Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Why I like music (continued)...

Here's my first quick attempt at some top ten favourites, although I'm sure are lots of people I've forgotten...

Favourite female singers
Madeleine Peyroux
Stacey Kent
Corinne Bailey Rae
Norah Jones
Cara Dillon
KT Tunstall
Diana Krall
Billie Holiday
                                                          Gwyneth Herbert
                                                          Ella Fitzgerald

Favourite male singers
James Brown
Paul Weller
John Legend
Van Morrison
Bill Withers
Stevie Wonder
Marvin Gaye
Ray Lamontagne
Paul Simon

Favourite bands
Crowded House
Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Foo Fighters
Maroon 5
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
The Gotan Project
Pearl Jam
The Rolling Stones

Why I like music...

Music is great in so many ways.

Music is a universal language. It bridges gaps between cultures that spoken languages simply can’t, leading the way to shared feelings and emotions. It brings people together and creates communities.

Many travelers – even to this very day – take musical instruments with them on trips. In the early days of exploration music could help “set” the mood, expressing the fact the visitors came in peace out of curiosity and were not a threat.

According to biomusicologists, music entered the world from the time animals started to roam the earth and have a very important role in socialisation. Most notably the songs of birds and humpback whales have inspired many of our own composers.

Music inspires and evokes emotion in a healthy way. It touches our emotional being and evokes moods and feelings that are sometimes difficult to express in words.

Music creates ambiance. You can use music to enhance any environment. That’s why it’s used to create dramatic tension in movies or build up a sense of anticipation at sporting events.

Music is spiritual. Music is of the spirit and inspirational to the spirit. All religions use music to help express spiritual values and all religions use music to uplift the spirit.

When Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance was crushed in a thousand miles of Antarctic pack ice in November 1915, he allowed each of his crew to take 2lb of possessions from it, including their boots.

Only one exception was made to this rule: he let his meteorologist Leonard Hussey also salvage his banjo from the sinking ship. Even Hussey was surprised by that decision, but "the boss" was adamant: "It will be vital mental medicine," he said. And so it proved. Music, as Shackleton well knew, was as good a defence as anything against cold and dark and oblivion.

Music sparks the imagination. It invokes mental imagery and inner scenery that opens the mind to amazing insights.

I’m sometimes amazed by the ability of great music to reveal new things. Music intensifies with repetition – like memories whose pleasure and significance grow with the passing of time.

I'd find it really hard to pick my top ten pieces of music. Perhaps I need to warm up to that by picking my favourite songs in each sub-genre of music!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

My favourite Blackadder quotes

“E: Baldrick, where's the manuscript?
B: You mean the big papery thing tied up with string?
E: Yes, Baldrick - the manuscript belonging to Dr Johnson.
B: You mean the baity fellow in the black coat who just left?
E: Yes, Baldrick - Dr Johnson.
B: So you're asking where the big papery thing tied up with string belonging to the baity fellow in the black coat who just left is.
E: Yes, Baldrick, I am, and if you don't answer, then the booted bony thing with five toes at the end of my leg will soon connect sharply with the soft dangly collection of objects in your trousers. For the last time, Baldrick: Where is Dr. Johnson's manuscript?
B: On the fire.
E: (shocked) On the *what*?
B: The hot orangy thing under the stony mantlepiece.”

“Baldrick, believe me, eternity in the company of Beelzebub and all his hellish instruments of death will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me and this pencil if we can't replace this dictionary.”


“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” - General Melchett

“We're in the stickiest situation since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck in a sticky bun.”

“A man may fight for many things; his country, his principles, his friends, the glistening tear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally, I'd mud-wrestle my own mother for a wad of cash, an amusing clock, and a sack of French porn!”

"Bugger me with a fish fork!"

"You see, the ancient Greeks, Sir, wrote in legend of a terrible container in which all the evils of the world were trapped. How prophetic they were. All they got wrong was the name. They called it "Pandora's Box," when, of course, they meant "Baldrick's Trousers." We are told that, when the box was opened, the whole world turned to darkness because of Pandora's fatal curiousity. I charge you now, Baldrick: for the good of all mankind, never allow curiosity to lead you to open your trousers. Nothing of interest lies therein."

"God you really are as thick as clotted cream, that's been left out by some clot until the clots were so clotted up that you couldn't unclot them with an electric de-clotter"

“Madam, life without you was like a broken pencil...totally pointless!”

Why great comedy matters...

The ability to laugh at yourself is very important. By encouraging us to recognise the eccentricities and flaws in others, and ourselves, and forgive them - or even find them endearing - it prompts a very healthy sort of self-analys. 

I guess a lot of comedy could be seen as jokes made at someone else's expense. Virtually 
any joke could be taken out of context and read out with mawkish solemnity to someone most likely to be offended though. Then we’d really stop making jokes which would make the world a poorer place.
There’s definitely a British approach to comedy. A lot of our humour stems from our class system – our divided society – our sense of embarrassment, understatement and respect for the rules, even if we don’t follow them at all times.

Blackadder manages to combine history and comedy so well, covering so much ground from the Middle Ages, and the adventures of King Richard IV, to World War I and the ever funny Captain Darling. The slapstick comedy and word play is brilliant – such great put-downs and witty puns. I particularly like "Ink and Incapability" from the third series about Dr Samuel Johnson’s dictionary.

Monty Python
The brilliance of Monty Python lies in the absurdity of the many situations which the sketch writers explore. This can be particularly seen in "The Village Idiot" sketch.

The Two Ronnies
The Two Ronnies punned like no-one else. I like way they use and abuse linguistic meanings and structures and sounds to find and create humour. They were great at slapstick humour, as well as being amazing character actors - imbuing each character with believable emotion, acting with a lot of subtlety and taking the joke as far as anyone possible good and still getting the audience to laugh.

Yes Minister
Yes Minister made the driest possible subject - the minutiae of politics - into sparkling comedy. It opened the lid on the way the Government really operated.

Much of the show's humour derives from the antagonism between Cabinet ministers (who believe they are in charge) and the members of the British Civil Service (who think they really run the country).

Always buffeted by fate, wanting to do good but too scared of losing votes and status to do anything, the Right Honorable Hacker, MP, is the symbol of all of us, wanting to be better, and not quite making it.
Sir Humphrey, on the other hand, genuinely believes that it is the Civil Service that knows what is best for the country. His actions are motivated by his wish to maintain the prestige, power, and influence he enjoys.
Hacker's use of catastrophically mixed metaphors, his Private Secretary Bernard's fondness for awful puns and maddening pedantry, and Sir Humphrey's laconic wit and brain-wrenching sentences designed to confuse are just brilliant!
I particularly like "The Ministerial Broadcast", in which Hacker is advised on the effects of his clothes and surroundings on his media personae and "A Conflict of Interest" which lampoons the various political stances of Britain's newspapers through their readers. 
That Mitchell and Webb Look/Peep Show
Comedy these days seems to be more about developing long running returning characters whose comedy is found in the way people speak and behave. It’s all about observation of human nature, exaggerated and made grotesque.

It seems to be more about the eccentricities of people and less about the underlying eccentricities of communication. There are definitely fewer puns around. I think the best of the bunch is David Mitchell and Robert Webb. The "Toothbrush Company" sketch is particularly memorable.
Fawlty Towers
Fawlty Towers is more than just a comedy, it's a work of genius. It gave us the most unhinged sitcom hero ever, a brace of unforgettable comedy moments and a biting portrayal of a loveless marriage.
Farce doesn't normally work on television, but somehow in Fawlty Towers it did. Basil attacking his car with a tree, found straddling Manuel in the hotel lobby, being hit on the head by a stuffed moose… all priceless television moments. 
The setting was a pretty ordinary hotel, with Fawlty constantly struggling to inject a touch of class into his tawdry surroundings. His escapades included trying to hide a rat from a hygiene inspector, keeping a dead customer hidden and pretending to a party of his friends that his wife Sybil was ill during their anniversary party (when in fact she's walked out on him).

Basil was the perfect vehicle for Cleese's comic talents: mixing the biting verbal tirades against his wife and guests with the physical dexterity utilised to charge about between self-induced disasters.
Only Fools and Horses
Only Fools and Horses was about loveable, doomed aspiration. It gave the world Derek Trotter, the fast-talking, quick thinking whirlwind at the centre of the show who stirs up clouds of cash, dodgy goods off the back of lorries and affection wherever he turns. And it gave us Rodney Trotter, the ultimate sidekick, straight man and annoying kid brother. 

The show celebrates family values, practical morality and workaday virtues. Family and friends, loyalty and decency, fish and chips. It handles the heavy stuff - thwarted dreams, miscarriage and even death. But can still turn this unpromising material into comedy gold sometimes in a single sentence.
Only Fools even had the perfect ending. The boys started off on their usual journey but this time came away with their dream of becoming rich realised. This happened only once they had grown up, learned how to be kind to each other and everyone else and turn into fully rounded human beings.
Porridge is set in the grimmest place imaginable - a prison. And yet still manages to be both gritty and witty.
Fletch laid down the template for comedy rogues which Del Boy and Fools and Horses followed shamelessly. And who could be a better comedy foil for Barker than doe-eyed innocent Richard Beckinsale. 'Porridge' had proper villains too! 

No sitcom has ever had a character quite as mean as the man who really runs Slade Prison - Harry Grout. And prison officer Mackay, played to neurotic perfection by Fulton Mackay, very nearly stole the show from under the convicts' noses. It's comedy gold.

Father Ted

Father Ted charts the misadventures of chain smoking morally suspect Catholic priest, Father Ted Crilly (the late Dermot Morgan) who’s been banished to a stark, desolate off-shore ecumenical limbo somewhere off the Galway coast, named Craggy Island, for numerous misdemeanours and character defects.

With him are a young, inexperienced, child-like and likeable, but staggeringly stupid curate, Father Dougal Maguire (Ardal O'Hanlon) and the alcoholically hazed, psychopathically monosyllabic retired veteran cleric, Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly). Rounding out the central quartet is the excellent Pauline McLynn as the manically devoted parochial housekeeper, Mrs Doyle.

From this basically simple scenario, writers Linehan and Matthews created a near self contained universe of inspired lunacy and comic invention, which more often than not revolved around Ted's (forever) just out of reach dreams of striking it rich and effecting an escape to the civilisation, and tantalising pleasures of the fleshpots of the mainland.

Everything from the cult of celebrity through the blatant (but very funny) recycling of plots borrowed from every imaginable genre, to the lure of sex and existence of God Him/Her/Itself were routine grist to the comedic mill of the Craggy Island foursome. 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

My favourite quotes

Am I allowed an 11th quote? I couldn't possibly leave this one out...

"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. 

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. 

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others."

Audrey Hepburn

Monday, 20 December 2010

My favourite quotes

These are my top ten favourite quotes at this moment in time and very much capture my philosophy on life:

"The only death you die is the death you die every day by not living."
Norman Vaughan, Antarctic mountaineer on reaching the 10,300 ft. summit of Mt Vaughan, aged 89.

“Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.” George Bernard Shaw

“Being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Anonymous

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation..." Robert Kennedy

"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself." Eleanor Roosevelt

“May I forget what ought to be forgotten; and recall, unfailing, all that ought to be recalled, each kindly thing, forgetting what might sting.” Mary Caroline Davies

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will be fed for life." Unknown.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’
Mark Twain

“People get disturbed not so much by events, but by the view which they take of them.” Epictetus

Friday, 10 December 2010

Why I like art...(well, a lot of it)

The Fall of Icarus by Bill Hammond
I like the way art in general encourages us to explore the possibilities of how we might see the same thing in many ways, depending on the fall of light, the attention we give it or the things that have influenced us.

Repeating life in art becomes a means of holding onto the image. It enables us to access frozen moments that we have forgotten as they pass into memory, fragments we store, misremember and recall when we’re least expecting them.

Abstractionism enables artists and their audiences to get away from linear perspective and a consistent viewpoint and see multiple views of a single object. The artist is doing what the viewer does in his or her mind's eye. They’re constructing the unknown, and the imagined, from the known.

Fish by Constantin by Brancusi
With sculpture, I often get the sense that all the smoothing and rounding and ­hollowing of great, abstract sculptural forms, even their facelessness, has a point. There is a sense of great gravity and rest. The sculptures slow time down to a full stop, and us with it. Critically, the artist needs to let the material do the talking and respect its nature. 

Whilst in painting, an exaggerated use of colour or form often conveys an emotional response to a subject rather than a faithful representation of it that in some way is so much more impactful. 

It's  a tough one to choose just ten artworks that mean something to me. I'll give it a go though. These are not my top ten 'favourites' (which seems too whimsical an exercise), or what I consider to be the top ten 'seminal' or 'greatest' works in the world, but rather those that mean a lot to me and I wouldn't want to live without.

                                                                   Top ten:
The Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch
- Fish by Constantin Brancusi

- Guernica by Pablo Picasso

- The Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch

- The Fall of Icarus by Bill Hammond

- Tangata whenua by Baye Riddell

- Sfera con Sfera ("Sphere Within Sphere") by Arnaldo Pomodoro

- The Cloud Gate sculpture (also known as "The Bean" by Anish Kapoor

- Primavera by Sandro Botticelli 

- A painting I can't remember the name of by Ben Nicholson ;-)

- Composition VI by Wassily Kandinsky

Friday, 3 December 2010

Why I like wild places…

Calgary Bay, Scotland
I like wild places because they remind me of the immensity of the world. When you look out into the unbroken line of the horizon it’s a paraphrase of infinity. Your thoughts are drawn outwards and onwards endlessly. You realise that the world exceeds us – that it’s greater than our capacity for knowledge. The wilderness has prefaced us and will outlive us.

Camping out in wild places - or sailing out of sight of landfall - gives me a complete sense of calm and contentedness, particularly at dusk. 

The sun hangs on the horizon and all of a sudden drops out of sight, spreading its glow along the horizon in its wake. The sky deepens from blue to black and the starry night emerges above.

Kapiti Island, New Zealand
The landscape and the wildlife it contains change at different times of the day. Our senses become more attuned to the scents that spring out of the darkness and the sound of the lapping of every wave against the bows of the boat.

Humanity has always directed dreams of reverence up to the sky at night. It's nice to just sit there in awe of it all.
Top ten:
- Calgary Bay headland, Mull, Scotland
- Carsaig Arches, Mull, Scotland
- Lunga, Scotland
- Kapiti island, New Zealand
- Milford Sound, New Zealand
- Constantine Bay, Cornwall, England
Tiger Leaping Gorge
- The walk from Durdle Door to Lyme Regis, England
- Isle of Wight, rounding the needles, England
- Ras Mohammed National Park, Sharm el-Sheihk, Egypt
- Tiger Leaping Gorge and the First Bend of the Yangtze River, Yunnan province, China