; it's almost as though during the shooting of Pi, Aronofsky fell asleep in front of some obscure cable channel showing Forsyth's film and it was absorbed into his consciousness, half dream half idea.

It always happens to be the case that misunderstood near-masterpieces will not get a decent domestic release. Forsyth's film went direct to video rental almost everywhere and didn't get much further. My copy was recorded from ITV in the mid-nineties at about two in the morning at Christmas time and has one of those scrolling messages throughout advertising the care line. Aronofsky's film has been put out on dvd (and actually High-Def) but with what amounts to an EPG and a rather quirky 'interview' in which Rachel Weisz chats to Hugh Jackman during one of his make-up sessions. What it does not feature is a commentary -- I mean even cocking Big Momma's House 2 was afforded that privilege even though that didn't have an experimental narrative structure (at least on purpose).

So Darren's decided to record his own and here it is. Direct download. But you knew that already if you clicked the link at the top of the post.

Now that he's up and about, Roger Ebert is reviewing some of the films which he missed during his illness. The Fountain was amongst them: "I was relieved to find that pseudo-science and visual excess are now behind us in the cinema. But let’s talk about hair. In the first story, Jackman portrays a conquistador, in the second he is a modern scientist, and in the third he is bald and floating through space inside a magical bubble. Auds who cannot parse that must be plumb parsed out. And why trash Aronofsky’s first two films, just when I was trying to decide which I would write about as a Great Movie? He made “Pi” at 29 (best director, Sundance), “Requiem” at 31 (Oscar nom for Ellen Burstyn), and now, at 37, he was already a “onetime wunderkind.” Scott Fitzgerald said American lives don’t have second acts; he never said they don’t have first ones."

In his article, Ebert links to this spoilery analysis of the film which only confirmed what I understood the film to be about and how the structure works: "Instead of giving us easy answers, Aronofsky gave us all an opportunity to explore that which is deepest and most sacred in ourselves and those we love. The fact that he happily risked the derision of critics put off by the films audacious scope, or simply too lazy to contemplate a work that was more challenging than typical RomCom fare, shows that among many other admirable qualities, Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker with gigantic, bubble-spaceship-sized balls."

“It's no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase "As pretty as an airport" appear” -- Douglas Adams

Travel Wayne from Netstumbler clashes head-one with some bizarre customer service: “Don’t get involved! Don’t make me call Frankie.” [via]

"Intrigue, romance, crime and punishment" -- Hope Thompson, 'It Happened in the Stacks'

Books Can I just say in passing that based on past experience and careful consideration this is absolutely untrue?
Some more proof which is probably not safe for work. And this.

"Here’s the taxonomy of blogging. Read and learn." -- Pete Ashton

Blogs Pete agrees with me: "What’s worrying (and yes, I worry about it to an absurd degree, more so that global warming and terrorism) is how this thing that is so plainly wrong is being used by the media whose subs and editors would pick up on it. “Here are some blogs on the subject” they’ll say, but they don’t mean whole weblogs stretching back years. They mean single posts. What they should say is “blog posts on the subject.”

"I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen.

Film “I think I'll let the film marinate in my memory for a few months so that I can enjoy the dvd release even more.” -- From my review of Match Point

I was something of a fair-weather fan of Woody Allen’s first film produced in London, Match Point, loving it on cinema release then seeing it’s many flaws rather more closely on the small screen. It was a curiously nervous concoction, melodramatic elements usually so effortlessly pulled off in a New York setting seeming rather arch and artificial against the backdrop of our nation’s capital. His follow-up Scoop offers many of the same problems, but on this occasion the directing is far more assured, the material more clearly focused and overall has nothing which would indicate why it shouldn’t have been released here considering what has been released here lately, especially considering the cast.

During conjurer Woody Allen’s magic show, a volunteering student journalist Scarlett Johansson is given a tip-off by a recently passed now ghostly legendary Fleet Street hack Ian McShane that Hugh Jackman, an old money British aristocrat is the notorious Tarot serial killer. Chasing the story, Johansson pretending to be American money, becomes involved with Jackman with Allen in tow pretending to be her father and as they say with hilarious consequences. This is Allen returning to territory previously investigated in Manhattan Murder Mystery although this a far lighter on complications and heavier with the farce despite in the end cover much the same investigation of the British class structure as Match Point.

Having obviously lived with the city for a while, Allen spends far less time here presenting a tourist view of London at least in terms of exteriors with only The Royal Albert Hall returning to create a thematic connection with the earlier film. It’s certainly an example of old fashioned film making with scenes and shots which run for far longer than contemporary audiences are used to in a comedy, with perfectly planned tracking shots and push ins -- I don’t think he uses a steady cam or hand held at all.

The performances too are often theatrical but not necessarily in a bad way -- bucking the latest trends, everyone is in a character role. Johansson surprisingly reproduces the younger Allen avatar previously essayed by the likes of John Cusack and Jason Biggs, almost copying Woody tick for tick and often displaying excellent comic timing -- if they don’t always quite gel it's because Allen usually works best when he’s against a 'straight' person and I don’t know that he’s ever found anyone quite as good as Diane Keaton. Hugh Jackman just about works as an aristo, giving his British accent another airing. But it is Ian McShane who steals the show making such an exquisitely oily impression as the hack that you spend much of the film hoping for his re-appearance.

A recurring element in many of Allen’s films is the supernatural and here it is again, as McShane’s character first appears on a barge drifting towards the afterlife trying to bribe its helmsman Death into giving him a second chance (an image which mixes Bergman and Powell and Pressburger). There are also the aforementioned Tarot cards and Allen’s own character’s profession all recalling everything from Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Oedipus Wrecks. It’s this artifice which saves the film from being accused of being unrealistic at least in terms of its story and resolution; it’s all purposefully old fashioned, the music too, a return to the classical music of Match Point, the main theme being ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Peer Gynt.

If there’s a problem it’s that unlike even Match Point you’re never quite as involved in the action as you could be. To an extent it is because these are character performances and so Johansson’s character isn’t quiet as likeable as she needs to be and in some places the Allen approach to Englishness becomes a bit distracting. But I did laugh all of the way through, admittedly at some of the blink and you’ll miss them cameos from a range of British actors obviously just happy to be in a Woody Allen film (yes, that was Linda Baron dashing into a room and yes indeed Richard Briers and Toby Jones saying nothing on the Death barge), but more often at the one-liners and bits of farce. If we can never have the Woody Allen of Annie Hall back, this will do.

Cassandra's Dream, Woody's next film is slated for a UK release in the new year
. Finger's crossed it's a massive success (yeah, right) and then there's a chance that Scoop might yet be seen here and you'll be able to enjoy it for yourself without having to import it from Sweden, like I did.