Sunday, 31 May 2009

Ночной дозор / Дневной дозор

films by Timur Bekmambetov

This is a director’s cut (or, rather, two director’s cuts) of Night Watch / Day Watch movies in one box. Forget The Matrix: this is much better (and funnier). By some reason — maybe because I watched Day Watch first — I liked the second part more. (I did not read the books but most of Night Watch’s plot can be guessed from Day Watch anyway.) In addition, Night Watch has more blood and yucky bits. Never mind that, Night Watch is worth watching for the (closing credits) Russian rap alone — alas, it is not translated (not translatable?) into English. Otherwise, they did a very decent job of English subtitles.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Knots: Mathematics with a Twist

by Alexei Sossinsky

A few weeks ago, Gilleain lent me this book by Alexei Sossinsky. I have finished it today. It is a curious little book. It was originally published in French (as Noeuds: Genèse d’une théorie mathématique) ten years ago, so I expect it to be not quite up-to-date. At first, it was a fascinating read to me. By chapter 6, my attention started to slip; in chapter 7, I found myself reading the same sentence three times without getting anywhere. It looks like by the last chapter the author himself wanted to finish the book as soon as possible, so he rushed through most of it without proper explanations, which is a shame. Even so, if the goal of the book was to get one interested in knot theory, then it has been achieved.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Illustrated Winespeak

by Ronald Searle

The Illustrated Winespeak: Ronald Searle’s Wicked World of Winetasting not just pokes fun at pretentious jargon of wine gurus. It is a work of art. This blog features several of these marvellous drawings.

The tortuous phrases that are frequently used when trying to describe music, fade into insignificance beside the agonising and often excruciating acrobatics of those whose duty it is to enlighten the baffled consumer regarding the more esoteric aspects of, say, Rotterdam rouge.
The art of wine-tasting has its own brand of remarkable poets, those whose words vividly conjure up unimagined nuances and have us panting to experience the excitement and glow of drinking a particular bottle. Alas, they are as rare as the greatest vintages of the wines that dutifully pass their lips for our benefit.
The rest, that grotesque international band of snobbish inarticulate sponges, who are incapable of thinking beyond their incestuous little circles, do as much harm to the world of wine as they do to the language. Their day will come...
All the phrases in this little book have been plucked from unacknowledged but absolutely authentic sources. You could do worse than ponder over some of them. Cheers!

By some reason, our kids grew very fond of this book. I hear them laughing loud at the bits I find, say, just mildly amusing. Most likely they know something I don’t.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Futurological Congress

by Stanisław Lem

It is the first book by Lem I’ve read in English. (I’ve read it in Russian too, more than 15 years ago.)

He cited several well-known American theoreticians, who had calculated that, if things on Earth continued at their present rate, in four hundred years humanity would represent a living sphere of bodies with a radius expanding at approximately the speed of light. But new explosions interrupted the report. The futurologists, confused, began to leave the hall and mingle in the lobby with people from the Liberated Literature convention. Judging by the appearance of these latter, the outbreak of the fighting had caught them in the middle of activity which suggested complete indifference to the threat of overpopulation.

I read in Wikipedia that Ari Folman is directing the movie based on The Futurological Congress. It’s better be good.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Doubtful Guest

by Edward Gorey

This is a charming, in a macabre way, book by Edward Gorey.


a film by Alain Resnais

Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places) is a French film based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn. It is a funny and sad story of search for (and loss of) love in the big city. There are only six characters on screen, plus a very rude old man of whom we see almost nothing (at most, his feet moving under the blanket) but hear a lot (mostly swearing). Very good acting, especially from Sabine Azéma who plays mysterious, Bible-reading Charlotte: estate agent by day, carer by night, and a porn actress at some other time.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Обыкновенное чудо

a film by Mark Zakharov

Obyknovennoe Chudo (An Ordinary Miracle) is one of my favourite Russian-language movies of 1970s. Oleg Yankovsky, who, sadly, died today, is playing the Magician in this adaptation of a play by Evgeny Shvarts. However, no magic as such is shown in the film. The miracle of the title is that the Bear (Aleksandr Abdulov), who was transformed seven years ago (so we are told) by the Magician into a young man, is not changed back into the bear when he, finally, kisses the Princess (Yevgeniya Simonova). A wonderful love story, great actors, beautiful music... (running out of superlatives). The miracle.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa

by Hans Silvester

Earlier this year, I saw a review of this stunning book by Hans Silvester in The Big Issue. No, I just couldn’t resist.

The Daily Mail review contains a good selection of photos from this book. If you happen to get hold of a real thing, please don’t miss the introduction by Hans Silvester. (My book is the Thames & Hudson edition, translated from French Les habits de la nature by David H. Wilson.) It is only four pages long.

The Surma and the Mursi cannot see the future, but they know that an era is coming to an end. The days of their independence are numbered. Just like the Native Americans, the Nuba, the Masai and many other minorities who live in close proximity to nature, they will in due course have to resign themselves to living in reservations.

The Salmon of Doubt

by Douglas Adams

This is the book of assorted short stories, articles for computer magazines, interviews, lectures, letters, and unfinished Dirk Gently novel The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams. It even includes his introductory remarks to Procol Harum and London Symphony Orchestra concert at Barbican. The book consists of three parts, rather arbitrarily named “Life”, “The Universe” and “Everything”; the table of contents does not go any more detailed than that, so you have to browse. Maybe that was the plan. Of course, one can (and probably should) read the book in any order. I was doing it last Summer on holidays, and it still has some sand between the pages. If I had to choose one single story from the book, it would be Cookies (p. 150), “from a speech to Embedded Systems, 2001”.

We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Folk Songs from Africa

by Miriam Makeba

In spite of its dismal cover design and dubious title*, Folk Songs from Africa is a really good collection of Miriam Makeba songs, including famous The Click Song, Mbube and Amampondo. I’ve borrowed this album from the library; the new CD is sold via Amazon for about £40!

* Many songs from this compilation list Makeba as an author.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Truth (I’m a girl, I’m smart, and I know everything)

by Barbara Becker Holstein

I learned about The Truth thanks to Alessandra’s blog, Out of the Blue, and immediately ordered the book. It is written as a diary of 10-11-year old girl. Often the diary entries contain some of the “truths” of the title, for instance

Now I know how girls fall in love. It happened to me today and I’m only 10. And that’t the truth.
There is also an “adult women’s version” of the book called The Truth (I’m ten, I’m smart, and I know everything). Which makes me wonder: how adult? What about adult men? Boys in general? Is 11-year old boy adult enough to read “adult women’s version”? Reading these excerpts, I can’t really see what’s so especially adult there. OK, back to my (obviously, children’s) book.
I could teach grownups so much if only they would listen. Lots of times they pretend to listen and then they answer you, but they haven’t really heard what you said or asked. They think they are off the hook just because they answered.
They aren’t off the hook.

The Curse of the Vampire’s Socks

by Terry Jones

The Curse of the Vampire’s Socks and Other Doggerel is a book of humorous poems by Terry Jones. For years, we also had an audio cassette (the poems read by the author — kids loved to listen to it in the car), which eventually died, as cassettes do. I hope one day it will be re-issued on CD. My favourite poems are Laurie Oliphant, A Scottish Mystery, Algernon the Viking and Drusilla Quill. (Here, it could be nice to include some hyperlinks but, amazingly, there’s almost nothing available online. I was able to find the opening poem, The Revolt of the Clothes, thanks to this, probably defunct, blog.)


a film by Woody Allen

Sleeper (1973) is probably the funniest Woody Allen movie. Incidentally, I learned about this and other Woody Allen films back in 1970s from an old (even then it was already old) issue of Америка (Amerika) magazine which just happened to lay around our house. It featured some snapshots from Sleeper, including the one with Allen as a robot butler handling an orb. I did not watch the movie itself until some 20 years later.

Interestingly, the credits say “Music by Woody Allen with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra”, featuring Allen on clarinet. However, according to this comprehensive guide, “the score actually consists entirely of Dixieland/Tin Pan Alley standards, mostly written during the 1920s”.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


by John Coltrane

One of the advantages of vinyl over CD is the absence of so-called “bonus tracks”. Almost by definition, the “bonus tracks” are the out-takes which, at the time, were not included into the original albums. If you grew up listening to albums (not compilations), there’s very little added value in bonus tracks, which are either not as good as the rest of the album, or sound out of place. Of course, from a CD-centric point of view, it is an utter waste of CD space not to put there any extra material.

Here’s a commendable solution to this problem (how to make a completist happy without offending a purist): Deluxe Edition of Coltrane’s Ballads. Disc One is the original album as released by Impulse! in 1962: eight tracks, just about 32 minutes of music. Disc Two includes 14 tracks, of which 13 were never released before. Now, this one is really for Trane fans only: apart from Irving Berlin’s They Say It’s Wonderful (“which he <Coltrane> abandoned after only one complete take”, according to Francis Davis’s liner notes), the rest are the alternate takes. I mean, do you really want to hear five takes of Greensleeves (I prefer this version from Africa/Brass Sessions to any of those) or seven takes of It’s Easy to Remember? I stick to the first CD, which is a masterpiece.

Love in a Wych Elm

by HE Bates

Love in a Wych Elm and Other Stories is a collection of charming short stories by HE Bates (1905—1974). I have to admit that until I came across this book, I never heard about this writer. My favourites from this book are The Bath (a group of British soldiers looking for a bath in post-World War German conutryside), A Christmas Song (a young man comes to the music shop and asks for a Christmas song of which he does not remember either words or tune... nor it is actually a Christmas song...), Where The Cloud Breaks (an absent-minded retired Colonel communicates with his sweetheart neighbour with the help of signal flags), and the title story, Love in a Wych Elm (naturally, about first love).

Friday, 15 May 2009


a film by Georgi Daneliya

Афоня (Afonya) is a 1975 comedy by Georgi Daneliya. I do remember watching it in the cinema at the time (I was eight) and probably laughing in all the wrong places. I do not remember the “happy ending” though. I am not sure that there exists a DVD properly subtitled in English (or any other language) — this version is marked as “Russian soundtrack only”. Too bad: it is a great movie.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Sunny Side

by Alan Alexander Milne

The Sunny Side: Short Stories and Poems for Proper Grown-Ups by A. A. Milne was first published in 1921 and it remains largely unknown, or thoroughly forgotten, or something. I bought this hardcover edition of the book in Oxfam (where I buy most of my books), but the full text is freely available thanks to Project Gutenberg. My favourite story from this book is The Arrival of Blackman’s Warbler.

I have become an Authority on Birds. It happened in this way.
The other day we heard the Cuckoo in Hampshire. (The next morning the papers announced that the Cuckoo had been heard in Devonshire—possibly a different one, but in no way superior to ours except in the matter of its Press agent.) Well, everybody in the house said, “Did you hear the Cuckoo?” to everybody else, until I began to get rather tired of it; and, having told everybody several times that I had heard it, I tried to make the conversation more interesting. So, after my tenth “Yes,” I added quite casually:
“But I haven’t heard the Tufted Pipit yet. It's funny why it should be so late this year.”
“Is that the same as the Tree Pipit?” said my hostess, who seemed to know more about birds than I had hoped.
“Oh, no,” I said quickly.
“What's the difference exactly?”
“Well, one is tufted,” I said, doing my best, “and the other—er—climbs trees.”

And so on. Read it.

Arco Iris

Yesterday, I went to check out the weekly practice of Cambridge’s Community Samba Band, Arco Iris. It was ages (12 years, to be more precise) since I last tried this kind of activity, back in Leeds. The practice happens in The Bath House which wouldn’t be named so for nothing: it really is hot there, especially when the room is full. (Actually, it used to be public baths there.) And it gets noisy. I liked it, I think I will be going there regularly.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


a film by Mike Leigh

Happy-Go-Lucky is a film about the primary school teacher Poppy. (I wish I had a teacher like her!) There’s not much of a plot in the movie. Poppy gets her bicycle stolen, she learns (not very successfully) to drive a car and to dance flamenco, she jumps on trampoline and meets various people along the way. She is 30 years old, she is incredibly optimistic and at first does not seem to be in touch with “real” life (in the bookstore, Poppy checks out the book The Road to Reality and puts it back saying “don’t want to go there”). She is single, she has no mortgage and she doesn’t care about pension. She is happy and tries to make other people happy too. In the end, rather predictably, she starts dating a nice bloke, social worker (while I was hoping she’ll go out with the doctor who fixed her back.) The colours (especially of Poppy’s clothes) are bold and the dialogue is brilliant. A joy to watch.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Chills in the Night

by Jackie Vivelo

I’ve just finished reading this book of eight, well, thoroughly chilling stories by Jackie Vivelo imaginatively named Chills in the Night: Tales That Will Haunt You. I bought it in a hope that it will haunt me as much as Chills Run Down My Spine by the same author, and I was not disappointed. The name should not put you off: all the stories are really good and have (mostly) happy endings. One of them, The Fireside Book of Ghost Stories, reminds of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Sand — with the difference that one of the scary stories from the book of the title almost recreates itself in real life of its reader...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Angel Station

by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

1979 was not a bad year in rock history. Sure, it was the year of The Wall, but also of Down to Earth, In Through the Out Door, London Calling, Lovehunter, Mingus, Mr. Universe, Stormwatch... man, there were some good albums. Back then, Angel Station was the first album of MMEB I ever heard. It was a good old reel tape recorded directly from vinyl. I think the vinyl was warped since Don’t Kill It Carol (the first song on the A side) and Angels At My Gate (the first song on the B side) were jumping a few times during the recording. For me, these jumps became part of the music, so when, ten years later, I bought the original vinyl (made in England!) and heard the songs in their entirety, something did not sound right. Thirty years later, I can live with that. And this is probably the first (English) rock lyrics I learned:

58, 56, 54,
Good angels at my door.
63, 62, 61, 60, 59, 58,
Good angels at my gate.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Cult Rock Posters 1972—1982

by Roger Crimlis & Alwyn W Turner

I borrowed this cool book from the library today: Cult Rock Posters 1972—1982. From the blurb:

This book is for anyone who has ever blu-tacked a poster to their bedroom wall.
Agree completely.


a film by Henry Selick

There’s nothing quite like watching a horror fantasy film in the middle of a perfect May Sunday. Today, we went to see Coraline the movie. It was good and sometimes thoroughly scary. Especially in 3-D. (True, it is not as good as another Henry Selick’s creation, The Nightmare Before Christmas; but then, there ain’t many movies better than The Nightmare Before Christmas full stop.) The movie’s opening words were “раз, два, три, четыре”. Now I really have to read a book.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Baka Beyond @ The Junction

On Thursday 7 May, Baka Beyond were playing at The Junction in Cambridge. I liked this strange Afro-Gaelic fusion. The special guest vocalist Molara was great — in fact, I preferred her singing and dancing to that of ‘resident’ Su Hart, while the fiddle player, Paddy Le Mercier, was simply stunning. (I am talking about both his playing and appearance. I mean, if I ever learn to play the fiddle, I just have to get a jacket like his.) I think the sound engineer(s) did not realise what a small venue Junction 2 is: the music was a notch or two too loud for it.

Yuri @ Duxford

Today, Yuri was performing in the Duxford Saturday Workshop’s Members Concert. For the record, he was playing with the “beginner guitar” group their rendition of She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain (in three different keys — luckily, not at the same time). Timur and I went to see the concert but Timur lost interest right after Yuri’s performance so he went home after the first half. Yuri and I stayed till the end. The highlights included the “Pinky on G String” playing ragtime and Flute Choir’s version of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.


A week or so after my last work day, which happened to be on 27 February 2009, I took the last few boxes of assorted stuff and junk from my former office. I would leave it there to gather dust for longer but my former office was about to move to portakabin. The stuff consisted of (mainly) books, CDs, a few DVDs, old bass strings, some photos... Our friends were coming to stay for a couple of weeks in March so I felt it was about a right time to organise my CDs (in other words, taking them off the floor and other surfaces) and books (well, those still form some sort of leaning tower in the corner). Then I thought that I may as well start writing something about them. So: books, music, movies...

Those who, like me, was around since late 1960s, probably know what Listen, Learn, Read On is (the song that opens The Book of Taliesyn album by Deep Purple) and, by extension, may guess what kind of music I was grown on. However, the purpose of this blog is to document, mostly for myself, what I am listening to (music), what I am reading (books), and what, if anything, I am learning as a result. Now.