Monday, October 27, 2014

Who's working on the Mississippi?

‘Niggers all work on de Mississippi –
Niggers all work while de white man play . . .’
Every time there’s a new production of Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, there has to be a production meeting about whether those lines (the originals) should be sung, or whether they should be changed (I’ve heard ‘niggers’ change to ‘darkies’ – surely not much difference? – and ‘poor folk’!) The answer is a no-brainer: of course the original text should be kept – the show is a classic and shouldn’t be messed about with. Neither should there be any offence – the ‘n’-word (as everyone now has to call it) was common parlance in southern states of America in the early 20th century, and nobody at the time of the play would have used any word. There should be no hesitation in printing or saying it if one’s using it properly; using it as an insult is another matter. It’s a question of usage.
The current scandal in Australia is about the Professor of Poetry at the university, who in an email to a close friend used a number of highly offensive terms referring to women and aborigines. He claims that they were used in a ‘playful’ way, and that he and his friend had a long-running  competition as to who could be most offensive. I have to say the email didn’t read that way; it seems rather to reveal the inner sensibilities of a man one wouldn’t really want to know. But that’s perhaps beside the point, which is: shouldn't everyone have the right to write things in private without the risk of someone making the words public? I dare say almost everyone has at some time said or written words which they would not like to be generally repeated – an opinion about a friend, for instance. I keep a journal: I certainly wouldn’t like some passages in it to be printed and publicised without my permission. Clearly there must be exceptions: if someone had captured a letter from Napoleon revealing his plans for a battle, one would expect them to have been made known; if someone had actually managed to get hold of a letter from Himmler detailing his plans for the Final Solution, it would have been criminal not to publish it. But in general,  surely everyone has a right to withhold their words, their private opinions, from the public without the fear that some sly interloper will publish them?
It’s never going to be possible for anyone to be completely private again, it seems. Broadcasters are told never to say anything in a studio, even with the microphone turned off, which they wouldn’t say with it turned on. To be completely safe, we will have to take the same view of an email. Won’t we?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A quick sandwich before dying

Another school shooting in America – but this kind of thing now seems to be embodied in the American psyche, and sad that of its young people. We badly need to know why apparently sane young boys decide suddenly to shoot a class-mate (in this case a girl, so possible pubescent love of a fatal kind). As to adults, of course some idiot is always going to be able to obtain a gun and go on the rampage – but the point is that it’s much too easy to do so, and the idiots of the N.R.A. are intent on making it easier still. They are clearly not rational people with whom it is possible to argue, or they would see that ‘the right to bear arms’ is not a phrase which should be permitted to remain in the constitution – that those that inserted the phrase had in mind only the historical  situation at the time when the constitution was written. (This is clearly illustrated by the attitude to constitutional government: the authors would have been appalled that anyone should think that the phrase ‘government of the people’ might apply to people with black skins.) A country’s constitution should not be written in stone.
No country is free of idiots. In Australia for instance there are Members of the N.S.W. Parliament who represent the Shooters’ Party, one of whose main objects is to preserve the right to shoot in the National Parks, to the considerable danger of those who think the parks a good place for a quiet picnic. Time for just one sandwich, then a bullet in the back of the head. And drug-related gangs preside over drive-by shootings which have injured innocent men, women and children. The problem isn’t a simple one. But don’t tell me that making guns a great deal more difficult to get and keep – and prohibiting civilians fro m owning military weapons – wouldn’t be a considerable help.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What Mr Lilly thinks of Scorpio

Qualities of the sign Scorpio   Is a cold, watery, nocturnal, phlegmatic, feminine Signe, of the watery triplicity, fixed and North, the house and joy of Mars, feminine; usually it doth represent subtill, deceitfull men.
Diseases   Gravell, the Stone in the Secret parts, Bladder, Ruptures, Fistulas, or the Pyles in Ano, Gonorrhea’s, Priapismes, all afflicting the Privy parts either in man or woman; defects in the Matrix.
Places Scorpio Signifieth   Places where all sorts of creeping Beasts are, as Beetles, &c., or such as be without wings, and are poysonous; Gardens, Orchards, Vineyards, ruinous houses neer Water; muddy, moorish Grounds, stinking Lakes, Quagmires, Sinks, the Kitchin or Larder, Wash-houses.
Forme and Description   A corpulemt, strong, able Body, somewhat a broad or square Face, a dusky muddy Complexion, and sad, dark Haire, much and crisping; an hairy Body, somewhat bow-legged; short necked, a squat, well trussed Fellow.

Kingdoms, Countries and Cities subject to Scorpio   North part of Bavaria, the Wooddy part of Norway, Barbary, the ingdome of Fez, Catalonia in Spaine, Valentia, Urbine in Italy, Vienna, Messina in Italy, Gaunt, Frankfurt-upon-Odar.
-          William Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gergiev vs Beethoven - who wins?

Everything I hear about the personality of Valery Gergiev irritates and annoys me: his apparently close friendship with Vladimir Putin, his denigration of gays, his extreme right-wing views on pretty much everything. But should we allow this to interfere with our pleasure in his work? Should we support demonstrations against him at concerts he is conducting? I would find it difficult to do that: the case of Herbert von Karajan comes to mind, who if he wasn't a thorough-going Nazi gave a very good imitation, but was nevertheless perhaps the greatest conductor his generation, much applauded, much rewarded. I suppose one can't actually decry greatness in an artist simply because of his political or social opinions; it may prompt us to decline to shake his or her hand, but what if Gergiev (who by his support for Russia seems to be taking a stance against democratic freedom) conducts a wonderful performance of Fidelio, one of the great demonstrations in favour of political and personal freedom. Withdraw our applause from Gergeiv and thus from Beethoven? Well, well -  who said life was easy?

P.S. - Are there many truly great Communist/Fascist, severely right-wing composer, writers, painters?
Can't think of many . . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'Music and women I cannot but give way to.'

Had the greatest possible fun getting together the beginnings of a talk on Sam Pepys and his love of music: he noted in his diary one day when he and his mistress, the actress Elizabeth Knepp, spend the evening together 'very merry, she and I singing; and God forgive me I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteem pleasure above all things . . . music and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business.' She gave way to him, as usual, at the end of the evening.A year later, he was writing: 'I do consider that [music] is all the pleasure I live for in the world, and the greatest I can ever expect in the best of my life.’ Who could dislike such a man? He often combined the two pleasures, of course, teaching his wife's pretty little companion, Mary Mercer, to sing: she obviously had a voice  as pretty and irresistible as her body; alas Pepys could not resist combining the two, and Mrs Pepys understandably turned little Mercer out of the house. The one song of his which is unquestionably his own, 'Beauty, Retire', is by no means bad, but he wasn't a natural composer; but he sang (bass), and played the viol, the  lute and the theorbo. then the flagolet and the recorder, and seriously thought of taking whistling lessons.All that, and running King Charles' navy for him. WHAT a man!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hum alonga Parker

Having to prepare material three or four months in advance always seems to make time go by (even more) unnecessarily fast - somehow preparing a radio programme for Christmas Day seems to have vanished November and December completely - not to mention most of October. Based on the idea that if people have their radios on between 16:00 and 19:00 on Christmas Day it will be as background and what they will want is plenty of familiar stuff, I have come up with the Nutcracker suite, Act II of Boheme, Petrushka, Act II of Traviata, Les Biches, some Steve Ross numbers, Les Patineurs and Act II of Fledermau. If that doesnt get people humming along happily while preparing the (ugh) Brussels sprouts, I don't know what will.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Life's parody

So now my hearing aids have converted themselves into ear-plugs, and have been sent away for repair. Has anyone, every, anything good to say about these devices? Mine, I find, make it possible to hear crockery and cutlery being washed up in neighbouring suburbs, but the human voice? - nada. Well, let me qualify that: if someone stands behind me and speaker very clearly with his or her lips not more than six inches from the device, I can hear reasonably well. When I mention this to the people who supply the things, they say, 'Well, you did go for the cheaper ones.' Let me tell you, old dears, that (call me skinflint) I do not consider  two thousand dollars cheap. And I'm not convinced that top-of-the-range would be much better: as far as I can understand, the main benefit is that youcan carry a device in your hand by which you can increase the volume. So what? Doesn't work for me. I suppose I have to reconcile myself never to hearing music properly again - the human voice I may learn to do without; there are some politicians, for instance, who are much improved by silence. Oh, well - old age is life's parody.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The best bookshop in the world?

I've always thought that the very best sort of bookshop is one which is entirely disorganised, so that the moment you enter it your eye falls on something you never knew you wanted but you now find you have to possess. On that basis, the best bookshop in the northern hemisphere is possible the one at Tenby in South Wales. The only problem is actually entering it!

Here comes the eclipse . . .

An eclipse occurs when a celestial body passes through the shadow of another body. Because they are very clearly seen from earth, solar and lunar eclipses have always been popularly regarded as important astrological events - but they have been given much more importance by lay people than by astrologers, no doubt because they appeared in ancient times to be magical interferances with the natural order of things and the great lights in the heaves. In time, and especially after the invention of printing and the publication of almanacs, astrologers were able to explain how eclipses occurred, and thus divest them of their 'magical, reputation.
A lunar eclipse - an eclipse of the Moon - always occurs when the Moon is full. It is generally recognised, even by non-astrologers, that at the time of a full moon mankind seems to be under special psychological pressure, and this will be exacerbated when there is a lunar eclipse. Such an eclipse generally has something to do with relationships, with emotional upsets and feelings of  restlessness and disorientation. There may be some kind of revelation, some new perspective on one's emotional life. The drama of a total solar eclipse is an unforgettable experience, and the ancient virw of it as signalling significant disaster is not at all surprising. Astrologers continue to regard eclipses in general as malevolent, in particular if they occur on a degree of the horoscope conjunct the Sun, Moon, Ascendant or MC.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

It's really good to be old, and still fairly cool

Sitting out on the patio in Sydney yesterday in a temperature of 91 degrees and drinking up speedily before the ice in the glass melted, it did cross my mind to wonder what is actually going on - the day the clocks go on to signal spring, and temperatures like these? And a fortnight ago people sunbathing on the beach in South Wales in an English autumn . . . Global warming? I begin to suspect that it's so - and if it is, it's probably too late to do anything about it, even in the unlikely eventuality of any government taking real action: and let's face it, no government in the world is going to do that. To make any real difference to the onward gallop of warming  such high taxes would be necessary that no leader of any political party anywhere could countenance it. Yes, in the good old phrase from Dad's Army,  'we're all doomed.' And actually, it's not funny. I'm tempted to say it's good to be in my ninth decade; I shan't be around to see the really bad years to come. Sadly, children under five probably will. And it'll be even less funny for them.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Mr Lilly thinks of Libra

Qualities of the Signe Libra   Is a signe aeriall, hot and moyst, Sabguine, Masculine, Moveable, Equinoctiall, Cardinall, Humaine, Diurnall, of the Æriall Triplicity, and Western, the chief house of Venus.
Diseases   All Diseases, or the Stone or Gravell in the reines of the Backe, Kidnies, heats and diseases in the Loynes or Hanches, Imposhumes or Ulcers in the Reines, Kidneys or Bladder, weaknesse in the Backe, corruption of the Blood.
Places Libra Signifieth   In the Fields it represents ground near Windmills, or some straggling Barne or out-house, or Saw-pits, or where Coopers worke or Wood is cut, sides of Hils, or tops of Mountains, ground where Hawking and Hunting is used, sandy and gravelly Fields, pure cleere Ayre and sharpe, the upper rooms in Houses, Chambers, Garrets, one Chamber within another.
Shape and Description   It personates a well framed body, straight, tall and more subtill or slender than grosse; a round, lovely and beautiful Visage, a pure Sanguine colour; in Youth no abundance or excesse in either white or red, but in Age usually some pimples, or a very high Colour, the Haire yellowish, smooth and long.
Kingdoms, Countries and Cities subject to Virgo   The higher Austria, Savoy its Dukedome, Alsatia, Livonia, Lisone in Portugal, Frankefort, Vienna, the Territory in Greece where sometimes the City Thebes stood, Arles, Friburge, Spires.
-          William Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647)