Friday, September 14, 2012

I want to eat with the common people

I saw this interesting article by Ashley Miller posted on Facebook: The food of my childhood, the food of Southern poor white trash. At the end of the article, the author gives a list of foods that are considered lower class. And many of them sound yummy, though I have no idea what some of them are.

It's sad but true that what you eat is often construed as a class marker, as much as what you wear. Posh people eat caviar, poor people eat chips (allegedly).

Remember when Edwina Currie was rude about working-class eating habits?

However, I think we should celebrate regional food, and food that is considered "lower-class". It's often fun, cheap to eat, quick to make, and comforting.

Here are a few delicacies that are probably considered "not quite the thing" but are wonderful.
  • Chip butties
  • Crisp sandwiches
  • Black pudding (why hasn't someone invented a vegetarian version of black pudding?)
  • Mushy peas
And then there are the "posh" foods that are also yummy, like olive tapenade. Now there's a thought, how about olive tapenade on chips?

Ooh and does anyone else roll white bread into balls of dough?

Please add more examples in the comments and say where they are from.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anna Karenina

Went to see Anna Karenina last night - very interesting (though not particularly emotionally engaging - but perhaps that was the intention). The whole thing had this theatre motif running through it, with sliding sage sets and views panning out to reveal that they are framed by theatre sets, and people walking through wings and flies of theatres to get from one scene to another. Most peculiar. It was rather Brechtian in the way it emphasised the unreality and made you think about the themes.

The acting was OK - Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Karenin (her husband) and a guy I didn't recognise as Anna's lover. Actually didn't recognise Jude Law with a beard! The script was excellent and was by Tom Stoppard (playwright who has also adapted Parade's End for TV, which is on at the moment).

The sets, scenery and so on were stunning in spite of the annoying theatre set thing.

[plot spoiler alert]

So the main point of the story seems to be a reflection on marriage and fidelity. Konstantin (possibly a clue in the name there) loves Kitty - but she is infatuated with Bronsky. Konstantin proposes, but too soon, and has to try again later. At the opening of the story, Steba has been unfaithful to his wife, and Anna goes to persuade the wife to forgive him, which she does. We also see Anna and Karenin together, and it's clear their marriage is solid and virtuous. Then she meets Bronsky and they fall in love, and gradually her resolve not to poach the bloke that Kitty wants, and to remain faithful to her husband, is eroded. But her husband finds it much harder to forgive than Steba's wife does.

When the affair becomes generally known, Anna is shunned by everyone in Society except Steba's wife Dolly, who says she wishes she had done the same.

The fate of Anna is perhaps meant as a warning, or perhaps as a protest against the way women are blamed for adultery (because women's desires were seen as "unnatural"), whereas men's desires were just seen as peccadilloes - "it's what they do". To some extent this is still the case. The 'slut-shaming' of Anna still has contemporary resonance, and her fate is clearly part of the warning. Perhaps Tolstoy had been reading Thomas Hardy... The other question I feel compelled to ask is, why was this film made now, right in the middle of an anti-feminist backlash?

However, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for Anna really; I couldn't see what she saw in Bronsky - the characters I liked were Konstantin and Kitty, and Steba and Dolly, and the wife of Konstantin's revolutionary friend. But then Tolstoy clearly meant Konstantin and Kitty as illustrations of Tolstoyan virtue and simplicity and getting back to the land, so I fell for a trope, dammit. More reviews at Rotten Tomatoes - the consensus appears to be that it's a mixed bag and the artificiality of the theatrical settings detract from it rather than enhancing it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Theatre of unreality

Last night I went to see Hysteria at the Oxford Playhouse, written and directed by Terry Johnson. It was a slightly odd mixture of farce and serious drama about the origins of trauma in childhood abuse. Possibly without the farcical elements, it might have been harder to watch, because more painful. It was a good counterpoint to the film A Dangerous Method, about Jung, Spielrein and Freud. Anthony Sher was brilliant as Freud (better than Viggo Mortensen by quite a long chalk). The play hinged around a case history where Freud had initially concluded that the patient had been abused as a child, and then changed his mind when it became apparent to him that most of the upper echelons of Viennese society were child-molesters. I seem to remember something along those lines in the history of psychoanalysis. Dalí also made an appearance and there was a bit when the whole set turned into a Dalí painting, including a melting clock (I don't know how they did that, but it was very clever). So, all in all, a brilliant production, very thought-provoking.

Last week, I went to see A Midsummer Night's Dream in the gardens of Wadham College, performed by the Oxford Shakespeare Company. It was an utterly, utterly brilliant and magical performance. A really beautiful production. The actors were very physical in their performance, they put life into the lines, the costumes were great, the space was magical, the lighting was magical. I thought the extra bridging dialogue that they had inserted was a little unnecessary, but funny all the same.

Both plays dealt with reality not being quite what it seems, but in very different ways.

Down with school uniform

Suzanne Moore, writing in The Guardian, has condemned school uniform.

I commented:
Suzanne, thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. 
At my [comprehensive] school, which I attended from 1980 to 1984, the "uniform" was that you had to wear a green jumper, white blouse, and grey or black skirt or trousers. Ties were not enforced (not even for the boys as far as I can recall) and if anyone had turned up in a blazer, we would have laughed uproariously.  Later, the uniform was changed to anything grey - a grey jumper instead of bottle green. Any shade of grey would do (oh dear, one can't use that phrase any more, eh?) We didn't go to a special shop to buy our uniform - there wasn't one. And no-one was persecuted for having naff clothes, despite the variations in style. The only time I can remember being ridiculed for what I wore was when we had a non-uniform day and I turned up in flares. 
Our school had the most Oxbridge candidates for the area - even more than the posh private schools. 
When I was a trainee teacher, the best uniform I saw (and the one most likely to survive the rigours of being worn by a child) was a choice of blue, red, or black sweatshirt - which could have the school's logo ironed on as a patch if you couldn't afford the official sweatshirt - with blue, red or white polo shirt, also with the school's logo; and black trousers or skirt. This uniform was comfortable, practical and hard-wearing.
Other schools in the area had blazers and all that nonsense, and these quickly looked absolutely knackered. The boys would wear their ties as short as possible in order to show defiance (and I don't blame them, but it looked silly) and the girls would get a skirt in year 7, when it was knee-length, and wear it till year 11, when it was merely a small pelmet about their assets. 
Researchers into school life have done various studies on uniform, all of which bear out the points made in this article. Uniform is conformist. It needs reform, not the imposition of more stupid blazers.
I then started looking at other comments on the article and realised there were people defending uniforms, so I posted another comment:
To all the other commenters who have defended school uniform: yes, adult clothing choices are sometimes constrained by circumstances - but you can still choose what colour suit, shirt, tie etc you wear. For the last decade, I have worked in an environment which did not require "smart" clothing. In the last few years of my old job, though, the managers started wearing suit trousers, smart shirts and ties. I thought this was silly. My current manager wears a T-shirt and jeans, and I respect him for his knowledge, not because he is wearing a stupid uniform.

For goodness' sake, this is The Guardian! If you like uniforms, go and comment onThe Telegraph or something.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Endless Knot

Paperback, 49 Pages
Price: £5.99 
Ships in 3–5 business days
Poetry of place, experience, the seasons, and the sacred. 
Written over many years, these poems are the distillation of experiences of ritual, landscape and mythology. 
Lovers of landscape and nature will enjoy this collection. 
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Also available as an eBook (suitable for Kindle and other formats)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Learning Python painlessly

I have tried to learn programming before, and it hurt my brain. OK so I was trying to learn Java, and that hurts a lot of people's brains.

The problem with most programming courses is that they assume three things:
  • that you already know how to program in another language
  • that you have an A-level in maths or even a degree in computer science
  • that your primary mode of intelligence is mathematical-logical
My primary mode of intelligence is linguistic. I can do maths, but logic is not my strong point, and neither is solving a problem by breaking it down into steps. I see problems as an overview, and solve them more intuitively and heuristically than incrementally or algorithmically.

I can do HTML, CSS, XML, XSLT and XSD because they are ontological / taxonomical, with nested hierarchies of information, and semantic labels. This makes sense to me. They are more linguistically-oriented. Similarly, I am good at information architecture because it involves taxonomical and linguistic skills. But I've never been able to get my head around programming.

So, imagine my joy when I discovered a site that helps people like me to learn to program in Python. It doesn't assume any of the three things I listed above. And its major exercise is designing a game, whose parameters are largely linguistic. It takes you very very gently through the building blocks of Python. And the author has a great sense of humour.

Thank you so much, Zed Shaw. You have helped me to overcome a major mental block.