Antigone/Lysistrata, Cambridge Arts Theatre 13 October

October 14, 2016



Set for Antigone (picture acquired from Twitter)

So this year’s Cambridge Greek Play (in Ancient Greek, with surtitles) was a double-bill of Antigone and LysistrataAntigone is these days as close to being unsinkable as a Greek play can be, while productions very often make a mess of Lysistrata by taking it literally–seriously, even.

Things turned out rather differently this time round.  Antigone displayed a fine collection  of the clichés that even the London stage has finally managed to just about rid itself of:  fences, barbed wire, battledress, battery-powered torches, submachine guns, men in suits…I closed my eyes and endured.  To be fair, it got better as the thing went on and they performers relied more on their native wits.  And there was a standout performance from counter-tenor Jack Hawkins as Teiresias with very beautiful counter-tenorial music too.  But why (for instance) did Antigone dart anxiously upstage and downstage when she was supposed to be processing towards her bridal tomb?

I would have given up and gone home at half-time but I didn’t want to disturb the couple of old dears who had me wedged in.  The young woman of East Asian heritage sitting on the other side of me asked whether this was it–I replied that there was another play to come, a comedy indeed.

Then we had Lysistrata done as a musical comedy, and very funny it was too.  This time, we had the standout performer (Natasha Cutler-a real musical comedy princess) in the title role, and that helped a lot of course.


ἀφεκτέα τοίνυν ἐστὶν ἡμῖν τοῦ πέους. (=it is necessary then for us to give up cock).

The audience also got to sing along with οὐδεὶς οὔτε μοιχὸς οὔτ᾽ ἀνήρ (line 212=no-one, neither lover nor husband), while the surtitles promised a Cambridge Scholarship in Classics for an explanation of the lion-on-a-cheesegrater position. (Line  231 οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν᾽ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος = I won’t crouch down like the lioness on a cheesegrater. You’d better ask Simon Goldhill about that gender reassignment.)


No.  Not like that.  Not at all like that.  (Picture from Twitter.)

The pedant could of course cavil–once Boris Johnson and Donald Trump had appeared on stage they should have been properly savaged, especially in respect of diminutive and deformed genitalia, while a headless pig looking for David Cameron would have been a good Aristophanic joke. The famously…well, tedious…ball-of-wool metaphor was interpreted via interpretive dance, when one thing it certainly recommends is favourable treatment of useful foreigners–surely an opportunity for further kicking of the Brexit-Trump gang. You can also ask whether a production largely attended by pupils of fee-paying schools could ever permit itself proper Aristophanic obscenity…

Hamlet, Bread and Roses 29 September

September 30, 2016




Hamlets, father and son


I enjoyed my trip to Clapham to see a sensibly slimmed-down version of Hamlet that also included a song from Cymbeline interpolated.  In true Shakespearean style we had an all-male company entering and exiting by the door of an upstairs bar to play on a stage erected at one end of the room; a strategically-placed curtain led me to expect Polonius to be stabbed through it, but that was not to be.

I thought that Benjamin Way’s mercurial and mood-shifting (but not mad) Hamlet was very good, and I also enjoyed the Queen Gertrude of Lee Peck.  The production kept the action moving and was as promised crystal-clear. At times I thought we might be going in a different direction with Hamlet just Hamlet and his rages and reveries and the rest orbiting distantly around him; but that was not to be either.

During the interval Claudius was anxiously checking his smartphone and behind me the young people were keen to see who had got whom on Tinder and Plenty of Fish; but maybe these were not connected.

When I was a young, I was tormented by the characters’ names clearly not being Danish–apart from Gertrude. Last night, that was still worrying me-the back of the Signet edition says that the story comes from one Saxo Grammaticus who had Feng instead of Claudius, Gerutha for Gertrude and no names for the rest.   It also occurred to me for the first time that if you took away the poetry [laughs bitterly], the story with its rain, death, cold, death, infidelity, death, treachery, poison, death, muddy graves, regrettable gravedigger jokes, rats, cold wet death and so on could be typically Danish.   But the willow grows aslant a brook is surely nowhere else but Warwickshire…

See here for a video clip from a performance in Norway.

Romanian shop, 27 Winslade Way SE6

September 21, 2016


We see that Catford has responded to Brexit-inspired xenophobia with a new Romanian shop in the shopping centre.  We say:  Good luck to them!  I couldn’t see anything to show the opening hours, but there’s some information on their Facebook page.

I want to know what the name means now…Maybe:

La =  chez/da/у

Moș = old man

Dănuț =  Danny


Tsvetochniy krest/The cross of flowers

September 7, 2016



This book by Elena Kolyadina hardly received great support when this blog did a survey of contemporary Russian novels for translation, and it was also being remaindered during my recent trip to Ukraine.

It appears to start in December 1674, when our heroine Feodosia is 15 and ready to be married off and to end in October 1673, when she is 17 and her son born half-way through the book is able to run around and beg for money.

There are many things it might be, but none of them for very long. The shadow of Thomas Mann’s Holy Sinner grows now lighter, now darker, and at times Kolyadina seems to engaged in a yacht race with Vodolzakins’s Laurus.  A yacht race because the leader ixs supposed to imitate the follower’s manoeuvrings.

At times it seems to be one of those books where a modern miss is plonked down with her insatiable curiosity in ancient times and at others it’s one of those books with detailed retro-porn description of life in Old Russia.  Indeed, we get a detailed description of the old-time salt industry, just like in Perm.  The contrast between carefree pagan sexuality and the strictures of the church might have been going somewhere and then wasn’t. Similarly the un-modern way Feodosia related to her family members just disappeared, leaving behind the usual YA heroine.  And then in a reference to Jan Potocki or perhaps Tolkien we have an entire community living under the ground brought into being.

A plot summary with SPOILER ALERT makes it sound as though the traditional saint’s life is being referenced.  It is 1673 in Tot’ma.  Feodosia is the intelligent beautiful etc etc daughter of wealthy salt-manufacturer Izvara due to be married off to another salt-manufacturer Yuda.  The priest Father Loggin feels himself tormented by her youth beauty intelligence needlework etc.

A company of travelling players comes to town under the leadership of one Istoma, who is not much like a salt manufacturer. The climax of their show is a puppetry version of the Crucifixion, except that Feodosia rescues Jesus from the cross, and Father Loggin takes exception.

Istoma and Feodosia enjoy a night of secret love in Feodosia’s bedroom, then Istoma’s troupe gets into a fight with the followers of her brother Putila as he returns from dealings in Moscow.  Revealed to be a confederate of Stenka Razin, Istoma is burned alive.  Feodosia marries the salt-manufacturer and devotes herself to her son by Istoma.

Influenced by Father Loggin, she practises more and more severe self-denial, including clitoridectomy and saying that like Abraham she would give up her son for God.  The son disappears and Feodosia takes up the lifestyle of a yurodivaya, eventually quitting town for the other side of the river.  There she discovers a community of underground pagans who can speak Russian when necessary and tries to convert them to Orthodoxy, planting a cross of flowers for this purpose.  She also entertains Death in a scene that owes much to Monty Python.

Father Loggin crosses the river to inspect this miraculous and has her burned as a witch so as to further his ambitions for preferment.

But Death does not have Feodosia on her list.

Well, well…




















‘And the Lord said…’ (Boris Khersonsky)

July 28, 2016

And the Lord said:  Katsap, where is Khokhol thy brother?
And Katsap answered: I am not his keeper Lord
And the Lord said: You sat to eat together
You sang his songs, you put him to the sword!

And Katsap said: Khokhol is himself at fault,
He is a traitor, greedy, he nibbled all the fruit,
He has artillery in the yard and a gun in the vault
And he puts my first-born right into dispute.

And the Lord said: Not first-born, but born to hate!
Forgetting, Katsap, that the Lord is father to you.
For I will say to Peter, who stands at Heaven’s gate
I will say to Peter, not to open to you.

And the Lord said: Turk, where is thy brother, Khach?
And the Turk answered: Am I his keeper, Lord?
And the Lord said: You thought I would not catch
Weeping from the ground, would not hear, not reward.

And the Lord said: Kraut, where is thy brother, Yid?
And Kraut said, I am not his keeper, nay.
And the Lord said: His blood is yelling what you did,
For vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

И сказал Господь: “Кацап, где брат твой, Хохол?”
Ответил Кацап: “Не знаю, я не сторож Хохлу!”
И сказал Господь: “Ты с ним садился за стол,
ты пел его песни и ты толкаешь его во мглу!”

И ответил Кацап: “Хохол – он сам виноват.
Он – предатель, он жадина, он яблоки все надкусил,
у него в огороде пушка, а в шкафу автомат,
он старшему брату, мне, противится что есть сил!”

И сказал Господь: “Ты не старший, ты страшный брат!
Ты забыл, Кацап, что Отец твой – Бог.
Вот скажу Петру, что стоит возле райских врат,
вот скажу Петру, он не пустит тебя на порог.

И сказал Господь: “Турок, где брат твой, Хач?”
И ответил турок “Не знаю! Я не сторож Хачу!”.
И сказал Господь: “От земли возносится плач!
Ты думал, что я не услышу, что я смолчу?”

И сказал Господь: “Фриц, где же брат твой, Жид?”.
И ответил Фриц: “Не знаю, я не сторож Жидам!”
И сказал Господь “Кровь Жида за тебя говорит.
Ибо Мое есть отмщение и Аз воздам.”

At a conference on the Warta and a stay in Warsaw

July 27, 2016

River, idle chimneys, and the cradle of the Polish state

Saturday 02 July 

I manage to use the ticket machines to get from Warsaw Airport to the Central Station and then to Poznan.  Since I am sitting by the door of the compartment, people ask me questions.  I shrug.

I plod through Poznan more-or-less in the right direction and manage to find the Ibis.  I have to pay upfront, otherwise it is OK.

Ruth texts me to suggest a meeting.  I go out to have some soup and dumplings.  Then I find her fashionable expensive hotel in the rain.  I toy with a beefburger.  She pays.  She appears daunted by the way people have not done what they said they were going to do.

Sunday 03 July


Welcome barbecue

I go to the station and buy a ticket to Warsaw.  It costs about 180 zl, as opposed to 80 zl to get here.  I can see what they mean.  I wander through the Old Town and think that the main square looks fake, as Ruth suggested.

I go over the bridge to the University of Technology.  I need to go to the opening ceremony to justify the welcome barbecue, I think.  The choral singing is good.  I secure some food at the barbecue and wave at Ruth passing by.

Monday 04 July


Opera House in Poznan

In the first session, some guy mumbles on about the Rio Olympics.  I ask him about counterfactuals. Then one Robyn Moore presents a toolkit for getting value from volunteers in NZ.  This is jolly interesting.  Then some guy mumbles on about ethics.  I say that I have a Code, I do not need them.

The next session I go to is about MCDA.  People are turned away at the door.  We look at a picture of a cow that failed to jump over a fence.  I send an email to Robyn Moore.

Then it’s something about education in a very large lecture theatre with very few people.  A guy goes through a routine presentation about…something…in an incomprehensible Italian accent.  Then an old Russian woman reads verbatim some elementary points about education.  There are reinforced by some incomprehensible parallels from the theory of dynamical systems.  Then the session chair (a young woman from Ukraine) has a few touristic slides about Ukraine and two background slides about her summer school before giving up.  Then a survey of the performance of graduates of a university in the Philippines that would have failed as a GCSE Business Studies project.  The most important thing was personal appearance…

Then I get to grips with my polycarbonate lunch.  It is slightly better than I expected, and I can eat almost half of it.

After that, a very interesting session on Defence & Security, with an outstanding paper on what one can say about the (semi-) rationality of terrorist organisations.  David Lane comes and sits next to me and then goes away again.  There are also good papers on terror queues (aka resource allocation of secret agents), evacuation and police positioning.

Then a mildly interesting walking tour.  Many buildings had been built by the Germans.  So they looked German.  I had noticed that.  Also the people are very orderly and disciplined as well.

Tuesday 05 July


Animated crowds converge on conference dinner

I go to a techy session and the thing on text analysis for plagiarism is quite interesting.  Then a thing on charitable orders comes down to putting some prices = 0.  This makes it more difficult that the general problem.  WTF.

A thing on implementation in plenary recommends greedy algorithms, since you are too confident in your view of the future.  Like the cow jumping the gate.

I spend some time sitting in a room with Ana Isabel Barros in case someone wants to be mentored.  They don’t, so she talks with her mates in Dutch.

There is no coffee.

A session on decision support.  A Serb is cross-examined about skiing injuries.  The session chair shows a picture of her car crash, which explains why there is not a lot in her paper.  A guy gives an incomprehensible presentation on sepsis, followed by a DNA.

I manage to find my way to the conference dinner and even sit next to Sally Brailsford, who seems happy to see a familiar face.  Then Brian Dangerfield joins us and we do not get drunk this time.  The duck is nice.  We find our way to the Ibis on the tram.

Wednesday 06 July


Polish retro-kitsch, with a touch of Cezanne

I wake at 0400 from a dream where I am taken captive by Islamic terrorists.  I do some packing.

In our session, David Lane talks about norovirus and we have an interesting discussion about eliciting transmission parameters–I even defend him.  I do my talk and have a little difficulty with the controls.  Then a Turk seems to have provided volunteer support by a direct method, which is interesting.

Complex societal problems starts with a paper on food rescue, but it’s really routeing.

Then I attend respectfully as Ruth presents our workshop.  We start with three people and end with ten or so, she does an excellent job.

I sit through various speeches, then I plod to the station.  The other two guys in the compartment keep silent.  In Warsaw, I manage to find the Chopin Boutique B&B through rain, wind and darkness.  The Polish retro-kitsch room appeals to me.

Thursday 07 July


Warsaw Old Town, for those who like that kind of thing

I walk up Nowy Swiat and skirt the fuzz guarding the NATO summit.  The Old Town does not appeal to me.  On my way back I check out ulica Bronislawa Moniuszki, thinking that the -i looks like a feminine ending.  A camera crew wants my opinion on something in Polish, and I have to disappoint them.

I have lunch at Dawne Smaki, which turns out to be very sensible in spite of being recommended in my guidebook.

In the evening I turn on the TV.  I watch Germany lose 2-0 to France and feel no pleasure.

Friday 08 July


The other tourist attraction in Warsaw

I wake up and go to breakfast.  A bloke identifies himself as our host.  Neither of us is happy about Brexit. He says that Czech is very like Polish, but the countries are different.

I go outside.  It is peaceful.  I come back and try checking in online.  Bastard Airways want to charge me for hold baggage,

I go outside with the idea of visiting museums.  But I decide it is too much like effort and come  back instead and put some stuff on Twitter.

Saturday 09 July


Numerous attempts to use the self check-in machine fail.  I stand in a long line of people wanting to fly to our right little, tight little, shite little island.  It does not move.  After a long time, a young woman takes me to the machine again so that I can fail under supervision.

Now that I have failed under supervision I can join the other line.  The clerk says I can put my bag in the hold without charged since the flight is full.  Thank you, Shittish Airways.

But the flight is fine.

When I get home I see that the back garden is overgrown.

An enigmatic pipe fitting

July 25, 2016


At first I thought the problem was just that this thing (whatever it might be) had  come off the soil pipe (as I suppose it is) at the back of the house.

But it turned out to be split.  In fact, the whole point of the iron thing in the middle was to rust and make it split.


Since neither Wickes nor B&Q nor two hardware stores in Lewisham had anything at all similar, it was a case of bodging up a job with plumbers’ putty:


Further investigation shows no sign of such a thing on the Internet. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Certainly the self-splitting pipe fitting doresn’t sound like such a good idea…

Some resources on written communication

July 22, 2016


George Orwell very wisely says the following:

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

The general principle also applies to expressing yourself in a foreign language.  Starting from English words will very rarely do-you need to see what it is you want to say, and then the words (constructions, grammar) will find themselves.

The Plain English people have followed up with some similar guidance here.  You can see how well you have followed these rules by using a readability checker.

If you want to write about statistics (numbers, etc), the ONS have produced some guidance here.  They also have Effective Tables and Graphs  guidance, and it’s good.

Checking grammar

Word-processors will of course check grammar and spelling for you.  There are also tools online, such as onlinecorrection or SpellCheckPlus.  The latter  will indeed query hypercorrection along the lines of in case of trouble, please speak to John or I.

Style analysers

These can be quite fun.  Among others, there are expresso, textalyser and hemingwayapp, which is rather good.

On a more overtly fun level, you can play with I write like (Orwell writes like Orwell; most text ends up being ascribed to David Foster Wallace if it mentions anything modern or H.P. Lovecraft).  Or you can try Gender Guesser, where Orwell comes out as Weak MALE Weak emphasis could indicate European.


There is some advice here that usefully balances more technology-driven approaches.  In fact, it almost comes down to handing round a paper with a few relevant charts and graphs.

Barber Shop, Thomas Lane SE6

July 20, 2016


We present the opening times for this barber’s in Catford, since there doesn’t seem to be any reliable information on the Internet. It was certainly open at 0915 today…and I got a haircut…


Two weeks in Ukraine

July 13, 2016
Monument to Great Famine, Kiev

Monument to Great Famine, Kiev

Sunday 19 June  

I get to Gatwick in spite of cancelled trains.  Then Ukraine International Airways take a long time to find the plane.  I am met at Kiev.  It is hot.  I have a headache.  I get lamb stew and mashed potatoes at a restaurant that apologises for being on a trial basis.  It costs 300 UAH.  I manage to eat the mashed potato.

Monday 20 June

I join Kiran and Nalini, the other 2/3 of our party, together with boss Igor, guide Natasha and driver Vlad.  We see some churches, and have lunch in a place where I do not lose my wallet.  In the afternoon, we visit Pyrohovo–a kind of open-air museum of peasant huts.  Vlad gets a permit to drive round.  I have a burger in a place called The Burger.

Hut in Pyrohovo

Hut in Pyrohovo

Tuesday 21 June

We go to the Lavra.  It is hot.  A different guide takes me and Kiran down some caves with holy dead bodies.  Then we escape an exhibition of micro-miniatures and get Scythian gold instead.  I give Natasha some money in an envelope.  Kiran gives her some money not in an envelope.

A long day awaits without hotel room, toilet, air-conditioning.  I go to Petrovsky Market and it is far too hot.  Then I have some expensive lager in an underground ‘pub’ off Khreshchatik.  I eat in a decent place called Prepuce.

Vlad appears.  We drive to the station.  We wait.  We get on.  It is hot and humid.  My cell-mate contrives a through draught by wedging the door open with a shoe.  Sleep.

Lunch at Puzata Khata

Lunch at Puzata Khata

Wednesday 22 June

Lviv station

Lviv station

We arrive in Lviv.  Welcome signs of recent rain.  We drive round some places–main interest is drawing up to the kerb so that Nalini can get in and out.  Kiran and I do a walking tour. At least we get to sit in the Armenian church.  Typhoid and the paraffin lamp were invented in Lviv.

Thursday 23 June

Building in Zhovka

Building in Zhovka

We go to Zhovka, a small town.  It rains, unfortunately not enough to keep us in the minibus.  We proceed to a monastery at Khrekiv, where Brother Dmitri says he had earlier been a violinist in an orchestra.  Irina the guide and I walk to a magic well, leaving Nalini on a bench.

Nalini says that her grandfather sold his land.  We are cheerful on the way back to Lviv.

Friday 24 June

I wake up early and look at the computer.  The referendum is going badly.  It gets worse.

At breakfast a Dutchman tells me how bad Brexit is.

Determined trudge from Kiran and Nalini at Kamenets-Podilsky

Determined trudge from Kiran and Nalini at Kamenets-Podilsky

We drive towards Kamenets-Podilsky.  I brood about having left my two-pin adaptor behind and how I will manage if so.  K-P is like a Ukrainian version of Durham, with tourist facilities but without tourists.  Our guide is keen to get on with things.

We drive to Ivano-Frankivsk, where the Nadiya is quite nice and I do have the adaptor of course.   I can’t work out how to get into the hotel restaurant and go to place called Desyatka.



I speak to the waitress in Russian, she replies in Ukrainian, I agree with everything and it works out fine.  Young people in brightly-coloured clothes are happy to be alive.  I have chicken and rice and beer.

Saturday 25 June

I have some black pudding at breakfast, a change.  We walk round I-F with the guide Marta.  There is a gallery-style thing in the foundations of a fortress.

Child-cooling apparatus, Ivano-Frankivsk

Child-cooling apparatus, Ivano-Frankivsk

We drive towards the Carpathian mountains.  It is all right.  We arrive at the sadyba, which is somebody’s house they are renting out while living in the one opposite.  We go to a museum where the daughter of a man who taught himself 50 musical instruments gives a demonstration to us and a large group of Americans.

Sadyba kitchen

Sadyba kitchen

I spend the evening searching the sadyba for my glasses.

Sunday 26 June

I wake at 0539 to look for my glasses.  They are in the bag with the computer stuff.

We see a picture of Indira Gandhi done by a peasant artist from a newspaper.  We drive somewhere else and get on a chairlift.  They stop the chairlift so that Nalini can get on.  We look at a view.  We come back.  We drive to a souvenir market.

Shadows of the Carpathian Chairlift

Shadows of the Carpathian Chairlift

Marta wakes me up to have my dinner.  It is quite nice.

Monday 27 June

We go to a museum of the film ‘Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors’ by Paradjanov.  It’s on YouTube too.  The woman speaks for a long time.  Then Martha interprets.

Call that a waterfall?

Call that a waterfall?

We go to Yaremche, where we see an exhibition of models of buildings in Carpathia.  Then somewhere else with a souvenir market and what was a waterfall.  Marta tell us about her tour company.

Marta sees us off

Marta sees us off

We get on the train in Ivano-Frankivsk.  The provodnitsa complains when I do not buy anything from her.  I lock the door.  The floor of the toilet is very wet.

Tuesday 28 June

The train reaches Odessa.  We are driven to the Aleksanrovskiy Hotel.  We have a city tour.  It is hot.  We stay in the minibus.

Main street in Odessa

Main street in Odessa

Wednesday 29 June

We get in the car and drive to Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, where there is a castle.  Then we go to a winery with many steps and see some films and an exhibition about the Swiss who worked there.

OK, it's a castle.  With a tower.

OK, it’s a castle. With a tower.

We have lunch.  Kiran gives instructions about his tea and the milk.

We come back to Odessa.

Thursday 30 June

We go to the caves and the partisan museum.  Igor the boss has reappeared and interprets for Ksenia the interpreter, who is not having a good day.

Kiran and Nalini in the partisan's underground schoolroom

Kiran and Nalini in the partisans’ underground schoolroom

I do not go to the Literary Museum.  I worry about buying train tickets in Poland.

Friday 01 July

We drive.  At Sofyivka Park they say they know nothing about us, we have to pay 50 UAH to stand inside the gate, it is not possible that the guide has been paid for in advance.  We retreat to the car and get the driver to phone Igor.

Discussions.  We get our money back and begin to amble round after the guide.  She says that Euripides was the first Greek playwright.



In Kiev I find I have left my soap and flannel behind.  I manage to buy something that wil do as a flannel.  Then the security tag sets off alarms in the supermarket. I have a decent meal at the Prepuce.

Saturday 02 July

I get up about 4am.  My passport is missing.


I find it again.

The girl at the airport check-in desk acts like she is pleased to see me.  They finally locate the plane and send us to another gate.

Farewell Ukraine, hello Poland!