California, 1936

swastika california

Erecting a swastika at a German Day party in Hindenburg Park, near Los Angeles. From a Weekly Standard review of two books about Hollywood & the Nazis. (There’s more background on the murky history of the park in this LA Times article.)

Posted in History, World War 2 | Tagged , , , ,


We have a Committee meeting at which several representative Jews tell us of the extermination of their fellows by the Nazis. They have ringed off the Warsaw ghetto and transported two-thirds of the inhabitants in cattle-trucks to die in Russia. It is horrible that we are so saturated with horrors that this Black Hole on a gigantic scale scarcely concerns us. They put lime and chloride in the cattle-trucks and bury the corpses next morning. They are particularly vindictive against children. I have a sense that my fellow-Members feel not so much “What can we do for such people?” as “What can we do with such people after the war?”

Harold Nicolson, diary, 9th December 1942

Posted in History, Notebook, Uncategorized, World War 2 | Tagged , , ,

Bob Marley, Middle East-style

no woman no cry

He would have been 73 today.  Somewhere in one of my files I still have the special edition of West Indian World newspaper that I helped turn out in the days after his death in 1981.  It was hard to believe he’d gone, and today it’s even harder to believe he was only 36. If you need proof that his music continues to transcend cultures, here’s an extraordinary version of his most famous song, performed by an ensemble led by the Bahraini artist Mohammed Al Bakri.  HT: On An OvergrownPath.

Posted in Music | Tagged ,

Folk fail & thrill

There was a standing ovation at the end. I had the feeling that I was the only person in the Union Chapel who didn’t enjoy The Transports:

Its heart is in the right place, and the singing is full of passion, but you still can’t help wondering why this reworking of Peter Bellamy’s ballad opera has been winning so much acclaim on its travels around the country. While there are the makings of a fascinating story in this glimpse of the first convict transportation to Australia, the surfeit of well-meaning narration gives the evening the feeling of a marathon edition of Thought for the Day… The writer Matthew Crampton’s sonorous running commentary proves oddly intrusive. Moving back and forth across the stage and joining in the singing too, he gives us too much information, while the attempt to draw parallels with today’s migrant crisis is surely a prime example of preaching to the converted. Adding Dark Water, Sean Cooney’s song about a Syrian refugee, to the beginning of part two undercuts the flow as well.

Fortunately, Julie Fowlis’s concert at Kings Place was a lot more engaging:

Stadium stars have their light shows and massed troupes of dancers. Julie Fowlis’s only concession to showbiz extravagance was a pair of false eyelashes, which, she confessed, got stuck together during one of the first numbers. Most of us would have been too transfixed by her voice to notice. The Scottish singer’s ballads may be delivered in a language (Gaelic) that few of us understand, yet the purity of her vocals and the deftness of her musicians made this a masterclass in intimacy. That quality came across even more clearly on stage than it does on her latest album, Alterum, where the production values and the occasional string arrangement ensure that she is often shrouded in an early morning mist. A fine album, yes, but the ambience is a little cloying at times — although fans of her singing on the soundtrack to the Disney-Pixar film Brave probably wouldn’t complain about that.

Posted in Music, Reviews | Tagged , ,

Blues album of the month

Elmore James remembered. Featuring Tom Jones, Keb’ Mo’ and many others besides.

Posted in Uncategorized


[A]n abyss divided left and right even during years of relative calm, when political issues were not particularly prominent. The way of thinking of the two camps, their mode of expression, their whole mental make-up, were different. Just as a man of the right would not dream of attending a performance of a Krenek opera, not to mention one of the plays staged by Piscator, a left-wing intellectual would take no interest in right-wing literature about the war. Each camp had its own newspapers, literature, theatre, music, cinema; it was perfectly possible to live without meeting representatives of the other side. If the cartographer of ancient times had marked “terra incognita” with inscriptions such as “Hic sunt leones”, each side believed that outside its own camp there were only skunks and asses.

Walter Laqueur, “Weimar: A Cultural History, 1918-1933”.

Posted in History, Notebook | Tagged , , ,

After the rain 

Posted in Cookham, Photography, Uncategorized

Reading list

Advice from Niall Ferguson in a Q&A with the New York Times:

If you could require the American president to read one book, what would it be? And the prime minister?

I agree with you that it would be wonderful if both Mr. Trump and Mrs. May read one book. I don’t much mind which one it is.

And there’s a plug for Richmal Crompton, author of the “Just William” stories: “She was the Dorothy Parker of provincial England.”

Posted in Literature, UK politics, US politics | Tagged , , ,

The listener

Nick Coleman’s book on the singers and musicians who mean the most to him has its pretentious moments, but you’ll be rewarded if you make it through to the end.  From my review in The Times:

All of us who have made a living from the posher end of the music press have a cleverer-than-thou sixth-former hidden inside us; Coleman isn’t shy about letting his run free. He is quite at home with the “psycho-architecture” of a 45rpm. And while the 1970s Top of the Pops audience saw Suzi Quatro’s Can the Can as something to dance to, he interprets it as “a Grand Guignol of violently stereotyped female sexual jealousy, ending not in reconciliation but with the gleeful restraint and incarceration of male prey”[…] After 80 pages of this sort of thing, you might be tempted to give up and go back to wandering around Spotify. But it’s worth persevering…

He gives us a lovely digression too on jazz. Intrigued by the countercultural imagery of bebop, he went through a beret-wearing phase in his younger days and manned the counter at that Portobello Road landmark, Honest Jon’s record shop. Jazz singers weren’t actually his cup of gin: it was people such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane who really did the business. Was it the music or the nonconformist values it represented that mattered most to him? It’s rare for anyone to look at that question with quite such clarity. He is similarly honest about his inability to fall in love with Frank Sinatra. Above all, there is another important theme, although it does not emerge until the final section. Coleman has already written about his experience of sudden hearing loss and tinnitus in his earlier book, The Train in the Night. It is only at the end of Voices that he makes it clear how profoundly his affliction has shaped his approach to music.

Posted in Music | Tagged , ,


cock marsh

Cock Marsh, Cookham.

Posted in Cookham, Photography | Tagged ,