Archive for October, 2009

Twelfth Night (Brockley Jack) 15 October

October 15, 2009



Yes.  Someone said that Shakespeare very nearly invented the musical with Twelfth Night.  So here the scenery and props consisted of a grand piano (without strings).  And it didn’t play.  Well it wouldn’t, without strings.  But Cesario-Viola could use one of the legs as a weapon.  She (Amelia Clay) would in any case have done well to wave her arms about less.

As played by Kate Sawyer, apart from stumbling on her utensil in:

O, sir, I will not be so hard-hearted; I will give out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labelled to my will: as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth. Were you sent hither to praise me?

Olivia was from the beginning a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown whereas surely she is supposed to be in control at the beginning–as above–at least.  The nadir (for me) was when she rugby-tackled Cesario to prevent him escaping…There is supposed to be a contrast between the noble/romantic and the slapstick characters; at least, I think so.

She [Olivia, if she was mad] could not sway her house, command her followers,
Take and give back affairs and their dispatch
With such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing
As I perceive she does:

Well, if that’s what the man says that’s what we ought to see.

Probably the best performance was from Daniel Millar as Malvolio, played as a bluff North Country type undermined by delusions of grandeur.  In fact, it was probably too easy to sympathise with him.  I found there was quite a lot of Feste’s (Gareth Fordred) quick-fire repartee I didn’t catch.  If it’s terminally embarrassing, then just cut it–quite a lot was cut anyway.

Still, let’s be positive to end this posting.  In the wonderful Act 2 Sc 4


She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love.

Duke Orsino

But died thy sister of her love, my boy?


I am all the daughters of my father’s house,
And all the brothers too:

Orsino and Viola ended up almost in a clinch and almost kissing, which was quite effective.  Not sure why Orsino (Mark Leipacher) was dressed in a white pyjamas-cum-straitjacket thing though…

Analysing Uncertainty (David Spiegelhalter) RSS 13 October

October 14, 2009
Discrete areas in probability-hazard space

Discrete areas in probability-hazard space

So this was all quite interesting.  David Spiegelhalter’s main point was that there was a lot more to uncertainty than uncertainty in parameter estimates.  Could you for instance have a probability-hazard space when nothing was properly scaled?  Maybe it would be better to use discrete clusters as suggested by Ortwin Renn (and as above) where for instance Cassandra had high probability and a high degree of damage.

Parameters might be subject to random variation (aleatory uncertainty), or they might be fixed but you just didn’t know them–(epistemic uncertainty).  But then your model might be–undoubtedly was–wrong.  So could you average over models?

At the end (and thinking of the banking crisis/credit crunch) he concluded that one needed a clear separation between (1) modellers presenting their work with due humility and (2) decision-makers accepting this work with due caution.  But this leaves out a further level of uncertainty–you don’t know what the right question is either.  If the modellers and decision-makers work together they can negotiate a question–often along the lines of ‘do we need to do something about this now’–that the modellers can actually help with.

And along the way we learned many interesting things:  for instance, agnotology, the deliberate production of ignorance by for instance the tobacco industry and climate change deniers…

Outstanding Operas

October 9, 2009
Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

I’ve had a look through my records to see which operas have deeply affected/impressed/overwhelmed me more than once.  And the results were:

1.  Die Walküre (5x)

2.  Jenufa  (4x)

3.  Die Meistersinger  (3x)

4-11.  Aida, Così fan tutte, L’elisir d’amore, Eugene Onegin, Fidelio, Götterdämmerung, Rape of Lucretia, Tristan und Isolde (2x)

Pretty typical views for someone who’s spent 250 or so evenings at the opera I’d say–if somewhat conservative and marked by an underlying pessimism.  (Well they don’t call The World’s Greatest Composer the World’s Greatest Composer for nothing…)

15 Books

October 9, 2009

Fridrikh Gorenshtein

Fridrikh Gorenshtein

In response to a challenge, Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes I massively overstepped the time limit and also decided to limit myself to novels, since with a non-fiction work it’s not clear whether you’re talking about the book or the subject-matter.

Anyway, here are 15 novels I find myself quite often thinking about when I try to understand things.

1. The Book of Illusions Paul Auster
2. Skin Lane Neil Bartlett
3. Villette Charlotte Bronte
4. The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
5. The Magic Toyshop Angela Carter
6. Youth J M Coetzee
7. The Brothers Karamazov F. M. Dostoevsky
8. Psalm Fridrikh Gorenshtein
9. Forever Flowing Vassily Grossman
10. Platform Michel Houellebecq
11.  Clay Machine Gun Victor Pelevin
12. The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
13. The Plot Against America Philip Roth
14. Torrents of Spring Ivan Turgenev
15. A Handful of Dust Evelyn Waugh

I wonder what that means?

The leading themes here appear to be: someone facing complete annihilation (10.5  instances–1, 2, 3, 4?, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15–taking doubtful cases as 0.5); severe sexual difficulties (6 instances–2, 3, 5?, 6, 10, 12, 15?);  total cynicism/rejection of the world (5 instances–1,9,10,11,15); Russia (5 instances–4,7,8,11,14); Judaism (3 instances–7?,8,9?,13).

That does sound a little grim, or at least extreme:

She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.

As for Russia and Judaism particularly, in his works generally Dostoevsky was surely trying to simultaneously show the action of the NT taking place on Russian soil and the grievous effects of neglecting its teachings, while Gorenshtein’s book is (among other things) a reply to Dostoevsky doing the same for the Torah.

Orestes: Re-examined Southwark Playhouse 3 October

October 5, 2009


Picture from

Picture from

We waited in a line to collect our tickets and then have our names taken by people in fluorescent jackets.  I gave up trying to buy a drink and then we were welcomed to Argos by a bloke under a video screen.  It showed pictures of shiny happy buildings and then went dead.  After that, a group of rebels appeared to take over and led us to the auditorium where we sat along the sides while  Orestes was chained at one end and Clytaemnestra’s bloody robe hung at the other.

So the question was whether Orestes should be executed for killing his mother.  Orestes, aided by Menelaus, pointed out that she had killed his father after entangling him in a net and oppressed his sister Electra.  In fact, the speech for the defence came first, which was a bit bizarre by the standards of the Greeks or anyone else for that matter.  The (largely female) rebels said that he had killed his mother and they had suffered various kind of sexual harassment/discrimination/violence.  So it’s the Eumenides in a way but if you never surface the conflict between the old matriarchal gods and the new patriarchal ones it all seems very arbitrary.  And without the harsh clashing poetry you do begin to wonder what the point is.

So Athena appeared as an impartial arbitrator and turned the audience into a jury–people came round with red (death) and black (acquittal) balls for us to vote with.    Orestes was acquitted and returned to power, rather to my disgust–I wanted to know what would happen in the truly anti-Aeschylean alternative.

Then there were some deeply inconsequential further exchanges before we were let out.

It was all quite competently performed, in the manner of something that had been extensively workshopped–though I couldn’t always hear what Menelaus (Adrian Francis) was saying–and there was even some quite effective singing.  But without either the ideological clash or the poetry of Aeschylus all a bit pointless somehow.

For those interested, you can always study the Eumenides in the original at the City Lit.

BikeHut track pump @ Halfords

October 1, 2009

I decided I’d get a track pump for my bicycle.  I went down to Halfords and they had 3 types, with no indication of the prices.  I thought the BikeHut one was the cheapest, so I took it to the checkout and it turned out to be £38.  Then when I was out of the shop I found the head was missing!  So I took it back and changed it.

pumpSo then I found it wouldn’t work with my Presta valves (there were no useful instructions with it).  Eventually I found some discussion here with the final answer

Thanks for all the replies guys,

I think I have figured it out now. I simply wasn’t pushing the valve
into the connector hard enough. The ‘schrader push pin’ is spring
loaded and pushes back quite a way. Initially, when you push the
connector on, there is quite a rush of air from the tire (this is
point to which I was getting before). However, if you push harder
then the valve enters the connector further (by pushing against the
spring loaded pin) and reaches an area where the rubber grip smothers
the airflow enough that you can tighten the lever. So the trick is to
push it on firmly and quickly.

I find this works well now on my back tire and makes an airtight seal.
On my front tire (which has a different make of inner tube) I find
that even with the lever tightened fully, I still get a bit of air
leakage, but it’s not enough to bother me.

Brian, do you fully unscrew the presta nut at 1?

Thanks again.


So I tried that, and it worked on the front tyre and well enough on the rear one, though the join was rather leaky.

A Cloud in Trousers Wilton’s Music Hall, 30 September

October 1, 2009


A picture of Mayakovsky

A picture of Mayakovsky

Well,  this certainly managed to irritate me.  First of all we had some quite nice music on violin and piano and reasonably respectable number of people came into the auditorium from the bar, but most stayed there.

Then Samantha Bloom read a letter (possibly a confection of several letters) from Lili Brik to Mayakovsky.  Then she went off and got changed (music and scene change) and came back on en travesti to perform extracts from Mayakovsky’s poems about dysfunctional love from a masculine point of view.

But why was she so genteel in her diction?  Mayakovsky described himself and tried to act as a hooligan, though he didn’t always succeed.

If you want

I will be irreproachably gentle,

Not a man, but a cloud in trousers!

Well, quite, but that’s not where we’re starting from–in fact it’s the potential of a strenuous self-abnegatory miracle–and there is a reason why the lines are broken up like that, so one shouldn’t just flow over them.

I also quite often couldn’t hear what she was saying, which rather spoils the point of poetry.  I spent what seemed like several ages contained within one hour wishing it had ended or I was elsewhere,

The boat of love broke up on the grind of everyday life.

Oh dear!

But soon after it was the end–the actress went off, came on, took a bow, ushered forward the musicians.  Some people sat in their seats waiting for more, thinking perhaps that £ 10 for 55 minutes of one performer was rather short measure, but I was off, down the street, on my way home.

P.S.  Mayakovsky was not in any sense ‘a Georgian poet’ as claimed in the programme–although it seems that Stalin was…