Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Global Warming watch: the price of a loaf of bread

The price of a loaf of bread is set to break through the £1 barrier because of the soaring cost of wheat. . .

. . . Poor wheat harvests in major producing countries such as the United States, Australia, Argentina and Ukraine, and increasing demand, helped push the price of wheat up 35 per cent in 2006 to its highest level for a decade.

Some commodity traders call wheat ‘the new gold’. They believe a combination of the failed production, global population growth and a growing demand for wheat to created bioethanol as an almost pollution-free fuel for cars and trucks mean its price is set to go on rising.”

The article doesn’t speculate as to why there is a worldwide collapse of the wheat harvest. Global warming, anyone? ~ if so, this ironically would neatly limit the scope of the bioethanol industry in future years.

Tudor bastards!

The Holbein exhibition inspired several debates about the Tudors.

J regarded Henry VIII as a mediocre king, but C and I argued his impact on English infrastructure and culture was immense – and obviously pretty malign mostly. The Idi Amin of renaissance Europe.

The Monasteries of the time would have been largely responsible for education, agriculture, and medical services – all of which would have ceased upon Dissolution, with all the money grabbed going to pay for Henry’s luxurious lifestyle and the military instead. His selfish, expedient and hypocritical conversion of the state religion to Protestantism would cause centuries of problems for the country.

But strangely enough it goes even further – according to the Observer, Henry’s Preservation of Grain Act (1532) made it compulsory for every man, woman and child across the kingdom to kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on an official list of ‘vermin’. Quotas for each village were enforced and fines levied against those who did not perform.

Many of the ‘vermin’ were classed as such because of medieval superstition. Hedgehogs were driven to near-extinction because it was believed they sucked milk from the teats of recumbent cows at night. The bounty on hedgehogs was 4p, a huge sum in those days. Hundreds of thousands of the little things were murdered. Also persecuted were woodpeckers and kingfishers.

Interestingly, the wildlife persecution was so successful (the laws remained in place for about 200 years) that many of the animal populations have still not recovered and are threatened with extinction today. So the malign Tudor influence lives on.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Names and titles sometimes are so evocative. I randomly collect them; my favourite title so far is “Keeper of the Imperial Inkpot” – apparently the title of a high-ranking functionary at the court of the Byzantine Emperors.

Holbein’s sitters’ titles are less glamorous, partly because a lot of them are current (the United Kingdom is the last European country still in the ancien rĂ©gime phase of political development).

These caught my eye:

“Clerk of the King’s Signet”
“Page of the Chamber”

However nothing in Henry’s time can match “Silver Stick in Waiting”, a title held in Eizabeth II’s court today.

Tudor names can be glorious:

Cyriacus Hale
Cecily Heron
Lady Meutas
William Parr (younger brother of Queen Catherine Parr)

Ok, the last name is nothing really special. I was just touched by the drawing of the young dude – very much a young dude; I would imagine him as a skater-type boy today. He had a long life for the time, so he definitely survived his sister’s beheading.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Holbein at Tate Britain. Pile-up of the usual Tudor worthies – the Cheneys and Precotts, Bushes and Blairs of their day.

And crowded before them in a crushing last-day scrum, last-minute Londoners and visitors from across the world. Credit to the Tate’s staff who kept the whole thing running efficiently.

My preference is for the Italian renaissance artists – somehow they seem to pull all elements of painting together into a (self-consciously) stylish whole; the Northerns seem to have a weirdly ‘detail-up’ approach in which a painting becomes an aggregate of individual elements which don't cohere in a satisfying way. It’s a different way of seeing, and it certainly can be impressive in the hands of talents like Van Eyck or Holbein (to name just two); and certainly the Italians themselves were blown away by the oil technique; but I don’t appreciate the Northern lack of stylistic fluency. This lack was ultimately remedied by Rubens (extensively schooled in Italian art), and thereafter the somewhat additive Northern manner dies out.

Holbein loves the human face and captures completely convincingly unposed and fleeting expressions – without being able to work from photographs, so really very impressive indeed. His preference for the human subject is proven by the drawings, in all of which the faces are the parts most developed. The luxurious paraphernalia of dress and jewellery is developed in the finished paintings, not the drawings.


I resolve never to attend temporary exhibitions on their closing weekends.

Especially not with relatives from out-of-town who (a) separate into two parties upon arrival in London; (b) collectively have no idea about time or long it may take to get (for example) from the Science Museum to the Tate; and (c) have an aversion to answering their mobile ‘phones or (d) don’t ‘phone you when they get involved in spontaneous and exciting good Samaritan missions to aid completely random little old ladies from Pimlico with their weekly shopping.

On the plus side, I can report that the Computer Games exhibition at the Science Museum is apparently totally engrossing.

I resolve never to attend exhibitions on their closing weekends on rainy afternoons when the cloakroom queue at the Tate is 5 miles long.

Monday, January 08, 2007


According to Joe.My.God. and Evilganome, beards are in and they are hot. Woof! I’m cresting on this trend, as I seem to have given up shaving since Boxing Day. Hairy Hedgie, that’s me.

Never before in my adult life have I ever grown any facial fuzz (so inhibited was I by parental prohibition) so I feel weirdly rebellious. Striking a blow for freedom for facial follicles.

Alas, yet to achieve the sort of recognition that Joe and Evilganome report, but I can attest that ladies of a certain age seem to find me irresistible. My neighbour squealed with delight when she saw me (she says she likes beards – and come to think about it her husband is fully bearded), and on my way to the Tate in the rain I was picked up by a lost and discombobulated Mittel-European in a fur coat and plastic hairdo-protector who requested my assistance in breaking into the arts college next door. She was under the impression that that was the Tate and was puzzled that it seemed to be locked.

And yes, ok, a handsome young man inside the Tate gave me a lingering look. Woof!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Saturday in London

I like winter when it gets extreme – really cold, so one can be cosy inside; or really snowy, so we can enjoy silly city snow fun and bond over all the urban transport disconnects; or when it really rains like it did on Saturday.

I love the weak grey light mixed with the warm and blinking city lights, the drifts of sparkling raindrops, the towering skeletal trees. Everyone bundled up; umbrellas floating through the dusky half-light.

And then into the tube where we bake and steam.

Friday, January 05, 2007

January market forces

New Year in Sainsbury's - Hedgie takes his place amongst the assembled hordes standing in front of the chilled soups section, all looking hopelessly at the near-empty shelves.

Jeez. I'm not on diet! I just feel like soup at this time of year.

However - over in the snacks section: Pringles half price! Yay!

So it's Pringles for dinner :-)

Washed down with copious quantities of G&T.

Bottled water causes global warming

The backlash starts here. The Londonist makes a strong case:

"London tap water is essentially free, has zero carbon footprint, does not add to landfill, is supposedly better regulated than most bottled varieties and tastes better than other regional tap waters. So why aren't the eco-warriors getting their teeth into the issue in a big way?

Selfridges have just upped the ante by selling a half litre of water for a ridiculous £2.79. And it's flown or shipped in all the way from the Catskills in New York State. This is stupid. And anyone who buys a bottle is a crazy, irresponsible foo'."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Desperate Housewives

OMG! Most classic Bree line ever ~

"I don't do that! I'm a Republican!"

It's back! Yay Yay Yay Yay Yay Yay Yay!

Pan's Labyrinth

I saw the trailer and was entranced with the visuals – but then Mark Kermode’s Five Live podcast (around 9:50 in the stream) really motivated me to go. I was half listening, but vaguely gathered Mr Kermode’s extreme enthusiasm for this movie – in the same league as ‘Citizen Kane’blah blah blah.

I actually tend to agree. The genius of the film is its extreme ambiguity: we never really know for sure if the fantasy is ‘real’ or just a child’s fantasy – and even within the fantasy Pan is a deeply dubious moral figure. The fantasy can be read as the child’s psychological attempt to cope with the reality of her situation: but the movie shows, over and over again, all the adult characters telling, believing, living their lives by stories – ultimately, Fascism itself is a kind of story being imposed on Spanish reality. Reality keeps biting back, for all the characters, creating narrative challenges which are then incorporated in yet more narrative. Narrative is a force of nature for us – we can’t do without it, and yet what we believe leads us to destruction.

Right at the beginning the heroine Ofelia’s weak and sickly pregnant mother derides the child’s continuing belief in fairytales yet tries to force a new story on the girl – asking her to call the Captain ‘father’ – “it’s just a word” she says. Big error.

The evil stepfather Captain totally identifies with his own father’s ‘hero’ story and one sees his skill in manipulating narrative – in the torture scene in particular, where he excrutiatingly plays on the victim’s and viewers' imaginations, making the scene virtually unwatchable, even though the actual violence is far less graphic than elsewhere in the film. The most vital thing in the Captain's life is that his own story will be passed safely on to his son - even at the expense of the baby's mother's health.

The movie is about narrative and humanity’s slavery to narrative; about our use of narrative to control or explain or justify our moral choices. Guillermo del Toro shows narrative to be a powerful yet amoral fact of human existence. What moral salvation there can be for us is predicated on an attempt to escape the rote demands of following the narrative; by questioning the narrative that imprisons us.

Criticism that the film does not adequately integrate the two narrative streams does not recognise the major thematic links between the two halves, or the extent to which the film is a meta-narrative, unaligned to either genre but instead utilising both. And to be absolutely fair, the editing links between reality and fantasy are amongst the most bravura and extraordinary I have ever seen.