Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Guernica - Kaigenrei

While finishing my tax, I've been listening to the 80's Japanese band Guernica. They did strange but often compelling stuff: avant-garde and often atonal cabaret/electronica with Jun Togawa as vocalist, all with retro 1920s-1930s styling reflecting the Westernised element of the pre-WW2 Japanese imperial era.

At the moment my favourite piece is the one embedded above and below in two versions: 戒厳令 (Kaigenrei in Romaji), whose title appears on the web variously as Martial Law in English or Belagerungszustand in German. The chorus section from 0:55 to 1:38 recalls early 20th century totalitarian or patriotic anthems - I think it's a brilliant tune. But although it seems very familiar, I can't find it on Musipedia. The version below is a powerful slower-tempo arrangement for conventional orchestra, sung in German with a lot of Sturm and Drang.

This seemed a strange conceit until I realised that Guernica's lyricist Keiichi Ohta wrote the lyrics in German originally. The song is about the repression and fear of living under totalitarian rule, with strong allusions to Nazism, judging by these lyrics I found (the German is a little fractured in places):

Die Autobahn in der Nacht
Durchfaehrt im heftigen Regen
Der Asphalt wird das schwarze Plastik
Den Tropfen der Frontscheibe
Warnt das Autoradio vor Kreis
Die Belagerungszustand reisst die Nacht.
Ach, Ach, Belagerungszustand
Ploezlich erscheint das schwarze Beiwagenmaschine.
Der schwere Ton des Offizerscheibes
Hilfeschrei eines reinen Maedchens
hoert man hinter "Gesperrt" hevor.
Die Belagerungszustand reisst die Nacht,
Ach, Ach, Belagerungszustand

Die Sirene heult jetzt in der ganzen Stadt.
Wie Mantel Totenengels
Der Regen Faelt auf den roten Backstein,
Wie die traurige Traene deren,
die nach Hoelle gewhen. Wie traurige Traene.
Die Voegel singen die Fried und die Freiheit, aber
klingt es leider hoffnunglos.
Das Gebeht der Frauen zum heiligen Kreuze
weckselt ja mit dem Fluch ueber schwarze den Teufel.

- lyrics from this Guernica fan page

There's another video here - Martial law - Belagerungszustand / Guernica - which brings out a powerful irony to the song by juxtaposing the pageantry of Nazism to these downbeat lyrics that portray its dark side. I don't know if the anthem section is a genuine Nazi tune - if not, it's a superb pastiche of one. But if it is, its upbeat and disturbingly inspirational flavour is completely subverted by Belagerungszustand's lyrics. Loose partial translation:

The siren now wails over the whole city
Like the mantle of the Angel of Death
The birds sing of peace and freedom, but
the sound is sadly hopeless.
The homage of women to the holy cross
becomes the curse of the black devil.

If you read Japanese, the official Guernica site is here. If you do, I'd be delighted if you could feed back any information on the background to Kaigenrei if you see any. What was its inspiration? Why did a Japanese songwriter choose to write a song in German? Is that compelling catchy anthem a real Nazi tune or a pastiche?

Addendum I like this one too: Denrisou karano Manazashi (which means something like "Gaze from the Ionosphere") I haven't the least idea what the lyrics are about, but it has a Weill-like urgency and atonality to it.

- Ray

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Bayan time (13): a year on

photo by Martin Stork, Topjam session
This evening I went to the Topjam Session at Topsham Rugby Club, and it was a bit of an anniversary: it's been a year since the beginning of my involvement with the Орфей bayan. This post about a related instrument, the accordina, has a footnote mentioning that I ordered it around January 23rd). Time for reflection on progress ...

It's been, and continues to be, an exciting but pretty difficult experience. Since I'm not learning via any structured grade system, it's hard to describe what level I'm at, but it must be well beyond beginner by now. I've reached the point of having no great qualms about public playing; I'm beginning to tackle more advanced pieces, such as Ástor Piazolla's wonderful Libertango; and people seem genuinely impressed at the performance, and pleased when I turn up with the thing. The latter I think in strong part is down to my choice from the start to play an eclectic repertoire, and not just the stereotypical folk (this evening, for instance, I played Eye of the Tiger and a self-developed Country & Western pastiche of Barwick Green - aka The Archers theme tune).

I have mixed feelings. On the plus side, I've never before felt actively good at playing an instrument, nor practised without feeling it to be a chore, nor felt such a degree of certainty and committment about devoting large chunks of my day to music (hence the bayan tattoo earlier - it has been that much of a milestone). It wouldn't be exaggerating to say I feel a different person - a real musician, a bayanist - compared to a year ago, and it's slowly soaked in that it's quite an achievement to have got there from starting out in mid-life on an unusual and difficult instrument. (Clare deserves a major portion of the credit for putting up with the daily practising).

But at the same time, I tend invariably to feel very flat after performances: disappointed at how they went, whatever the reception. It's "I can play this perfectly at home" syndrome - some flavour of performanced anxiety. It doesn't stop me playing in public, but I still find that any kind of observation (even trying to record a video alone for YouTube) immediately makes me fumble well-rehearsed pieces. I've seen various advice: some advocate plain experience - perform in public until it's no longer anxiety-making - while others suggest more specific practice at "getting in the zone", learning to focus solely on the music and instrument so that the audience ceases to be a distraction. Both, I guess, are worth trying.

I'm also a little concerned about what bad habits I'm getting into from self-teaching, and I'm sure I'd have learned faster with tuition. Then again, I can hardly complain, as it was my decision to go for an instrument that's highly rare in the UK. As I don't want the expense of Skype lessons, I'm getting as much guidance as I can find from accordion/bayan websites and YouTube (the Bayanina Entertainment channel by Nina Tritenichenko is especially good, because her videos show the fingering clearly). Friedrich Lips's book Art of Bayan Playing is on my wish list, though I'm procrastinating about getting it - I think I'm slightly afraid of what I might find I'm doing wrong.

Otherwise, nothing is specifically bothering me except the vast amount of work ahead. For example, the right-hand keyboard has become thoroughly comfortable, but I need to put in left-hand practice on the counterbasses (the keys that, along with the fundamental bass notes, let you play left-hand scales on the Stradella system). And there's the work of building up a repertoire.

I don't know how good it'll be possible to get; as I've said, music for me is part of a generalism, and I'm well aware that I have less basic aptitude and dexterity than any number of musicians for whom music was their central major talent from childhood. I'll never be at Flight of the Bumblebee level. But I'm still progressing, and the experience has been thoroughly rewarding (both in pride at a skill, and the social opportunities it has opened up). I'm happy to see where it goes, and I just need not to get too despondent about the problems.

I'll put something else on YouTube soon.

This has been an essential piece of kit, which Martin has nicknamed the RRATD (Ray's Russian Accordion Transportation Device). The Орфей in its case weighs about two stone, and the case has a single suitcase-style carrying handle: it's not something you want to cart the half-mile to the Topsham Rugby Club for the Topjam Sessions. Hence the pram, which, as we don't drive, has been handy for a variety of local ferrying purposes: heavy cats to the vet; glass and cardboard to the recycling skips; materials for Clare's Christmas craft fair to Matthews Hall; the buffet and crockery for my mother-in-law's funeral tea at Grove House; and now this. It probably looks eccentric (they say that the definition of "eccentric" is when you don't realise that it is) - but it works.

I recommend the Topjam Sessions - today's was the fifth - though from past experience, I'm a little cautious of sessions. They can very easily turn into rehearsal space for close-knit pre-existing bands, squeezing out the possibility of spontaneous music-making and bringing new combinations of players together. I'm also very alert to, not to say a little paranoid about, the possibility that playing an unusual instrument might get me sidelined as the resident novelty act - I've encountered this happening to people who play something outside the usual band instruments.  So far, it hasn't been like that - it's been a good crowd of enthusiastic musicians, accepting of a variety of styles and skills (and not ageist). They've been a great encouragement and an incentive to explore new genres, pieces to play, and technical developments (such as singing while playing). However, I hope the organisers are aware of the possible pitfalls; I'll see how it continues. Check out the Facebook page - TOPJAM - if you're a musician in Topsham.

- Ray

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fitting designs

Ptak Science Books just had an interesting quick post - Tech-Quiz 6: A Square Peg in a Round Hole? - concerning an 1885 US patent by one Charles M Dewey of Jersey City, New Jersey, for "a new and Improved Puzzle", which comprises a solution to the puzzle of making an object that will fit three holes of different shapes: square, circular, and cross-shaped.

Here's the patent in full: Patent number: 328766, Filing date: Jan 13, 1885, Issue date: Oct 20, 1885.

The "Improved" appears to be an allusion to an older puzzle of similar format. As Dewey puts it: "I am aware that it is old to make a puzzle from a piece of card-board by forming three holes therein, one of which is round, another square, and a third triangular. I do not lay claim to a puzzle thus made".

I first ran into the square/ round / triangular peg puzzle in my childhood in a rather nice book that somehow disappeared during family movings, Robert Morrison Abraham's Tricks and amusements: with coins, cards, string, paper and matches (see page 132). The book actually dates from the 1930s, when it was originally published as Winter Nights' Entertainments: a book of pastimes for everybody, but we had one of a number of later Dover Books paperback imprints.

The idea is, as Dewey says, quite old: for example, it turns up as "The Triple Accommodation" on page 707 of the 1880 The Boy's Own Book by William Clarke (Internet Archive boysownbookbywc00clargoog), and on page 26 as puzzle 16 of the snappily titled Rational amusement for winter evenings, or, A collection of above 200 curious and interesting puzzles and paradoxes relating to arithmetic, geometry, geography, &c: with their solutions, and four plates, designed chiefly for young persons by "John Jackson (private teacher of the mathematics)".

The toy appears in the 1811 catalogue of scientific instrument makers W & S Jones:

The mathematical paradox, a piece of wood of one figure, fits exactly, and passes through a triangular, square, and a circular hole. - £0 2s 6d.
- page 7, An analysis of the principles of natural philosophy, Matthew Young (Bishop of Clonfert), 1811

And earlier still, I found this 1759 variant:

Queſtion 169, by Mr. C. Pagister of Greenland-Dock.
I have a regular Piece of Wood which will fill up a round Hole, a ſquare Hole, and an oval Hole : Query what is the Shape?
N.B. We think proper to propoſe this Question for the Amuſement of our young Philomaths, tho' it is not a new one.
- page 702, Miscellaneous Correspondence, Volume 2, 1759.

The solution to the basic version is, by now, well-known. You start with a cylinder of unit height and unit diameter, then mark a diameter AB on one end, and a second diameter CD at right angles to this on the other end. Then you cut off two pieces along the planes ABD and ABC. What's left is a plug with circular, triangular and square cross-sections from three orthogonal directions.

There are actually an infinite number of solutions. This Harvard Mathematics Department page - The cork plug -  has nice animations of two: one the planar cut just described, and the other one with a continuously curved surface (the "cork plug" is Martin Gardner's name for the object: Gardner, M. "The Cork Plug." Ch. 5 in The Second Scientific American Book of Puzzles & Diversions: A New Selection. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 52-59, 1961).

I don't know whether Dewey ever made anything from his patent for the Improved Version. The puzzle in variants has cropped up various times since. For example, Popular Science Monthly for July 1927 has an article by Arthur L Smith, A Square Peg in a Round Hole, featuring a puzzle similar to Dewey's and a more complex configuration spelling "PSM", and poses the problem of making an object to fit triangular, square, and T-shaped holes.

The solution is here in the August 1927 issue.

Following the US patent trail finds many more variants. I don't really know how the patent system works, because in 2002, Joanne Godin for Ideas That Matter got a patent for the probably centuries-old square / circle / triangle format (USD482080).  A nice later variant is the maze toy by Warner A Davis (USD562915) where the plug needs to be manipulated through holes in inaccessible internal partitions of a pyramid. This in turn cites earlier versions: an "educational toy" by Raymond J Scherf (US2542948) that has T-shaped, circular and notched-square holes; James Lloyd Taylor's version with "a space-aged theme" (US3804414), where the plug has to fit round, Saturn-shaped, and star-shaped holes partitioning a box representing space; and Hubert Andrew Johnson Jr's "ornamental design for a child's toy" (USD380240) where the three shapes give access to a hollow cube (directly relating the puzzle to the three orthogonal cross-sections of the object).

I'm sure the format will continue to be developed.

Addendum: see update - Fitting designs (continued)

- Ray

Thursday, 26 January 2012

When pufh comef to fhove

I just saw an interesting example of the kind of analysis that needs caution when using Google Books Ngram Viewer.

On Yahoo! Answers there was a question asking what word people used instead of "push" before 1800.  This slightly odd query came on the evidence of the Ngram Viewer graph, which appears to show virtually no use of the word before the very late 1700s, then a sudden rise into significant use around 1800.

"push" 1750-2008

The explanation is simple, though the precise timing is hard to explain. Prior to 1800 or so, printed texts used the "long s" character "ſ" (a.k.a. "medial s" or "descending s"), which Google's OCR algorithm interprets as "f". So if you look instead for "pufh", you find all those missing pre-1800s examples of "push". The transition between the two is striking ...

"push" / "pufh" 1750-2008
"push" / "pufh" 1750-2008 (detail)
... and I'm not sure if anyone knows what was happening in the publishing/printing world to account for such a rapid shift.  As the Wikipedia article describes, it happened at different times in different countries, but just as rapidly as in English.

This phenomenon also explains the strange bipolar Ngram Viewer graph for "fuck".

"fuck" 1750-1830

The post-1960 hits are real. The pre-1800s ones don't represent some robust pre-prudish age, but occurrences of "suck" printed as"ſuck".

- Ray

Mindbender 2

As mentioned previously, I've been getting into the Western Morning News's Mindbender daily mathematical puzzles. Here's another one, which raises interesting points regarding my earlier thoughts on solution methods. Have a go, then go to this backdated post (SPOILER: solution).

- Ray

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Song of Summer

Delius, Kate Bush, Never for Ever.
When Delius first attempted to convey his music to Eric Fenby, the latter was aghast, since Delius simply uttered toneless renditions that seemed impossible to transcribe. The song makes reference to this - "Ta, ta-ta! / Hmm. / Ta, ta-ta! / In B, Fenby!" - and to Delius's syphilis. Much as I like the song itself, I find the original video embarrassingly dated.

On BBC4 this evening, as part of the tribute to the late Ken Russell, they finally repeated Song of Summer, Russell's 1968 Omnibus biographical drama portraying the final years in Delius's life (1928-1934) when a young musician, Eric Fenby, acted as live-in amanuensis to the blind and paralysed composer Frederick Delius.

It's based on Fenby's 1936 biographical account Delius As I knew Him (out of copyright in the USA, judging by its presence on the Internet Archive) and Fenby worked with Russell on the research and early production, coaching the protagonists. Though the direction is a little stodgy in places, and rather stereotypical in its depiction of the process of musical inspiration, it's a fine piece of work.

The cast - Max Adrian as Delius, Christopher Gable as Fenby, and Maureen Prior as Delius's wife Jelka, (and a cameo by David Collings as the indefatigable Percy Grainger) - by all accounts portray very accurately the tensions in Delius's isolated household in Grez-sur-Loing, and particularly the toll on the uptight and religious Fenby of collaboration with, and later nursing, the autocratic, syphilitic and anti-religious Delius. Fenby tells, for instance, how he was reduced to tears on the first attempts to transcribe Delius's music as Delius gave him the first phrase as a completely incomprehensible "High-tee-tigh-tee-tigh-tee-tigh" (I'm not sure where the "Ta, ta-ta!" version came from).They later worked out a successful modus operandi.

Delius As I Knew Him was written in a coyer era and not long after Delius's death, so didn't originally contain the revelation of the nature of Delius's illness. Fenby imparted this and other details to Russell ...

Soon after, Russell and Fenby went to Grez for a visit, and during that time Fenby revealed a number of facts not mentioned in his written account, the most notable of which was that Delius had actually died of syphilis.
- page 60, Ken Russell: the adaptor as creator, Joseph E Gomez, 1976.

... and they appear in the appendices to later editions. I mention it not out of prurience, but because, as Fenby writes, at least two biographical commentators connected Delius's illness with his abilities as a composer. Fenby writes:

Cecil Gray and Balfour Gardiner were both convinced that the onset of Delius's mature creative powers was intimately related to his contracting syphilis in the 1890s. So naïve was I that I had no inkling of the true nature of his malady, and was thunderstruck when one of the French doctors revealed it to me shortly before Delius died (just as enacted in Ken Russell's film).
- page 248, Delius As I Knew Him, Eric Fenby, Cambridge University Press, 1981

Though it probably shouldn't be, Song of Summer is findable on YouTube: part 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5.

- Ray

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Borrowers - not of this world

Somehow I'd managed to miss seeing, until yesterday, The Borrowers, Peter Hewitt's 1997 film adaptation of Mary Norton's classic children's book series about a family - later revealed to be a race - of miniature people who live by cannibalising items left around by humans. There have been other adaptations: the BBC's 1992 one springs to mind particularly, but there has also been a nice-looking 2010 anime adaptation from the studio that produced Spirited Away, and a very recent BBC adaptation over Christmas and New Year.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Hound of the D’Urbervilles

This has been a busy couple of months, and - partly due to a vow not to read it until finishing my tax return - I only just got around to reading Kim Newman's new novel Moriarty - The Hound of the D’Urbervilles (Titan Books, 2011, ISBN 9780857682833) that I bought mid-November.

The novel is essentially a dark mirror of the Sherlock Holmes mythos, with Holmes and Watson replaced as protagonists by a pairing of Professor Moriarty and Colonel Sebastian 'Basher' Moran (who is employed as a hit man for Moriarty's organisation). Newman isn't the first writer to tackle Moriarty (John Gardner's Moriarty novels, Michael Kurland's Professor Moriarty series and, especially, Neil Gaiman's Cthulhu mythos story A Study in Emerald spring to mind). However, this book brings to the mix Kim Newman's characteristic brand of highly literate intertextual pastiche populated with historical and fictional characters.

The novel consists of a cycle of seven linked stories - in part a paste-up of stories that have appeared elsewhere - told by Moran through the vehicle of their alleged discovery in a despatch box in a London "criminal bank". A Volume in Vermilion sets the scene - the first meeting of Moran and Moriarty is excerpted on the Titan books website here - then tells of Moran's first assignment involving the Mormon-linked feud from Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet. A Shambles in Belgravia is a pastiche of A Scandal in Bohemia involving Irene Adler (Moran writes: "To Professor Moriarty, she is always that bitch") and a blackmail plot involving the royal family of Ruritania (i.e. from Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda). The Red Planet League tells of Moriarty's convoluted plot, involving Martians, to discredit an egotistical Astronomer Royal who has dissed his Dynamics of an Asteroid monograph. The title story, The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, retells The Hound of the Baskervilles in Thomas Hardy's Wessex, in which Moriarty is hired by an emigree American robber baron to dispel myths of the giant hound that are interfering with his plans to squeeze profits from the D'Urberville estate. The Adventure of the Six Maledictions uses as starting point J Milton Hayes's music hall monologue The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God (concerning "Mad Carew", who steals a cursed gem) and follows the mayhew that arises when Moriarty, for reasons of his own, decides to start collecting cursed objects. The Greek Invertebrate is a steampunk thriller that takes Moriarty and Moran, along with a cast of characters from Arnold Ridley's The Ghost Train, to "Fal Vale" in Cornwall to investigate sightings of a sinister "white worm". The Problem of the Final Adventure goes to Europe and, inevitably, the Reichenbach Falls, interweaving the events of Conan Doyle's The Final Problem with Moriarty's final encounter with his own nemesis (perhaps surprisingly, not Sherlock Holmes).

For the most part, this is extremely well done. Colonel Moran, as a narrator, strongly resembles a nastier version of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman - a debt acknowledged by Newman - and proves similarly sympathetic; he has a vestige of honour (he admires courage), is aware of his own failings, and is far too interested in people and their motives to be the complete cynic he professes to be. Likewise the relationship between Moran, the adrenalin junkie ex-soldier, and Moriarty, the unfathomable intellectual, is well-developed as a parallel to that of Watson and Holmes (where Holmes keeps bees, Moriarty keeps wasps; and his "methods" are contrary to Holmes' deduction; Moriarty does the Victorian equivalent of Googling it).

If I have a criticism, it's of Newman's handling of the intertextualism. He can do it seamlessly, subtly and pertinently; and he can go into an "everything but the kitchen sink" mode, throwing in large numbers of out-of-mythos characters and allusions that make you lose suspension of disbelief. The best story of the collection in my view is The Red Planet League, and that does it exactly right; it's a tightly-done skit on alien invasion literature and film - chiefly HG Wells's The Crystal Egg and The War of the Worlds ...

Yet across the gulf of the lecture hall, a mind that was to Stent's as his was to the beasts that perish, an intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded the podium with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew his plans against him.

... but also with hat-tips to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, and even briefly to Alien. But in the otherwise excellent The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, Newman starts bringing in out-of-mythos characters, such as Desperate Dan and a character who is clearly Klaus Kinski. And The Adventure of the Six Maledictions is in full-on kitchen sink mode, complete with the Hoxton Creeper (as played by Rondo Hatton in The Pearl of Death), the Maltese Falcon, and a whole cast of criminal masterminds from book and film, who appear again in The Problem of the Final Adventure. They're still good stories, but you can see the wheels working.

This really is a book where you need to read it once, read the footnotes and Google a bit, then read again, then Google again. There are any number of interesting-looking works referenced that I'd never heard of, such as William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories. And it's often very difficult - a sign of good pastiche - to distinguish fact from invention on first reading. For example, Newman's learned footnote about "quap", "a form of pitchblende used in turn-of-the-century patent medicines", looked thoroughly plausible until I found it come from HG Wells's now little-read semi-autobiographical satire Tono-Bungay. I enjoyed Moriarty - The Hound of the D'Urbervilles a lot, and will no doubt be pursuing the threads for a while to come.

- Ray

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Edwin Drood

A recommendation, if you didn't see it: the current BBC adaptation by Gwyneth Hughes of Charles Dickens's half-finished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, serialised in 1870 until its termination by the death of Dickens. (see the BBC feature Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens's last mystery finally solved? and the BBC2 microsite).

Due to previously-mentioned events over Christmas, I've only just seen the concluding part of the two-part series.

Read on - if you don't mind spoilers.

The first episode set the scene in Cloisterham (a thinly-disguised Rochester) where Drood, a slappably optimistic and fortunate young engineer, is visiting his fiance Rosa Bud (to whom he is betrothed via an arrangement in her late father's will) and his uncle John Jasper (an opium-addicted choirmaster). What Edwin doesn't know is that Jasper has the hots for Rosa, and has repeated opium dreams of throttling Edwin in the cathedral. A further tension is thrown into the mix by the arrival from Ceylon of the mixed-race orphan twins Neville and Helena Landless. The hot-blooded Neville too fancies Rosa, and immediately gets into an argument with Edwin over this. But what neither of Edwin's rivals know is that Edwin and Rosa aren't that into each other, and have more or less amicably agreed to break their engagement. Things come to a head on a dark and stormy night, when Edwin and Neville, apparently reconciled, visit the cathedral at night, and Jasper gets another especially vivid vision (maybe real - we don't know) of throttling Edwin. End of episode.

Judging by both the dramatisation and the novel text - there's a nice copy of the 1870 Chapman & Hall imprint on the Internet Archive (ID mysteryofedwindr00dickrich) - Dickens was doing something rather different from his usual fare. This is not a cast-of-thousands tranche of Victorian social commentary, but an economical and claustrophobic psychological mystery. The scenario reminds me a deal of a Maxwell Gray novel: there's a guilt-ridden ecclesiastical character, as in The Silence of Dean Maitland; and a young woman with three suitors, as in The Reproach of Annesley. Maybe the simplicity was down to Dickens losing his touch; he was exhausted by a tour of America, and had sufferered a minor stoke - a precursor to the one that permanently interrupted his work on the novel. Nevertheless, he's still on form with atmosphere and characterisation.

Dickens did leave a sketch of  where he intended the story to go: essentially it came down to John Jasper having murdered Drood:

His first fancy for the tale was expressed in a letter in the middle of July. "What should you think of the idea of a story beginning in this way?--Two people, boy and girl, or very young, going apart from one another, pledged to be married after many years—at the end of the book. The interest to arise out of the tracing of their separate ways, and the impossibility of telling what will be done with that impending fate." This was laid aside; but it left a marked trace on the story as afterwards designed, in the position of Edwin Drood and his betrothed. I first heard of the later design in a letter dated "Friday the 6th of August 1869", in which after speaking, with the usual unstinted praise he bestowed always on what moved him in others, of a little tale he had received for his journal, he spoke of the change that had occurred to him for the new tale by himself. "I laid aside the fancy I told you of, and have a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work." The story, I learnt immediately afterward, was to be that of the murder of a nephew by his uncle; the originality of which was to consist in the review of the murderer's career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man, were the tempted. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell, to which his wickedness, all elaborately elicited from him as if told of another, had brought him. Discovery by the murderer of the utter needlessness of the murder for its object, was to follow hard upon commission of the deed; but all discovery of the murderer was to be baffled till towards the close, when, by means of a gold ring which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which he had thrown the body, not only the person murdered was to be identified but the locality of the crime and the man who committed it. So much was told to me before any of the book was written; and it will be recollected that the ring, taken by Drood to be given to his betrothed only if their engagement went on, was brought away with him from their last interview. Rosa was to marry Tartar, and Crisparkle the sister of Landless, who was himself, I think, to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer.

- Charles Dickens, letter to friend and biographer John Forster, published in John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, 1876, vol. 1

But the many authors who have picked up and run with the story - see Continuations, in the Wikipedia article - have varied in whether they took up this hint. The recent BBC adaptation doesn't entirely.

Spoiler warning again.

Episode 2 begins, as did Dickens, with general consternation after the night of the storm due to Drood's disappearance. Neville naturally falls under initial suspicion, with Jasper happy to fuel that suspicion, but no real evidence implicates him.

Meanwhile, Bazzard, the geeky assistant of Rosa's guardian, is doing some detective work, finding that Neville and Helena Landless are half-siblings of Edwin, and that their mutual father appears not to have died in military service in Egypt as supposed, and is in fact alive somewhere and picking up his pension. Jasper continues to be angst-ridden, but despite this pursues increasingly aggessive attempts to court Rosa. His mental state isn't helped by the revelation that his jealousy had become misplaced after Edwin and Rosa were no longer an item.

Ultimately Bazzard's trail leads to the discovery of an unexpected corpse in the Drood tomb, just as Jasper drags Rosa into the cathedral and confesses to Drood's murder. But, simultaneously, the corpse is found to be that of an older man, apparently dead for a year or so - and Edwin, fresh back from Egypt, walks into the cathedral wondering what's been going on. He'd left town in a huff after Rosa broke off the engagement, and that was why he hadn't written.

This turn of events so fazes Jasper that his story unravels. He and Edwin aren't uncle and nephew, but half-brothers - he was the illegitimate one - and he has for years been consumed with anger at their father's favouritism toward Edwin. A year previously he had killed their father when the latter arrived in Cloisterham and snubbed him yet again: the elder Drood is the corpse in the tomb. In Jasper's opium-addled mind, the murder of the elder Drood and the fantasy of murdering Edwin had become so conflated that he had come to believe he had actually murdered Edwin. Believing himself to be haunted by Edwin, he kills himself. In the slightly feelgood aftermath, his friends and family forgive him posthumously; Edwin and Neville depart for foreign climes as half-brothers, friends and business associates; and Helena Landless becomes engaged to the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle, the canon of Cloisterham.

While perhaps the web of family connections stretches coincidence a little too far, nevertheless I think Gwyneth Hughes did an extremely good job of completing a story where the resolution could have been a little too linear. In the novel as far as Dickens wrote it, everything (including his own guilt) points to Jasper having murdered Edwin. This adaptation nicely had it both ways, with that evidence being just as valid, except for another murder, while leaving the reappearance of Edwin thoroughly plausible. The motivation for the murder - intense anger at a parent's favouritism for one sibling, exacerbated by the favoured sibling's inability to perceive a problem - is psychologically plausible. Luckily I'm not in that situation, but I know people who have been, and it's highly toxic. So all in all, a rather good production.

If you're in the UK, both episodes are currently watchable online with BBC iPlayer at the BBC2 microsite The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

- Ray

Monday, 16 January 2012

To Sandy Bay - off-season

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First walk for nearly a month: we didn't get a chance over Christmas and the New Year due to all the responsibilities attendant on my mother-in-law's final illness and funeral.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Piddock and the Romans revisited

I've just added a post backdated five years - Piddock - and an appendix - following updates to a piece originally posted on my other weblog.

It concerns a story connecting luminous shellfish with a Roman villa near Lyme Regis that I picked up from a wall presentation in the Devon RD&E hospital, where I was staying over Christmas 2007 after an appendectomy. Five years later, Dr Andrew May, a volunteer at Lyme Regis Museum, and maintainer of the Lyme Regis Museum blog, contacted me as the connection was proving difficult to verify, and a quick visit today confirmed that I'd misread the presentation. Oops!

However, the story took another turn from there: check it out.

- Ray

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Comic Latin and other texts

A couple of extended out-takes from recent posts.

Further to Comic Grammars, check out The Comic Latin Grammar: A New and Facetious Introduction to the Latin Tongue (1840, Internet Archive comiclatingramm00leiggoog), by the same duo of Punch contributors, Percival Leigh and the illustrator John Leech, as The Comic English Grammar.  It too is a parody, in this case of The Eton Latin Grammar, first published in 1758 as An Introduction to the Latin Tongue, for the Use of Youth. (Most of the grammar is over my head - I know a deal of Latin at recognition level, via the sciences and general reading, but didn't study it as a language at school. However, it's still worth a look even if you don't know Latin well).

And also, check out Paradigm ("Journal of the Textbook Colloquium - Where any, and every, aspect of textbooks is, or are, investigated"). This was a fairly short-lived journal - it only ran to some 40 issues - but its archive is a rich lode of interesting articles and papers that look at how social history has manifested through textbooks:

Textbooks, Schools and Society

For the social historian the school textbook is a junction where many lines of interest meet. Its author, often a quirky teacher of merely local repute, nevertheless expresses a wider range of prejudices and assumptions than just his own. He or she represents a popular, unsophisticated, but sometimes innovative view of knowledge and conduct, the dissemination of which is controlled by the commercial considerations of the printer-publisher, who in turn is responding to wider social and economic forces. The influences which form the textbook are more easily seen than those which the textbook sets in motion, but "it is in school texts that we find the best evidence not only for the importance and spread of ideas at a particular time but also for the accomodation of particular ideas to the core of intelligibility" (Murray Cohen, Sensible Words, 1977, p. 144). This evidence, however, has until recently been little studied. We still need to discover how much has survived and where it is located.

Ian Michael

A few examples of the content:

Fascinating stuff!

- Ray

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Faux Cyrillic sighting

I just noticed on a bus-stop, on the way home this afternoon, this poster for The Darkest Hour, the 2011 Russian-American 3D SF/horror movie concerning a group of American college kids visiting Moscow and having to fight an invasion of invisible electricity-sucking aliens.

Even though I didn't know the setting until Googling it - the lower picture featuring the Kremlin wasn't discernible from the upper deck of the bus - the general location was evident from the typography, which uses Faux Cyrillic letters.

There's the classic use of Я ("Ya") for one occurrence of "R" (as seen last year at this mesto in Salisbury), along with Д ("De") for "A" (as used on the poster for Borat!), and Ц ("Tse") for "U".

- Яду

Addendum. See Felix Grant's The Growlery - Double delight - for further nice examples.

More on Lindley Murray

Lindley Murray - frontispiece,
Memoirs of the life and writings

Further to the previous post, Comic Grammars, here's a bit more about the 18th-19th century grammarian Lindley Murray. He's an interesting character: an American Quaker who left the USA, due to illness, after the Revolution and settled in York, which had a large Quaker community, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

It has, historically, been a slight puzzle why his massively influential English Grammar became so completely eclipsed by the late 19th century. Francis Austin's essay Whatever happened to Lindley Murray? a study of some of the grammar textbooks used in the early teacher training colleges (Paradigm, Vol 2 (7), December, 2003) argues that he simply wasn't influential in the right places: that while his book was well known to the literati, it didn't get a foothold in the early teacher training colleges at the beginning of the 19th century - they wrote their own grammar texts - and had become obsolete by the time the state school system was established in the 1870s.

The latest biography of Murray - Lindley Murray (1745–1826), Quaker and Grammarian (Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw, Utrecht: Lot Dissertation Series, 2011) is extremely good, and findable online: PDF here. It looks at Murray's life in general, the debilitating illness that left him unable to walk more than a few paces (the author argues post-polio syndrome), Murray as a Quaker, his letters, and his English Grammar (with a particular look at how his grammatical prescriptions often differed from his own usage in his letters).

Murray's own memoirs are also online: Memoirs of the life and writings of Lindley Murray, in a series of letters (1827, Internet Archive memoirsoflifewri00murrrich) along with his other works.

Upgraded from a comment to the previous post:
"Hydatius" writes:

I used to live close to the house in which Lindley Murray lived and wrote his Grammar. It has been, I think, turned into flats but close by there is a Lindley Street and a Murray Street, named in his honour. I believe a school nearby, a Quaker foundation, took custody of some of his furniture and personal effects after his death. In Bishophill the burial ground where he and other prominent Quakers were interred now has flats built upon it but there is a small adjacent garden where some grave markers sit with a prominent plaque outside.

Thanks! I just checked out the places connected with Murray. According to the listed building site, Holgate House, where Murray lived, is at what is now 163 Holgate Road. Murray Street and Lindley Street are nearby (here), as is the school Hydatius mentions: now Mount School, Dalton Terrace. The school has his writing desk and wheeled armchair, and the summerhouse where he wrote his Grammar now stands in the school grounds and can be visited by arrangement; see Name That Shed: Lindley Murray summerhouse and British Listed Buildings.

The Bishophill burial ground is on Cromwell Road, York, in the grounds of a residential development called Tuke House, named after the Quaker family who owned the original house on the site, and you can see the plaque from Google Maps Street View here. It reads:

In the gardens of this house,
a former Quaker burial ground,
are the graves of many Friends,
Friends who wish may visit them.

- Ray

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Comic Grammars

Frontispiece: The Comic English Grammar

I mentioned a few months back - see Henry Sweet - the phenomenon of 19th century grammar books, a huge market - Ian Michael, referenced below, counted 856 - driven by the continuing growth and social anxieties of the middle class that gave rise to English prescriptivism in the first place.

Most grammars of English published in Britain during the 19th century are dull ... There were a great many grammars, issued in very large numbers. They were repetitive; many were merely commercial ventures, scholastically naive ... The vast number of grammars contrasts with the uniformity of their contents. Of all the subjects in the school curriculum English grammar was the most rigid and unchanging ... Teachers had insisted, for two centuries, on writing grammars which added little or nothing to what had gone before.
- Michael, I. (1991), "More than enough English grammars", in G. Leitner, English Traditional Grammars. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 11-26.

One of the most influential - and most reprinted well into the 19th century - was the 1795 English Grammar by the American ex-patriot Lindley Murray.  As described in this review - Two Hundred Years of Lindley Murray - it was classically prescriptive, based on the practice of the best writers (in Murray's view), and appeals to logic, clarity of communication, and aesthetics (again in Murray's view). Much of it comes across as highly pompous and deeply subjective.

It's pleasing to find that even in the 19th century, some readers found Murray's approach ridiculous, and I just spotted David A Reibel's 1996 compilation, Lindley Murray's grammar in caricature: four parodies, which introduces a set of more or less barbed ripostes to Murray. They are: The Comic English Grammar: a new and facetious introduction to the English tongue (1840, Percival Leigh, illus. John Leech); The Illustrated English Grammar, or, Lindley Murray simplified (c. 1843, Anon.); The Comic Lindley Murray; or, The Grammar of Grammars (1871, Anon.); and The Pictorial Grammar (1842, "Alfred Crowquill").

I couldn't find The Illustrated English Grammar online, but the other three are. The Pictorial Grammar (Internet Archive pictorialgramma00crowgoog) is a nice little book, not exactly a parody. It's a perfectly straight grammar, written and illustrated by the Punch contributor Alfred Henry Forrester, but one given a pleasantly droll spin by the drawings - dignitaries, matrons, degenerates and eccentrics - accompanying each example. For instance, "Each of his brothers is in a pleasant situation" has a picture of two criminals in the stocks. The Comic Lindley Murray (Internet Archive comiclindleymurr00dubliala) I found a little laboured; Dublin-published, it's a self-mocking Irish take on English grammar.

The Pluperfect Tense represents a thing as doubly past; that is,
as past previously to some other point of time also past; as,
"I fell in love before I had arrived at years of discretion."
The Comic English Grammar.

But as Reibel's Introduction says, the highlight of the bunch, also written and drawn by veteran Punch contributors, has to be The Comic English Grammar (Internet Archive comicenglishgram00inleig). Part of the joke is that it closely emulates Murray's book, but with a Sellar & Yateman style mixing facts with pseudo-facts and jokes, and partly extends the analysis to a variety of social classes: Cockney, genteel, servants, rustics, and so on.  While it could be accused of classism in mostly holding up the language of the lower classes to ridicule, it's generally an affectionate ridicule, and doesn't omit the affectations and social mannerisms of middle and upper-class speakers. And the cartoons are great fun!

See the following post for More on Lindley Murray.

- Ray

Monday, 2 January 2012

The "Bradshaw Baby", 1953

Reproduced from Helen Hemming's photo collection with kind permission of the subjects: characterful but rather excruciatingly retro images of 1950s childhood via the out-take press photos for a Daily Sketch feature from April 16th 1953, Ask Memory Boy. It concerns a relative portrayed as the "Bradshaw baby" because of his interest in Bradshaw's railway guide (then in the final few years before it ceased publication in 1961). I'm reliably assured that the powers depicted were exaggerated for the purposes of the story.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Found images

Ellen Lea, c. 1930s

My mother-in-law, Helen, died yesterday. There's not much to be said on that; she was 98 and had been very ill for a long time, and her death was both expected and, to her, even welcome. The chore of clearing her flat, however, is producing some surprises: in particular her scrapbook contains many items of historical and artistic interest, and I thought I'd post a few of the less personal ones as a commemoration.  One of my favourites so far is the above photograph of Helen's mother, Ellen Lea, taken probably in the late 1930s: a sensitive portrait with beautiful chiaroscuro.

Another nice image is this photo (unfortunately only in monochrome) of an Alice in Wonderland themed inn sign for The Carpenter's Arms, Limpsfield Chart, Surrey, painted probably in the 1950s by Helen's brother Eric Lea, a commercial artist who worked under the name of Leo Newman. The pub still exists, though it has no particular sign.

A third is the above portrait of Helen herself at 24, in 1937.

- Ray