Elections on Film: ‘Animated Politics’ (1910)

Some of you might remember that in the run-up to Christmas I posted some seasonal film snippets from the wonderful BFI archive YouTube channel. Since it is now election week, I was pleased to discover they’ve uploaded some bits and pieces of newsreel footage relating to various 20th century General Elections – so I’ll be posting a particularly interesting example every day until Thursday’s crucial ballot…

Today’s choice is very brief snapshot of one of the two elections held in 1910 (January and December – this film is probably from the January one), showing footage of the Labour MP Will Crooks and his Tory opponent Major William Augustus Adams on the hustings at Woolwich in London, plus a glimpse of the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill.

The results of both of the 1910 elections had been ridiculously close and very tense, with Asquith’s Liberals being separated from Balfour’s Conservatives by a matter of only two seats in January and a mere one in December. These deadlocked elections were particularly significant for being the last elections to be held until after the First World War. They were also significant for being the last elections to be held over a period of days, unlike the single polling day we are used to now – this, in many ways, was the beginning of the modern electoral system.

If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.

The Ducks of Bodiam

"Don't look now, she's got a camera!"

“Don’t look now, she’s got a camera!”

I realised recently that we haven’t had any ducks round here for absolutely ages. So, when I spotted a few relatively friendly mallards on a family trip to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex not so long ago, I decided that a new duck post was definitely in the offing. And when I say I spotted a few mallards, I actually mean there were loads of them. They were absolutely everywhere. They didn’t seem that bothered by humans either (their collective look of disdain when a small boy came hurtling up the path towards them, enthusiastically yelling “OOOOH, HELLO DUCKS!” kinda said it all).

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London pays tribute to Terry Pratchett (photos)


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Oh, I love this!

Like many, many people, I was genuinely upset when the novelist Terry Pratchett died last month. His books have been a part of my cultural existance almost as long as I can remember, and the joy they have brought into my life cannot be underestimated. So when I heard that a clever street art type had painted a tribute to him in east London, I had to go and find out what it was all about and report back to you all with photos.

And it’s wonderful.

Packed with many of Terry’s most beloved characters (and a great portrait of the man himself), this mural really is a fitting tribute to him. If you want to see it for yourself, you can find it right by the park in Code Street, off Brick Lane. I recommend you do go and have a look if you’re a fan, it’s an amazing piece of work!

Bodiam Castle: Medieval Ruins and Structural Secrets

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This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. From the photographs, you can clearly see that it’s a pretty spectacular construction. Indeed, it looks like the kind of castle immortalised in books and films as the type of defensive military stronghold we all associate with knights and soldiers, sieges and battles – “everyone’s idea of what a medieval stronghold should look like”, as the guidebook puts it.

It certainly has all the outward trappings of a classic medieval defensive building, although now ruined inside: thick stone walls and tall towers with battlements, a wide surrounding moat, a rare 14th century wooden portcullis, arrow slit windows, murder holes in the ceiling of the gatehouse (and even a much later piece of defensive kit in the shape of a World War Two-era pill-box) – all the things you’d expect to see in such a castle. Ostensibly, it is such a castle, and it has the kind of history you might expect from that too.

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Playlisting: London Songs

It’s simple. One theme + ten songs = playlisting, Another Kind Of Mind style.

First up, here’s a selection of songs (in no particular order) about my favourite city in the world. London has been immortalised in song countless times over the centuries (if you don’t believe me, have a look at this), from traditional folk songs, jazz standards, musical revue numbers and music hall songs, to calypsos, reggae tracks, psychedelic rock epics, punk classics and rave remixes – and everything in between. Here are ten tracks I particularly love. If you’ve got any suggestions or reckon I’ve missed anything glaringly obvious, let me know here or on Twitter.

Lord Kitchener – London Is The Place For Me:

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RIP Terry Pratchett

“No-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away – until the clock he would up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.” – ‘Reaper Man’

They say you should never meet your heroes. Many years ago, I met one of mine, and he was lovely. Terry Pratchett’s wonderful books have been a part of my life for more than twenty-five years, read and re-read with genuine pleasure. The world was a brighter place with him in it. I only met him the once, but he was every bit as friendly and kind to his fans as you might expect. My signed copy of Witches Abroad is one of my most treasured books.

When he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, we all knew it would happen some time – but the announcement of his death at the age of 66 today just seems so brutally unfair and far, far too soon. Like so many fans, the world over, I shall miss him terribly. I shall miss the delight of reading a new Discworld novel, that razor-sharp sense of humour, that fascination with humanity in all its forms, and, of course, all those dreadful puns. He will be missed beyond measure.

Oook (said sadly).

The Return of the Diagram Prize…

It’s that time of the year again – the Diagram Prize is back. For readers unfamiliar with my slight obsession over this rather strange literary award, it is an annual prize given, rather wonderfully, to the book with the oddest title of the year. It began in 1978 when Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson of The Diagram Group were bored at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and has run ever since (apart from 1987 and 1991, when odd book titles were sadly thin on the ground).

Now administered by The Bookseller, previous seriously odd winners have included Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978), Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2012) and the utterly fabulous Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003) (I still want to know if that’s a big book of horse stories for lesbians, or a big book of stories about lesbian horses). Can this year’s shortlist better those?

Here are this year’s odd contenders:

Divorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the People That Used to Love Them by Diana Rajchel
Nature’s Nether Regions by Menno Schilthuizen
The Ugly Wife is Treasured at Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider
Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte
Where do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson
Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China edited by Bo Tian
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing-Loh

To find out more about each of these very odd titles, visit We Love This Book.

If you’d like to take part and vote for your favourite, you can make your choice here.

You’ve got until 00:01 on Saturday 21st March to decide which of these titles is the oddest of them all – the winner will be announced on Friday 27th March. I’ll update you with details of the winning entry as soon as I can!

UPDATE 31/03/15: And the winner is… Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte. Not the title I expected to win, but there you go! Lots more info here.

Quote of the Day: On the flexibility of the English language

You might not think it, but even things associated with the seemingly monolithic structure that is academia are subject to change. For example, I’ve recently been writing an essay on the twentieth century transformation of the nature of historical sources and the ways in which they can be used; a series of changes which have had a profound impact on the subject and are still ongoing.

And it’s not just the language we use to describe such cultural concepts that is transforming. The language we use on a day-to-day basis is changing and mutating too. While reading an article on the necessity (or otherwise) of some traditional grammar rules on The Independent’s website, I came across this quote from the journalist and author Oliver Kamm:

The English language is not static, nor are its boundaries clear. Nor is it a language tied to the British Isles. English is a river. Its content is always changing and it has many tributaries. Its characteristics include impermanence. Indeed, there can be no single definition of the English language.

Historians frequently go on about their beloved concepts of continuity and change – indeed, the one, ever continuing, fundamentally important aspect of British culture, landscape and language that tends to be overlooked or even sometimes sneered at is its non-static nature. Kamm’s words bring this innate movement and flexibility into sharp relief, reflecting the ever-changing nature of the English language.

Every generation brings new words, new phrases, new ways of using the language to the table, and this has been going on for centuries – just look, for instance, at the enormous impact of William Shakespeare’s creative vocabulary, or the beautifully influential language used by the original editors of the King James Bible. These innovations may take some time to work their way into common usage, but English is a compulsively, inherently magpie language that pinches things from a huge variety of cultures and dialects worldwide; absorbing them into a new and textured whole.

Albums of the Year 2014

These are not the ‘best’ albums of 2014, because that is nigh on impossible to judge objectively – and everyone’s taste is different. Instead, this is a list (arranged alphabetically rather than in any specific order or rank) of the albums that I particularly enjoyed or was particularly struck by over the last year. I’ve ignored all the magazine/blog/website ‘best of’ lists and gone for the albums I actually like, not the ones that are considered especially hip or cool (because, let’s face it, I’m neither of those things!). Feel free to let me know what you think….

Antemasque – Antemasque

Aphex Twin – Syro

Behemoth – The Satanist

Earth – Primitive & Deadly

Electric Wizard – Time To Die

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Goat – Commune

Hookworms – The Hum

Inspiral Carpets – Inspiral Carpets

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed

King Creosote – From Scotland With Love

Johnny Marr – Playland

Mogwai – Rave Tapes

Thurston Moore – The Best Day

Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin

Grant Nicholas – Yorktown Heights

Pharmakon – Bestial Burden

Royal Blood – Royal Blood

St. Vincent – St. Vincent

The Juan McLean – In A Dream

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader

Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Wo Fat – The Conjuring

Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

Other interesting things released in 2014 that are also worth a mention:

Pantera – Far Beyond Bootleg: Live From Donington 1994

Pixies – Doolittle 25

Soundgarden – Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path

Teeth of the Sea – A Field in England: Re-Imagined [EP]

January Update

Urgh. So, it’s January. And I must, again, apologise for my quietness on the blogging front, although I am sure that many of my readers will understand how things go when ill health rears its ugly head. Anyway, I do have some new odds and ends coming your way over the coming weeks, including, of course, more historical meanderings and the kind of general randomness that tends to happen round here rather a lot.

However, next up will be my long-awaited Albums Of The Year post – although it won’t be in any particular order on this occasion because I gave up trying to do that some time ago. As far as I’m concerned, 2014 was a year of waaaay too many great albums to even think about which one was the ‘best’, and it’s all so subjective anyway (as I am sure you will tell me in the comments and on Twitter!).

Then, since the first indication that 2015 is general election year has already dropped through my door, my occasional Election Propaganda series will be returning with a bang – this time, on Labour’s plans for the NHS. Watch out for more Election Propaganda posts over the coming months as I dissect the partisan rubbish that all the political parties send through the post in the run up to May…

Oh, and after all that ridiculous ‘Blue Monday’ nonsense (ummm… depression doesn’t work like that) earlier in the week, here’s the actual ‘Blue Monday’ for you. I recommend that you crank the volume and dance like no-one’s watching round your living room/office to this work of musical genius:

That’s better.

Keep warm,

claire x