Wednesday, 30 April 2014

sockbridge english dictionary

The small hamlet of Sockbridge lies about three miles southwest of my home town in the UK. It doesn’t have a shop, or a church. Or a pub. But it does have a trout farm, and it is also home to a small publishing house that specializes in recording changes in English-language usage in modern times. It does so via the medium of its little-known English-language dictionary, the latest edition of which I’ve been assured will be published soon.

“We’ve set as a tentative date for publication the 29th of February in the next year that ends with a double zero,” said managing editor Pete Bogge.

Meanwhile, I’ve been given exclusive access (i.e., a press release) to new definitions of old words that will appear in the new dictionary. Here are some examples:

abandon live entertainment.
accompany affirm.
address female adder.
adultery what grown-ups get up to when they think nobody’s watching.
baccarat support a rodent.
becalm do not panic.
behalf accept a partner.
capsize cranial capacity.
conscience creationism.
contemplate blueprint for successful fraud.
deliberate imprison.
excrement opposite of increment.
express retired journalist.
furbelow pubic hair.
hospice equine urine.
hundred morbid fear of horsemen from the east.
impale beer drunk by pixies.
incite visible.
inquest search for overnight accommodation.
noble short and to the point.
pecan type of crude urinal.
penitent cheap item of camping equipment.
plaintiff routine argument.
prelate early.
propagate entrance that is fit for purpose.
seedy obsolescent format for recorded music.
shampoo fake shit.
stairwell look closely.
suppress initiate litigation against a newspaper.
worships scrap metal.

The editors can also confirm the following:
An island is land; and
The Holy Land is wholly land.

“We’re accepting advance orders now,” said sales director Bill Borde.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

never mind the bollocks

The year is 1978. I’d just returned to the UK from four years in Hong Kong, and for me the popular music scene was an alien landscape. I’d heard about punk rock, of course, but even though as TV critic for a local listings magazine in Hong Kong I probably knew more about what was happening elsewhere in the world than the average for listeners in the territory, I hadn’t heard any examples of what had already taken over the US and UK charts. When I did finally hear a few pertinent examples, I hated it.

This wasn’t a surprising reaction, because part of the political subtext of punk rock was a derisive attitude towards the kind of music I had been listening to at the time, typified by the overblown flatulence of Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans. By 1977, so-called progressive rock had lost its way, and the high point reached by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung had become a distant memory. Instead, fans were being offered pretentious rubbish such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, a prime example of the then-fashionable ‘concept’ album. My only excuse is that with albums in Hong Kong a mere third of the price charged in the UK, I was often buying them unheard.

What would have been a surprise in 1977 is being told that thirty years later I would be listening to, and enjoying punk rock, although I remain unmoved by some of what other commentators have described as quintessential examples of the genre. I even have a punk rock compilation CD in my car that I haven’t changed since we moved to Fanling six years ago, although this lack of change does have something to do with the limited amount of driving I do nowadays.

Nevertheless, I thought that it might be interesting to compile a list of what I regard as the top ten punk rock records. Unlike my Sixties Music: The Top Ten, in which I tried to identify the ten most significant records of that decade, this is merely a list of my personal favourites, with a few comments thrown in about why I like them. I should add a caveat before I begin, because when I arrived in the UK in 1978, punk rock wasn’t the only new thing around; it was merely part of what was, at the time, labelled ‘new wave’. This included reggae-influenced bands such as the Specials and art-influenced bands such as Talking Heads. The Police also appeared around this time, and the band’s name and apparently minimalist style made it easy to mistakenly label them ‘punk’, except that this apparent simplicity disguised a complexity that went well beyond the three-chord stereotype. Finally, there were strange records that defied categorization, such as Devo’s Jocko Homo, which appeared to me to be an attempt to combine gay culture with religious experience by a band that believes the human race is de-evolving (hence the name). None of these records make the list, which is in no particular order.

Clicking on each title will bring up a YouTube video.

1. The Clash — I Fought the Law (1979)
Although the Clash are best known for their political songs (e.g., White Riot, London’s Burning, Career Opportunities), I have selected this song mainly because it is a brilliant rendition of a little-known classic from an earlier era, the 1960s. The Bobby Fuller Four version was not the original (it had been written in 1958 by Buddy Holly’s replacement in the Crickets), but it was the first to be a nationwide hit, and it was the Fuller version that members of the Clash heard during a visit to Los Angeles and decided to cover. The Clash’s version is much heavier than recording technology would have allowed in 1966, and to that extent it is an improvement.

2. The Stranglers — Nice ’n’ Sleazy (1978)
What do you do, as an emerging band, when the zeitgeist emphasizes nihilism, limited musical competence and contempt for establishment values? The answer? Name your band so that it fits in with other bands emerging at the same time. I’ve included my favourite Stranglers track in the list, even though it isn’t easy to identify the band as a punk outfit, even though they made all the right noises (No More Heroes, Peaches, etc.). For a start, keyboards feature prominently in their music, and no casual listener is likely to identify Golden Brown or Strange Little Girl as ‘typical punk’.

This track is also atypical, with a lyric that would not have seemed out of place in one of Rick Wakeman’s extravaganzas of a few years earlier, and a melodic bass line that would have been out of place in anything by any other punk band.

3. Sham 69 — Hersham Boys (1979)
This record could almost qualify as romantic nostalgia, from a time when inner-city gangs wore uniforms (‘laced-up boots and corduroys’) and were more likely to be football hooligans than out-and-out criminals. After all, how many modern gang members would describe themselves thus?
That’s right guv’nor, Jack the Lad
Know what I mean, eh? Know what I mean?
While this is in most respects a typical punk record, the instrumental break is straight out of a western barn dance (‘They call us the Cockney cowboys’). I think they were taking the piss.

4. The Skids — Into the Valley (1979)
This also sounds like a typical punk record, except that the lyric deals with the death of soldiers in battle; the title is a clear reference to Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade (‘Into the valley of death rode the six hundred’). Listening to the guitar solo reminds me of the Drifters’ On Broadway (‘I can play this here guitar’), because what starts as a basic, repetitive riff is concluded by a short but flamboyant flourish that echoes the Drifters’ sentiments.

5. The Ramones — I Wanna Be Sedated (1979)
It would be difficult to overrate the influence of the Ramones on the wider punk scene, at least until Phil Spector became involved in recording the band. I could have chosen several other tracks for this list, so the selection of this one is entirely arbitrary. Good rockin’.

6. The Members — Sound of the Suburbs (1979)
It may be a myth that so many punk bands hailed from small provincial towns or the suburbs of large cities, but this track articulates perfectly the point of being in a punk band:
Johnny’s in his bedroom sitting in the dark,
Annoying the neighbours with his punk rock electric guitar.
7. Iggy Pop — The Passenger (1982)
Iggy Pop was a punk long before punk rock was a recognized genre. His confrontational style is right out of the punk playbook, but this record shows another side of the singer: as a passive observer of all that’s wrong with modern society. It’s an interesting concept: the passenger can look out of his window but is in no position to influence what he sees (cf. George Orwell, Inside the Whale).

8. Wreckless Eric — Take the Cash (1978)
Wreckless Eric and I have at least one thing in common: neither of us can sing. However, unlike Semaphore Signals, where the vocal is excruciatingly out of tune, the singing on this jaunty number won’t set your teeth on edge. And it does offer some sage advice on financial matters:
When they say they’ll pay next week,
You know they never will.
9. The Boomtown Rats — Lookin’ After No. 1 (1977)
The band that brought Bob Geldof to national attention was another whose musicality went far beyond what was required, and it’s probably not a coincidence, given Geldof’s later charity work, that its name was lifted from Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, where it described a gang of street children. I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiments that are expressed in this song, but I do like it.

10. The Sex Pistols — Pretty Vacant (1977)
At the other end of the spectrum, what the Sex Pistols lacked in musical talent they more than made up for with their provocative attitude. This track encapsulates that attitude perfectly:
We’re so pretty, oh so pretty, we’re vacant
…And we don’t care.
And I don’t care either. Having lugged around a social conscience like a ball and chain for most of my adult life, I’ve now reached an age where, although the human race may be going to hell in a handcart, I feel no urge to try to do anything about it. Like the song, I’m pretty vacant. At my age, schadenfreude is a wonderful thing.

Monday, 7 April 2014

photographic abstraction #10

Welcome to the latest instalment in my abstract photography series, which has been delayed by a week following the disturbing news that was carried on this blog a week ago. It may or may not be obvious what the real subjects of these photos are, and you may want to try to work these out for yourself, but you should bear in mind that the original images have been cropped, and contrast, tonal balance and colour saturation have been altered, in some cases quite severely, to obtain the effect I wanted.

You may also want to suggest alternative titles, because my titles are merely a personal response to what I see, and I would expect most viewers to see something different. If you don’t want to see my titles before suggesting your own, then you can click on the first photo to start a slideshow.

remembrance of times past



nuclear winter

walk like an egyptian

other posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction
Photographic Abstraction #2
Photographic Abstraction #3
Photographic Abstraction #4
Photographic Abstraction #5
Photographic Abstraction #6
Photographic Abstraction #7
Photographic Abstraction #8
Photographic Abstraction #9

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

drastic measures

One of my contacts in Brussels recently sent me a leaked copy of a draft directive from the European Commission, which I reproduce below in its entirety.

From the Office of the Harmonisation Commissioner

The European Commission recognises the pre-eminence of English as an international language for the purposes of business, commerce and cultural exchanges. However, there are some areas that are of concern to the Commission, particularly the continuing use of Imperial weights and measures, which have no place in the modern world and must be expunged from the language. We therefore intend to put in place the following remedial measures (offending words have been italicised):

1. Parents will no longer be allowed to name their male children Miles.

2. Use of the following idiomatic expressions will be forbidden: to inch towards; pouring a quart into a pint pot; pint-sized; a miss is as good as a mile; if you give [a person] an inch they will take a yard; to foot the bill; miles away.

3. The spelling of English place and other names ending in –ton must be changed to –tonne (e.g., Evertonne, Brightonne, Southamptonne, Prestonne).

4. Radio stations broadcasting within the EU will no longer be allowed to play the following records: Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford; Chain Gang by Sam Cooke; Eight Miles High by the Byrds; I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by the Proclaimers; Me and Julio down by the School Yard by Paul Simon; I Can See for Miles by the Who; 500 Miles by the Hooters; Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please by Splodgenessabounds; any recording of A Bushel and a Peck from the musical Guys and Dolls; anything by Miles Davis, John Miles, Rod Stewart, the Yardbirds or the Nine Inch Nails.

5. Cinemas in the EU will no longer be allowed to show the following films: The Green Mile; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; God’s Little Acre; Steelyard Blues; My Left Foot; any film starring Vera Miles, Sarah Miles or Gregory Peck.

6. Although William Shakespeare was an Englishman, he is now considered to be of international importance, so some changes to the text of his plays is necessary. We understand that changing ‘inch’ to ‘2.54 centimetres’ will disrupt the rhythm of the verse, so we are proposing that the following extracts be removed in their entirety:
    Gloucester: The trick of that voice I do well remember;
    Is’t not the King?
    Lear: Ay, every inch a king!
    Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my
    Imagination: there’s money for thee.
King Lear, Act IV, Scene 6.           
    Bassanio: Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more
    Than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two
    Grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you
    Shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you
    Have them, they are not worth the search.
The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene 1.           
    Duke of Venice: I am sorry for thee. Thou art come to answer
    A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch
    Uncapable of pity, void and empty
    From any dram of mercy.
    Portia: Tarry a little. There is something else.
    This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood.
    The words expressly are “a pound of flesh.”
    Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh,
    But in the cutting it if thou dost shed
    One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
    Are by the laws of Venice confiscate
    Unto the state of Venice.
ibidem, Act IV, Scene 1.           
    Hamlet: …The dram of evil
    Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
    To his own scandal.
Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4.           
    Hamlet: There’s letters seal’d, and my two schoolfellows,
    Whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d
    They bear the mandate, they must sweep my way
    And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
    For ’tis the sport to have the engineer
    Hoist with his own petard, and ’t shall go hard
    But I will delve one yard below their mines
    And blow them at the moon.
ibidem, Act III, Scene 4.           
    Gonzalo: Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an
    Acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any
    Thing. The wills above be done! But I would fain
    Die a dry death.
The Tempest, Act I, Scene 1.           
    Ariel: Full fathom five thy father lies.
    Of his bones are coral made.
    Those are pearls that were his eyes.
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange.
ibidem, Act I, Scene 2.           
    Lady Capulet: We will have vengeance for it, fear thou not.
    Then weep no more. I’ll send to one in Mantua,
    Where that same banished runagate doth live,
    Shall give him such an unaccustomed dram
    That he shall soon keep Tybalt company.
Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 5.           
    Romeo: …Let me have
    A dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear
    As will disperse itself through all the veins
    That the life-weary taker may fall dead,
    And that the trunk may be discharged of breath
    As violently as hasty powder fired
    Doth hurry from the fatal cannon’s womb.
ibidem, Act V, Scene 1.           
    Oberon: Fetch me this herb, and be thou here again
    Ere the leviathan can swim a league.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1.           
    Prince Harry: …But, sweet Ned, to sweeten which name of
    Ned, I give thee this pennyworth of sugar, clapped
    Even now into my hand by an under-skinker, one that
    Never spake other English in his life than ‘Eight
    Shillings and sixpence’ and ‘You are welcome,’ with
    This shrill addition, ‘Anon, anon, sir! Score a pint
    Of bastard in the Half-Moon,’ or so….
    Falstaff: Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain.
Henry IV Part 1, Act II, Scene 4.           
An international team of experts is currently scrutinising all of Shakespeare’s plays to determine whether other extracts need to be excised.

7. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” is no longer a recognised tongue-twister.

Harmonisation Commissioner

Should we be worried?