culture

It begins with a movie…

I was in the mood last night to watch a movie. Mary Magdalene is currently on All4 on-demand so I chose this; but it is one of these films were the director thought it was okay for the actors to mumble their lines during softly spoken moments. I find this irritating so I gave up on it after thirty minutes and switched to an old movie – Fear No More – which I found on Youtube. Even though this was a bit of a B-movie, and one of the principal actors had a distinct accent which suggested English wasn’t his first language, there was no lack of clarity in the dialogues.

Scientific Jesus – 5’ 5” in stockinged feet

This morning, my curiosity of Mary Magdalene had the better of me and I googled it to see how it had been received by critics. Across the board, it averaged 45-50% which is about right, though most criticism was concerned with its dullness, or “toothless” portrayals of the gospel narratives.

Reading further accounts of Mary herself, I hadn’t realised how important a figure she was in the Jesus story – the apostles’ apostle. Her name is written more times in scripture than those of most of his disciples. Later patriarchal christianity turned against her, conflating her character with that of another Mary, a fallen woman, a possible prostitute. This myth still carries weight in some quarters.

Contrary to her portrayal in the movie – as a simple working fisherwoman, seen on the beach, mending holes in nets – some accounts say she was likely a wealthy woman and had supported Jesus in his mission.

Jesus in the film is played by Joaquin Phoenix, so its Jesus looks a lot like Johnny Cash; in his hippy period, no doubt. He looked a lot older than his early thirties too, I thought. (Released in 2018, Phoenix would have been 43.) But it was the unkempt long hair and beard which was the problem. Had wardrobe not kept abreast of the news?

Not much is written about his appearance in the gospels but the prophecy of Isaiah has him as a disfigured man people would turn their face against. Of course, Christianity – a simple faith for simple minds to understand – wouldn’t understand that and so over the centuries, Jesus has been depicted not as an especially unhandsome dude, but looking a bit like you, or me.

Joaquin’s sun-blocked, ageing hippy Jesus

It’s quite a surprise – though not shocking – to see how science portrays the man based on all available evidence and assessments: a shortish, thick set man, dark olive skinned, and with short hair and a trimmed beard. Far from turning away from the sight of him, you’d probably not notice him at all in a crowd. If he was a wanted man, the authorities would need for someone who knew him to point him out amongst the rest. Hmm.

Here is a post in Medium about the visual depiction of Jesus which provided some material for this post.

I like the comments Medium readers leave; this one, I thought, was particularly funny,


“Respectfully, it should be pointed out that Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God. If we accept this premise, wouldn’t he have looked something like his father?”


It reminds me of a story my Mum tells us of a nativity play at some junior school in the 60s. The kids all had parts to play, the more confident and reliable ones play the parts with the most lines to memorise.

A boy – playing the principal shepherd, I think – was much more confident than his memory was reliable. Looking into the manger, he forgot his given line and no amount of off-stage whispered prompting from teacher could bring them to mind. So he improvised and said, in the clearest voice, what he must have heard adults say to new parents many a time,

“Ooh! Doesn’t he look like his father!”

He brought the house down.

God, where art thou?

Giles Fraser, writing in Unherd (2019) about a poll on the most religious constituencies in Britain (Northern Ireland wasn’t included in the poll) found that belief in Gods for our source of morality is higher in cities than in the countryside. He imagines that the higher numbers of immigrants in cities accounts for this, and he may be right.

However, he doesn’t agree that morality stems from religion; it’s just that the religious think it does. This is very plausible; the cart before the horse, kind of thing.

I was wondering whether religiosity across the kingdom was more to do with environment. If you live in the heart of a concrete jungle, you will seek god; if you live amongst nature, you’ve found it.

Wall #2

The kind of stuff we watch of an evening on Youtube probably gives a real insight into what we like and what influences us. Here’s six recent watches taken from my viewing history list,

Public Eye is something I remember from childhood. It was an alternative, if not an antidote, to the numerous PI series on telly, mostly imports from the States, nearly all depicting a heroic pugilistic protagonist living an enviable lifestyle. Not so Frank Marker. He was down-at-heel affordable, principled, altruistic and, in hindsight, possibly somewhere on the spectrum.

The drama ran through ten years between 1965 and 1975, though much of the earliest episodes are lost due to the policy of wiping tapes for reuse. Most of what remains is watchable on Youtube. I think no one cares to much about it to order its taking down. I think its a gem of exemplary telly drama but at the same time I doubt it would have an audience these days.

The later episodes written dealt with social issues. This story deals with homosexuality; lesbianism, though likely not as threatening an issue as gay men at that time. Whatever happened to Susan Penhaligon?

So the world did change but not as the guys in Ten Years After seemed to have wanted it to. “Everywhere is; freaks and hairies; dykes and fairies; tell me, where is sanity?” Extraordinary to think this was popular youth sentiment at the time. Still, he does go on to sing about redistribution of wealth…left wing, then? It’s a good tune though.

Orwell is possibly the most under-read and misinterpreted commentator of his time. And I think he was of his time. The actor playing him here (he looks familiar but I can’t recall his name) bears a good likeness to the author. The comments below the video are way off the mark. It makes me wonder how many have read him and know what he was writing about.

The clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is both funny and closer to reality. I’m happy to find a good piece of Python as I think it was over-rated, over-done and desperate. Too many cooks?

I can’t seem to get enough of Brother Insight, aka Br. Thich Man Tue, and his demonstrations of Qigong self-massaging therapies. In this one he is doing a daily stretching routine and it’s like watching a graceful dancer rehearsing a series of moves.

I don’t know much about Qigong. I see parallels with yoga practice, and I once did a term of Tai Chi; some of those moves seem vaguely familiar. I haven’t the discipline to embark on this kind of thing but simply watching Brother Insight puts me in a good mood.

Another regular Youtube event, almost daily owing to lockdown, is Colt Clark & The Quarantine Kids. I believe the girl is Bellamy and it’s curious that such a youngster knows how to do a cockerel strut au Mick Jagger, straight out if the 60s. Warms the cockles of your heart, as they once said.

Three Youtubes and a Phone Call

Antisocial Buddhism

“Once you feel you are avoided by someone, never disturb them again.”

I’m not big for posting quotes but one evening, I was idly perusing Youtube‘s recommended offerings and found a slideshow of sayings attributed to Buddhism. I don’t know if any of these were Gautama Buddha‘s authentic words or not, but this one made me smile. It seems so modern; and maybe it is.


Blast from the Past

Youtube sometimes highlights gigs I ought not to have missed. For me, live recordings often don’t match up to the live event. There must be some trickery used in the recording studio which makes a studio recording superior to a recording of a gig (what am I saying! Of course there is; that’s why we buy the damn pop records).

I’ve watched this one before, some years ago, but it resurfaced amongst the recommendations this week. It’s Steve Marriott’s Packet of Three playing at the Camden Palace, a venue in easy reach of me during the mid 80s. I could’ve been there* and wished I had been. Still, unlike most live recordings, the energy still shines bright on this little gig, I reckon.

I’d watched a documentary about The Small Faces earlier in which Ronnie Lane said of their beginnings, none of them could play [their instruments]. They hit the floor – or the stage – running.

It’s a shame they didn’t make any money, or much as much esteem as is granted some of their contemporaries. Marriott, evidently still the cheeky cockney, artful dodger persona, both in the included interview and in exchanging bon-mots with individual members of the audience, still sings an ad-lib line about being a short, fat, balding has-been. God bless him.

Whatever happened to the man interviewing Marriott at the end of the video? Nicky Horne. If memory serves, he was one of the originals on the start-up of Capital Radio, London’s own officially independent and legal radio station. It was good and much needed in the day; don’t know much about it these days, probably obsolete.

(there’s an extended version of the show here but as with a lot of embeds, playing it outside of Youtube is prevented by its owner. Check your embeds, folks!)

(* actually, no, I couldn’t have been there. On reflection, I was living and working in Sydney.)


Sort of Interesting

Keeping hold of self-effacing for a moment longer, and dismissing Buddha entirely, Daniel Brown is now top of the charts for Youtube narrowboat vloggers. Oh, I wish I had the credentials to Vlog!

I understand he is the original: double you-oh-oh-oh! Original narrowboat vlogger, that is. They had him turn on the Christmas lights in his home town of Oswestry, in Shropshire – a town which appears brutally truncated in the crease between opposite pages in my copy of the AA Road Map of Britain 1993 (all new revised edition featuring three additional road signs).

In 2021, it’s predicted he’ll be a star celebrity on Strictly Come Dancing. This is where you heard it first.


O, Mrs. Raven!

Do you remember Mrs. Raven? She was the GP’s receptionist in the silly superhero sit-com, My Hero. The character was superbly played by Geraldine McNulty but credit too to the writers for sure as I can’t remember a comedy stereotype depicted so close to reality as her doctor’s receptionist.

I’m reminded of this after a brief and terse phone conversation with my surgery following a text message offering me a jab at their flu clinic. The woman couldn’t be less helpful or more inconsiderate if she was fully-trained to be so – and who’s to say they aren’t? They’re all alike! Stereotypically.


Sandmanjazz asks questions

Sandmanjazz’s Q & A. Three questions requiring answers from me.

If you could have your hair any colour for 24 hours, what colour would you choose?

Ultra-violet. It would attract butterflies and bumble-bees. Wouldn’t it be cool.

Are you a Hitchcock fan? If so, what is your favourite movie?

I’m not a Hitchcock fan but I do like North By Northwest. Cary Grant isn’t an actor with a broad range but I think he suits his character well in this film. Eva Marie-Saint and James Mason too.

Also, I like the particular scenes that we all know well by now: the guy at the bus stop saying, “it’s funny, he’s spraying where there ain’t no crops” before the thrilling plane chase scene, and the bit when he’s shaving on the train with the lady’s razor.

It’s a good plot and narrative.

Do you decorate for Autumn/Halloween and will it be affected by this year’s craziness?

This is a relatively new thing in England. Trick or treat and Jack-o-lanterns. Yes, we cut a pumpkin and put a candle inside for Hallowe’en. Get some sweet treats in for the neighbourhood kids.

It wasn’t done when I was a kid; we did “penny for the guy” which was basically begging on the corner, accepted as tradition. The money supposedly went to buy fireworks in celebrating of Guido “Guy” Fawkes’ failure to blow up the Houses of Parliament centuries ago. You’d make an effigy of Guy – called “a guy” – to be burnt on a bonfire on the night of the 5th November. Or the nearest Saturday.

The Tune Inside My Head

i. Internal Music

Every so often, out of nowhere and without apparent cause, I’ll get a snippet of a song come into my head. I’m sure it happens all the time to a lot of you out there too.

It may be a line or two, a riff, a solo, or a rhythm. Sometimes it’s obvious what the song is but occasionally I rack my brains to remember which song. That’s the fun part.

Other times, it may arouse my curiosity further: as to its origins, who wrote it, whether the version I know well is the original or a cover, who played on the record, and so on. And it doesn’t always turn out to be what I might have believed it to be.

ii. Dreaming

Though I don’t usually remember my dreams, last night was an exception. It was a crazy dream about going into town with a group of youthful mates, exchanging shoes with one of them (don’t ask me why?) and I remember having to run down the street in these odd shoes. I mean they were odd in their appearance – kind of oversized and woollen or felt – AND odd because the left and right ones just didn’t match at all: one brown with black laces, and the other green with white laces!

iii. A Song

Anyway, I rose out of bed singing in my head, these lines,

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school,
or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool,
or find myself a rock ‘n’ roll band, which needs a helping hand…

Of course, that’s an easy one to figure out but it still got my curiosity going.

It was probably among the first chart number ones I really took much notice of as I was beginning to listen to music more intently. On TV, it was mimed by Rod Stewart and The Faces, with the DJ John Peel having a cameo part, sitting on a stool playing a mandolin. This was all fakery.

It was a Rod Stewart solo song recorded with session men, and when it came to crediting the musicians for the album sleeve, he couldn’t remember the mandolin player’s name, only that he was with the band, Lindisfarne. It is Ray Jackson.

Okay, Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan, both of The Faces at the time, played a part in the recording, but the others weren’t involved. Wood played bass as well as guitars, and the drummer was Micky Waller. Something new, at least to me, is a credit for a “celesta” (Pete Sears).

What’s a Celesta?, you may ask, and it’s a good question. But you’ve no doubt already heard one, quite clearly, and not realised it’s a celesta. It’s the well-known classical piece, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The celesta is a keyboard instrument, looking a bit like an upright piano, where hammers strike tuned metal plates, or bars, which resonate against wooden blocks. Tchaikovsky loved its sound, it seems.

Unlike most pop songs I’ve ever heard, I think the lyrics to Maggie May are well crafted, intelligent and imaginative. A proper ballad. They are credited to Roderick Stewart which I wouldn’t have guessed simply as he has recorded a lot of cover songs. The co-creditor is Martin Quittenton who also played guitar on the recording.

At the time, Stewart was uncertain about the song’s worthiness and conceded to the record company’s preference for the session’s other cut, a cover of singer-songwriter, Tim Hardin’s excellent Reason To Believe, as his new single’s A-side. But radio DJs and the public had other ideas, and the single became a double A-side with Maggie May becoming the most air-played and, instantly, the more popular tune.

It was no.1 in the UK for five weeks running, and elsewhere too. It is also reputedly the highest selling single of all time featuring a mandolin, yet only credited as,

“…played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”


I’m sure I can hear the celesta clearly around the 2:35 mark, coinciding with when he begins to sing those very lines I remembered above. No celesta in the tv studio though, nor are their guitars plugged in.

Today, a bit about trombones

Out in the car this morning, I caught about two minutes of an interview with someone whose name I didn’t catch but he was asked to play something on his trombone. The piece took about twenty seconds, he was thanked for coming on, and the two presenters moved swiftly on to something completely different and I returned to my USB playlist.

Driving along, I thought of an old movie I’d found on Youtube a few years back. Paris Blues stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier. It also stars Louis Armstrong as band leader, “Wild Man” Moore, but essentially playing a version of himself. It’s about American jazz, and musicians playing in Paris clubs. Sidney Poitier appears cool, as he always did, holding a tenor sax, but they gave Paul Newman a trombone!

The slide trombone is a peculiar instrument with a bumbly and rude sound. It’s distinctive though. Yet, I’d guess, not being a musician myself, oddly unappealing for a chosen instrument. I wouldn’t know why a person would take it up, unless they arrived too late and it was the only thing left in the horn box apart from a tuba. The guy from the radio did say his was lying around the house having once belonged to his older brother. We never heard why the brother had it initially but we can infer he abandoned it. I also wonder if it’s hard on the arm. At first? I wonder if, like tennis elbow or housemaid’s knee, there is a medical condition known as trombonist’s arm.

Yet, more yet, I might say the trombone was one of the reasons jazz appealed to me after decades of listening to rock music: from heavy to prog., through folk and country, across punk and new wave, and into indie. Despite all those names, it was almost always two or three electric guitars, a drum kit and vocals. I still have an ear for it but it is, to me, the genre in the corner, surrounded by a lot of wet paint. Don’t ask me why it remains so popular. I listen for nostalgic reasons only.

I’m trying hard to think of any trombone involvement in a rock song. If you know, please let me know. Meanwhile, here’s John Coltrane’s Locomotion, featuring a solo by trombonist, Curtis Fuller,


top image: photo still from “Paris Blues” (1961)

bottom image: Curtis Fuller

Save the environment, curb your blogging addictions.

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging this week. This is because I am saving the planet, for our kids.

Not really.

It’s just that I’m in full time employment for now, it’s summertime and the light evenings are long and beautiful, and I have the garden to sort out.

I did read a funny news article this morning concerning our collective internet use and its effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently, a research group has calculated the total carbon dioxide produced by online pornography is equivalent to that of Belgium. I wonder why Belgium; did they show up in data as being particularly interested in streaming erotica? Of course, to get a decent any handle on the seriousness of that statement we would first need an idea as to whether Belgians are light, heavy or moderate web users; it might be bad, then it might not be as bad as all that.

They say that all of the global internet use accounts for 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions and we should cut back. The greed for ever higher quality is unnecessary. No doubt most of what goes on with the internet is unnecessary. Take Facebook.

But it is hypocritical to look down our nose at scrolling kitten portraits, images of moody landscapes captioned with pithy statements in Helvetica 32pt white font, gifs of strangers doing silly things, over and over, silly gifs of people doing mundane things, over and over, etc., etc., without regard to our own unjustifiable addictions, abuses and wastefulness of the online resources.

Crudely worked out, if everyone cut back by 25%, the impact might drop from 4% to 3% – of course, I have no idea how the red hot throbbing machinery of the internet works in reality. Maybe the burners have to keep firing full blast regardless of fluctuations in use. But at least there’d be a slow down in future demand, if not a levelling out.

The end is coming, I can almost sense it.


Porn Produces Same Amount Of Carbon Dioxide As Whole Of Belgium, Study Finds (The Independent, newspaper)

The Joy of a Random Segue and of Reading at Odd Moments at Work

On Music

I’ve said I’m back working. Just for a bit, hopefully, as I realise I am genetically unsuited to it. However, as into each life a little rain must fall, so too does every cloud have its silver lining.

In the hour long drive at each end of the day, I’m enjoying listening to my playlist again. Ever since I owned a car and had audio fitted – a twenty-five quid diy job for my first car, I remember – I’ve always loved listening to music while driving. At the start, it was tape cassettes; a fiddly process at the best of times and always a risk of the machine chewing up your favourite recording. Thank Apollo! for digital and the invention of the USB memory stick, a thing half the size of a thumb which holds 750+ songs and that’s only half its capacity. I plug it in the car’s audio and request “Shuffle” and it plays my favourite songs in a random order.

I could make my own playlists, as I did with cassettes. The problem with this, for a perfectionist like me, is getting the segues right so that the mood of the music flows. This is not as simple as it sounds and it’s a good reason to leave it up to the mindless machine. However, even the uncultured gadget occasionally delivers beautiful segues and makes me think, I must make a note of that. But I never do. I haven’t worked out how to make notes while driving along.


On Reading

I’ve also started to grab an odd moment at work to read. This might mean the last ten or fifteen minutes at the end of lunch. It’s easy to think, ah, ’tisn’t worth getting out the book, or tablet, for such a short time, but I’ve found it is.

Reading at different times of the day and in different environments is surprisingly a different experience to normal, I find. Habitually, I tend to read last thing at night. Contrary to what experts say about reading off an illuminated tablet, I don’t find it induces insomnia. I actually find I’m nodding off and though I’m following the text, there’s a point when I’m not taking anything in. This isn’t really a good way to read at all but, in a busy day, it’s the only time regularly available.

At work, I find these moments where there isn’t much else to do. It’s not time to get back to the grindstone but lunch is eaten and I’ve done all my personal chores like checking my finances, answering personal emails, and shopping. It may be just ten minutes but out comes the iPad and I kick back and read a few paragraphs, and I realise it’s a different kind of joy. And whatever it is I’ve read stays firm in my mind, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?


image of person reading by Blaz Photo via Unsplash.com

Don’t mess with Mr. In-between

The idea of the grass being greener on the other side, and its close cousin, the “what if?”, both of which inspired my previous, flash-fiction post, leads me somehow to think about a theme song for this blog. Blogs ought to have a theme song, don’t you think?

And I’ll let you into a secret; there are times when I tear myself apart keeping my posts away from being downbeat. I’ve actually written lots of stuff about politics, irritations, wrong-headedness and all the rest we inevitably come across, and I bin it straight after. Or, if there’s a particular thing I liked within it, it goes into Drafts, blogging’s purgatory corner or naughty step – and then, after a while, when the Drafts are beginning to look like forming their own breakaway blog, I purge with malice gusto.

It came to me in a flash – where flashes come from is a mystery – something I had once on vinyl from the soundtrack of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. And here it is for your delectation,

Composer, Harold Arlen, really puts some swing into it which is irresistible, and which compensates favourably, in my opinion, for Bing’s naturally lugubrious baritone. If it wasn’t for The Singing Detective introducing me to this, I might opt instead for the Johnny Mercer version, but The Andrews Sisters make a sweeter contrast in Bing’s version than The Pied Pipers do in Mercer’s. Johnny Mercer, by the way, wrote the lyrics.

Anyway, that’s my theme tune and if I can get it to play every time you visit my blog, I’ll be a very happy man. Be sure to sing along…


(hmmm, you know the more I play it, the more I like Johnny Mercer’s upbeat voice. Might have to change the theme…)