Monday, February 28, 2005

John Frum

I've been reading David Attenborough's autobiography and have just finished the fascinating chapter about the John Frum cargo cult in Vanuatu. This site, though confusingly laid out, is rich in information about this strange religion; a more straightforward page is here.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Colossians 1:24

Now I rejoice in these afflictions on your behalf; and I take my turn to fill up, in my flesh, those things that are incomplete in Christ's tribulations, for the sake of his body -- that is, the church.

(my translation)

Pottos on the screen

Pottos have been my favourite animal since I first saw them creeping through the darkness of London Zoo's 'Moonlight World' exhibition. Most people have never heard of them, and I've been wondering whether they've ever appeared in a nature film. So far I've got nothing. David Attenborough, bless him, mentioned pottos in 'Life on Earth,' but didn't show any footage. When nature-show producers need a climbing nocturnal prosimian, they usually turn to the potto's Asian cousin, the loris. This is understandable: lorises live in safer countries than pottos and (I believe) tend to be found lower in the trees. However, pottos have some unique characteristics that would make them worth filming. For example, there are their grooming rituals, in which a group of animals twist together so that it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. This display always leaves visitors to the zoo transfixed. There's also the potto's very unusual method of self-defence, attacking predators with the sharp vertebrae in its neck. Perhaps Sir David is up for another project ...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The best things on television

We've spent an enjoyable half-hour or so looking at this nostalgic site devoted to test cards, continuity announcements and the like. Now all we need is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System ...

Did I really hear that?

Woke up this morning to hear a reporter on the Today programme speculating that Gordon Brown had offended the Chinese's natural 'inscrutability.'

Well, at least he didn't praise the doll-like beauty of their women.

Monday, February 21, 2005

New Random Single post

Drive by R.E.M..

I selected the next one last night, and I've now gone and bought four more singles today. My name is Chris Brown, and I'm a disc addict.

I think I'll kill the radio...

Not really, of course.

I'm a pretty regular
Archers listener, but I'm really starting to lose patience, not neccesarily for the first time. It's often criticised for sensationalism, and there's something in that - but it's nowhere near as annoying as when they try to do comedy, as in tonight's saga of Bert Fry learning to read text messages. Oooh my aching sides.
At 7:07 I said I'd give it two minutes before I retuned to Radio 2. At 7:09 I found myself hearing a track from the new Tori Amos album on
Simon Mayo's Album Chart Show and even that was an improvement. Couple this with my increasing frustration at the presentation of the Top 40 (I don't care whether some teenager from the West Country fancies Hanson, I just want to know what records are in the charts and what they sound like thanks) and I think my CD player is going to be busy for the next few weeks.

Hunter Thompson

This is sad, but not entirely surprising.

(Oddly, The New York Times says he was two years younger than everyone else does.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Reading: Janusz Bardach

I've just finished reading Janusz Bardach's memoir of the Gulag, Man is Wolf to Man. As a youth in Poland, Bardach admired the Soviet Union, believing that the Communists were building a perfect and just society. He welcomed the Soviet occupation of his hometown following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. As a Jew, he thought the Soviets were rescuing his family not only from Hitler, but from Poland's native anti-Semites.

It didn't take long for reality to set in. Bardach found himself coerced into serving as a 'civilian witness' while the NKVD brutalised and deported his neighbours. When Hitler broke the pact, Bardach was drafted into the Soviet military. After an accident with a tank, he was denounced by his fellow soldiers and sentenced to ten years' hard labour.

Bardach describes his time in the Gulag with photographic clarity. He spares no detail but is never melodramatic. This is one of the most absorbing books I have read about Soviet history.

My one complaint is that the book doesn't seem to have been proofread, or at least not very well. In particular, the word 'lay' has been misused for 'lie' every time. This is one of several recent nonfiction books I've read where grammatical and typographical errors have gone uncorrected (Simon Sebag-Montefiore's
biography of Stalin remains the champion.)

Bardach also wrote a sequel, Surviving Freedom, which I hope to read soon.

(Note: While looking the book up on Amazon, I found
this entry to their 'Listmania' feature. The creator's story is online, but sadly only in Lithuanian.)

Hello again folks

Sorry about the shortage of updates lately - new computer etc., and trying to transfer the ftp software off the old one.

I hope to finish the next Random Single later today, and then get back to the Gene website, now I know the catalogue won't be added to. Meanwhile, time for a quick update to a previous story.
Although the planning application to bulldoze the North Harrow supermarket and the Usher-endorsed bowling alley failed, the owners of the site abruptly locked up the building, reportedly leaving people's bowling balls and whatever else bowlers have in their lockers.

This week, a revised application for the site seems to have been approved after all. You can read the story on the local newspaper's website, although how they connect it to the War On Terror is not immediately clear:

Friday, February 18, 2005

Poor Port

Recently I've been spending my lunch hour on a long walk. During the past few weeks, this has taken me up Harrow hill to the graveyard around St Mary's Church -- Byron's favourite spot and the place where his daughter is buried. I don't know how it is that I lived in Harrow for five years before discovering it.

Many of the inscriptions on the tombstones have worn away, particularly those further down the hill. However, a stone close to the church caught my eye:

To the memory of


Bright rose the morn, and vig'rous rose poor Port.
Gay on the train, he used his wonted sport.
Ere noon arrived his mangled form they bore,
With pain distorted and o'erwhelmed with gore.
When evening came to close the fatal day,
A mutilated corpse the sufferer lay.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sam Pepys Jr

A few years ago, looking through the bargain box of a now-defunct bookshop in Exmouth Market, I found A Second Diary of the Great Warr, From Jan'y, 1916 to June, 1917; by Sam'l Pepys, Jun'r., sometime of Magdalene College in Cambridge and of His Majesty's Navy Office, Esquire, M.A.; with effigies by John Kettelwell, Newly Engraven at large upon Copper Published in 1917 by the Bodley Head the book is a diary of day-to-day life in London during World War I, written in a pretty good imitation of Pepys' style.

The shop owner didn't to tell me anything about it (that's why he put it in the bargain bin), and for a long time my own efforts didn't turn up much more. A
Google search for the title brought up a few listings from antiquarian booksellers, revealing only that the book was the sequel to A Diary of the Great Warr (duh) and that there was at least one subsequent book in the series. A search for the illustrator likewise brought up a few scattered references.

Finally, enlightenment came in the form of Garry Motter, who read an earlier version of this page and contacted me with the following information:

Like you, my first encounter was with the
Second Diary, but I have since acquired "A Diary of
the Great Warr" and "A Last Diary of the Great Warr,"
being the whole set.

I have also discovered that he is a pseudonym for one
R. M. Freeman. He also wrote "Samuel Pepys, Listener"
in the 1920's, describing his adventures with the
radio. But this one is not so good, and rather clumsy.
It was published by Dutton in 1931, having been
serialized previously by The Radio Times.

A few excerpts from the Second Diary (with supplementary links, mainly from the very useful

May 18, 1916. To the club to committee, where I did bring up the first of my complaints, to wit, the foulness of the windows; and we carried it for a sub-committee to enquire hereon with the steward, namely, myself and two other members; to my great content. Home, and seeing by the way gooseburies being now marked 4d. the lb., I did allow my wife that she now order them for our table; of which I have till to-day eaten only at the club or at others' tables.

July 19, 1916. Up, and an urgent message from Mr. Grainger, our warr works secretary, of his great need of all hands for making splints; and, upon this, seeing news from Genll. Haig of the Germans falling upon our army with the greatest possible force of numbers, I to work with all speed, and had a dozen pr. (the wood-work) done ere I halted for refreshing, thinking of the poor cripples that shall soon need them. So to the club, and ate of a very good veal pasty, to which a pott of ale. The talk is all of the sad condition of our army in Mesopotamia, which is, it seems, now smitten with the cholera morbus. And presently, Major Maggs coming, who was himself of Aylmer's army, but now home of a dysentery, a most grievous report he makes of the whole business from the time of their retreating from Bagdad; how the poor sick and wounded men suffer for lack of chyrurgeons and physick, and other matters, having no beds to lie on, nor boats nor carts to carry them, and, among other things, flyes and scorpions tormenting them to madnesse. ...

Aug. 3, 1916. This forenoon was hanged R. Casement, and at the last moment, it seems, did turn Catholique and has 2 priests to confess and housel him, and were, I hear, a mighty long time about it. His thus turning Catholique is judged a stranger thing in him allmost than his turning German, being Irish, and they do ever make the stoutest Protestants.

Aug. 20 (Lord's Day), 1916. With my wife to the Regent's Park, and to see the menagerie; where I was sorry to find that the great man drill is dead that lived in a hutch by the monkeyarium, and was the ugliest beast that ever was in the world allmost. Speaking of whom with one of their keepers, he laments very grievously our having no longer in London any beast so ugly as he believes the men be in Berlin, by their pictures; allbeit hath hopes of the baboon they put in the man drill's hutch, that he shall grow as ugly as von Tirpitz, if it please God spare him. ...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

In memoriam

I was setting up this web page when the phone rang with very sad news. My aunt, Amy Henry, died today after lapsing into a coma. She had been ill for many years, but no one had expected her sudden turn for the worse.

Amy was one of the kindest and most generous people I knew. She and my uncle were the first relatives of mine that Chris met when he visited the United States. No one could have done more to make him feel welcome.

Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace.