Archive for March 2008

The Most Beautiful Car of All Time (Part 2)

March 23, 2008

AstonFurther to my previous post on ‘What’s the Most Beautiful Car of All Time?’, The (London) Telegraph has finally published the results of its survey.  Click HERE to read, and view their Top 100.

It also asks for nominations for ‘The Ugliest Cars of All Time’, but I really don’t think I want to go there…yeucch!



Oddly, the bottom end of their Top 100 ‘Most Beautiful’ seem to be in reverse alphabetical order, so I suspect a lot of lumping together rather than actual counting of votes.


Needless to say I am devastated and disappointed that NO HONDAS made it into the top 100!  Pah!  Or that Renault Floride.

And no vintage Bentley?? vintagebentley.jpg

Still, it’s good to see many of the ones I fancied, including Facel Vega, Cord 810, and various iconic Aston Martins

Plus the Lancia Stratos, a little gem I’d forgotten about. 


And I was delighted to see the Citroen DS at No. 2 (The Telegraph comments:  ‘Did we expect to find a family saloon breaking the sports car stranglehold at the top of the list? None bar this.’


And at Number One… the E-type Jaguar!  Of course.  What else?



pictures stolen from and various other unackowledged sources — sorry!

Henry Moore at Kew Gardens

March 21, 2008

Thanks to an invitation from my bro, today I ventured across south London to Kew Gardens, where 28 of Henry Moore’s massive sculptures have been installed, scattered throughout the gardens to form a vast outdoor exhibition (which closes next week!).  Dodging the vagaries of the weather – which changed with amazing rapidity from bright sun to heavy cloud, howling gale to warm sunshine – we enjoyed a happy afternoon among these monsters (and the burgeoning daffodils, magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias – not to mention the restaurants and teashops, gift shops and loos…).

In our youth, as I recall, it used to cost one penny (at a turnstile) to enter the gardens.  (I used to wonder idly whether professional gardeners or horticulturalists could claim their dally penny against income tax, as a business expense.)  It now costs £12.25…  If that was one old (pre-decimal) penny, at 240 to the pound, this represents an increase in admission charge by a factor of 2940, or 294,000 % !  Hmmm.

The name of Henry Moore (1898-1986) is synonymous with ’modern sculpture’ (as Picasso is synonymous with ’modern art’) even for people who would profess to know nothing about it.  So these gigantic but mostly gentle and friendly figures are already icons of our collective consciousness.

The logistics and practical difficulties of borrowing (from all over the world) and installing these mighty objects, mostly of bronze and weighing many tons, do not bear thinking about.  But Moore expressed an affinity for gardens and landscapes, and in this outdoor setting they looked completely at home.

They acted as a magnet to the passing crowds (especially children), who ignored the ’DO NOT CLIMB ON THE SCULPTURES’ signs and flocked all over them, scrambling, exploring, touching, knocking and stroking – particularly fascinated by anything with holes in it!

A wonderful experience, blowing away the familiar grumbles about the inaccessibility of ’modern art’ and confirming Henry Moore as one of the great artistic creators of the twentieth century.

More pictures in my Henry Moore at Kew Gardens’ album on MySpace

in memoriam Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008)

March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke died yesterday, aged 90.  The obituaries all call him ‘the man who invented geostationary satellites‘ and ‘the man who wrote 2001‘…

Down-to-earth and practical scientist and inventor, visionary prophet, inspirational writer — we owe him our thanks for opening our eyes (and directing them skywards) to so many unexplored possibilities.

I hope it’s not too long for this blog, but I’d like to reproduce a short story which made a huge impression on me when I first read it (40 years ago!) and still resonates in today’s world…

The Nine Billion Names of God (1953)

Arthur C. Clarke

This is a slightly unusual request,” said Dr. Wagner, with what he hoped was commendable restraint. “As far as I know, it’s the first time anyone’s been asked to supply a Tibetan monastery with an Automatic Sequence Computer. I don’t wish to be inquisitive, but I should hardly have thought that your- ah – establishment had much use for such a machine. Could you explain just what you intend to do with it?”

“Gladly,” replied the lama, readjusting his silk robes and carefully putting away the slide rule he had been using for currency conversions. “Your Mark V Computer can carry out any routine mathematical operation involving up to ten digits. However, for our work we are interested in letters, not numbers. As we wish you to modify the output circuits, the machine will be printing words, not columns of figures.”

I don’t quite understand….”

“This is a project on which we have been working for the last three centuries––since the lamasery was founded, in fact. It is somewhat alien to your way of thought, so I hope you will listen with an open mind while I explain it.”


It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of God.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“We have reason to believe,” continued the lama (more…)

Southbank Sinfonia (twice)

March 14, 2008

sbs2.jpg The Southbank Sinfonia is a brilliant idea – a ‘semi-professional’ orchestra employing young instrumentalists between college and a professional career.  To judge by their list of alumni now in orchestral positions, it works.

The orchestra is the brainchild of conductor Simon Over.  It has no state funding (surprise surprise!) and is maintained by a large roster of generous supporters and huge amounts of goodwill, particularly through partnerships with ‘grown up’ orchestras such as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, who provide coaching, playing opportunities and ‘sit-ins’ alongside professional players.  And imaginative sponsors like accompanist Malcolm Martineau who provides free refreshments at concerts – hooray!

Monday’s concert was part of the lunchtime recital series at the Royal Opera House, though moved into the spacious (and echoey) surroundings of the Paul Hamlyn Hall (formerly the Floral Hall).  A slightly rum programme…

It began with a Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets, bravely performed without a conductor.  The soloists (Christopher Seddon and Rob Wallace) were two cool dudes to whom evidently nothing was a problem – they enjoyed every minute and played faultlessly, stationing themselves antiphonally either side of the band.

Two quibbles:  how could anyone think it’s OK to perform any kind of baroque concerto without a keyboard continuo??  Just because it ‘sort of’ works to have just a cello and bass accompanying the soloists, that doesn’t make it right.  And no, the slow movement is not just ‘a mere six bars long… a passage of modulation played by the strings alone’ – which is how they played it, earnestly and meaninglessly:  no, it’s the basis for something – keyboard improvisation?  Violin improvisation?  (Probably not the trumpets, as they need the rest.)  Something has to happen, and somebody has to take a decision about what.  Awful sinking feeling that STILL nobody in the music colleges is taught anything beyond the received nineteenth-century ways of playing things.

They need to read a certain series of helpful books…

The orchestra was joined by Australian soprano Anita Watson, a rising star in the ROH’s firmament and a radiant smiling presence (I previously enjoyed hearing her in Donizetti’s Rita – read more here).  Her choice of arias – Mozart’s ‘Nehmt meinen Dank’ and the ‘Et incarnatus’ from the C minor Mass, and Richard Strauss’s ‘Morgen’ – suited her to perfection.  Lovely violin solo in the Strauss, from leader Tatiana Byesheva.

In between Anita Watson’s items, Graham Sheen conducted his arrangement of five Danzas Gitanas by Joaquin Turina.  The rather vague programme note did not describe the individual movements or even tell us what forces Graham had arranged them for.  As far as I could see, it was a wind decet (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns) with extras – piccolo, cor anglais – plus two trumpets and a double bass.  Smashing arrangements, full of vivid colours and rhythmic life.  I slightly felt that the clarinets had a raw deal – perhaps because the trumpets had grabbed their share of the melodic interest?  Very nice anyway, and must have been great fun to play.  I hope they’ll be published.

And a definitely rum item to finish – Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs, but with no singer!  Hamlet without the Prince?  I am reliably informed that it was never intended that Anita Watson should sing these.  But they sounded distinctly ‘so-what’-ish in their orchestral guise.  Ah well.

* * * *


Then yesterday (Thursday) – (more…)

Children’s science exam answers

March 7, 2008

Thanks to Ellen for these:

Children’s Science Exam answers.

Q:            Name the four seasons.
A:            Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q:            Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to  drink.
A:            Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large  pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

Q:            How is dew formed?
A:            The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

Q:            How can you delay milk turning sour?
A:            Keep it in the cow.

Q:            What causes the tides in the oceans?
A:            The tides are a fight between the Earth and the Moon. All water  tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the  moon, and nature  hates a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.

Q:            What are steroids?
A:            Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs.

Q:             What happens to your body as you age?
A:            When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

Q:            What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A:            He says good-bye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.

Q:            Name a major disease associated with cigarettes
A:            Premature death.

Q:            How are the main parts of the body categorized? (e.g., abdomen.)
A:            The body is consisted into three parts – the   brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity.  The brainium contains the brain; the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abdominal cavity contains the  five  bowels, A, E, I, O, and U.

Q:            What is the fibula?
A:            A small lie.

Q:            What does “varicose” mean?
A:            Nearby.

Q:            Give the meaning of the term “Caesarean Section”
A:            The Caesarean Section is a district in Rome.

Q:            What does the word “benign” mean?’
A:            Benign is what you will be after you be eight.