March 26: richard III part two

Today is the day for burying Richard III or Richard Crookback as Shakespeare called him in Henry VI part 3 which (little piece of useful information) is where a lot of the good Richard III quotes come from. Of course, nowadays he’s not crookback but a-minor-spinal-deformation-which-may-not-have-been-visible-when-he-had-his-armour-on-back. I vowed not to follow it but you turn the radio on and it’s there. Two women from Northern Ireland in full medieval garb who are quote big Richard fans unquote. The reporter didn’t ask whether they preferred his early work or his late stuff. The second album can often be a disappointment. Maybe they liked his back catalogue. It also turns out that Peter Snow from Richard III Part one is related to Richard III. No wonder he was so excited.
The big news today is that Benedict Cumberbatch (or is it Dominic) is coming to the funeral. You can’t keep him away from anything these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got Clare Balding too. And Sir Hoy to keep the Scots interested. And Stephen Fry. He could hand out the Richard III gongs. And the prize for the best sneaky aside goes to… And then Jeremy Clarkson might try and muscle in with the Henry Bolingbroke heavies.
By the way, turns out Benedict Cumberbatch is also related to Richard III. He would be. And in any case he’s going to play Richard III on stage soon, so he’s going there for research purposes. I bet he puts the trip to Leicester down as tax deductible and all. These celebrities. Wouldn’t have happened in Richard’s day. He’d have had you in the Tower for so much as a dodgy business lunch recipt. Or would he? The debate about Richard continues to rage. This is Peter Snow live from Leicester Cathedral.
PS: I wonder if I’m related to Richard III.

March 22: richard III or a cupatea a cupatea my kingdom for a cupatea

They are putting Richard III to rest this week. It’s been a long time for him to wait since 1485 and the Battle of Bosworth. I just switched on the telly as it was going dark this afternoon and here on Channel 4 is a four hour programme given over to the preparations (preparations, mind) for the funeral on Thursday. As I switch on there is a man in full War of the Roses armour on the comfy sofa with Peter Snow of Channel 4. The man in the armour has an American accent when he speaks. We see pictures of the coffin of Richard III driving through Leicester. People are throwing flowers onto it as it passes and weeping as if it were Lady Di. There is a young reporter interviewing people in the market square. A couple have come all the way from Brazil. The man’s wife has a ring with a line from Shakespeare’s Richard III engraved on it. That’s incredible, says the young reporter. I mean, Brazil wasn’t even discovered when Richard III was around. Oops! That’s a gaffe. You can’t talk about discovering countries anymore, darling. Where do they get these reporters from? Next there are other people on the sofa. Thee is a man from Canada who is a direct descendant of Richard III and a woman from Australia who is also direct descendant of Richard III. Thet’s incredible, says Peter Snow. You’re from Canada and you’re from Australia. The man and the woman don’t look too astounded by the news. Peter Snow tries to explain. I mean, he says, what does that tell us about how we live today? This is surely an interesting philosophical question, but no-one seems to want to run with it. Next we are interviewing the head of the Catholic church in England. He is doing the ceremony today, which concerns the arrival of the body in Leicester Cathedral but the big funeral gig is being given to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican) on Thursday. The Catholic head points out that Richard III had been a Catholic, necessarily, as there were no Anglicans in those days. This is a good point and one up for the Catholics. There is more stuff. Family trees. Was Richard a goodie or a baddie? And so on and on. I think I’ve had enough. I’ll have a cup of tea. What does that tell you about how I live today, Peter Snow?

March 18: science and me

On the telly science is big. Especially stuff about the universe. If there’s a big bang or a black hole or some dark matter, the ratings go loopy. What’s more, the graphics people have fun. Metallic greens; burnt tungsten oranges; mercury reds; seventh dimension blues. And all kinds of evocations of the resonance of absence, the singularity of the singularity, the seep of dark matter. We’re listening to Xenakis, Nono, Ligeti on the sound track. Contemporary classical music has never been so popular. Sometimes I try and listen to what the professors in their zany offices are saying. We follow them on their bike ride into MIT or peer at them from behind stacks of papers. They are so loveable with their messy hair and dusty glamour. It’s nice to know someone is doing this stuff. And they don’t care about the money. Probably have dollar bills under their pillows and no proper bank account. But the problem when you watch these programmes is that they tell you nothing. The profs say things like. Dark matter is everything that isn’t there. It’s as if you spilt a load of oil all over your new suit and then put on glasses that don’t register oil. This isn’t useful. But it’s the only way they talk. If they’re from California the metaphor normally concerns Apple or Google or Macdonalds as if big corporations¬† were the only way we have of relating to the world. Imagine you’re CEO for Google and one day you get the wrong elevator and come out in a world where you’re picking up garbage. That’s a black hole. Oh dear. I suppose I’ll never know much about science. At school the science teacher spent a double period trying to set up an experiment with just one nerdy boy taking an interest and the rest of us throwing acid at each other. There must be reasons why they won’t tell me what dark matter is properly. Probably to do with algebra, which doesn’t make for great telly. Still, at least I get to hear some Ligeti on the mainstream networks.

March 11: northern line extension

They are building the Northern Line tube extension right under my flat. I saw the plans last year and the line that connected Kennington to the new Nine Elms station west of Vauxhall went right under my corner of my building and, to add insult to injury, I live on the ground floor. The construction work has now started as all roads are dug up and signs appear hosting a raft of apologies for this and that. We apologise that you will be wading through mud for the next three years etc and etc, but don’t worry because lots of executive flats are going up and somebody’s making a lot of money out of it. That kind of thing. I have nightmares about how I’ll cope when the escalator emerges in my bathroom. How will I greet the queues of oyster card users without a ticket office? And what of signage? Will it be a case of mind the gap between my telly and that nest of tables from Argos or do I need to introduce a yellow line to keep the public at bay? I don’t want irate customers disgorging into my living room during Match of the Day. I see that at London Bridge station the chaos of the on-going works and the demands of a minister that the crisis be sorted out was countered by Transport for London with the response that staff will from now on be equipped with i-pads. Now they’ll be able to watch You Tube while coralling the public into the right pens. Nobody has learnt the lessons fom fifteen years ago when the government of the day looked to solve the education crisis in schools with the bulk ordering of computers for pupils with the result that now students can plagirize at will and teachers can tell students to get on with so-called research while they sit down and have another biscuit.

March 8: paper-clips or stapels?

There is a fragment from Kafka’s diaries that has been made into a short parable for collections of Kafka short narratives. It concerns metaphors. It says that a man spent hours every day observing the spinning of a children’s top, believing that if he could understand this one motion he would understand so much more about life. This is an idea that I too have a fondness for. If you are able to tell one story in, say, a foreign language, then you are able to tell any story. The differences between stories are just detail. Everything we do is a cypher for everything else we do. I remember my history teacher when I was twelve saying that the way we organsied our essay showed how we orgnised our life. I wonder. The alternative view is that people with an untidy desk or an untidy flat do their organising in their head in a more creative way than those who keep everything neat. I have an idea that achild sharing space with a sibling, a room or a bed, will be forced to find mental space in a more creative way than a child with a bedroom to him or herself. Which brings me to paper-clips (trombone being the cute word for them in French and German). I fear that in offices up and down the land paper-clips are losing their age-old battle against staples. Staples fix. With staples there can be no mistake. But with paper-clips you can change your mind, stay open to rearrangement. They are also more elegant, less totalitarian, accept the agency of randomness. Paper-clips give me a moment of pleasure; staples an instant of irritation. To what extent does the affiliation with paper-clip or staples say something about us as people? Kafka’s spinning top man would surely find a deep metaphor for life in the choice. It may of course be that it is only that the paper-clip man likes to see himself as a paper-clip man. It may be that deeply he is a staple man. In the same way as people often try to work in fields to which they are least suited because they aspire to do what they find difficult (look at psychoanalysts or nutritionists, almost invariably the least appropriate to their particular field). So I could well be a staple-man who aspires to the condition of a paper-clip man. And, when I think about it, I do have some staple man instincts, but please let us not linger on such things.