Friday, 27 September 2013

mythical kings

Although I do not believe in God, or gods, I’ve always been impressed by the art and the craftsmanship that such a belief inspires, from the mediaeval cathedrals of Europe to the paintings of such artists as Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Poussin. On a lesser scale, but hardly less impressive, is one of the five churches in my home town.

Christ Church in Penrith was built in 1850, originally as a chapel of ease, which is odd, given that the parish church is a mere 10 minutes walk away. Its architecture seems to have been influenced by the neo-Gothic style being championed by Augustus Pugin in the early Victorian period, which means that it has more interesting external features than the other four churches in town combined, although according to the Visit Cumbria website, noted architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the church as ‘dull’. It is anything but.

Of note are the mouldings surrounding the doors and windows, each of which is terminated by a small carved head, many of which are men wearing crowns:


Some of the heads are decidedly non-regal, however, although it is difficult to judge from a casual inspection whether they were intended to represent scholars or artisans:


Some of the heads are of women, and where this happens the woman is always on the left, which I assume has something to do with right (dexter) having a higher status than left (sinister). In a real situation, the male partner would be on the woman’s right, so that he could have his sword hand free to protect her if attacked, but here he is on her left:


There is another question. All the heads are different, so it is legitimate to speculate whether the original stonemasons used models when creating these carvings, or whether they were the products of imagination. It is also reasonable to ask whether they were intended to represent real historical figures.

However, the church’s most fascinating feature is its gargoyles, the points along the eaves where rainwater from the roof is fed into drainpipes and thence into the sewers. My first thought is whether these fearsome creatures are products of the stonemason’s imagination or whether they represent the members of some mediaeval bestiary, each of which has a name—Astaroth, say, or Moloch, or Beelzebub.

I have therefore included below photographs of all these monsters, starting at the near corner of the church in the first picture above and working anticlockwise. I have deliberately increased the colour saturation and cranked up the contrast for dramatic effect:










There is one other observation to make: dozens of people walk through the churchyard every day—it’s a convenient shortcut—but I suspect that few notice anything strange or unusual about the architecture, even though the through path takes one within a few feet of the church. This is a shame, because it would be easy, and rewarding, to spend an entire afternoon on a single circumnavigation of the church. I recommend it to visitors and Penrithians alike.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

silly song titles

I don’t listen to modern pop music, so I don’t know if the trend has continued, but in the late 1950s and 1960s, it was quite common for songs to have titles that were completely meaningless. Here is what I came up with after a few moments of thought:
  • Be-Bop-A-Lula by Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps (1956)
  • Rama Lama Ding Dong by the Edsels (1958)
  • Papa Oom Mow Mow by the Rivingtons (1962)
  • Da Doo Ron Ron by the Crystals (1963)
  • Doo Wah Diddy Diddy by the Exciters (1963)
  • Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um by Major Lance (1963)
  • Ring Dang Doo by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (1965)
  • Sha La La La Lee by the Small Faces (1966)
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles (1968)
  • In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly (1968)
  • Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road (1971)
And if you think that these titles are silly, then I must warn you that things are about to become a lot sillier. One of my favourite radio programs is the self-styled ‘antidote to panel games’, BBC Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which has been running since 1972. An idea of the anarchic humour of this program can be gleaned from the program announcer’s closing credits, which suggests that the panellists ‘were given silly things to do’.

These include singing one song to the tune of another (e.g., Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling to the tune of Charles Aznavour’s She); Uxbridge English Dictionary, in which the panellists are asked to suggest new definitions for old words (e.g., randomize—a squint); and a series of games in which the teams are asked to suggest books, songs or movies that would appeal to a specific social group, such as accountants or farmers.

In the spirit of the last game, I would like to suggest a few ‘well-known’ songs that might appeal to an audience of fish:
  • Shark, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Tuna (1954)
  • Theme for a Bream by Cliff Pilchard (1961)
  • Twist and Trout by the Isley Brothers (1961)
  • Cod Only Knows by the Beach Boys (1966)
  • A Plaice in the Sun by Stevie Wonder (1967)
  • Mullet of Kintyre by Wings (1977)
  • Sprat Trap by the Boomtown Sprats (1978)
For an older audience, possible contributions might include Heart and Sole by Hoagy Carmichael and Salmon Chanted Evening by Rodgers and Hammerstein. However, I’ve not suggested Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, which is a genuine title, or anything by Country Joe and the Fish, which was a real band.

I accept full responsibility for the awfulness of these examples, although you should bear in mind the origins of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, which featured two of the later show’s regular panellists and John ‘Otto’ Cleese, later a stalwart of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was a 1960s BBC radio comedy whose stock-in-trade was the excruciatingly dreadful pun—you often heard the studio audience groaning in unison as yet another was delivered.

With this in mind, can you suggest other ‘fishy’ song titles? All your contributions will be published, regardless of how awful and contrived they are. The possibility that they are even more terrible than mine is fairly remote.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

shepherd’s warning

The lazy days of summer are coming to an end. There’s an old Cumbrian saying: ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning.’ I took this photo yesterday morning from my attic window. They haven’t come to an end yet, but I’m sure they will soon.


…and this one was taken two days later (5th September). The apocalypse must surely be lurking just around the corner.